The Wonderful World of Baritone Guitars

First of all, I promise that there is more to this than my history as a musician, but it does set the backdrop for a strange fascination that I’ve developed. I started out playing bass with a high school hard rock band in 1982. I just wanted to be in my friend’s newly formed band and couldn’t sing, play guitar, or play drums. Yeah, I was pretty untalented musically for the most part (and some people might still say that if you asked them in private). I figured that maybe I could play bass since they didn’t have a bassist. Four strings and I could just hit one note for each chord I figured. How hard can it be, even for a guy who learned nothing in two years of piano lessons?

A friend of mine was selling a cheap old 1970’s P-Bass knockoff called a Pan and another friend was selling a 1976 Peavey TNT 100 bass amp. Picked them both up for a whopping $85! I still have the amp to this day and I am proud to say that it sounds as bad today as it did the day that I got it! After a few years of playing in what ended up being a pretty good high school band and upgrading to a wonderful Fender P-Bass Special a few years later (that I still own), I turned out to be a bassist that people wanted to actually jam with! Did that for a few years and then did what many of us musicians do, get married, go to college, have kids and get a real job. The bass was retired to occasion playing at the house for the next 10 years.

I found myself on day missing playing with other musicians, kind of out of the blue. I started playing again with some folks and found that it was now kind boring playing bass. I wanted the real action (not to mention the spotlight) of playing guitar! And after all, I had the means to afford real gear this time around and guitar players have tons more gear than bassist! Well, the guitar came to me quickly, but the stuff I was writing used a lot of bass licks, my leads were like runs on a bass, and I wanted the deepest, darkest tone imaginable. On a business trip to Kansas City, I stopped a music store and was introduced to the dark side – a Schecter Celloblaster. A five-string guitar tuned in 5ths. It was a guitar/bass hybrid! I was instantly hooked. I was going to learn this strange instrument and change the world of heavy music!

There was one problem, by the time I decided to buy one a year later, Schecter had stopped selling them. I hunted around online and found a place that had two new old stock ones for retail price. Bought it and proceeded to learn this strange thing very quickly. I wrote a few songs and took it to band practice one day, all proud of my new instrument and the stuff I had written! I quickly found out that when in tuned in fifths and the rest of the guys aren’t, it’s almost impossible for them to translate what I had written to a regular guitar without a ton of tricky finger work. Turning the musical world upside down was not going to happen with this interesting instrument unfortunately. She was retired to the guitar rack in my home studio and now rarely feels the spark of my Marshall.

Gretsch Electromatic G5566 Jet Double Neck 6-string Lead & Baritone Guitar Combo

Gretsch Electromatic G5566 Jet Double Neck 6-string Lead & Baritone Guitar Combo

I was determined to find something that would allow for my inner bass player to come out – and then I discovered the wonderful world of baritone guitars. You know, those extended scale things with strings as thick as a bass that are an octave lower than a regular guitar. Yes, Nirvana was at hand! I only thought that groups from the 1960s used them and they only had limited use. After reading some reviews, I looked for a cheapo just in my experiment into ultimate heaviness failed again. The Schecter was not cheap and I couldn’t have the wife giving me another, “I told you so,” type of lecture! I picked up a Squier Sub-Sonic Showmaster on eBay for under $200. After receiving and discover the pickups sounded like, well cheap Squier pickups, I was now officially in love with a type of instrument. Not the actual instrument itself, but I found my calling! Don’t get me wrong, when played clean, the Squier is gorgeous. When played with gain, it sounds like nothing but muddy noise being played through my TNT 100. New pups would fix the issue, but I am now becoming a purist and not wanting to replace anything on my guitars. I’ve done enough Dr. Frankenstein type of work my other guitars to be able to rival the best of the soldering gun champs!

So I am an official baritone junkie. I still only have the Squier, but an Eastwood SideJack Baritone guitar is next on the list. Why you might ask? P-90s, cool vintage looks and Eastwood quality! Throw in those great reviews and what else can you ask for! Baritones have become pretty popular these days, but still most chain music stores don’t carry them. Almost all major manufactures are offering a model or two. I’ll let you look them up, but everybody from Gibson to Fender to Jerry Jones are offering a model up. You can spend a fortune on one or go cheap and get an OLP Music Man knockoff. Depends on your curiosity factor and wallet – just don’t be fooled by brand names and reputations established 30 years ago. Even the really poor Danelectro models from a few years ago are fetching double their original price on eBay. I tried them and was not impressed at all.

So for those of you with a serious guitar collection and are just looking for something different, guitarist seeking different tones or you bass players looking to expand your range, try out a baritone guitar. You won’t be disappointed. They are fun as hell to play, are one of the most expressive instruments around, and are good for everything from country to pop to heavy metal. Almost everybody I know that plays one gets the fever, they can be that addictive. And quality doesn’t have to be expensive either! Now back to grooving on those low tones that I’ve grown to love!