This post is all about standard and alternate baritone guitar tuning.
If you’re unfamiliar with the baritone guitar, I don’t blame you.
It’s a sort of novelty instrument that not many guitarists know about.
And I actually don’t (yet) own a baritone guitar.
But I’ve been doing a lot of research on them and hope to own one someday.
It’s a unique and versatile instrument capable of producing a wide range of sounds, from deep and soulful to bright and twangy.
How to Tune a Baritone Guitar
If you want to cut right to it, you tune a baritone guitar to B standard or: B, E, A, D F#, B.
This is a perfect fourth lower than standard guitar tuning and the tuning manufacturers typically ship their guitars with.
However, baritone guitars don’t quite have as common or popular of a standard tuning as the standard guitar.
In fact, many baritone guitarists insist that standard baritone guitar tuning is actually A standard.
We’ll cover this and more in the sections below.
The Most Common Standard Baritone Guitar Tuning: BEADF#B
When you play a regular guitar, lower tunings tend to make the strings too loose.
This results in a sound and feel that isn’t pleasant.
To combat this problem, you can use a baritone guitar.
Like I mentioned, these instruments have heavier strings and longer necks.
A regular guitar has a scale length of around 24 to 25 or so inches.
The baritone guitar has a scale length that ranges between 27 to 28 inches.
This larger scale length allows you to use heavier strings so you can tune your instrument lower.
This is now a popular instrument used by a wide range of different bands and players.
If you play music in lower registers, this is an excellent instrument to own.
It’s a lot easier to use a baritone for lower tunings than using a regular guitar.
However, it’s important that you use strings designed for a baritone guitar.
Thus, you’ll need heavier strings like these to get these lower tones out of your baritone instrument.
The first tuning we will look at is the most common standard baritone guitar tuning.
Manufacturers typically tune the baritone guitar to B, E, A, D F#, B.
This is a perfect fourth lower than a regular standard guitar.
This tuning opens up a lot of different sound possibilities.
You have more tuning tension at this pitch so it allows you to experiment with your sound.
This lower pitch is popular with heavy metal bands since you get an aggressive sound.
Other musicians also use this tuning to get generally lower tones popular in outlaw and some types of country music.
A Standard Tuning
This tuning is A, D, G, C, E, A.
If you like finger-picking, this is an excellent tuning to use.
It’s also the ideal tuning if you want to hear a lot of droning notes.
Open Major Tunings
Besides regular B and A standard tunings, there are other options.
You can also tune a baritone guitar to open and major chords such as A major or B major.
Those tunings would be as follows:
- A Major: A, E, A, E, A, C#
- B Major: B, F#, B, F#, B, D#
- C Major: C, G, C, G, C, E
If you play a lot of slide guitar, these major tunings can benefit you.
They make playing chords easier on the instrument.
Try the various tunings and see what you come up with.
DADGAD Baritone Guitar Tuning
A popular altered tuning for acoustic and electric guitars is DADGAD.
You can do the same with your baritone guitar by tuning your instrument a little bit differently.
This tuning for a baritone will be:
- A E A D E A
This allows you to play a lot of folk and finger-picking style music on your baritone guitar.
This tuning gives you the same type of feel as DADGAD on the standard guitar but with much lower tones.
Double Drop A
If you want to try this popular tuning, take a regular B standard baritone tuning and drop both of the B notes to A.
This tuning gives you a lot of sound options.
- B, E, A, D F#, B
To double drop A:
- A, E, A, D F#, A
Double Drop G
And if you want to go even lower than the lowest common tuning for the baritone guitar, you can try double drop G.
Just take a regular A standard baritone tuning and drop both of your A notes down to G.
A Standard: A, D, G, C, E, A
To double drop G: G, D, G, C, E, G
These tunings work well for finger-picking as well as creating lines that use a droning note.
Half- Nashville Tuning
If you were to attempt a half-Nashville tuning on a baritone guitar, you would likely replace the low B, E, A, and possibly D strings with lighter gauge strings and tune them an octave higher than standard baritone tuning.
The tension on the neck might be affected, potentially causing issues with intonation and playability.
The Popularity and Versatility of Baritone Guitar Tuning
Duane Eddy was one of the first and most influential musicians who played the Danelectro baritone guitar.
He is known for using the instrument in his album The “Twangs” the “Thang”, significantly making the baritone guitar famous in the late 1950s and early 60s.
In the following decades, the instrument gained popularity in various music genres, such as surf music, rock, jazz, spaghetti western, and metal.
Many famous bands, such as The Beach Boys, Metallica, and Machine Head, incorporated the baritone guitar into their music to add a unique and distinct sound to their songs.
Other guitar greats like Glen Campbell, John Petrucci of Dream Theater, Pat O’Brian of Cannibal Corpse, Eddie Van Halen, and Dave Matthews have also used baritone guitars to great effect.
The instrument’s versatility makes it a popular choice across genres of music.
Watch this guy as he explains what a baritone guitar and how it’s different from a standard electric guitar.
Baritone Guitar Brands
Danelectro Company was the first big company to establish the electric baritone guitar as a fad in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1960s, Fender caught on and joined the party.
Other companies who are known to produce baritone guitars are Gretsch and Ibanez.
I’ve played both electric and acoustic guitar since 2003.
Most of my early years with these instruments involved using standard guitar tuning.
After I got better at 6-string guitars, I started to experiment with altered tunings.
These tunings opened up a larger world of musical possibilities.
Acoustic and electric guitars use the standard E A D G B E tuning that all guitar players are familiar with.
There are also various alternate tunings that you can use for your guitar that are quite popular.
Some popular tunings include DADGAD or playing your instrument as an open chord such as open G tuning, which is DGDGBD.
You may feel frustrated with regular guitars when using altered tunings.
One way to get around this problem is to use a baritone guitar.
This instrument’s longer scale length and extra bracing makes it better suited for lower tunings that wouldn’t be possible on the standard guitar.
Plus, as an instrument that’s half-way between the standard guitar and the bass (depending on the tuning), it’s a really cool instrument that provides a complimentary sound to the standard guitar and bass!
Acoustic vs Electric Baritone Guitar
Not a lot of people are familiar with the baritone guitar.
And of those who know about it, they often only know about it as an electric guitar in the context of heavy metal.
But there are actually acoustic baritone guitars too that can be used in a much wider variety of musical genres.
In fact, I’m more interested in the acoustic than electric baritone guitar.
But that’s just because I’m more of an acoustic guitar guy.
You can see artist Lineu Andrade playing the acoustic baritone in the video above and can tell it’s got a really sweet sound.
I’ve had my eye on an acoustic baritone for a while and would love to pick one up.
Here is a popular one if you want to try it:
Experiment with Baritone Guitar Tuning
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different tunings.
By doing so, you will open up a wide range of sounds by trying various tunings with your baritone guitar.
But like I mentioned, make sure you use heavier strings for the baritone guitar.
A good rule of thumb is to use strings that range between 0.12 and 0.68.
This will give you the tension necessary for most tunings.
Many major manufacturers offer dedicated baritone guitar sets.
You may also want to take your guitar to a guitar technician or luthier for a setup.
This would include setting the action to something that’s comfortable for you.
More About Baritone Guitar Tuning: Pickups
Pickups play an essential role in shaping a baritone guitar’s tone and overall sound.
Given the unique tuning and lower frequencies of baritone guitars, it’s important to choose pickups that can accurately capture and reproduce these deeper tones without sacrificing clarity and definition.
Humbuckers are widely favored for baritone guitars because of their ability to handle lower frequencies with clarity and precision.
They have two coils that work together to cancel out hum and noise, resulting in a warmer, fuller sound with a thicker midrange.
Humbuckers are versatile and work well for various genres, from jazz and blues to rock and metal.
Single-coil pickups are known for their bright, crisp, clear sound with a more pronounced high-end.
They may not be the first choice for baritone guitars due to their susceptibility to noise and hum, which can become more pronounced at lower frequencies.
However, some musicians prefer single coils for genres that require a more articulate and clean tone, like country or certain jazz styles.
To use single coils effectively with a baritone guitar, it’s important to select pickups designed to handle lower frequencies.
P-90 pickups fall somewhere between single coils and humbuckers in terms of tonal characteristics.
They offer a brighter and more articulate sound than humbuckers but with a fatter and warmer tone than traditional single coils.
P-90s can work well with baritone guitars, providing a unique tonality that suits various genres like blues, jazz, and alternative rock.
Active pickups have a built-in preamp powered by a battery.
They can provide increased output, headroom, and a more consistent tone across the frequency spectrum.
Active pickups are suitable for genres that demand high output and sustain, like heavy rock and metal.
You can also check my blog about The Best Baritone Guitar Pickups for a detailed information and recommendation.
Baritone Guitar Tuning: Conclusion
Do you own a baritone guitar?
Have you tried alternate tunings with it?
Let me know in the comments section below!