Baritone Guitar Vs Short-Scale Bass: What’s the Difference? [2021 Guide]

If you’re interested in understanding the difference between the baritone guitar vs short-scale bass, this article is for you!

For context, I’ve been a guitar player since 2003 and have messed around with all sorts of instruments since then.

From guitar hybrids to banjos, basses, and more, I’m a multi-instrumentalist with some experience in this domain.

Before we discuss the difference between the baritone guitar vs short-scale bass, let’s talk about scale length.

Understanding scale length will help you understand how these instruments differ.

Understanding Scale Length

Scale length on a stringed instrument refers to the active length of all strings. Or, in a practical sense, it refers to the distance between the nut and the bridge. More precisely, it’s the distance from the edge of the nut to where the string makes contact with the saddle.

But it’s not that simple. As you may know, individual string saddles on a bridge are at different positions. This means that each string has its own scale length. There’s a more precise method. Measure the distance from the edge of the nut and the 12th fret. Then take this number and double it.

Scale lengths impact both the performance and sonic qualities of an instrument. Longer scale lengths increase tension as well as the distance between frets. Meanwhile, shorter ones decrease string tension. In practice, this means that you can use lower tunings on long-scale guitars and basses. Compared to standard scale lengths, strings won’t feel “floppy” when down-tuned.

Scale Length on Guitars

Scale lengths on 6-string electric guitars are typically around 24 to 25.5 inches. Acoustic steel-string guitars are usually 25.5 inches. Classical nylon-string guitars often have scale lengths of about 25.6 inches.

Of course, guitars can come with longer and shorter scale lengths. The shorter ones are usually for younger beginner players. And they’re also often less expensive.

Meanwhile, baritone and extended-range guitars come with longer scale lengths. In most cases, these are higher-end instruments, intended for metal music. For those not familiar, “extended range” guitars are those with more than 6 strings.

Scale Length on Bass Guitars

As for modern 4-string bass guitars, 34 inches is a standard. 5-string ones usually come with a 35-inch scale length. Just like with guitars, there are variations to their scale lengths. A broader spectrum of bass guitar scale lengths goes from 30 to 36 inches.

Baritone Guitar Vs. Short-Scale Bass

What Is a Baritone Guitar?

A baritone guitar refers to 6-string guitars with longer scale lengths, lower standard tunings, and added bracing within the instrument to support that tuning. A baritone guitar’s scale length is usually around 26.5 to 30.5 inches.

Along with this come larger bodies, larger necks, and larger distances between frets. Additionally, longer scale lengths bring more tension. Such guitars are for lower tunings like C standard, B standard, or even A standard. There are plenty of other tunings, but they typically never go above C# standard.

Baritone guitars work better with thicker string gauges (usually .013 or .014-gauge strings). But the .012-gauge strings are not uncommon either.

What Is a Short-Scale Bass?

Short-scale basses are those with a scale length of 30 inches or less. They’re usually popular among younger players or those who prefer smaller basses.

There are differences in how they feel and sound compared to full-sized basses. There’s a decreased string tension and a shorter distance between the frets. Such a construction also gives them a bit of a darker sound.

Short-scale basses are usually cheaper as well. One of the most popular models today is Squier’s Bronco bass. There are some high-end short-scale basses as well. Even some professional players use short-scale basses.

Baritone Guitar Vs. Short-Scale Bass: How Are They Different?

So we have an obvious question here. Are baritone guitars and short-scale basses similar? Although you could draw some parallels, they’re completely different instruments. They differ in three important categories: tone, feel, and function.

No matter their scale length, bass guitars come with different pickups and electronics. And then we also have significantly thicker strings. As a result, a bass guitar’s tone will always be darker and “smoother” compared to guitars.

Likewise, baritone guitars still retain the main features of regular guitars. The pickups can be the same or slightly different. Some higher-end models may have pickups that are better at capturing lower frequencies. But even then, baritone guitars have the same kind of tone that mostly focuses on mid frequencies.

The different construction of baritone guitars and bass guitars is also important. Even if they had the same scale length, their necks, fretboard, and bodies feel completely different.

Finally, we have the issue of function. The Bass guitar is almost exclusively a backing instrument. Lead bass parts are not that common and are often experimental. At the same time, bass most commonly does bass lines of individual notes. This is also known as the “horizontal” harmony.

Baritone guitars still serve the same functions as other guitars. They can be both lead and backing instruments. Fort the backing purpose, we most commonly have regular chords or the “vertical” harmony. It’s also worth noting that they’re most commonly used for metal music.

In short, bass guitars are backing instruments that make bands and orchestras sound “fuller.” Despite the lower pitch, baritone guitars still can’t fill this role. Instead, they act as any other guitar, covering mid to high-frequency parts. 

Baritone Guitar Vs Short-Scale Bass: How Are They Similar?

There aren’t many similarities between baritone guitars and short-scale bass guitars. But we can notice some similarities. In some rare cases, mostly experimental, you can use them for the same role. 

There’s an obvious overlap in pitch that they cover. This is especially true with the baritone guitar’s lowest common tuning, A standard (from A to A in the same intervals as a standard guitar). The bottom A string is the same note as the A string on a bass (in standard bass tuning: GDAE).

You’ll still have a hard time making baritone guitars sound as bottom-heavy as bass guitars. But it can sometimes serve that function, preferably in clean settings.

Meanwhile, a short-scale bass sounds like any other bass guitar, with only minor differences. You could make them sound like electric guitars with the right effects. Use an EQ to pronounce the mids and high-ends, and cut the bottom-ends. Then add some distortion, but don’t push it into high-gain settings.  

Baritone Guitar Vs Short-Scale Bass: Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you understand the differences between a baritone guitar and a short-scale bass.

Have more questions?

Let me know in the comments!

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