Designing a Baritone Guitar (Part I)

To the reader:

The following posts are part of a project that I completed in December of 2008 in which I designed and built a baritone guitar.  I looked at existing designs and tried to correct the problems that I found with the available commercial production instruments.  The end result was a great guitar that exceeded my aesthetic expectations and met my utilitarian requirements.  The original paper from the project is 40 pages long, so I am breaking the work up into installments. Please note that the design of the guitar, the shape of the body, the neck and the headstock are all trademarks of Indecent Music. I do not consent to my ideas being used for commercial purposes, but I would be happy to talk to or help anyone that is interested in building an instrument for themselves. I am reviewing my options for Patents and the design of the instrument should be considered protected by the Patent Pending status.  Thanks so much for your interest!

Hendrik David Gideonse XIX

0 Anatomy of a Guitar

The Anatomy of a Guitar
[reference] Woodlake. 1957 Fender Stratocaster [SketchUp Model of a 1957 Fender Stratocaster]. Digital image. Google 3D Warehouse. 7 Sept. 2006. Google. 7 Dec. 2008 <http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/details?mid=10b65379796e96091c86d29189611a06>.

1 Introduction

Over the past year or so I have been in the market for a baritone guitar.  I had always thought that a baritone would be a great instrument for me because I started my musical career as a bassist and then developed into a performing songwriter.  The baritone’s range falls in between that of a bass guitar and a standard six-string.  I had the fortune to try out a number of instruments made by Danelectro, Ibanez, Schecter and Agile, but in the end none were very satisfying.  Of all the instruments, the Ibanez came closest to being acceptable, but still didn’t feel quite right.  All of the instruments had problems in the following categories: string tension and action, instrument balance, and the tone both plugged in and acoustic.  Unable to find a suitable commercial instrument, I started work on a design for a new instrument that would meet my specifications and requirements.

2 Baritone History

The invention of the original baritone guitar is usually credited to Danelectro during the late 1950’s [1].  This instrument set the standard for tuning, choosing to go a fourth below standard guitar tuning or B E A D F# B from the lowest string to the highest (see Figure 1).
A precursor to the baritone is the guitarrón, the Mexican bass lute, which is a six string fretless instruments with a rounded back that helps to amplify the strings.  The guitarrón has a rather short scale for a bass instrument and uses extremely heavy strings tuned A, D, G, C, E, A.  The “high A” string is tuned a full octave below the expected A, causing the E string to be pitched the highest of the strings.  Some baritone guitars take their cue from the guitarrón and start tuning with the low A and then follow traditional guitar tuning after that (i.e. 4th, 4th, 4th, Major 3rd, 4th .)
Another closely related instrument is the Fender Bass VI which is a short-scale 6-string bass, one full octave below a standard guitar.  The Supro Pocket Bass from 1962 was also in the same vein as the Bass VI [2].  Both of these instruments were usually used to double the bass lines, but the player played with a pick to get a more defined attack.

Figure 1 Pitches of the baritone guitar and related instruments
Ranges of common guitars

The baritone guitar is the least standardized instrument in the guitar family.  While for standard guitars, the scale length, or the distance from the nut to the bridge, hovers around 25, the baritone guitar scale length can vary from 25 ½ to 30”.

In standard guitars, the variations are minimal.  The Gibson scale is 24 ¾ inches, Paul Reed Smith and National use a 25 inch scale and Fender uses the longer 25 ½ inch scale [3].  Given that the pitch of each of the strings on a guitar fixed to standard E to E tuning, scale length seriously impacts the string tension.  String tension decreases when the scale length decreases allowing strings to be softer or easier to play and bend.  Conversely, the longer Fender scale is stiffer, the strings are harder to bend, and can tolerate harder strumming without being knocked out of tune.

Unfortunately, no real standard scale length exists for baritone guitars.  The scales range from 25 ½ with heavy strings all the way to 30” inch scales similar to short-scale bass guitars.  .  Not to be forgotten, there are quite a few models of guitars with 7 or even 8 strings which are often referred to as baritone instruments as well.  These instruments tend toward the shorter 25 ½” to 26 ½” scales closer to traditional guitars and are largely manufactured mostly by Schecter, Ibanez and ESP who all cater mainly to metal guitarists.

References

[1] “Danelectro Baritone.” Dan Guitars. 7 Dec. 2008 <http://www.danguitars.com/baritone.html>.

[2] Pomeroy, Dave. “1962 Supro Pocket Bass.” Bass Player Feb. 2007< http://www.bassplayer.com/article/1962-supro-pocket/feb-07/25446>.

[3] Hiscock, Melvyn. Make Your Own Electric Guitar. 2nd ed. Hampshire, UK: NBS, 1998. (pp. 14-16)

One Response to “Designing a Baritone Guitar (Part I)”

  1. The Track Studio Says:

    this is very interesting, the mechanics of a baritone electric… these are what guys like korn and limp bizkit used back in the day right? i will keep reading, thanks!

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