Four Simple Steps to Buying and Playing Your First Baritone
So, you're thinking about buying a baritone guitar?
Playing baritone guitar will expand your sonic horizons, enliven your songwriting, and add a lot of joy to your life as a musician. This buyer's guide will help you get started in four simple steps.
Step One: Understand the following facts before you attempt to buy your first baritone:
Baritone guitars are limited run or small batch instruments. This means you should not expect lots of finish options (nearly all models come in one and only one color). Limited run manufacturing also means that most music stores (even large retailers) won't have any baritone guitars on their shelves. Finally, due to their growing popularity, many models can only be purchased on back order. As such, you may be required to wait one month or more to receive your instrument.
Baritone guitars feature higher gauge strings than standard guitars - much higher. For example, many electric baritones will come strung with .013 to .062 strings (compared to between .010 and .046 for standard electrics). Acoustic baritones often feature gauges between .016 and .070.
Step Two: Research your options at Baritone Guitar.org.
Our reviews are organized into sub-categories of acoustic and electric baritones. We review production model instruments within the means of most musicians - not custom shop or boutique instruments. We strive to provide useful reviews that describe the pros and cons of each instrument.
We are not beholden to a relationship with any manufacturer or advertiser, so our reviews are unbiased and honest.
Step Three: Order online and (if possible) pickup in store.
Remember the bit from step one about the limited run/small batch production nature of most baritone guitars? For this reason, you should not expect to walk into your local music store, find one on the shelf, and take it for a spin. I once spent an entire day searching music stores in the Seattle area and did not find a single baritone guitar.
With limited options on local shelves, you may need to buy sight unseen. The best way buy sight unseen? Guitar Center. Guitar Center offers a 45-day satisfaction guarantee, making your trial risk free. You can also select in-store pickup and pay no shipping costs. If you are not satisfied, you can always complete your return in store and pay no shipping.
Musician's friend is another great option. They typically keep around 20 baritone guitar models in stock, which is one of the largest selections you will find anywhere. Musician's friend also has a generous send-it-back-for-whatever-reason-you-want 45 day return policy.
Amazon.com is a great option, especially for harder to find baritones and used baritones. Just check to if their A-Z guarantee applies to an item. For your convenience, we have mapped out price comparison options when possible.
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Step Four: Adjusting to the instrument and adjusting the instrument.
The baritone guitar comes with its own unique learning curve. No, it is not the same as picking up an entirely new instrument. However, you may need to adjust your technique and build up your fret hand strength.
Concerning the strumming hand, many baritones (especially acoustics) react poorly to fast and furious strumming. At first, you may notice unexpected buzzing and your fingers may feel sore after a playing session. Keep at it regularly. Your muscles and calluses will catch up.
Finally, depending on your choice of instrument, you may end up needing to have some setup work done. Setting up a guitar generally refers to adjusting the truss rod (which alters neck relief and, therefore, adjusts string action), adjusting intonation, and perhaps doing a little fret finishing work. If you find that your guitar has some nagging fret buzz or that the action is simply too high, setup work may be needed
A few points of caution. If you haven't done your homework and/or if you are not sure that you have the correct tool for your truss rod, don't bother making the adjustments yourself. Either get equipped or get a professional.
If you chose to do your own adjustments, make slow incremental changes - especially while your hand is still adjusting to the baritone guitar.
About the Author:
Matt is a musician, educator, and baritone guitar enthusiast living in Washington State.