The folks at Ernie Ball Music Man guitars describe their instruments as “tools for artists” and the John Petrucci BFR Baritone certainly lives up to the company’s tag line. Discontinued in the early 2010s, a used John Petrucci BFR Baritone today will cost you somewhere north of $2,400. Assuming you’ve got the cash, is the instrument worth the price? We’ve got three factors that will help you decide.
Before we dive into more info on this rare baritone, you need to know a little about the instrument’s makers and namesake.
Ernie, John, and the Birth of a Unique Baritone
The Ernie Ball Music Man Company
Founded in 1974 and owned by the Ball family since 1984, Ernie Ball Music Man guitars built a name on innovative features and player-driven design. Ernie Ball guitars have found their way into the hands of virtuoso guitarists like Edie Van Hallen and Steve Morse - and if you have ever played an Ernie Ball you can understand why. They feel like a perfect marriage of old school built-in-the USA craftsmanship and modern design.
John Petrucci and Dream Theater
The John Petrucci BFR Baritone features many examples modern design and craftsmanship. It’s also a fitting homage to its namesake. Petrucci is the lead guitarist of Dream Theater, a progressive metal (AKA, modern prog rock) band. If you are not familiar with Dream Theater, imagine your favorite metal band and then send all the members to a fancy music conservatory - that's Dream Theater.
Petrucci’s songwriting and lead guitar playing are innovative, layered, and technical. As such, his signature Ernie Ball guitars (there have been over 20 distinct Petrucci models) all feature practical tools for expanding tonal capabilities.
For a taste of what the John Petrucci BFR Baritone can do (and a good example of Dream Theater's music) check out this live performance of "These Walls." The track starts slow, but quickly comes alive and showcases the Petruccie baritone nicely. To get a feel for how the Petrucci Baritone handles lead work, skip to 4:45.
Three Reasons to Consider the John Petrucci BFR Baritone
Now that you have some context for the artist and the brand behind this baritone, let’s walk through three reasons you should consider adding this rare ax to your arsenal.
Reason One: Playability
When it comes to playability, neck radius is an important factor in the overall feel of the instrument. Higher radius guitars have a flatter fret board. Lower radius guitars feature a more rounded feel. The John Petrucci BFR Baritone features a 15-inch neck radius.
This will give you some of the flatter fret board feel of a Jackson with just a hint of modern fender feel. Indeed, many guitarists find that a 15-inch neck radius provides an ideal middle between a modern strat an the wide/flat styling of brands like Ibanez.
A Comfortable Scale Length
Like all Ernie Ball guitars, the John Petrucci BFR Baritone features impeccable fretwork and a comfortable neck feel. At 27.5 inches in scale length, you will know you are playing a baritone and not a standard length guitar. Your fret hand, however, will still feel free to explore the fret board.
Lower than Your Average Baritone
Finally, The most amazing facet of the John Petrucci BFR Baritone’s playability is its functionality at lower tunings. Petrucci Baritones left the factory-tuned to Bb. That's half a step lower than the common B standard (AKA, perfect fourth or "B to B") baritone tuning. When played live, John Petrucci tunes down another half step to A standard (AKA, perfect 5th tuning). Despite this ridiculously low tuning, the John Petrucci BFR Baritone delivers clear and crisp notes, even when playing lead lines.
Reason Two: Tone
The John Petrucci BFR Baritone offers unparalleled tonal versatility. The guitar delivers warm bell-like clean tones. With the gain cranked up, the Petrucci Baritone delivers distorted tones that are buttery smooth and blisteringly intense at the same time
The tonal pallet of the Petrucci Baritone might be described as part Les Paul and part high-end Ibanez. This is probably a result of the pairing of high-end Dimarzio pickups with a mix of alder and mahogany tone woods and a maple top.
Reason Three: Tech
The folks at Earnie Ball Music Man loaded the Petrucci BFR Baritone with tone sculpting features you won’t find on most guitars, let alone nearly any other baritone. Tech features include:
What’s not to like? Price & Neck Finish
The John Petrucci BFR Baritone features a gloss finished neck. This might be a matter of preference, but I think all serious guitars should have tung oil-finished necks. Tung oil allows for a fast and smooth feel with less friction. It also allows for a more natural wood feel under your palm. If you ever tried a tung oil finish neck, you will never go back.
The second drawback of this ax is its sticker price. You can expect to pay upwards of $2400 for a used John Petrucci BFR Baritone. As a limited run custom guitar, the hefty price tag is understandable (even reasonable). Still, most of us don’t have that kind of cash on hand to shell out for a guitar.
If you’ve got the cash (and if you manage to find one) the John Petrucci BFR Baritone might be the right baritone ax for you - especially if you want tricked out specs and tech. If you want to spend even more money on a baritone (or if you just like drooling over expensive guitars) check out our post on the Paul Reed Smith Tremonti Baritone Limited Edition.
On the other hand, if your budget is somewhere south of $700, you might want to check out the Ibanez RGIB6 Baritone. It's a great option for rock and metal players and maybe the most playable baritone on the market for shred-minded artists.
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