Baritones: the Magic is in the Tuning.
When you get right down to it, a lot of the magic of the baritone guitar is in the tuning. The reason one creates music on a baritone is because of the deep and rich tones created by playing in a lower register.
Sadly, the average baritone player never ventures beyond standard tuning and thus never experiences the instrument's full potential.
However, if you're reading this article, you are not the average baritone player.
So, check the batteries in your chromatic tuner. Its time to twist some pegs and adjust some strings. Here is part one our complete (or, nearly complete) guide to traditional and alternative baritone tuning.
B Standard Tuning (AKA: Perfect Fourth)
Strings, Low to High: B E A D F♯ B
This is quite possibly the most popular baritone tuning. Its a perfect fourth lower than a standard guitar and offers a perfectly divine playing experience, providing a dramatically different tonal pallet when compared with a standard guitar while also providing more string tension than A standard tuning (see below). On many baritones, the increased string tension will permit more aggressive playing.
A Standard Tuning (AKA: Prefect Fifth)
Strings, Low to High: A D G C E A
A standard tuning is a popular option for baritone guitar players and as low as some will dare go. A prefect fifth lower than a standard guitar, this tuning sounds particularly glorious when used for finger picking or with drone tones.
On some baritone guitars, this tuning may result in in buzzing when strummed aggressively. Others, such as the Taylor Special Edition 326e, are a little more forgiving of A standard tuning.
Open Major Tunings: A Major, B Major, and Beyond
For Open A: Strings, Low to High, A E A E A C#
For Open B: Strings, Low to High, B F# B F# B D#
Open chord tunings are perhaps most commonly thought of as being used for playing with a slide or for finger picking. However, artists ranging from Mumford and Sons to The Rolling Stones have used open chord tunings.
As the name implies, strumming the guitar in the open position will create a major chord because the strings are tuned to only include the first (root), third, and fifth notes. Thus, when using open B tuning, strumming the open strings will create a B major chord.
To achieve open B tuning from B standard (perfect fourth) tuning, walk through the following five steps:
1. Raise the 5th string to match the tone when you fret the 6th string at the 7th fret (F#).
2. Raise the 4th string to match the tone when you fret the 5th string at the 5th fret (B).
3. Raise the 3rd string to match the tone when you fret the 4th string at the 7th fret (F#).
4. Raise the 2nd string to match the tone when you fret the 3rd string at the 5th fret (B)
5. Raise the 1st string to match the tone when you fret the 2nd string at the 4th fret (D#)
Note: This simple tuning guide gives you the tools you need to dial up any open major tuning on a baritone or standard guitar. Just set your lowest string to the desired root tone and then adjust your strings accordingly.
Strings: Low to high, B E A^ D^ F# B ("^" symbol denotes strings raised one octave above standard baritone tuning)
This alternative baritone tuning was popularized by Pat Metheny. It adds brightness and breadth to the baritone guitar, creating interesting voicing possibilities.
Check out the following video for an example of Pat's half Nashville tuning in action.
Pat Metheny's half Nashville tuning requires that you sub out the 3rd and 4th strings in your typical baritone string set for standard-gauge guitar strings and tune both one active up from normal baritone tuning.
NOTE: Don't try this with your standard baritone string set - your strings and neck weren't designed for that kinda tension.
Thus, your typical baritone would be tuned (low to high) B, E, A^, D^, F#, and B. Note: the "^" symbol denotes the raised octave. Pat tunes his baritone A to A, so if you want to follow more precisely in his sonic footsteps, try tuning your baritone to A, D, G^, C^, E, A.
Note: We previously featured half-Nashville tuning in a post on 1/3/16.
Check out Part Two...
That's it for part one of our Complete Baritone Guitar Tuning Guide. Click here to check out part two, in which we explore some baritone versions of dropped tunings and a DADGAD alternative for baritone players.
You might also want to check out our guide to baritone strings or our complete list of electric and acoustic baritone reviews.
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