The Beauty Of the Baritone
Seven string guitars are a lot of fun. Personally I'm a big seven-stringer - I love the extended high range as well as the deeper lows. But there's usually a trade-off with sevens. It can be hard to adjust to a seven-string because you're adding an entire string that forces you to reorient yourself on the fretboard and over the picking area of the strings. And depending on the scale length of your seven-string, your guitar might be geared more towards soloing than to low chords. I'll always be a seven-string player (and I'm a big fan of the Explorer Seven String which you can see in this lesson), but sometimes a seven-string just doesn't do the particular job I'm after.
What I need in those situations is a baritone.
A baritone guitar can be basically summed up as a guitar with a longer scale length (the distance between the bridge and nut) than usual. This requires the frets to be spaced slightly further apart too, to ensure consistent intonation compared to a regularly tuned guitar.
So what are the benefits of a baritone? Well there are a few that I personally find very appealing:
Tuning stability. Ever try to tune a Les Paul down to C# or B? You can do it, but the strings will flap in the breeze, and their pitch will waver over the duration of the note. You can put heavier strings on there to compensate, and this will help down to certain lower tunings like Eb or D, but after a while you'll start to run into intonation issues there too.
Punchier tone. A baritone stretches a heavier, longer string over a greater distance, giving you a snappier, punchier feel compared to a shorter-scale guitar tuned down. Your note attack is more immediate, chords have more body and the tone is generally a little brighter, which helps lower-tuned notes to sit comfortably in a mix. I suspect that's why players in the 'djent' genre appreciate baritone guitars with treble-and-mid-heavy tones: because at the speeds they play at, and with the complex arrangements they use, you need to approach your tone from a slightly different perspective to how you would dial it in if you were going for more of a traditional metal 'scooped mid' feel. Fuzz pedals tend to respond quite well to baritones too, especially if you’re into garage or stoner rock sounds.
Stable playability. This ties in with the tuning and tone benefits. The wider string spacing and the thicker strings of a baritone seem better suited to fast riffage in the low and middle regions of the neck, and the string spacing doesn't become all smooshed up in the higher frets. I find that this inspires me to play a certain way, with heftier note attack and increased articulation, compared to when I play on my seven-strings.
Killer clean tone. This is one of my favorite reasons to play baritone guitars. The cleans of a baritone speak really clearly, especially if you dial in just enough of an overdrive edge: nothing approaching actual distortion, but just a little bit of that Stonesy grit. Add some reverb and an analog delay, sprinkle some arpeggios on a track, and you're in tonal heaven. It occupies an area above a bass but below a traditionally tuned guitar, and depending on the range of your vocalist it can help the guitar to fit more snuggly into your mix.
Just as importantly, these qualities make the baritone great for roots styles like blues and Americana as well as for metal - especially if you mod your guitar for coil splitting. Sometimes the blues just needs to be lowdown and gritty, which a baritone is great at, and country music sounds great with the extra kick of clean, bright baritone melody.
Easy adaptability. Whenever I pick up a baritone, I like that I don't have to rethink my chord shapes. I know that if I play an E shape, it'll be a C# Major, or a C Major, or a B Major, depending on how the guitar is tuned. And there's something about really laying into those low chords on a baritone that seems more direct and primal than doing so on a seven. Perhaps it’s a psychological thing related to the ease and comfort of six-string chords as opposed to seven-string ones. All I know is it’s fun!
Gibson makes a few baritone models that are well worth checking out. My favorite is the Les Paul Studio Baritone. Partially because it's finished in Honeyburst (the color I chose for my personal Les Paul), sure, but also because the classic tone of a Les Paul balances out particularly well with the response of a baritone, and the baked maple fretboard gives you some further upper-end clarity for those clean tones. It has 24 frets, a 28" scale (compared to 24.75" on a typical Les Paul) and a pair of ceramic-loaded Gibson humbuckers - the 500T in the bridge position and 496R in the neck.
If you're into something with a more aggressive look, check out the Gibson Explorer Baritone. Again it features a 28" scale length, a 24 fret neck and the 500T/496R pickup combination, but this time with a Preciosa fretboard.
Plus it's Silverburst, the most metal of all guitar finishes!