The best baritone guitars are a somewhat niche instrument compared to others, but buy the right one and it can introduce a new layer of fun into your playing. So, what is a baritone guitar, and what are the top brands to look out for? A baritone guitar has a longer neck and is normally down-tuned. They’re available from brands including Gretsch, PRS, and ESP, and can vary wildly in price.
The best baritone guitars offer a different, yet familiar, playing experience to regular six strings, and can completely transform the way you think about riffs, leads and solos. In this round-up we’ll show off some of the top baritone guitars you can buy right now, and offer expert advice on how to choose the ideal model for you.
Best baritone guitars: MusicRadar’s choice
Each instrument featured in our guide to the best baritone guitars excels at one thing or another. From the classic deep twang of the Gretsch, to the fearsome riff production of the ESP LTD M-7 Baritone Black Metal, there are some exceptional baritones occupying this exciting little niche.
For us, the best baritone guitar is undoubtedly the PRS SE 277. The 277 can do metal, it can do twang, it can do ringing open chords, and it can double your bass track with all the ease of a laid-back Sunday morning. What’s more, it does each of these things with the supreme confidence and clarity you’d expect from guitar giant PRS.
If you’re hunting for the best cheap baritone guitars with bags of personality, there are a few options below, but the cheapest of the lot is the Danelectro Baritone. You can expect bags of character and tone for days, without having to destroy your bank balance.
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Best baritone guitars: Product guide & reviews
PRS has kept a version of its SE baritone guitar around for a while now, which is great for us as players as it’s still one of the best in the business. The PRS SE 277 balances the expected benefits of a baritone (thick, warm tone) with the expected benefits of a PRS SE guitar (build quality and superb aesthetics) to deliver an instrument that somehow ends up better than the sum of its parts.
The SE 277 will do metal, sure, but we found real joy with a mildly hairy overdriven tone and a splash of reverb simply ringing out open chords. Quite simply the best baritone guitar outside of the elite models.
If the low-end mayhem of baritone guitar-fuelled metal doesn’t do it for you, but you’re still keen on taking advantage of those B Standard charms, the Gretsch G5260 is a great option. With a huge scale length – a hair’s breadth under 30” – you might think is an unwieldy guitar but in reality, the (relatively) smaller body makes this a perfectly easy guitar to control.
The pickups on the Gretsch G5260 Electromatic Jet Baritone Guitar will come up short if you’re going for saturated metal tones, but for clean and mildly overdriven styles they have an almost piano-esque quality. We reckon that makes this Gretsch the best baritone guitar for indie and ambient styles.
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British guitar brand Chapman has shown a welcome broadening in its portfolio over recent years, and the Chapman ML1 Modern Baritone V2 is a neat addition to the range. The traditional Strat body shape of the Chapman ML1 Modern V2 Electric Baritone Guitar is comfortable enough to play, although it is a heavy beast. We liked the Sonorous Zero pickups, which offered everything we’d want tonally from a modern metal guitar.
The finishes on offer may divide opinion, but the guitar on which they rest is a solid mid-range workhorse that we’d be happy to recommend to anyone looking to dabble confidently in the world of baritone guitars.
As one of the most prominent users of baritone guitars, Deftones’ Stef Carpenter was the likeliest candidate to have a signature model. As it turns out, Stef has many. One of them, the ESP LTD SC-607 Baritone, is a seven-string wolf in sheep’s clothing, which befits the reputation of one of the genre’s true heavyweights.
One of the positive points of the ESP LTD SC-607 being that it’s extremely playable; you could argue that a guitar being playable is the bare minimum you would expect, but it’s worth us expanding on this point…
The combination of the shape, finish, and the overall attention to detail make this one of the most effortless baritone guitars we’ve ever picked up. For an instrument designed with heavy music in mind, this is a silk glove of a baritone, and one of the best signature guitars around today.
The origins of the baritone electric guitar can be traced back to the 1950s, when Danelectro rode the waves of the era’s popular music by introducing the first mass-market baritone. It quickly found favour with surf style and in film scores, where its deep, mysterious tone offered a new dimension to everything else around at the time.
Fast forward to now, and the Danelectro Baritone is still going strong. Everything about this beauty shouts vintage, from the classic body shape to those Lipstick single coil pickups. For us, this is an ideal studio guitar; you’re unlikely to use it every time you play, but for those times when you need something a bit different, this Dano will provide just that.
Arguably one of the less prominent names on this list, the Reverend Descent RA Baritone Electric is still a force to be reckoned with. For rock and metal players in particular, the Descent features an extremely useful extra control on the body which enables you to shape the bass response of the pickups. From warm, mellow sounds through to thick, girthy gain-friendly tones, this guitar can do it all.
We like the shape of the Descent RA Baritone Electric’s body, and the overall comfort on offer in playing it, but we can’t help but think they could have been a bit more adventurous with the finish options. The Descent RA faces big competition in and around the $/£1k mark, but there’s a lot to like about this baritone guitar.
Hagstrom has carved itself a nice niche providing a range of guitars which, from a few miles away, may resemble ‘better known’ models from bigger brands, but upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be entirely and utterly unique.
The Hagstrom Viking Baritone Electric borrows its shape from more famous semi-acoustics, but that is where the similarities end. This 28” scale beast offers something different to others on the list in that, even unplugged, it produces a wonderfully resonant sound that rings out for days.
Plug it in and you’ll see it doesn’t wear the Viking name lightly, offering a wide variety of sounds from clean to extreme. Make no mistake, this is a large guitar, but it’s also hard not to fall for its Nordic charms. If you think big always equals best, this is hands-down the best baritone guitar for you.
It’s never a bad thing to know your audience. With the ESP LTD M-7 HT Baritone Black Metal, you can be certain that the Japanese brand understands with crystal clarity what an extreme metal player will want from a baritone guitar.
You get one overpowered pickup in the bridge position, one volume control on the body, and…well, that’s about it. The ESP LTD M-7 HT Baritone Black Metal is a zero frills guitar, designed purely for those grinding, ominous riffs associated with the genre from which its name is taken.
We could talk about how, when you drop the volume control down you can coax some clarity and tonal variety from it. But no. This is a guitar that knows its audience cares little for fancy binding, fret inlays or even bridge pickups.
You can tell what you’ll get from the ESP LTD M-7 HT Baritone Black Metal without actually having to pick it up. It does, however, completely live up to expectations and is extremely fun to play. So, if you think this may be the best baritone guitar for you, even half an inkling of a thought, we can tell you it almost definitely is the right choice.
Choosing the best baritone guitar for you
Baritone guitars are a special breed. Imagine taking a regular guitar, then elongating the neck and tuning everything down to B. Essentially, that is all a baritone guitar is, meaning you can play it in exactly the same way, only it’ll sound much deeper, warmer, richer, and – if you want – heavier. Much heavier.
Typically, the best baritone guitars feature a slightly larger body and neck than a regular six string, to account for the extra scale length, although they are by no means difficult to play. While it’s true modern baritone guitars are most closely associated with rock and metal music, they offer players from a host of genres a way to stand out.
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All those chords, riffs and patterns you’re used to playing will transfer nicely over to a baritone guitar, so you won’t have to learn new techniques, although players who are partial to wild string bending may have to hold their horses, so to speak.
While the best baritone guitars may not be as popular as other guitars, they still count most of the big brands among their fans. PRS, ESP and Gretsch all have established baritone guitar lines, along with more boutique names in the musical instrument world.
Most of all, the best baritone guitars offer something for the players, bands and artists who want to sound different. A common technique when recording, for example, is to have the baritone guitar mirror whatever the bass guitar is playing to round out the sound and give it a slightly different flavour.
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If you’re into metal, and you don’t own one of the best metal guitars just yet, you’ll likely want to drop the tuning even further to reach those incredible levels of sludge you hear from bands like Deftones, Machine Head, and Architects. By employing a baritone guitar to reach these depths, you gain a much fuller sound without any of the ‘floppy string syndrome’ you can get from dropping a regular six string that low.