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Deep 6: A Brief History of the Tragically Underused Electric Baritone Guitar


Jerry Jones Shorthorn Baritone.

For many years, Jerry Jones Guitars built guitars, basses, baritones, and other instruments based on ’50s and ’60s Danelectros—though they featured better bridges and tuners, an adjustable truss rod, better electronics, and improved fretwork. Although Jerry Jones Guitars ceased production in 2011, its instruments are still highly sought after on the used market.

“The 30"-scale Dano design always had a floppy low-E string,” says Jones. “The idea for the baritone was to simply eliminate that problematic low E, shorten the scale to 28", retune to a fourth or fifth above the 6-string bass, and replace the wound 1st and 2nd strings with plain strings—the way an acoustic guitar is configured. From a player’s perspective, the advantages would be a more chord-friendly instrument with bendable strings. Musically, a baritone lays in the mix a little easier than a 6-string bass, and even when it’s played in the upper register, it has a unique timbre, different from guitar. Many songwriters combine a capo with a baritone to build music around their own vocal ranges. Some guitarists get really crafty and play high parts with a capo on a baritone and use a regular guitar for the low parts.”

YouTube It

To see Tom “TV” Jones’ original C Melody baritone guitar in action, check out YouTube user Dark Angel’s hi-definition version of Brian Setzer playing “Mystery Train” in Tokyo with the Stray Cats.

Bit by the Bari Bug
As a luthier, I became interested in the baritone in the mid 1990s while working in the guitar repair department at World of Strings violin shop in Long Beach, California. I met Ron Escheté—a well-regarded 7-string chord-melody jazz guitarist—and wondered what it would be like for him to have access to lower, more defined, better-rounded notes. So, I built Ron a prototype 7-string baritone guitar.

Soon after that I built a prototype baritone that was tuned to C, and showed it to Brian Setzer’s former guitar tech, Rich Modica. He flipped—it sounded unique, with clear lows, like a piano—and asked to borrow it so he could show it to Brian. That instrument went on to be used with his swing band, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, so he could play in horn-friendly keys—but he also ended up using it for rockabilly tunes such as “Mystery Train” and “I Won’t Stand in Your Way.” This led to a production deal with Gretsch, which produced the Spectra Sonic C Melody baritone I designed, along with a bass and a standard-scale guitar. Although the Gretsch versions are no longer being made, we now produce our own TV Jones C Melody baritone.

Current-Production Baritones to Try

Although the number of baritone guitars currently on the market is miniscule compared to standard-scale guitars, there are still many options available in a variety of styles—and, in many cases, at surprisingly affordable prices.

Cort Sunset Baritone, $980 street, cortguitars.com
Danelectro ’56 Baritone, $419 street, danelectro.com

Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX, $469 street, eastwoodguitars.com
ESP LTD SC-607B Stef Carpenter Baritone 7-string, $999 street, espguitars.com

Epiphone Robb Flynn Love/Death Baritone Flying V, $699 street, epiphone.com
Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster, $499 street, fender.com

Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI, $349 street, fender.com/squier
Gibson SG Studio Baritone, $1,499 street, gibson.com

Gretsch G5265 Jet Baritone, $525 street, gretschguitars.com
Hagstrom Viking Baritone, $729 street, hagstromguitars.com

PRS SE Mike Mushok Baritone, $664 street, prsguitars.com
Ibanez RGIB6 Iron Label Baritone, $699 street, ibanez.com
Peavey Devin Townsend Signature PXD Vicious Baritone 7-string, $1,399 street, peavey.com

Schecter Ultra-VI, $649 street, schecterguitars.com
TV Jones Spectra Sonic C Melody Baritone, $2,825 street, tvjones.com

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