T’aint bass, t’aint guitar, ’tis versatile.
This column was inspired by a fine April 2014 Premier Guitar article: “Deep 6: A Brief History of the Tragically Underused Electric Baritone Guitar” by Thomas V. Jones—better known as TV Jones, famed pickup maker and luthier. Tom’s right. Baritone is tragically underused. So let’s ameliorate the tragedy with an overview of ways to arrange and record with bari.
Here’s how Jones defines baritone guitar: “a long-scale guitar tuned below standard E tuning, but not as far down as a full octave. Most baritone scale lengths are between 26" and 30".”
My definition is looser: any fretted instrument that specializes in bridging the bass and guitar registers. That can include purpose-made baris like Jones describes, 6-string basses tuned E to E (the original tuning for Danelectro and Fender 6-string basses), and even standard-scale guitars cranked down to B or A. With the latter option, string gets floppy and intonation suffers. And sometimes that’s awesome.
Here’s an example on YouTube. I recorded all the guitar tracks on Tom Waits’ “Going Out West” with a vintage Telecaster tuned down to B, without even installing heavy strings. The intonation is abysmal! It’s a sour-sounding racket! And Waits wouldn’t have had it any other way. The amp was a blackface Super Reverb. I’d applied reverb and trem, but just before we rolled tape, Tom turned both controls up to 10.
The slippery slope. Baritone guitar’s musical uses are equally varied. On one end of the spectrum are low single-note parts that might double a standard bass, or simple single-note melodies near or below the bottom of the guitar register, like, say the iconic Bass VI melodies Glen Campbell played on his ’60s hits “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” The Bass VI in Clip 1 is tuned from E to E as Leo intended. (As on nearly all baritone guitar recordings from the 1950s and ’60, the strings are flatwound.)
Thanks to the Bass VI’s extended 30"-scale, low notes are authoritative and higher notes are reasonably well-intonated. It’s a far cry from the loose, sloppy sound of the Waits track. But low-tuned standard-scale guitars don’t always sound so anarchic. I’ve had great luck recording with a Baldwin Virginian, a standard 25.5"-scale semi-acoustic that I snagged back in the ’90s for a mere $90 (Clip 2).
If the Bass VI resonates like steel bridge cables and the low-tuned Tele is like a clothesline flapping in the breeze, this is like … a tightrope, maybe? It’s reasonably in tune, and the shorter scale facilitates chordal/fingerstyle playing. I tune it A–E–A–D–F#–B—like dropped-D, but down a fourth.
Clip 1 and Clip 2 were both recorded guitar-style, with amp, reverb, and tremolo sounds. But there are other possibilities. Check out Clip 3, a quickie demo track featuring drums, bass, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar. There’s no bari—yet.
Let’s consider some ways you might incorporate bari here. In Clip 4, I double the original bass line in unison using the Bass VI—the same technique employed on many vintage Nashville recordings. The Fender certainly brings out the bass line, especially against the deep, dark-sounding Guild Starfire bass on the primary bass track. This time I recorded direct, straight into a preamp with no amp or effect simulation.
I don’t miss an amp sound here, though it would probably sound just as good with one. Still, I manipulated the track in the mix, filtering out a lot of low end on the bari so it wouldn’t muddy the sub-200 Hz frequencies. I also added plate reverb and panned the parts slightly in stereo. Conventional wisdom says bass tracks should be dry—a great principle to violate! Here, though, blending dry bass and wet bari creates a cool ambience while maintaining melodic clarity.
Clip 5 flips the equation. Here I double the electric guitar part an octave below using a 29.4"-scale Gretsch Spectra Sonic baritone, an instrument created by TV Jones himself. (Gretsch no longer produces these, though Jones sells them directly.) This creates a mutant 12-string effect.
The Spectra Sonic is a great “compromise” guitar. It has sufficient tension and scale length for classic baritone sounds, yet it’s relatively comfy for chordal and fingerstyle playing. I tune it A–E–A–D–F#–B, same as the Baldwin.Did you know that Robert Smith used Bass VI on many, many Cure tracks? But he rarely doubles guitar or bass parts. Instead, he plays simple, stepwise countermelodies that weave around the vocals and other guitars. Sadly, Clip 6 sounds nothing like my beloved Cure, though the musical concept is similar. It’s the Baldwin again.
This is far from a complete list of baritone guitar techniques. We didn’t even get into reinforcing distorted guitar riffs with extra low notes, a long-running metal/rock technique. But the real adventure happens when you discover your own techniques. You don’t even need a dedicated baritone guitar to experiment. Just install a set of heavy-gauge flatwounds on a standard-scale guitar and tune B to B. Or for a less traditional bari sound, just use your current strings. Intonation may become an unobtainable fantasy, but you’ll have good anarchic fun.
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
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- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.