If you’ve been playing a standard guitar in drop tunings and wondering why your tuning stability and intonation are all over the place, it might just be that your instrument simply isn’t suitable for playing at these low pitches. If this is the case, you really should be looking at finding a baritone electric guitar.
Baritone guitars have a much longer scale, which results in far stronger performance at low tunings. While less common than standard, or “full scale” guitars, they are growing in popularity, and are available from some of the biggest names in the business.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll be taking a look at the 5 best baritone guitars on the market. During the reviews we focused primarily on the construction, fit and finish, playability, and of course the tones.
If you’ve been thinking about how to get a deeper tone, or you’ve been curious about baritone guitars, you’ll definitely want to keep on reading.
- Best Baritone Electric Guitars: Our Top 7
- Best Baritone Electric Guitars: Individual Reviews
- How To Choose The Best Baritone Electric Guitar For You
- Features to Look For in a Baritone Guitar
- Final Thoughts on the Best Baritone Electric Guitars
Best Baritone Electric Guitars: Our Top 7
The Jackson X Series Soloist SLA6 DX was our top pick. This is a great guitar for those looking to get into a high quality baritone guitar at an attainable price point. It features two EMG Active humbuckers, an ultra-fast neck profile and a solid mahogany body for huge depth of tone and superb playability.
For those on a tighter budget, our Best Budget pick, the Squier Paranormal Baritone Cabronita Telecaster, might be the perfect choice. This model offers great playability and a surprisingly big sound for an instrument at this price range. Its 27 inch scale is at the shorter end of baritone, making it a great jumping off point if you’re not overly experienced with these guitars.
If you’re OK spending more money, and you simply want the very best baritone guitar, we’d suggest our Editor’s Choice, the ESP LTD BB-600 Ben Burnley Baritone. This signature guitar is a real weapon, and offers everything you could possibly want in a baritone, from high end pickups, to its gorgeous quilted top.
Best Baritone Electric Guitars: Individual Reviews
The Jackson X Series Soloist SLA6 DX is the total package – comfortable, fast, and stable even with some crazy drop tunings. It has a fantastic matte black finish, and is built with all the features you’d expect in an instrument for a working musician.
The body was made with mahogany, and like some of our favorite Jackson models, came with a carved top. This added to the already stellar ergonomics, giving us a wrist perch which came in handy during extended periods of downpicking, and as a result was amongst the most comfortable in the entire roundup. It had white binding, which really popped against the matte black finish, and overall, we thought it was one of the best looking instruments in the whole review.
It had a maple neck with a 26.5” scale, making it one of the shorter options. It was carved into the Jackson Speed Profile, which is one of our favorite neck shapes. It was super fast, and comfortable from top to bottom. The 12”-16” compound radius was also a nice addition – it allowed for easy transition from rhythm to lead playing, and further added to the playability.
On the topic of playability, having a 26.5” scale made it feel like an easy transition from a standard scale guitar. This kept it comfortable, as it had some of the lowest string tension amongst the test group, and made it a great option for lead guitar lines.
Electronics wise, it had 2 EMG active humbucking pickups. We found these pickups to be incredibly responsive. They did a great job at picking up the bottom end nuances that come with a baritone scale, without getting muddy. The neck pickup gave us some great warm tones that were perfect for thick rhythm lines. The bridge pickup was equally impressive – we got some fantastic attack and clarity even when playing at high gain.
This particular model was equipped with a hardtail bridge, which was great for stability. As for the rest of the hardware, it was fitted with quality Jackson branded, sealed die cast tuners. They did a great job with tuning stability, and made fine tuning easy, even when dropping by several steps.
Verdict: The Jackson X Series Soloist SLA6 DX is a great all-rounder that looks as good as it sounds. It’s a well-built, reliable and super comfortable instrument that has great sustain and tuning stability. It was well deserving of the top pick title, and comes highly recommended for players of all levels looking for a fantastic baritone guitar.
- Comfortable neck shape
- Quality EMG pickups
- Good tuning stability
- No tremolo arm available
- Pickups require batteries
The Squier Paranormal Baritone Cabronita Telecaster is the perfect guitar for those who want to get their hands on a quality baritone, but don’t have the budget for one of our higher end picks. Like most modern Squiers, it was well constructed, and on top of that it was comfortable and forgiving too.
The body was constructed from poplar and carved into the classic Telecaster shape, although that’s where the similarities end – this Paranormal Cabronita model had a much smaller pickguard than a traditional Tele, and a toggle switch instead of the usual blade switch.
It had a maple neck with a super comfortable modern C profile. The scale length was 27”, making it a small, but noticeable step up from the traditional 25.5” Tele length. Considering the price, we were impressed with the quality of the fret finish, with no sharps, good leveling, no dead spots, and a decent polish on the crowns.
Electronics wise, it had two single coil soapbar pickups. While they look like P90s, they actually aren’t, although their wide design does lend many of the same properties – that is, sparkling highs and gnarly distorted tones that positively bark when pushed hard.
The hardware was solid – it featured a 6-saddle hardtail bridge and vintage Kluson style tuners – a big step up from the standard Squier die cast tuners seen on non Classic Vibe models. The tuners offered excellent fine tuning performance, and as the saddles were more like a strat hardtail rather than the traditional Telecaster barrel style, it helped a lot with intonation and stability.
Verdict: If you’re looking for a budget-friendly baritone Telecaster, the Squier Paranormal Baritone Cabronita is an excellent option. It looks fantastic, it offers some incredibly unique tones, and it has an extremely comfortable neck – making it a great choice that won’t break the bank.
- Affordable price
- Comfortable neck
- Articulate pickups
- Slab style body not the most ergonomic
- Prone to 60 cycle hum
The ESP LTD BB-600 Ben Burnley Baritone is a great option for anybody looking for an instrument that can remain clear even in the deepest drop tunings and offer a wide range of tones. This is the signature model of Breaking Benjamin frontman, Ben Burnley and is equipped to his own specs.
The body was constructed from mahogany and fitted with a stunning quilted maple top. The mahogany added a ton of richness to the tone, and the maple gave it just a little extra snap that was absolutely noticeable. This is a LP style guitar, so of course it featured a treble side cutaway for easy upper fret access.
It had a 27” scale, with a set mahogany 3 piece neck, carved into a thin, comfortable U shape profile. It offered spectacular feel, and was incredibly fast playing. The fretwork was just as good, with 24 extra jumbo frets finished with no sharps and a fantastic crown polish for smooth bends.
This model had one of the most unique electronics setups we’ve encountered to date. Not only did it boast a pair of Seymour Duncan pickups (a ‘59 in the neck and a JB in the bridge), but it also had an under-bridge piezo. The electromagnetic pickups and the piezo could be used separately, or even blended thanks to the dual output jacks. We got some amazing depth of tone this way, and believe us when we say it’s hard to do this guitar justice in writing!
We found the hardware to be superb as well. Being a LP style model, it of course had a Tune-O-Matic style bridge, which kept the intonation accurate, and the stock Grover tuners gave us flawless tuning stability.
Verdict: The ESP LTD BB-600 Ben Burnley Baritone is an extremely versatile guitar that can handle so much more than metal thanks to its unique electronics. It’s built with quality materials, has great tones, and excellent tuning stability. If you’re looking for a baritone guitar that can handle just about any style of playing, this is definitely worth considering.
- Amazing electronics
- Gorgeous figured top
- Excellent feel
- No locking tuners
- Very expensive
The Danelectro Baritone Electric Guitar offers fantastically vintage looks, and thanks to its unique design, it offers some tones that even other baritone models can’t even come close to.
The body was constructed from hardboard and plywood – an unusual choice of materials. We didn’t notice any real tonal loss from this, but we’re unsure as to its overall durability in the long term. On the plus side, this kept the weight extremely low, and the black metal flake finish with the perspex pickguard looked fantastic.
Its scale length was absolutely enormous, coming in at a huge 29.75”. Smaller players will likely find this quite difficult to deal with, and combined with the slab style body, we think playability suffered a little, even for larger guitarists.
We did like the C shaped maple neck, though. It was a little thicker than the other models on test, but it offered good ergonomics, and helped to keep fatigue at bay.
The pickups were Lipstick style single coils – they gave it plenty of twang and bite, and remained clear, even when playing with high gain settings. Not only did they sound good, but they looked super cool, too.
Hardware was all fairly standard, with an adjustable vintage style 6-saddle bridge with a trapezoidal plate. The tuners were vintage Kluson style units, which provided good stability, although we did have to work to make fine adjustments to tuning.
Verdict: The Danelectro Baritone Electric Guitar is a great player’s instrument that offers big baritone tones at an affordable price point. It has a unique look and feel, and the pickups offer plenty of articulation – making it great for a wide variety of musical styles.
- Affordable price point
- Light weight
- Lipstick pickups
- Unwieldy for smaller players
- Tuners not great for fine tuning.
The ESP LTD Viper-201B Baritone is a great all-rounder that offers good playability and killer tones.
The body was constructed from mahogany, and had an ESP Viper shape – this is based on the classic SG body, but in a literal twist, this version is offset, making it even more comfortable and further increasing the playability.
Like the Ben Burnley Signature, it had a 3 piece mahogany set neck. The downside in this case was it was a little stickier, which slowed it down a little, especially after extended play. The scale length was a comfortable 27”, which gave it a ton of versatility for a range of music styles.
The pickups here were ESP designed LH-150N/LH-150Bs, which offered plenty of grunt and good sustain. We found that the neck pickup was a little muddy, but we got good clarity from the bridge. We definitely found that it was better for rhythm playing, as the articulation wasn’t quite as strong as we found on other models.
Hardware was all fairly standard – it had an adjustable tune-o-matic bridge, with a stopbar tailpiece, which as always, provided great intonation. The tuners were adequate – they had keystone style pegs, and sealed gear machines – they didn’t slip, but fine tuning when it came to alternative tunings was a little challenging.
Verdict: The ESP LTD Viper-201B Baritone is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a metal focused instrument at a great price point. It has plenty of sustain and punch, and the shorter (relatively speaking) scale length makes it comfortable for players of all sizes.
- Aggressive looks
- Comfortable offset body
- Excellent sustain
- Neck pickup was muddy
- Tuners can be a bit stiff.
How To Choose The Best Baritone Electric Guitar For You
If you’re new to baritone guitars, you’ll undoubtedly have some questions that need answering before making your purchase. We’ve put together this handy guide to baritone electric guitars to help get you the information you need.
What Are Baritone Guitars?
A baritone guitar is a type of guitar that typically has a scale length of 26 to 30.5 inches. They are tuned a perfect 4th below a standard guitar, which looks like – B, E, A, D F#, B.
Baritone guitars are mostly used in metal and hard rock styles of music, as the extra bottom end performance helps to keep the tones tight at lower pitches. While they’re most popular in heavier styles, baritone guitars are also popular with country and blues players, too.
Baritone Guitar Benefits
The most obvious benefits of using a baritone guitar instead of a standard guitar come into play when playing in drop tunings. The extra scale length assists in retaining better string tension when tuned down, and because the strings are tighter, this helps to prevent the sloppy intonation many players find when drop tuning their standard scale instrument.
Baritone guitars sit in a lower frequency range than standard scale instruments. The net effect is a deeper sound that sits somewhere between a standard scale guitar and a bass. For this reason, they don’t sit well in every mix, but if you’re trying to get a ton of bottom end in your sound, there’s no better way to do it.
Features to Look For in a Baritone Guitar
Shopping for a baritone guitar is pretty similar to shopping for any other electric guitar when it comes to features. We’ve highlighted some of the most important things to look for below.
As the majority of baritone electrics are aimed at metal players, you’ll find that most models are equipped with humbuckers. Humbuckers are great for producing a thick tone, which really pairs well with drop tunings. They have the additional benefit of killing 60 cycle hum, which can be even more noticeable with high gain settings on your amp.
On the other hand, if you’re a country or folk player, you might want to look at a model with single coil pickups. While they are more prone to electrical interference, they bring back a lot of the brightness that is typically lost in lower tunings.
The wood that the guitar is made from can also have a significant effect on the tone. These are some of the more common woods you’ll find baritone guitars made from.
Mahogany is prized for its rich, warm tonal properties. This is why it’s a common choice for manufacturers when building their baritone models, as it very nicely compliments the deeper tones.
Maple is typically used as a top cap or veneer on electric guitars. This is primarily due to its weight – if the body was made from solid maple, it would likely be far too heavy to hold comfortably. Maple adds a hint of brightness and some bite to the top end of a guitar’s tone when used as a cap, which further adds to the guitar’s overall dynamics.
As well as providing additional tonal texture, the use of maple is also prevalent for aesthetics. Flamed and quilted finishes are some of the most popular, and when done right, they can look sensational.
Poplar is an affordable and light weight tone wood. For this reason you’ll often see it used in budget models. Even though it’s a low cost option, it adds a lot of brightness to a guitar’s tone, which is why it works so well with single coil pickups
Plywood can refer to literally any species of wood when it’s sandwiched together and laminated to create one thick piece from many thin pieces. It’s one of the cheapest ways to make a guitar, which does help to keep prices down, but it can cause the guitar to suffer tonally. Plywoods tend to resonate less, which can dampen the vibrations, and consequently reduce the sustain.
Final Thoughts on the Best Baritone Electric Guitars
Baritone electric guitars offer players a way to get reliable performance from their instrument, even at the deepest drop tunings. If you’ve been downtuning a standard scale model, and you’re yet to try out a baritone model, you’re in for a real treat when you do. Not only do they produce tighter tones, but the tuning stability, intonation, and overall playability are much improved, too.
To recap our favorites from this roundup – if you’re looking for a great all rounder, that offers solid performance to suit players of all levels and doesn’t cost a fortune, then our top pick the Jackson X Series Soloist SLA6 DX is a great choice for you. Players looking for a real bargain should take a look at our best budget option, the Squier Paranormal Baritone Cabronita Telecaster – it’s a hugely versatile guitar that performs well across practically every genre. Finally, if you are looking for a truly amazing guitar, and you have the budget for it, our editor’s choice, the ESP LTD BB-600 Ben Burnley Baritone is the model for you. It sounds great, looks amazing, and offers some crazy tones you won’t find anywhere else.