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Baritone Guitar String Gauges And Tunings


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I know this sort of thing has been addressed before, but I'm not getting quite the answer I want using the search, so I'm going to blast out a few questions here, hoping some of y'all have quick answers.

I'm looking at building a baritone type instrument. Been playing around chording on a couple of basses even more than usual lately. I think for the work I would like to do, I don't really want to go longer than a 28" scale length, so that's what I'm going to shoot for, I believe.

How low can I reasonably expect to be able to tune this instrument without things getting way too floppy, without using massive strings? Ideally, I'd like my lowest pitched string to be tuned to the pitch of A that's normally found on third string of a bass guitar, although I'm not certain I actually need or want to go that low. It's simply the option I'd like to have open as I experiment.

The Jaguar Baritone on the Fender website says it's tuned B to B with a 27" scale - so I figure an extra inch of scale length should mean I ought to be able to reach a step lower no problem. Could I maybe even hit that A with a 27" scale if I used heavier strings?

Am I way off base here?

Also - on the mention of strings - what exactly do you use? I haven't seen "baritone" strings at my local guitar shop - are regular guitar strings long enough, or thick enough? Do I need thicker strings, or does the increased scale length mean I can continue using normalish guitar-like string gauges?

Ideally, if I build this and end up wanting to use it live, I'd like to be able to play the songs I play now on a regular guitar, just moved up the neck as need be. Quite a bit of trem use has worked it's way into my style - nothing fancy, but a bit more than a warble. Are there any special considerations on putting a trem on a baritone?

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I know this sort of thing has been addressed before, but I'm not getting quite the answer I want using the search, so I'm going to blast out a few questions here, hoping some of y'all have quick answers.

I'm looking at building a baritone type instrument. Been playing around chording on a couple of basses even more than usual lately. I think for the work I would like to do, I don't really want to go longer than a 28" scale length, so that's what I'm going to shoot for, I believe.

How low can I reasonably expect to be able to tune this instrument without things getting way too floppy, without using massive strings? Ideally, I'd like my lowest pitched string to be tuned to the pitch of A that's normally found on third string of a bass guitar, although I'm not certain I actually need or want to go that low. It's simply the option I'd like to have open as I experiment.

The Jaguar Baritone on the Fender website says it's tuned B to B with a 27" scale - so I figure an extra inch of scale length should mean I ought to be able to reach a step lower no problem. Could I maybe even hit that A with a 27" scale if I used heavier strings?

Am I way off base here?

Also - on the mention of strings - what exactly do you use? I haven't seen "baritone" strings at my local guitar shop - are regular guitar strings long enough, or thick enough? Do I need thicker strings, or does the increased scale length mean I can continue using normalish guitar-like string gauges?

Ideally, if I build this and end up wanting to use it live, I'd like to be able to play the songs I play now on a regular guitar, just moved up the neck as need be. Quite a bit of trem use has worked it's way into my style - nothing fancy, but a bit more than a warble. Are there any special considerations on putting a trem on a baritone?

I use a set of Bass VI strings (.024-.084) tuned E-E on my 28 5/8" scale string through hardtail. It's a Warmoth conversion neck on a San Dimas strat body. It intonates and plays great.

Edited by Howfar
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I use a set of Bass VI strings (.024-.084) tuned E-E on my 28 5/8" scale string through hardtail. It's a Warmoth conversion neck on a San Dimas strat body. It intonates and plays great.

So what does that sound like? I'm really tempted to make something similar, just to get access to some nice low tones while still playing 'guitar'.

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27" feels really nice on my Explorer extension neck tuned to CGCGCE, so 28" should be good. 0.084" is a massive string but needed for E through E. For B, something like 0.010 through 0.052 should be about right. Strings are cheap, so buy a few "standard" sets and see what feels right for you on 28". A might be a push but that extra inch might be the decider.

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you could probably work it out with that scale length/string gauge/tension program thats somewhere on the net.

Yeah, that's what I'm working on now - just thought a bit of insight from folks here who play these things could give me a leg up. I'm starting to wonder how much tension is enough tension - it's a matter of correlating the numbers to a "feel"!

I'm starting to make a list/chart, showing what the tensions ought to be given the measurements and string gauges I've seen from commercially available baritones, and some of the numbers I've seen tossed out here by folks.

Of course, none of this tells me what the tone might be like -I know that changing string gauges can have a radical difference on things - and I don't even know exactly what I want!

I'm thinking that despite my distaste for them, a bolt-on neck might be a good option here - if I end up wishing I had done something different with scale length or something, I can make a new neck rather than reworking the whole nine yards.

Heck, maybe I ought to be looking at making a new bolt on neck for my old beater as an experiment...

I'm starting to think maybe fanned frets as well - but that opens a whole other kettle of fish, and throws tremolo right out the window unless I want to do some serious engineering. (although I suppose I could do something really odd, with my "perpendicular fret" actually being the bridge point - although I think that would give me some serious fanning up at the nut! I'm also not certain that it's actually something that would work for me, despite all the praise I've heard for them. I wish there was a commercially available instrument so I could play one for a bit and see if it feels like something I want. (Any builders with fanned fret instruments in the New England area want to let me test drive their builds?)

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A in 27" or 28" should be fine, I use a low B on a .54 string on my 7 string thats 27" and its good, so A and heavier strings will be fine, I cant think of any issues you would have with using a trem and a baritone scale (many baritone scales have them, including mine) you just need more/stronger springs on the back to balance it.

Have you thought about going to 7 or 8 stringed guitars? If you want to be able to play the stuff on 'regular guitar' as well as have that low end then it might be something to look into, as you can keep them in standard tuning and not have to move up the neck to play the same stuff.

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I use a set of Bass VI strings (.024-.084) tuned E-E on my 28 5/8" scale string through hardtail. It's a Warmoth conversion neck on a San Dimas strat body. It intonates and plays great.

So what does that sound like? I'm really tempted to make something similar, just to get access to some nice low tones while still playing 'guitar'.

The bottom E and A open sound like a bass. If you plunk muted notes in open or barre chords it sounds like a bass. D is where it gets interesting. If I mute it then it sounds like a bass still. Open it's got the "dropped D" sound but with supreme authority. Open D chords sound incredibly full or anything with any of the top 4 strings open. Almost sounds like a piano.

Soloing in A or E are the most natural for me with this beast. You can do full step bends up to the 23rd fret.

Overall though it sounds 75% like a bass but plays 75% like a guitar.

I'm primarily a guitarist and just need a bass to record and this is perfect for me.

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  • 2 months later...

Doing some more work on this design, and wondering - are you folks with 27"-28" scale lengths on extended instruments or fanned fret guitars or what have you finding regular guitar strings are long enough?

The string gauges I think I want to work with (I don't remember nor have my numbers right in front of me, unfortunetly) are readily available as guitar strings, but I'm not certain regular guitar strings are long enough for a 28" scale length. I should have measured the strings I usually purchase last time I strung my guitar up with new ones, but it didn't occur to me. I'll do that next time. I think I certainly have three extra inches on the strings where the tuners are closest to the nut, but things get a little tighter towards the middle strings where the tuners are placed the furthest, and this is on a fairly small headstock.

I can't find manufacturers who list the length of their strings. I figure locking tuners remove the need for some of the string length, and various bridges need more or less extra string length - I need to figure out how much room I've got to play with as far as string length after the nut and saddles as I polish up the design. It could change things like whether or how a string through TOM or a bigbsy might work, etc...

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for the 26.5-28" baritone i have in GOTM i used dadarrio exl158's which are .013 - .062, i think we also tried a .014-.064 set. It is tuned A,E,A,D,F#,B and you can hear it has a hell of a lot of clarity on that low string if you listen to the clip i posted, it could easily go lower. The issue i had with strings was them fitting through a tuner... something to look out for if using locking tuners

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I would think you would be fine with something like .010's maybe .011's depending on your feel. I have a Strat tuned to B-B with .012-.056 and love the way it feels and that is on a 25.5" scale. I normally play with .009's or a hybrid .009 set, so I like a farily soft feel to the strings.

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From my notes, I was looking at a set of .013-.056's - (which I can't believe I used to pay in standard tuning on a strat when I was growing up) but I can't find the tension measurements I was using, so I have no idea why I was planning on that, just a scrawl of the string gauges in my notes, which I used when I was working on my design in Inkscape and working out my nut spacing.

My big question was whether standard guitar strings will be long enough. I have a feeling I'll be experimenting with gauges and tuning for a while if I get this thing built, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't designing an instrument around unattainable strings.

I'll have to check out your sound clips again Wez - I remember that being part of what sold me on the idea, but I haven't heard them in a bit.

Thanks guys!

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I personally like higher string tension for the lower strings on a baritone, so for tuning in A I'd go with something at 0.060 to 0.065" on a 27" or 28" scale. Most regular guitar strings are long enough, but get above about 0.056 or so and you're starting to look for bass strings.

OT - but a few weeks ago my son turned me on to Dream Theater with "These Walls" - played in A on a baritone. I'm totally hooked now - don't know why I didn't discover these guys sooner, I'm a huge Rush fan and they came around just about when Rush started overindulging in synths.

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I did notice that D'Addario has part numbers for single guitar strings up to a NW080 - which would seem to be a .080 string - but I'm uncertain if that's a standard ball end or not. Their bass strings have different part numbers begining with XLB, however.

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  • 2 months later...

I have a related question about all this.

I'm starting a baritone build based on a Danelectro neck -- it's a 29.75" scale, which I'll probably tune A-to-A, and use guitar strings, and not Bass VI type strings. If only because there's a limit to what will fit through a guitar tuner holes.

My question has to do with the bridge and overall string length, that is, including the string behind the bridge saddles.

On a normal electric scale, the type of bridge has a big effect on how the string feels. Especially the difference between a TOM/tailpiece and a wraparound, or between a string-through and a surface mount. In both cases, I definitely prefer the feel (the give) of the longer string.

But I'm wondering what this will be like on a baritone, since the overall length of the string is already much longer. Especially if I'm using guitar strings -- should I be looking at using a shorter overall string length? Or will that give the same stiffer feeling to the strings as on a normal guitar?

Obviously I won't be playing the guitar exactly like a normal electric -- I need the baritone exactly because I'm doing a lot of bass-like runs lately, but I still want to be able to have access to normal guitar chord forms.

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Mick - I've been wondering the same thing, and am tempted to get a fairly heavy blank of wood, some tuners and a few bridges and a nut, and string that something up to see what things feel like.

However, it's not the best way to get a feel for it. But if you've already got a bolt-on neck, you could do up a quicky body out of a couple pieces of laminated plywood or a block of wood with a raised piece for the bridge. just attach the neck on top - I'm thinking something like the surrogate body Erlewine and others have mentioned using when using the neck jig and a bolt-on neck guitar. That would let you quickly get to the point of using the neck you have to experiment with different bridges and see what feels good to you. Although again, not perfect.

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That's a good idea. The neck should be here in a week or two -- I have lots of different bridges in my parts drawer, and I already have a body I've used for prototyping (i.e., it's already trashed, so it won't hurt trashing it some more).

The neck comes with tuners, so presumably they're made for baritone size strings. It looks like the Grovers I usually use can handle up to .060 with some coaxing.

It's also going to depend on the maximum length of the strings, although since I usually cut off a goodly piece when stringing my other guitars, I'm assuming that's not going to be a real issue. The Gretsch Electromatic Jet baritone (30" scale) has a Bigsby on it!

From what I'm reading, the longer scale definitely makes for a tighter feel to the strings - so a bridge with added string length at the end might be the way to go.

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So what does that sound like? I'm really tempted to make something similar, just to get access to some nice low tones while still playing 'guitar'.
The bottom E and A open sound like a bass. If you plunk muted notes in open or barre chords it sounds like a bass. D is where it gets interesting. If I mute it then it sounds like a bass still. Open it's got the "dropped D" sound but with supreme authority. Open D chords sound incredibly full or anything with any of the top 4 strings open. Almost sounds like a piano.

Perfect description - that's exactly how the increase in tension/scale/gauge comes across tonewise....authority! Lower and they seem to possess less mid presence.

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Any thoughts on which type of pickup --humbuckers vs single coil -- will work better with a baritone? Is there any technical reason why one would be more appropriate than the other?

I'm really looking for a thick, bassy sound, more than the surf-rock/Duane-eddy sound -- so I'd think a humbucker would be the way to go.

But the humbuckers I wanted to use have the narrower Gibson spacing -- which limits the type of bridge I choose too. And it seems to me that a wider string spacing would be more comfortable with a baritone, right?

I also have a tele bridge-style humbucker, maybe I ought to go with that...that would give me the best of both worlds (don't remember if it's splittable though). I wasn't really planning on a tele-style look for this guitar. But that wouldn't be a bad thing either!

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I am planning a bari right now - I'm going with basically a Strat layout but with a splittable humbucker in the bridge. Distorted, you want the lack of mud that a good bridge humbucker has - the neck-middle-split bridge combos are basically for the usual clean Stratty sounds a 4th down from normal. DiMarzio Area 58s in the neck & mid, Mo Joe in the bridge.

Then again, I'm also planning a baritone Tele - different beast altogether.

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i like humbuckers on a barry but prefer vintage spec alnico ones to high output ceramic ones.

the thicker strings provide more output anyway and things can get a bit nasty with a high output ceramic pickup - kind of like putting a bass through a fuzz box. some people like it but if you are after something clear and articulate lower powered pickups work best and still provide a monstrous tone.

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I received the Dano neck today.

The neck comes with tuners -- they're clearly bored for larger strings. Since I'm not going for a Bass VI, I won't really need those -- I'll probably keep the lowest bass-side tuner, change the button to match the rest of the Grovers I'll be using, the difference will be very minor (the existing tuners have the same footprint of the Grovers, which is a bonus). Since it's a pretty thick string, I won't really need a locking tuner there anyway.

That gives me the option of using .13 - .72 string set (Ernie Ball).

D'addario's baritone set runs .13 - .62 -- (which might just fit the Grovers. )

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm lacking patience for a full-scale build these days -- I'm more into making music than making guitars. And I really wanted/needed a baritone NOW, not in the six or eight months it will take for me to build one.

So I was eying my guitars...and my gaze fell on my trusty ol' Univox Hi-Flyer bass...hmm, thinks I, bet it wouldn't take much to convert that to a baritone...and since the Hi-flyer is a complete beater, it wouldn't matter what it looks like.

Only took a couple afternoons. I had to adjust the neck pocket for the Dano baritone neck, but the bass was already routed for humbuckers -- and since the bass is almost the same scale as the baritone neck, the pickup positions work just fine. Just needed a new bridge, correctly placed. I ended up using a vintage-tremelo type bridge, keeping the sustain block, but mounted as a hardtail.

While I was at it, I went ahead with the idea of having separate circuits and output jacks for the two pickups, so I can process each signal differently.

Right now it's strung up with .13 - .56, since that was they had at the store. Which means I could use the full set of Grovers on there. It's tuned to B -E- A- D -G -B right now, but I think I can go down to A without problem.

Not sure if I'll want to go to thicker strings, since these already seem really beefy and give a nice thump. Maybe if I decide to tune it as a Bass VI...it depends on how I end up using it. I have a feeling I'll end up playing bass with it more than guitar (since a lot of the guitar I play in my band is basically just bass riffs with noisy open strings). Also because I really like my other guitar (a Hofner Verythin) and want to keep using that for a lot of our songs.

I'm really surprised by how full the tone is -- and it feels a lot like playing bass, at least on the low strings. The guitar still needs a major setup, but I haven't had time yet, since I'm trying it out at band practice tonight.

The separate circuits seems to work great though -- just a volume and jack for each pickup. I'm going to need a bass amp now. And a ring modulator for the guitar side!

Meanwhile, I used the Hi-flyer body to make a template, in case I decide to stick with this body style for the full build. My other option would be another longhorn, but I'm not sure how comfortable that will be to play.

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