Guitar of the week #91 - Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster
Not a "proper" Jazzmaster, but oh, what a sound.
A baritone guitar is one with a longer neck with thicker strings tuned significantly lower than standard E-A-D-G-B-E tuning. You can tune one a fourth lower to B-E-A-D-F#-B or a fifth lower to A-D-G-C-E-A. Tuning to either of these allows the player to play notes and chords the same as in standard tuning. In other words, you don't need to relearn the guitar again. Everything is the same, just lower.
The best bang-for-buck baritone that has "the low twang" is the Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster.
What about the Bass VI?
There's some confusion here for some people so I'll clear this up right now.
The Squier Bass VI is exactly what its model name says it is. A bass. Yes, it may have 6 strings and the same 30" scale length as the Baritone Jazzmaster, but it comes strung with and is designed for bass strings. This literally means the Bass VI is tuned to E-A-D-G-B-E but one octave lower compared to a regular 6-string guitar.
The strings that go on the Bass VI are not intended for the Baritone Jazzmaster, and the strings for the Jazzmaster aren't intended for the Bass VI. One is a guitar, one is a bass. Each is tuned differently, each uses specifically sized strings for what they do.
Which is better for the guitar player to do guitar player-like things on it? The baritone.
Not proper, but it's got that sound
I said the Baritone Jazzmaster isn't a proper Jazzmaster. What I mean by that is that compared to a regular Jazzmaster, it has no vibrato system, a hardtail bridge, Stratocaster "football" output jack, one circuit with volume/tone, and a 3-way toggle positioned in the lower-middle of the body instead of the bottom horn where it usually is...
...but that doesn't take away from how unbelievably cool the guitar sounds. Those big Jazzmaster single-coil pickups take to thick strings turned low very nicely.
What does clean, twangy baritone guitar sound like?
The immediate example that comes to mind is the theme song from Twin Peaks. I never watched the show, but absolutely do remember its theme song because absolutely nothing else on TV sounded like it at the time:
I don't know if a baritone or a Bass VI was used, but that is the sound. Get yourself a baritone guitar and a tremolo effect for that "stutter" tone and you got it.
Aside from Twin Peaks, Duane Eddy's Rebel-'Rouser also has that low twang tremolo stutter tone to it:
Baritone guitars were also used here and there with surf rock music as well as other '60s tones.
Is the baritone guitar a "one trick pony"?
Remember, baritone guitar playing is no different from regular guitar. It's just lower tuning.
Could you simply lower a regular six-string to get the same effect? No, because you're missing the extra scale length and thicker strings and will buzz all over the place.
It has been said that the baritone guitar is woefully underused. I think the main reason for that is guitar players simply aren't aware the baritone guitar exists.
Well, now you know.
Is there anything cheaper than the Squier?
Yes, there is ESP LTD Viper Baritone version, but I don't recommend it. At all. Pickups are awful and the tuners aren't correct for the tuning it's supposed to hold.
The Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster is the best lower-cost option for a true baritone electric guitar. Right scale length, right tuners, right pickups, right everything. It's not the lowest-priced baritone, but it is what a baritone electric is supposed to be.