Bass Vs. Baritone Guitar Necks

by Matt Gerrard
Baritone guitars are popular in surf and rockabilly music.

Baritone guitars are popular in surf and rockabilly music.

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Baritone guitars are a hybrid between a standard guitar and a bass. It provides some of the lower notes available on the bass, while retaining much of a standard guitar's playability. The body and hardware of a baritone unit is identical to that of a standard guitar, while the neck is closer to that of a bass. There are several important differences between the two.

Scale length

The scale length of a stringed instrument is the distance between the nut and the bridge. It dictates the highest and lowest notes available, and the number of divisions that this range can be split into. Though both can vary, most electric basses have a scale length of 34 inches, and the most common baritone length is 26-27 inches. Some of this length is comprised by the body, but most of it is neck length. Bass necks are significantly longer than baritone necks.

Machineheads and Nut

The machinehead holes in the headstock will differ on bass and baritone necks due to the number of strings. Basses are available with a variety of different numbers of strings, but baritones always come with six. The nut features different spacing, too. Due to the different thicknesses of bass and baritone strings, they need different amounts of space to vibrate without fouling one another.

Frets

Bass and baritone necks also differ in the shape and number of frets. Bass frets are large and high, to make it easier to deal with the thicker strings. Baritone frets are much smaller and narrower, as the strings are thinner, and much closer to guitar strings. The number of frets on either neck is dictated by the overall scale length of the instrument. A bass will generally have 21-22 frets. Due to the shorter scale length, a baritone neck may have as many as 24.

Width and Shape

Baritone necks often favor a soft "V" shape found on retro-style guitars. This shape is popular with blues and country players because it makes it easier open chords in the first and second positions. Bass necks tend to use a shallower "C" shape. The change in width between the nut and the heel is different on both types of neck. Bass necks tend to shift quite dramatically, being very broad at the heel and very narrow at the neck. Baritone necks are closer to a standard guitar, with a more subtle difference between nut and heel.

About the Author

Matt Gerrard began writing in 2002, initially contributing articles about college student culture to "The Gateway" magazine, many of which were republished on the now-defunct Plinth blog. Since then, Gerrard has worked as a technician for musicians, educators, chemists and engineers. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in music technology from DeMontfort University.

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