Most of us started playing the guitar on a 6-string tuned to E Standard (EADGBE). Eventually, we started experimenting with alternate and Drop D tunings and the guitar handled it just fine. But, some of us wanted to go even lower... say, B Standard, Drop A, or even F# Standard. That's when we started noticing problems:

  • Lowest string felt too floppy
  • Lowest string sounded too muddy/boomy
  • Lowest string intonated poorly

Standard guitars weren't designed for super low tuning.

Without getting too technical, I'll just say this: lower notes require longer and thicker strings, while higher notes require shorter and thinner strings (that's why bass guitars are bigger than standard guitars). It's important to note that the lowest tuned strings are now getting into a frequency range that really isn't great when played on a standard guitar (assuming B Standard tuning or lower). In fact, they have already gone well into bass guitar territory... This is where the baritone guitar comes into play wonderfully.

Baritone guitars fill the gap between standard guitars and standard basses wonderfully.

The distinguishing feature setting baritone guitars apart from other guitars is their scale length. The scale length is determined by measuring the distance from the front side of the nut (where it joins the front of the fretboard) to the center of the 12th fret, and then multiplying that measurement by two. Standard guitars have a scale length of around 25"; standard basses are around 34". Baritone guitars, then, will have a scale length somewhere in between 25" and 34".

So, what's the best baritone guitar scale length?

Because baritone guitars are normally used by guitar players that want to play in lower tunings, and not by bass players that want to play in higher tunings, the overall feel of a baritone should be more like a guitar than a bass. For that reason, many of our baritone guitars are designed with 6 strings and a scale length falling somewhere between 27" and 30", depending on the tuning we're trying to achieve. I mention 6 strings because some folks think they need a 7-string guitar in order to tune down to Low B, and an 8-string guitar in order to tune down to Low F#, or beyond. But, this is not true, as we have just learned the key factor in improving the feel/tone/intonation at these super low tunings is the scale length, and not the number of strings on a guitar.

How does the scale length improve the floppiness, tone and intonation of the lowest string?

The key factor is string tension (measured in pounds). There needs to be enough string tension in order to get a good feel, tone and intonation. Scale length makes a significant impact on string tension. To determine string tension, let's focus on three variables:

  1. Scale Length
  2. String Gauge
  3. Tuning

Basically, string tension increases when any of the above variables increases. To get a benchmark idea, let's take a look at the string tension for a standard guitar with D'Addario Super Light Gauge strings, tuned to E Standard:

Daddario Tension 9_42

Let's focus on the Low E Note:

  • The Scale Length is 25.5"
  • The String Gauge is 0.042"
  • The Tuning is Low E (82.4 Hz)

We see from the chart that these variables result in a Low E String Tension of 14.37 pounds. This number might not be useful by itself, so here's a chart showing the differences in string tension when we change the string gauge (scale length and tuning remain the same):

LowE_Increasing_Tension

OK, great - we can easily see that increasing the gauge increased the string tension. But, perhaps we already knew that. What we're concerned with now is what happens when we tune our guitars down to say, Low B. Here's a chart showing what happens to the string tension when we change the tuning to Low B (scale length and string gauge remain the same):

LowB_Decreasing_Tension

Yikes. We see that a standard guitar tuned to Low B will feel pretty wimpy even when strung with Extra Heavy gauge strings (Jazz Medium's, aka 13's). At this point, we only have two options to increase the tension and they are (1) to increase the string gauge even further, or (2) to increase the scale length. If we increase the string gauge further, then the tension will, indeed, feel better, but the tone and intonation will suffer. In our scenario, as the string gets thicker, the tone becomes boomier and less crispy/crunchy. The crispy/crunchy tone is what helps make an electric guitar sound like an electric guitar, and not a bass. In addition, the thicker strings might become impossible to intonate (thicker strings require the string saddle to be positioned further away from the nut in order to intonate properly, and often times there just isn't enough space physically on the bridge to allow for this amount of compensation). So, we're stuck with a guitar that doesn't intonate properly, and that makes for a bad sounding guitar.

This leads to the only remaining option: change the scale length. Unfortunately, a guitar can only be built with one scale length (let's ignore multi-scale instruments for now) and it cannot be changed once it's built. This is why baritone guitars are the perfect solution for those seeking to tune their guitars down to Low B and beyond - their scale length increases the string tension, which allows for a good feel, a good tone and proper intonation.

Let's take a look at what happens to the string tension when we increase the scale length (Low B tuning remains the same, and focus only on the heaviest string gauge: 0.056"):

Scale length increases string tension
Scale length increases string tension

Bingo. That's what we need. The increased scale length of a baritone guitar enables us to tune down to Low B and use a reasonable sized string, which helps us to:

  • eliminate floppy low strings
  • eliminate muddy/boomy sounding low strings
  • eliminate poorly intonating low strings

On a more personal note:

Sticking with 6 strings for low tunings is helpful for me when it comes to playing all the opened and barred chords I love so much... because the neck is narrower and there are less strings for me to worry about compared to a 7 or 8-string guitar! This MERUS 6-string Baritone Guitar gets my vote. It's a great value, a solid build and it excels at low tunings.

MERUS_6_R_27_TOM_TBK_HH

If you're going to be tuning to Low B or lower, then you should seriously consider a baritone guitar, which is essentially just a 6-string guitar with a longer scale length. The longer scale length improves the overall feel, tone and intonation for those low tunings.

Comments: 36
Zippo stormlightere 12/30/2014 12:14
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Kneelie 02/10/2015 00:13
Inharmonicity is also worth mentioning, which is where the overtone frequencies of the note played are out of tune with the fundamental. Higher inharmonicity results in bass notes that have a muddy, buzzy, sound whose pitch is more difficult to discern. Shorter scale lengths and strings that are stiffer and or thicker exhibit higher inharmonicity. My site has the maximum scale length for given tuning for the high side. To do the calculations yourself in a spreadsheet ((386.4*((Ts*π*(Sd/2)^2)*PBp))/(Uw*4*Hz^2))^0.5 Ts - Tensile Strength - 350000 to 450000 is common. Stay on the lower side or a scale length too long to work with all but the most ideal ultra strong string will be calculated. π - 3.14159265358979 Sd - String Diameter - 0.009 ect.. PBp - Percent Breaking Point - 1 equals broken and .8 is 80 percent ect. 80 percent is a good starting point. Uw - Unit Weight - See DAddario tension chart Hz - Frequency - See Frequency of Notes
Kneelie 02/10/2015 00:16
Site link did not display. Go here for calculations. http://kneelie.com/guitar/tone/tone.htm See Scale Length for extended range guitars 7, 8, 9 and 10 string guitars.
Jeff Lee 02/10/2015 12:59
A wealth of information there - thank you!
Dave 02/14/2016 16:19
I want to be able to play lead on a baritone acoustic guitar so I need light strings can I use as low as 10 gauge for the Estring?
Jeff Lee 02/15/2016 11:02
Give it a try and see how you like it! Your guitar will not explode. Just expect there to be noticeably less tension compared to a typical set of acoustic guitar strings (usually around 13's), so you'll have decreased volume, but this'll enable you to do string bends with more ease.
Wayne 02/27/2016 13:47
Thank you for this, I now understand how it all works better (instead of just knowing it does work) lol. Cheers!.
Wayne 02/27/2016 14:14
Also, what's the lowest tuning your Merus 6 Baritones will handle, as I'm wanting to go as low as G.
Jeff Lee 02/27/2016 14:54
Glad to help! I think the Low G on the Merus 6 (27" scale) will be okay, but it would be better with 28" or more.
Max 03/02/2016 12:35
Thanks for the info about baritones. I'd appreciate some advice on approximate string gauges for a 28" 12 string baritone electric in B tuning.. I intend to starting by adapting a cheaper 28" baritone 6 to see how the concept works (or whether 8,9, or 10 strings works better), before ordering a custom guitar. If I start with a standard D'Adario/Ernie Ball Baritone 6 string set and add the extra unison and octave strings, it looks like I'll end up with a string tension of maybe 275 lbs. That's a lot, but there are 10 and even 12 string basses for sale now that might be comparable tension. What do you think?
Jeff Lee 03/02/2016 13:04
Hi Max - if this is for a 12-string baritone electric guitar (6 paired courses) with 28" scale, then I'd suggest going with 13's (D'Addario EJ22) for the main strings. The EJ22's will pull at no more than 120 pounds, and it should feel fairly "normal". Adding the extra octave and unison strings will not increase tension enough to be concerned (our necks are built with sturdy woods, and our truss rods are strong). Sounds like a cool guitar! Thanks - Jeff Lee
Tomas 05/04/2016 16:37
What I don't understand is, if 14.37 pounds is considered good tension and not floppy at E standard, why are the 15.10 pounds provided by a 0.056 gauge string in B tuning considered "wimpy"?
Jeff Lee 05/05/2016 23:59
Thanks for the great question! Well, "wimpy" was probably not the best way for me to say it. Since 14.37 pounds is considered "super light," and 15.10 pounds is only a bit more... the better way to call it would be "super light" as well. Over the years, we've become accustomed to setting up our customers' guitars based on their string gauge requests, and those requests are often for "heavy" or "extra heavy" gauge strings. The main reason for these requests is that the players want the strings to "fight back" a little, so it doesn't feel like they're picking/strumming against "spaghetti strings." It should be said that 15.10 pounds at Low B could be the perfect setup for certain players. But, When I wrote this blog post originally, I had in mind the metal/hard rock player who typically prefers higher tension strings.
Dayne Shannon 07/12/2016 10:36
Some companies make very heavy- gaged strings, but they aren't long enough for a 27-30" scale. I typically use Ernie Ball, but their not even slinky set isn't long enough. Any recommendations of strings that make the length I need?
Jeff, Halo 07/20/2016 17:24
@Dayne - we haven't had any length issues when using Dunlop and D'Addario strings... maybe give those brands a try?
Peter Chordas 07/31/2016 05:56
I used to play a standard Les Paul with baritone strings tuned to drop A. Then I discovered my Baritone Les Paul. Never. Going. Back. I use the standard D'Addario baritone string gauges (which are way beefier than what you've covered in your article—low E is a .56, and low B is a .68). However I replace the low B with a .74 for my dropped A. It seems like way too many drop tuners neglect to increase string gauge. It's a pity all the tone they're sacrificing!
lee kear 08/03/2016 02:07
Great article for the non-mathematical among us. Most useful was the comment on strings long enough to actually use on a baritone guitar. I play a Grestch Jet baritone, and like to tune A to A, which means heavier strings if I can find a set to fit to avoid 'floppiness'. I'm about to fit locking tuners so that I don't need extra long strings (given that the Gretsch has a Bigsby) and can fit the best strings for me. Currently I'm checking how thick the strings my new tuners will accept through that little hole - currently .65s will definitely work, and guessing that .68 to .70 will fit. Also planning to replace the anemic pickups on the Gretsch - which is a wonderfully stiff and stable platform - with Rickenbacker hi-gains for that 60s twang/boom sound.
James Murff 08/14/2016 12:05
Recently, I bought a PRS SE277 baritone guitar. The scale length is 27.7. The gauge strings that I put on it were the d'addario 14-68 gauge. I am still having fret buzz around the 9-11th fret area on the strings. Do I need to go bigger or smaller with the gauges? I'm new to baritone. I love the low tuning, just having a little issue.
James Murff 08/14/2016 12:07
BTW, great article. Still trying to wrap my head around this.
Jeff, Halo 08/14/2016 12:55
@James Murff - it sounds like you might have an issue with uneven frets causing fret buzz. If that is the case, then changing string gauges would not actually address the cause of the problem. This article might help you determine if your frets are causing the fret buzz: http://www.haloguitars.com/store/what-causes-fret-buzz-and-how-to-fix-it For reference, if you simply install heavier strings and leave everything else the same, then your action will increase because the neck relief will be increased, and this might reduce fret buzz in a roundabout way. I'm not suggesting that you install heavier strings to reduce fret buzz... Similarly, if you install lighter strings and leave everything else the same, then your action will decrease because the neck relief will be decreased, and this will only make your fret buzz worse.
Jeff, Halo 08/14/2016 12:55
@James Murff I suggest taking your guitar to a qualified guitar technician or luthier if you are unable to determine if the frets are uneven, and/or if you are unable to perform the fret leveling procedure on your own (it requires some special tools and good fine-motor skills to be done well). Hope this helps!
James Murff 08/14/2016 16:08
Thanks @Jeff, for the information. I will check it out.
Hakim Zulkufli 08/18/2016 01:14

Great article. However, I still don't understand how far I can go with the gauge for E standard on a 25.5" guitar. Is a set of 012-54 safe for E standard tuning on a 25.5" guitar? Thanks!

*** Halo Admin Reply: 12-54 is safe for E standard at 25.5", but your guitar should be slightly adjusted to accommodate it. First, the nut slots need to be large enough to fit the larger strings. Second, the truss rod will probably need to be adjusted to handle the extra tension. Third, the string saddles probably need to be adjusted slightly further away from the nut for proper intonation (assuming the saddles were already set for proper intonation with a lighter gauge). Hope this helps! - Jeff Lee, Halo ***

Paul Pinos 09/26/2016 09:13

I just got a Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom and I'd like to tune to drop A. What would you recommend for string sizes? It has a 28.5" scale. Thanks!


*** HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: Hi Paul, I'd probably use 13-17-26-36-46-59, and if the Low A is too loose, then increase just that one string to maybe a 62, 64, or somewhere around there. Hope this helps! - Jeff Lee ***

Don K. Kong 10/05/2016 09:12

Great article, very informative. I have a baritone 7 string, and I am finding it difficult to find baritone 7 string sets. My guitar has a reverse headstock, so the lowest string tuning machine is the furthest one. This is my first baritone 7 string so I don't know what I am looking for in string length. Do I need baritone sets or will regular guitar strings be long enough?

*** HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: We build multiple models of 7-string guitars with 27" scale length and reverse headstocks, and we've never had a problem with installing retail packs of D'Addario EXL110-7's on them. We've also used retail packs of Dunlop 7-string sets, RotoSound, Ernie Ball, and haven't had any issues, either. So, I don't think it'll be necessary for you to buy baritone string sets. Hope this helps! ***

Same Hippy 10/07/2016 22:03

Hi, im a beginning guitar player and would like to know wheter baritone guitar are considered a good plan to learn pickings on ? What exactly makes the sound and feel of a longer scale to be tuning just like a E-standard or playing that way ? thanks just don't shoot me for being imbecile

* HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: Sorry, but I can't quite understand what you're asking. Please email me directly at jeff at haloguitars.com and I'll try to assist further. But, no, I don't recommend learning guitar on a baritone. I recommend learning guitar on a standard guitar. Hope this helps! ***

kris 10/08/2016 15:54

i just ordered a ltd Eclipse baritone guitar (27") and im wondering im wanting to tune down to B standard what strings do i use like guage wise i noticed guys using 4 wound strings like from a 7 string set then normal non wound. can someone help me out??

*** HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: We often install D'Addario EXL110-7 Nickel Wound, 7-String, Regular Light, 10-59 gauge strings on our 27" scale 7-string guitars. I'd say give them a try! ***

Jordan 10/17/2016 21:07

Hi! This article is great thank you! I just had 2 questions, my situation is very specific, I'm actually designing my own baritone guitar, buying parts and assembling myself, my goal is to design a guitar to hold the following tuning, G D G C F Bb. My questions, Will a 28 5/8 scale be enough to give me a firmer string, similar tension to what you'd see on a normal guitar tuned to E with gauge '11' strings, and what gauge string would I need to give it that?

*** HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: A great tool for determining the answer to your question is String Tension Pro - here's the link: http://stringtensionpro.com/ Good luck with the build, and I hope this helps! ***

Joseph Gutierrez 10/31/2016 00:20

How about C# standard on a 27" scale? Basically the Agile 2000. On my 25.5" I use beefy slinkies or not even slinkies.

*** HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: Personally, C# Standard could be just fine for standard guitars (e.g. 25.5" scale), but it's okay for 27" too. Hope this helps! ***

Eric Briggs 12/12/2016 19:47

I have a 27.7 inch scale Baritone guitar its a PRS 277. I want to tune it to Drop A#. What string sizes should I use to achieve good tension? Thanks.

HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: It depends on what you consider "good" - shoot me an email at jeff at halo guitars dot com and I'll be glad to assist you further. Or, check out this string tension calculator http://stringtensionpro.com/ Thanks! 

Heart Nine 01/07/2017 11:45

To accomplish Drop B tuning on a standard 22 fret Strat neck build, is it necessary to position the bridge beyond 25.5? Is a baritone neck needed for scales beyond 25.5 or will this neck intonate just fine with the bridge pulled back to say 26 or 27? I'm slapping a strat neck on a mustang body and getting ready to set the hardtail.

HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: In response to your first question: It is most important and necessary to place the bridge in such a way that most of the bridge's saddles can be adjusted so they sit right around 25.5" or up to 1/4" beyond in order for them to intonate properly at Drop B.

I'm not sure how to respond to your second question because I'm not sure I understand your question, unfortunately.

Generally speaking, the bridge needs to be placed in such a way that the High E string's saddle can be adjusted to sit right around the given scale length (e.g. for a standard 25.5" Strat neck, the High E needs to be set right around 25.5" in order to intonate). In addition, the bridge needs to be placed in such a way that the Low E string's saddle can be adjusted to sit right around the given scale length + 3/16" to 1/4" (e.g. for a standard 25.5" Strat neck, the Low E needs to be set right around 25.5" + 3/16" in order to intonate; as you start doing drop tunings, you'll need to adjust it even further back, so a Low B string might need to be set right around 25.5" + 1/4" in order to intonate). Hope this helps!

Mike Max 01/15/2017 05:54

Excellent info! I'm working on specs for a custom build. I've always loved the treble/bridge tone of the Les Paul Custom, but prefer a Dropped C tuning (CGCFAD). I tried just swapping the strings on my LPC from a 10-46 set to 11-54, but man, it killed the snap of the attack, and pushed the lower strings into the muddy/boomy range. So I'm wondering what gauge of strings I should opt for, and what scale length would be ideal to retain the snappiness of the attack, the nice harmonic resonance when picking palm-muted, and the brighter mid tone of a standard gauge/tuning, but with a Dropped C tuning. Any suggestions? Also, it'll have an EverTune bridge, so not too worried about strings being a little too light & pitch bending up if I pick/fret too hard. Just need to determine the ideal gauges & scale to retain the tone and the attack without things getting floppy/loose, buzzy, or badly-intonated. Thanks for any help you can give!

[HALO ADMIN RESPONSE]: I would try something with a 25.5" to 27" scale with 11's or 12's! Hope this helps! - Jeff Lee

michael leon 02/06/2017 20:33

I love 46-9 for drop d and e standard on 24.75 and 25.5, curious what would be about the same feel on a 28" scale for drop a and b standard?

HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: To get approximately the same feel, you'd want to get approximately the same amount of tension. So, first go to http://stringtensionpro.com/ to determine the string tension you get with your 46-9 setup. Then, change the settings to a 28" scale, change the tuning, and experiment with different gauges until you reach approximately the same amount of tension. Hope this helps! - Jeff Lee, Halo

Daniel Stirrat 02/16/2017 17:16

I'm about to get a 28.5" scale Fender Jaguar Baritone, can anyone recommended me a string set or gauges for the 6 strings so that I could tune it DGCFAD? I was thinking of taking the gauge I'd use for a standard A to A baritone tuning and just using the 5 thinnest strings from that set but I guess then I'd need to separately buy a light gauge string for the highest D?

HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: I'd suggest the D'Addario EXL110BT set for that scale length and tuning because it would feel very similar to a set of 10-46 on a 25.5" scale tuned to EADGBE. 


Matt 02/21/2017 08:39

Hello. Great article! Great info! Thanks! I'm planning on replacing a neck on a stratocaster type guitar with a 30.25" scale length neck to convert it to a baritone. What string gauges would I need to achieve proper intonation to tune it to G standard?

HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: Hi Matt - for proper intonation, it's first critically important that you use a baritone conversion neck, like Warmoth offers. Otherwise, it will never intonate properly (regardless of the strings you use) if you simply bolt a 30.25" regular (non-conversion) neck to a guitar that was originally designed for a 25.5" scale. I would check out stringtensionpro.com to determine the combination of scale length, string gauges, and pitch that will generate the amount of tension that you like. Hope this helps! - Jeff Lee, Halo Custom Guitars

Rick 03/18/2017 05:38

Greetings! I have a PRS 277 with standard B-b tuning. Without going into theory, is there a simple chord conversion chart that shows B tuned chords (baritone) to E tuned chords (standard electric tuning)? Also, what would happen if I tuned the 277 to standard E tuning, either drop or raise? Thanks in advance.

HALO ADMIN RESPONSE: Regarding the chords... that's a bit out of my area of expertise. Sorry can't help out there. Regarding the tuning: if you tuned everything up to Standard E without changing anything else, then the neck would probably have excess relief and the string tension would be very high. Hope this helps, thanks

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