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Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by b-strung, Nov 12, 2012.
Thinking about picking one up. Pros and cons for one vs the other?
Very different. The Bass VI is essentially a six-string short-scale bass; its low E is the same as any other bass' low E. A baritone is a guitar tuned a little lower, A-a or B-b. I don't own either, but I've tried out examples of both in stores. The baritone guitar really sounds like a guitar, just a little deeper and gutsier. A bass VI sounds like a bass.
+1 to this IME.
Guitars that are intended to be a bass VI tend to have a 30 inch scale length, guitars that are intended to be baritones are often shorter, 27 to 29 inches. But I am sure that is not a hard and fast rule so if you want to be able to tune down to E you probably want a 30 inch guitar and you don't have to worry much about whether the manufacturer calls it a bass VI or a baritone. They are all tuned the same as a traditional six string guitar in intervals of fourth, fourth, fourth, third, fourth starting with the lowest frequency string. A bass VI will be tuned E to E an octave below a normal guitar so the bottom four strings have the same pitches as a traditional four string bass. So a bass VI is not tuned like a six string bass because six string basses are normally tuned in fourths all the way across. Moveable guitar chords will work fine on a bass VI (or a baritone) just in a different place on the neck, they will not work on a six string bass. Baritones are normally tuned B to B, a fourth below a traditional guitar although some are tuned A to A which is a fifth below the standard guitar tuning. If you can find the right strings (and perhaps file the nut) you can tune any of them any way you like, of course.
I don't know that there are any pros or cons between the bass VI and the baritone in an absolute sense. As I say if you think you may want to tune as low as E/F/G then you probably want a 30 incher. If you only want to go down to G/A/B then the shorter ones should be great. If you normally play a 34 inch or longer bass then a 30 inch will feel closer to normal for you. It should be easier to chord close to the nut on a shorter one. I don't play any of these. I thought about it for a while and could not find any in stores to try so I don't have even that level of direct experience with them. My interest in them was primarily for playing chords. I tune in fifths and a four string tuned GDAE works pretty well with Mandolin chords so after flirting with the bass VI/baritone notion for a while I decided it would make more sense for me to get a five string some day and tune that CGDAE so I could "play bass" on all five strings and chord on the top four. But if like most people you tune in fourths the bass VI or baritone are excellent choices.
Fixed that for you.
In all seriousness, I view the difference being one of function: A baritone guitar gets used as a adjunct to the guitar family; it extends the range of that instrument in the same way that an English horn extends the oboe or a contrabass clarinet extends the bass clarinet. A baritone guitar lends itself to being played like a guitar.
A Bass VI otoh, while it can be played like a guitar, doesn't really lend itself to that purpose (it's tuned a bit too low for full-range applications -- e.g., six-note chords) ...but it also doesn't really lend itself to replacing the 4-string bass either. It's a poor substitute imho, but that's still where one would use it.
I'd agree that I wouldn't play a bass VI like a standard guitar, with open chords and all; too muddy. And if I was just going to play a regular bass line, I wouldn't pick it over a standard 34" bass. It's a short scale, with lighter strings to boot, and not going to have the oomph of a full-scale bass. I think that's why it's not more popular; falls between two stools for most people.
I'm still GASsing for one, though. I think it would have a place, especially in solo or small-group/trio settings, if you took more of a finger-picking guitar technique to it rather than strumming chords or just playing a regular single-note bass line. But you have to suit your playing style to the instrument and what you want it to do in the music.
Oddly, The Beatles and Cream have gotten away with using a Bass VI in place of a more standard configuration bass guitar, and the results were pretty good.
I think a baritone tuned to A has more capability than a VI style instrument. The VI, as people said, has been used to great effect, but it's still an uncomfortable compromise between two different instruments. The baritone guitar strikes me as being a better compromise: still low enough to get some booty in there, but still high enough to do full chords.
When you hear a good guitar slinger playing leads on a baritone, you get the full picture of its potential. Twangers like Dave Edmunds and Duane Eddy can go from their high-end treble licks and then sink into a low range that even the average ear knows is not normal for an electric guitar.
But interestingly, the baritone tuning was first used for "tic tac" lines meant to mirror the bass line and bring out a little attack that was missing on uprights, so you could more distinctly hear the bass line on AM radio speakers.