By Jon Chappell
Taylor's Baritone 6- and 8-String guitars.
As the curious guitarist knows, dropping down a guitar from its standard E tuning provides a wealth of tonal possibilities, from a piano-like bottom end to subterranean disturbances to a different complement open strings when playing in a transposed key. That’s the concept behind a baritone guitar, which is tuned a fourth below a regular guitar (B, E, A, D, F#, and B, low to high). To accommodate this lower register, baris have a longer scale length and thicker baritone-gauged strings. They play just like a regular guitar, but their sound is other-worldly while still being very versatile and an option in just about any context a normal guitar is welcome.
Taylor is leading the bari guitar charge with two superior instruments, a 6- and an 8-string version (known by their model names Baritone 6-String and Baritone 8-String). Both feature all-solid-wood construction, with rosewood back and sides, a Sitka spruce top, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard and bridge. Among the additional appointments are a Venetian cutaway, bone nut and saddle, abalone rosette and diamond-shaped mother-of-pearl inlays, and gold-plated sealed Taylor tuners. The electronics are Taylor’s Expression System(r), which consists of two magnetic pickups (one internally attached to the soundboard and one mounted beneath the fretboard extension). Each bari arrives in a plush-lined hardshell case that’s as handsome as it is robust.
The aesthetics are typical Taylor: flawless and gorgeous. And because the longer scale length is accommodated in their normal GS (Grand Symphony) body style (with some adjustment to the internal bracing), you don’t have to worry about wrangling a large-body guitar. To the untrained eye, the baris resemble normal guitars.
Part of the reason both of these instruments succeed so well on the playability front can be found in Taylor’s legendary necks, designed with their patented New Technology (NT) construction. The slim depth and 1-3/4" nut width also makes playing them quite easy, in that distinctive Taylor way (“like buttah,” as we say in New York). Because of the longer scale length, the frets are slightly wider apart than a normal guitar’s, and this is perceptible in the lower frets. But I had no trouble playing full, six-string barre chords and never experienced left-hand fatigue. The neck is truly a joy to play on, and because the tension is balanced out with the thicker-gauge strings and longer scale length, I adjusted quickly and soon forgot I was playing anything but a familiar-feeling guitar.
The Taylor Baritone 6- and 8-String look normal because while their scale length in longer, the body size is standard.
A baritone’s range and tone take some getting used to, but once you’re acclimated to the southward spectrum shift, the Taylor baris will roll over you with their stately lows, rich mids, and articulate and warm highs. I was initially worried that these baris would skew toward the bottom end, but my suspicions were quickly allayed. Even when playing full, open-string chords, the sound never muddied out. I actually transcribed the pitches I was playing to a concert score and played them on the piano. Total sludge. But on the baris, the body construction accommodates voicings that would otherwise be unworkable on a piano. They give you piano-like tones (including bass notes and bass accompaniment patterns, such as walking-bass) and opens up a whole new area of guitar colors to explore.
The Baritones feature Taylor's Expression System.
In its Baritone 8-string, Taylor has done no less than invent a new instrument. Combining a baritone’s long-scale fretboard and lowered tuning with selected octave strings from an acoustic 12-string, the Baritone 8-String is a guitar like no other. Taylor has chosen to double only two of the strings, the fourth and third (A and D), which is the interior pair. As in a standard 12-string, they’ve octave-doubled the main wound strings with unwound counterparts (gauged .014 and .012).
The extra two strings of the Baritone 8-String shown at the bridge.
As on an acoustic 12-string, these plain, high-octave strings are simultaneously fretted and plucked with their normal, wound mates. In fact, these octave pairs look and feel like the A and D pairs on a Taylor 12-string, except they run down the middle of the fretboard. Playability, as different from a 6-string, is almost imperceptible. Yet you get what is arguably the heart of a 12-string: the doubled richness of the inner strings. You still have single strings in the bass for punch and clarity, and your two high strings for facile lead playing (including bends and slurs). You really wonder why no one has thought of this before. Taylor has not only adopted a good idea, it’s created a viable and unique instrument.
Recording guitarists looking for an extra guitar dimension and performers who want to provide an alternate color palette for singer/songwriters are just two types who will benefit from playing the Taylor baris, but these guitars are not limited to that role. You can approach them as lead guitars with distinct sonic personalities. And with the Baritone 8-String, if you play lines along just the top two plain strings, you can bend, hammer, tap, and pull off just like on a 6-string flattop. Lower down, plucking the two lowest strings lets you explore a cello register—perfect for bass runs, driving riffs, and low-note solos. But re-voice some lines or dyads for the two octave pairs, and listeners will swear they’re hearing a 12-string. The fun begins when you explore ways to combine these different elements.
With the Baritone 6-String I found one of the most satisfying things was to perform solo pieces on them. It can be a revelation to take instrumentals, both fingerstyle and flatpicking, and recast them in a bari setting. The effect, as mentioned, is more piano-like, and the added lower resonance is just the thing to turn heads on blues, ballads, and tunes where you really want to exploit darker and mellower moods. And if you want to shake the earth—or at least the tables or your listening audience, you can’t do better than these Taylor Baritones.