Baritone

Stromberg Voisinet Kay Keykord Baritone with autoplay Ukulele Corner
1930's KeyKord by Kay
Vega Baritone Ukulele
1950's Vega Classic Lute

Clearwater Roundback Spruce Electro-Acoustic Baritone Ukulele Corner
2010's Clearwater
This is a scale length of more than 460mm (18in) and these days usually about 510mm (20in). Historically, the maximum scale length was around 570mm and anything bigger than that was a Tenor Guitar, however there is more than just scale length as a difference between a Baritone Ukulele and a Tenor Guitar. The standard tuning is different, but you can always use "Chicago" Tuning on a Tenor Guitar. More important, and not really changeable is the width of the neck and string spacing; a Tenor Guitar, though sometimes a bigger instrument, has a much narrower neck than a Baritone Ukulele, narrower even that a Soprano Ukulele, with the strings much closer together. Over the years though there have been some bigger scale length Ukuleles made and the term Bass, (nothing to do with Ukulele Basses), has been put forward for them but it has never really caught on, and these days the old term "Long Scale" has come back into use to describe them.

The Baritone differs from all other Ukulele scales by officially having a different tuning. The standard tuning for a Baritone is D~G~B~E, rather than the g~C~E~A of other Ukuleles. So lower and not reentrant, (though you can, and some people do, tune re-entrantly to give a more Ukulele sound) This tuning is identical to the highest for strings on a standard Guitar, though like with the Tenor Guitar, (which actually has more Banjo origins and officially a different tuning), the string spacing on a Guitar is much closer together, (even on a classical Guitar).

The name Baritone being used for this size of Ukulele, in conjunction with this tuning first came about in 1947/48 when both Favilla and Vega claim independently to have invented it along with the size and tuning idea, and Vega with its endorser Arthur Godfrey, did a great deal to popularise the Ukulele and scale in the US at the time. Such a good job in fact that Harmony , (the biggest instrument maker of the time), Martin and Gibson, plus a few others, (Maccaferri even started production of plastic ones), all jumped on the bandwagon and put their own Baritone scale Ukuleles into production. This was then followed by the Japanese factories like Matsumoku and Hoshino adding the instrument to their catalogue too. The popularity of the "new" Baritone scale Ukulele lasted as long a the second phase of Ukulele popularity and like the second phase it was only really popular in the US, (though some Baritones were made in Europe at the time and some not very successful attempts were made to introduce the instrument to Europeans), and had faded out by the mid 1970's. It had made in into Kamaka's catalogue by this time though, even though the Baritone was never that popular in Hawaii, and was remembered by a lot of US Guitarists who started out with one. So it carried through past the millenium to the third phase of Ukulele popularity where it still sits slightly beside the rest of the Ukulele family, with a lot of makers today not including Baritones in their catalogue for various reasons, (though with the rise in popularity of the Tenor scale post millennium, there are some makers who make only the larger scales and don't include Soprano).

Thats where the name came from but the instrument had existed in one form or another from the late 1920's and traces its roots back to the fashion for multi-instruments. This came about when a number of the big manufacturers realised that they were making a number of similar sized instruments in the Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar and Ukulele families and thought "Why not make a hybrid instrument that could be tuned and played as any of them?" A few of these were made and often given fanciful names and body shapes, Regals Octophone, (8 Instruments in 1! was the claim), being probably the most famous. The instrument that came out, when you took away the grandiose claims, was an instrument with 4 courses, (usually single), that was bigger than the 17in Tenor Ukuleles but smaller than a Tenor Guitar and with a wider neck than the Mandolin family, and since D~G~B~E was always one of the tunings suggested what you had was a Baritone Ukulele in all but name. Along with the multi-instrument instrument idea of the time, another that was tried was the autoplay devices that was suppose to simplify the learning and here Stromberg Voisinet, (later Kay as it was still in production when the company changed name), which had been late to come up with a multi Instrument was the most famous exponent, They took the KeyKord which started out with the flamboyant "Venetian" body, (and was probably originally designed to enter the multi-instrument arena) and used it larger size to produce the KeyKord Autoplayer, (bigger size ment the autoplayer components didn't have to be so small). This met with some success, enough for them to expand production to a cheaper to produce figure 8 body model that was tuned D~G~B~E and exactly the same size and shape as the Baritone Ukuleles Vega and Favilla claimed to have invented more than ten years later.

Going back to the tuning as well as the D~G~B~E tuning, (or re entrant d~G~B~E), some people have strung them to have a smaller Ukulele G~C~E~A (or reentrant) tuning. this then starts to blur the scale lines and you get Jumbo Tenors or Mini Baritones which can be a quagmire of understanding as different people use different terms to describe the same thing! My definition is:- If the Ukulele has a scale length of 460mm or less but is tuned DGBE, (re entrant or not), it is a Mini Baritone. If it has a scale length of 461mm or more but is tuned GCEA, (re entrant or not), it is a Jumbo Tenor; but this is only my definition - another thing I should say here too, is there is no "official" definition of string/scale lengths. The figures I use here are my best guesses having looked at the output of a lot of manufacturers post millenium, their sizes and what they choose to call their instruments.

Finally with Baritone tuning, It was from this scale length that Owen Holt, (Road Toad) took his inspiration for creating the E~A~D~G tuned Ukulele Bass, and the majority of Ukulele Basses are still the same scale length as A Baritone Ukulele, (but they usually have even wider necks to accommodate the fat Ukulele Bass Strings)

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