Having a project laid on the bench is always exciting and just recently, I thought of an idea to convert my electric guitar into a more personalized instrument. Having successfully done baritone conversions before, I know this project would be easy but somehow, I am still afraid that things might go wrong so I decided to do this step by step list to help others spare their guitar from a train wreck in case they wanted a baritone conversion.
Before we go into the process, let us first discuss what we are dealing here.
What is a Baritone?
Basically, Baritone guitars are just similar with any standard electric guitar but it has a lower voice. The tuning of standard guitars, starting from the lowest to the highest string, is E, A, D, G, B, E. On the other hand, Baritone guitars usually are tuned a fourth lower (B, E, A, D, F#, B) or a fifth lower (A, D, G, C, E, A). Therefore, all of the chord patterns that you know are just exactly the same on a Baritone, but will basically produce a lower voice.
You might ask, “Why is it that I can’t just use my Fender and just lower its tune?” Well, if you’ll do, you will only find the strings of the Fender to be too floppy and will not provide enough tension to be able to create a nice sound.
Having that said, the only solution is to make the neck of your electric guitar a little longer and make use of heavy strings. Or, more accurately said, the scale length must be longer, then use heavier strings.
What is a Scale Length?
Scale length refers to the exact length of the suspended string—the distance between the nut and the bridge of your guitar. Generally, Gibson guitars use a 24 ¾” length while Fenders use a 25 ½“ scale length. 10-46 gauge of string sets are typical in these types of guitars tuned E-E. On the other side, a Fender Bass generally has a scale of 34” with string at 45-100 range, the same with Eastwood bass models which has a 30 ½” and 32 inches scale.
For Baritone guitars, the usual scale length ranges from 27” to 28”, depending on the brand and the makers of the guitar. Baritone string gauges usually ranges from 0.12 to 0.72 from the first to the sixth string. String manufacturers like D’Addario, GHS, Elixir, La Bella and Ernie Ball often make baritone sets for your liking.
How To Convert Electric Guitar to Baritone
Tools and Materials You’ll Need:
For replacing the Neck:
- Large and small Phillips screwdrivers
- 6″ precision metal ruler
- String radius gauges
- Soldering iron tip or round, sharp pilot-hole starter
- Truss rod wrench
- Allen wrench set
- String action gauge
- Gauged nut slotting files
- String winder and cutter
- Rubber- or nylon-tipped hammer
- Small towel or protective cloth
- Electric drill and small drill bits
For cutting a Bone String Nut (this is optional):
- Bone saddle blank
- Super glue
- Precision shaping file
- Radius block
- Mechanical pencil
- 600-grit paper
- Machinist rule
Step 1. Evaluation of the Guitar
Before doing any modifications, always make sure to evaluate the condition of the guitar and document the detailed measurements of the instrument including how well it is set-up. For this project, we are using a Fender Telecaster modded with Duncan humbuckers.
Before installing the new neck, take note of all of its features like in the image, we are going to use a Fender licensed Warmoth 28 5/8” scale baritone neck.
Step 2. Disassembly
Disassembling a guitar can be very exciting but make sure you have prepared all the materials needed for the job. Keep the parts you have removed and make sure you use the correct tools for the task.
- Unstring your guitar
- Unscrew the neckbolts, remove the old neck and compare with the new neck.
- Clean out and inspect any debris on the neck pocket.
Step 3. Check whether the new neck fits the guitar’s neck pocket
Since we are using Fender Baritone neck, the iconic headstock shape as well as the heel is drilled and sized to Fender specs so you can be assured that the new neck will snugly fit.
Step 4. Neck Preparation
At this point, you already have tighten the neck into the body, but then you don’t have tuning keys, string trees or string nuts, so we are going to install these components next.
- Install the tuning keys
- Align the tuners using a metal ruler
- While holding the ruler against the tuners, use a pencil or a sharp tipped tool to mark the spot where you will drill the hole for the screws.
Tip: Measure the length of the screw before drilling the headstock to know how deep your drilling should be to precisely accommodate the screw without going too far and splitting the wood of your headstock.
Step 5. Attach the tuning machines
Finally, attach the tuning machines starting with the 1st or 6th, whichever as long as you work sequentially along the Baritone headstock.
Step 6. Install the Baritone Strings
Wind the string downwards and make sure the strings don’t wind in itself as this provides a potential for breakage. Then, cut excess strings close to the post.
Step 7. Install string trees if necessary
String trees are necessary because it eliminates the buzzing in the nut especially on the 1st and 2nd string. The buzzing happens because of the break angle which is too shallow. For Fender headstocks, using one string tree and staggered posts can be your best set-up.
Step 8. Get the newly set-up Baritone in Tune
After the neck, the tuners, the strings and the string trees are installed, now is the time to make proper adjustments and determine the guitar’s playability. For the set-up, follow these steps.
- Tune to your preferred baritone tuning.
- Make adjustments for the truss rod if needed.
- Adjust the bridge saddles height.
- Check the string nut and adjust action.
- Adjust the intonation by moving the saddles. Use an electric tuner to bring every string into pitch.