BY GREG OLWELL
In two new acoustic-electric baritone guitars, Guild pairs its classic jumbo body with a long, 27-inch-scale neck and the more affordable production of its Chinese-built Westerly Collection. The idea is to offer an accessibly priced, fully featured instrument for players who know the satisfying, rafter-rattling power of a baritone and might be curious about exploring the low end. One is a six-string, the BT-240E with mahogany back and sides, and the other is the guitar seen here—the Guild BT-258E eight-string baritone.
This guitar adds octave strings to the two middle strings, in the same way a 12-string guitar has doubled courses. Though it’s unusual, the middle pairs are not an unprecedented move—Taylor offered an eight-string baritone for years—but the availability at this price almost certainly is. The doubled courses in the middle range infuse the BT-258E with some 12-string chime in a format some may find easier to play. The Guild eight-string doesn’t overpower the player or the listener with the clang and constant need for tuning that can come with a 12-string.
Standard tuning on a baritone is like someone added a lower string to your guitar and eliminated the higher string, so all of your familiar chord shapes and melody lines are still there but now sound a fifth lower. (Strum a basic open E minor chord, and you’ll hear a B minor.) With its doubled middle course, the tuning on this Guild is B E aA dD F# B. The 27-inch scale is like adding two frets to the lower end of the fingerboard, placing the nut farther away. The heavier strings necessitated by the tuning and scale length will also take some getting used to, but the reward is a guitar with a vast, wide-open voice. All of this sounds more confusing and difficult than it really is once you start playing.
With a slim C shape and satin finish, the BT-258E’s mahogany neck is very comfortable to play. Sterling fretwork on the dark pau ferro fingerboard and a nice setup add to the guitar’s quality feel, and the mother-of-pearl-peaked Guild logo is a classy touch. The guitar has a tight-grained Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing on a rosewood body. Like Guild’s maple jumbos, the BT-258E’s rosewood back is laminated and pressed into an arch, which eliminates the need for back braces. “The arched back is really part of the secret sauce of this guitar,” says Josh Chapman, Guild’s director of product management. “The combination of our large jumbo shape and the projection of the arched back give this guitar a big voice and a lot of breath to push it out with.”
It’s an honest statement given what I found in my weeks spent with the BT-258E. Played lightly, this guitar can respond with delicate clarity and warmth, but it also has the headroom that can make the instrument very loud when strummed. Even aggressive strummers might have to work hard to overdrive this baritone. Chords sound massive, beyond any other guitar I can think of. It’s like an entire orchestra underneath a singer’s voice, and it makes me want to keep playing every song I can think of, from the arpeggios of “The House of the Rising Sun” to the bass runs of “Midnight Special” to strummed open-tuned pieces like “She Talks to Angels.”
I could see this being used by solo performers because of the depth that it offers to a singer, which really is enhanced by the doubled middle strings. It makes sense, too, when you think about some of the historic solo performers who relied on baritone 12-strings, like Lead Belly and Blind Willie McTell. I found fingerpicking with the mixture of single and double-course strings challenging, especially on parts that cross from a single string to a doubled string, but I’m sure there’s someone out there who could make magic with it.
Since the neck dimensions are identical on the eight- and six-string baritone Guilds, I removed the octave pairs to try the BT-258E as a six-string. Fingerpickers might enjoy doing the same for the extra space. It’s particularly gratifying with low tunings like open A (A E A C# E A), which positively rocked my house.
If loud isn’t loud enough, the E in the BT-258E’s name stands for electric. It comes with a Fishman pickup system with onboard volume and tone controls. Given that gigs aren’t happening around my home in California, I couldn’t try the Guild through a club’s PA, but I have to guess that it would be more suited to the baritone’s depth and broadness than the single eight-inch speaker of my Boss Acoustic Singer Pro. A larger speaker would likely fare better if accurate reproduction was a priority for you, but still, the Guild sounded bold and expansive even through a compact amp.
For almost any player, a baritone acoustic wouldn’t be your only guitar. Still, Guild is offering players an affordable opportunity to add a quality instrument to your collection that gives tons of inspiration. Players who are only going to strum chords will find a lot to love about the rich, deep tones and fullness supplied with the doubled middle pair of strings. At the same time, fingerpickers are sure to find a lot to love about the Guild’s ability to make any open tuning sound cavernous. If you haven’t tried a baritone before or are just eager to find some new inspiration, the Guild BT-258E might change your ideas of what an acoustic guitar is capable of doing. Baritones and eight-strings may not be for everyone, but boy, is it fun.
BODY Jumbo size; Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; laminated rosewood sides; laminated arched rosewood back; tortoiseshell pattern pickguard; pau ferro bridge with compensated bone saddle; mother-of-pearl rosette; gloss polyurethane natural finish
NECK 27″-scale C-shape mahogany neck with truss rod; 1-3/4″ bone nut, 20-fret pau ferro fingerboard with 16″ radius; mother-of-pearl position markers; Guild Vintage 18 nickel-plated tuners; satin polyurethane finish
ELECTRONICS Guild/Fishman GT-1 with Fishman Sonicore undersaddle pickup; D’Addario EXP23 Coated Phosphor Bronze (.016–.070) baritone set with .012 and .014 octave strings
PRICE $629 street ($499 street for B-240E)
MADE IN China