The one builder who probably has more invested in the electric baritone than any other is luthier Joe Veillette of Veillette Guitars. His experience goes back 35 years and includes partnerships with other innovative builders.
Based in Woodstock, New York, Veillette contends that the first true electric baritone was a model called the Shark, which he conceived around 1980, during the years he was in a partnership with luthier Harvey Citron. The Veillette-Citron Shark was developed with input from the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, and was later sought out by such luminaries as Eddie Van Halen, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers), and Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna).
Like George Gruhn, Veillette contends that the first Danelectros were just 6-string basses. "Same with the Fender VI," he says. "Sebastian came to us wanting a shorter scale — because 30" is a lot of neck!
"We had the first one that was conceived and sold as a baritone," Veillette continues. "Then the Danelectro people came in trying to copyright the name 'baritone,' which was ridiculous. What stopped them was our magazine ad from 1980. We had to do something ... It cost me real money to keep making baritones for a while as we fought that. Other people were making what they called baritones, but two-thirds of my line was baritones — we've been more dependent on it than any other manufacturer."
From 1991 to 1994, Veillette partnered with famed bass builder Stuart Spector, and his instruments were sought out by even more top-tier players, including Billy Gibbons, bass legend Billy Sheehan, Earl Slick, Journey's Neal Schon, James Taylor, and Aerosmith's Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. "Dave Matthews bought his first baritone from us, and Eddie [Van Halen] eventually bought two 12-string baritones, too," he adds. Veillette also partnered with another esteemed bass builder, Michael Tobias, to develop Avante baritone acoustics for Alvarez.
Given his history with baritones, it's no surprise Veillette has seen the instrument evolve through a series of changes. His first Veillette-Citrons were solidbodies with piezo pickups but, "for Eddie and Sheehan I added magnetics," he says. For the past 10 years, he's moved toward acoustic instruments with a piezo pickup under the saddle. These can be heard on Kaki King's latest recordings, among others.
"Recently, I'm doing an equal number of 6- and 12-strings," Veillette explains. "All this has put me in a place to experiment with different tunings and scale lengths-my specialty is in tuning ranges and string tension."
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