Open A Baritone tuning is a deep, beautiful sound with the same intervals as Open C and the same versatility. Like so many other happy discoveries in open tunings, I happened upon it by accident.
I was fixing a friend's high-end Yamaha which someone had partially torn the bridge off by tuning too high. (Long live pitch pipes and all other tuners!) It's a great sounding guitar and after detuning it way lower, the sound was really nice. I had no idea then that what I had is an Open A Baritone tuning.
I told my friend he wasn't getting his guitar back for a while. He's got a second guitar, and I had previously repaired its broken headstock. You didn't really think I would leave my buddy without a guitar to hug did you?
I wrote a few songs with my friend's guitar in what became my go-to tuning. On my guitars, Open A Baritone is cool. Both my 1967 Hofner and my Seagull Maritime mini jumbo work well. But tuning this low may not work for all acoustic guitars. That's why some are designed for baritone tunings. And for starting open tunings, it's better to begin with C, D or G.
If you like fingerstyle tunes that mix slide with fretted notes, you'll like Open A Baritone tuning. Like its relative .... Open C .... it can be turned into a super Open A Minor Baritone tuning by lowering the 1st string C# to a C. Fret the 2nd string at the 3rd fret and lower the open 1st string to match the tone.
I found that I had to go to heavy gauge strings to keep the correct tension, but neither guitar needed a truss rod adjustment. It can take a while for a neck to settle, so if you're planning to try this tuning with your regular guitar, there's a few things you should know. If you have a second, not-so-good instrument, you may want to try out Open A Baritone tuning there first.
First, guitars are individuals. Two of the same brand and model # may sound and react differently to the same adjustment by the same tech. Most guitar necks will take at least a week to settle to a slight change in tension .... even if it turns out the new tension is okay. You can read a personal experience on the Open Tunings Setup page. It's about two thirds the way down the page. It's highlighted. There's also an important safety note on that page.
Second, from Open A Baritone tuning, YOU CAN NOT TUNE BACK UP TO STANDARD WITH THE HEAVY STRINGS ON YOUR GUITAR. Well .... actually you can .... as long as you don't mind running the risk of pulling either the neck or the bridge right off your instrument!
Third, this is a very low guitar tuning. Most guitars can be tuned down two frets without changing the string gauge or adjusting the truss rod. So when you are tuning to Open D or Open G from Standard, you may not experience any major problems. You may find that the slightly looser strings take a bit of getting used to. Slide will need a light touch. On the plus side you may enjoy not having to press as hard for your fretted notes.
If you tune down another two frets to Open C, your guitar may or may not need truss rod adjustment if you leave the same gauge strings on the guitar. And the strings may feel too loose for you without going to a slightly heavier gauge. NOT HEAVY GAUGE.
Open A Baritone requires you to tune down seven frets from Standard, on the 6th string. You can see why you'll definitely need heavy strings. You may find as I did that you still don't need to adjust with the truss rod. But you need to be patient here and give it a couple of weeks. Then, if you're not happy with the way your baby plays .... proceed carefully.
Truss rod adjustment demands real caution or you could do some very bad (and expensive) damage. Unless you're confident and have done this before it may be best to have a professional do it. See A NOTE OF CAUTION for truss rods at the bottom of the Setup page.
If you plan to play slide in this tuning .... you may need to beef up your highest string even further. Mine's a 17.
Here's how to tune to Open A Baritone Tuning from Standard.
1. Lower the 6th string to the same tone as the open 5th string .... but one octave lower. A
2. Lower the 5th string to match the tone when you fret the 6th string at the 7th fret. E
3. Lower the 4th string to match the tone when you fret the 5th string at the 5th fret. A
4. Lower the 3rd string to match the tone when you fret the 4th string at the 7th fret. E
5. Lower the 2nd string to match the tone when you fret the 3rd string at the 5th fret. A
6. Lower the 1st string to match the tone when you fret the 2nd string at the 4th fret. C#