How do I play a baritone, bass or contrabass guitar?

Playing large scale guitars

As with small-scale guitars there are no new fingerings to learn. See our transposition FAQ.


With a larger body and longer neck, some classical players find it more comfortable to sit legs together, feet flat on the ground with the waist of the guitar on the right leg. The guitar isn't quite as stable as in the classical position, but one does otherwise need supple hips to sit in the accepted classical pose!


The larger instruments have strings that are thicker than classical strings, and more importantly, a greater number of them are wound. On the Niibori bass, for example, four strings are wound, and on the contra, all six are. This means that the modern-day classical right hand position, where the (finger) nails engage at an angle to the monofilament nylon strings, generates considerable string noise and nail wear, as the nail abrades slightly along the length of the string as it pushes into the stroke.

A more right-angled hand position - the sort of wrist angle that Segovia adopted - prevents nail wear as does a more enthusiastic use of the thumb.

Position work

The pitch range of these instruments overlaps the prime guitar - they share at least 2 octaves in common and only a few notes are unique. This means that they tend to play in the lower positions to capitalise on these "new" notes. Played in the higher positions, however, the increased diameter and reduced length of the strings gives a particularly mellow bass note that is slightly punchier or more "urgent" than on the prime guitar - more reminisicent of a plucked string bass than the brighter cello sound of a classical guitar playing deep bass on new strings.


The low notes have more sustain than on a prime guitar, and their deeper pitch means that it's much more necessary to damp strings that are finished with. "Beat notes" between two deep bass notes sound much more objectionable than between higher notes.

See also guitars smaller than the prime ...

playing technique | smaller guitars | larger guitars