The baryton can be viewed as a sort of augmented bass viol. It is similar in size to the latter instrument and likewise has six or seven strings of gut (typically D G c e a d', although scordatura was used), arranged over a fretted fingerboard and played with a bow. The instrument is held vertically and is supported by the player's legs (rather than with an end-pin as in the modern cello).
The baryton differs from the bass viol in having an additional set of wire strings. These perform two functions: they vibrate sympathetically with the bowed strings, enriching the tone, and they can also be plucked by the left thumb of the performer, creating a contrasting tonal quality. As can be seen in the illustration, the bowed strings are placed on the right, where they can be easily fingered by the player's left hand. The plucked strings are on the left; they are reachable by the player's thumb from the rear, where the back of the instrument's neck is left open.