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Better scale for 5-string bass: 34" or 35"?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Punch n' rumble, Mar 3, 2006.

  1. First of all, I'd like to say that I searched for any other threads about this but didn't see any that addressed this particular issue. (The numbers 34 and 35 as well as the letter B for the B-string were automatically omitted by the Search function)

    Ok, so I'm thinking about buying a 5-string bass guitar and would like to know which scale would be better and why.

    On the Ibanez website, it says: "35" neck scale provides superior articulation. Perfect for 5-strings and detuned 4-strings."
    Source: http://www.ibanez.co.jp/world/products/eb/series_index/area_e/btb.html

    And on the ESP owner's manual pg. 16, it says about 34" scale bass guitars: "These bridges are designed to allow maximum tone transfer from the strings through the body. They also have a “string thru body” option that is available on certain models (not available with 35” scale length basses). If you have this option on your bass, you will be able to feed the string through the holes in the back of the body through the bridge and over the string saddles. You may also want to string the bass like normal, hooking the ball-end of the string at the back of the bridge section. Stringing through the body increases string tension, which may be desirable if using lower tunings (or simply to add string tension and beef up the tone of your bass)."

    If anyone can tell me the difference in sound quality, string tension etc. between 34" and 35" scale basses, I would be very grateful, thanks! :)
  2. Toe-mas


    Apr 24, 2004
    St Louis, MO
    Props for using the search, but this one *has* been addressed a few times. Try using the terms "scale length" and "string tension".

    In short, a longer scale length will make for a tighter, more articulate B-string, all other factors being equal. Neck stability and general build quality will also affect this. Stringing through the bridge doesn't make any difference tension wise, nor does having a greater distance between the nut and tuners, because the only part of the string vibrating is between the bridge saddles and the nut. This is a really common myth, but it's been pretty thoroughly shot down by numerous TBers.

    Look for some threads on Dingwall basses...they pretty much have the market cornered on the scale length angle, and you should get a good idea about what different scales are all about.
  3. Yeah -

    This one has been been debated ad infinitum on here. After reading all the comments/commentary, my personal take is that it all boils down to:

    1) How good does a specific model's B-String feel?
    2) What's your personal preference?

    Like many bassists, I personally feel more comfortable with a 34" fiver. I just have to choose fivers that have well implemented B-strings.

  4. Mike


    Sep 7, 2000
    yes, it has been issue of great debate but i'll just add that it is largely a matter of preference. when i was still playing 5's, the best B i had ever was on a 34" scale Pedulla. the worst was on a very high end boutique builders, whose name I won't mention cuz I ain't like that, 35" scale. there were good ones on many other 34's and 35's i owned but the Pedulla, IME, still reigned supreme. that's not to say Pedulla's are king. it just ended up that way.
  5. Pickebass

    Pickebass Supporting Member

    Jul 12, 2004
    San Antonio, TX
    There is no "right answer on this one... It's really about the instrument itself. I have seen and played crappy B strings on both a 34" and 35" bass and great B strings as well on different scale lengths.

    I have a 35" Modulus with a great B string and a 34" Ken Smith with a great B string. You never know until you play
  6. GSRLessard14

    GSRLessard14 All-Things-Claypool Enthusiast

    Jun 23, 2005
    Newington, CT
    Without playing the instrument, I would say 35" is a better bet. The B string is thick, so it needs more room to vibrate. If you stretch that sucker out over 35" (36" would be better, :smug: ) then it'll keep it tighter so there's less chance of it hitting the frets, and you'll be able to keep the action lower.
  7. I personally like the 35" scale better as well, because I like high tension on the strings. To achieve the same tension on a 34" scale I'd need to move to a higher string gauge or tune higher.

    As everyone's saying: it's all a personal preference. Some people experience difficulties playing a 35" scale because you need to stretch your hands a bit more.
  8. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    The B string "feels" a little tighter (in tension) on my 35" scale Lakland than on my 34" scale Bongo. However, both SOUND great. I've found that playing the Bongo for a long time is a little less tiring than the Lakland in the lower positions, because it's less of a stretch--YMMV. If you have large hands, it probably won't matter to you -- Personally, I'm getting older, and my hands get sore/tired on the Lakland more quickly when I play for a long time.

    Also, remember that changing the scale from 34" to 35" or vice versa also changes the tone (not pitch, obviously) of the other strings due to a different tension in the strings. Different people like different things -- some folks prefer the 34" scale sound, while others like the 35" scale. To me, they are just different flavors, and the scale length has MUCH less effect on tone than other factors like pickups.

    Whichever is better depends on you. Small hands or an old fart like me? 34" scale may feel more comfortable. Want a booming B string to drop bombs with? Then a longer scale might work better for you, though the 34" scale B string on my Bongo produces a tremendous and thunderous low B. Of course, the ultimate low B is supposed to be the 37" scale fanned-fret Dingwall, but I haven't played one of those.
  9. Thanks for the replies, guys! And sorry for asking an already answered question. I should have used different search words.

    Ok, so it seems the physics on this matter would tell us that a 35" scale length would be more suitable for a B-string, or that's what I read at least.

    However, I'll try and play on both a 34" scale bass and a 35" bass if the local shop has both kinds. Then I'll decide which one to get. I know these things are very subjective so even though I read that in theory the 35" is more suitable, I might prefer the sound of a 34" 5-stringer. ;)
  10. stamman5


    Aug 10, 2004
    My advice would be to try and go to a store where you can play these basses or other 5 strings that are both 34 and 35. If you can play 35 inch for an extended period of time without any stress or strain then great, if not stick with 34. I for one play only 34" or less because it is just more comfortable to me. Also my technique benefits from the shorter scale length. I use a lot of left hand technique (tapping, hammer-ons, pull-offs etc.) and I find that these are easier to achieve for me with less string tension. While 34's can have equally as tight B strings as 35's or sometimes more so, it has been my experience that with builders like the ones that you mentioned that 35 does equal more tension than 34 as a rule. So just decide which one works better for you.:)
  11. Since I won't be going to try the basses at the shop 'til next week, could you tell me about the differences in tone between the two scales? I know this is tricky because it's all subjective but I just want to get a rough idea.
  12. seventhson

    seventhson Supporting Member

    Aug 12, 2005
    Seattle, WA
    I'm sure scale length affects tone. But I'm skeptical that a shorter scale *necessarily* means a worse tone. I'm sure that there are short scale basses with a crappy sounding B, just as I'm sure there are 36" scale basses with a crappy sounding B. And vice versa.

    Many luthiers offer 32" scale 5 and 6 string basses on their quote form. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think they would offer that combination if it sounded like ass. After all, the bass with the luthier's name on the headstock has a good chance of being heard in public, right?

    Paul McCartney plays a 30" scale Hofner, and Bill Wyman played a 30" Fender Mustang.

    Someone in Basses has a long thread on a custom 32" 6 string. If I get a 6 string, it will also probably be 32" scale. Although I care a lot about my tone just like anyone else, ease of playing the instrument is of paramount importance to me.

    So, back to your question...

    If you like the feel of a 34" scale bass, and this is an important criteria for you, then I am 100% sure you can find a great 5 string with that scale length whose tone you'll enjoy thoroughly.
  13. hippiesandwich


    Aug 29, 2003
    San Jose
    Affiliated with Looperlative Audio Products
    The B string on my 33" scale Fodera sounds KILLER. :cool:

    JAUQO III-X Banned

    Jan 4, 2002
    Endorsing artist:see profile.
    I own a 6 string Dingwall(37" B),8 string Adler(34"), fretted and fretless Adler Subcontra Bass(low C# & F# 34"),5 string MMSRay(34")Padulla Hexa Buzz(6 string fretless 34"),fretted Conklin Subcontra Bass(Low C# & F# 34"),5 string Fodera imperial
    (35") and a 4 string fretless Fabreguess(35"yes 35")these are just a few of the Basses that I own with varied scale lengths and from my experience I prefer 34"scale basses.the longer scale basses that some believe may allow for a better sounding/feeling B string is not at all all ways the case(in most cases).it really comes down to the quality of the B string(the bass itself)and how one Bass player likes and want their low B string to sound/feel.for me if 35"or more scale length was law or the best for my Low B or Lower needs then definitely every Bass I choose to own and play would be a scale length longer than 34".usually I can not get a Funky articulate grit out of 95% of the long scale Basses that I have played.I recently had an 8 string Bass made(close to completion)that is 33"(Low B) and when I get it I will let you know how the Low B plays.
  15. BNM


    Feb 4, 2006
    Queens, New York
    I like my 5 string with a 35" scale, but I've played 34" ones too and I can't complain about them. The B is more loose, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I would try the basses out and see what plays better for you.
  16. bikeplate

    bikeplate Supporting Member

    Jun 7, 2001
    Upstate NY

    I prefer 34" scale. If the builder is good at what he does, there is no noticelable difference from 34" to 35". If the builder is shotty, it can make a big difference

    34" for me

  17. Lia_G


    Oct 27, 2005
    Personally, I'm moving back to 34's. Yes, the low B on my Roscoe fretless is astounding, but with my strings (Thomastik flatwounds) the G string loses some punch and sustain compared to the same strings on a good 34" scale fretless. Those of you who play roundwounds probably wouldn't notice it to the same extent I do. That punch and sustain on the G is actually a bit more important to me than an absolutely thunderous low B.

    My backup and 'convenient travel bass' is a Steinberger Synapse fretless 5, with a 34" scale, and the low B is just fine. My fretted bass is a MusicMan SR5, also a 34, and the low B is more than just fine.

    Much as I love my Roscoe (it's been like my right hand for 5 years, on more gigs than I can count, and *always* gets raves for looks and tone), I may end up selling it and buying a MM SR5 fretless. On the other hand, I'm getting more calls for upright these days than anything else, so who knows what will happen.

    Best of luck,
  18. 3NotesAbar


    Jul 3, 2005
    I think a huge factor in having a good, articulate B string is in whether its tapered-core or not :)
  19. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Here's a thread I posted a year ago regarding my observations of two very similar basses, the biggest difference being the scale length. To my knowledge, it's about as close to a controlled experiment as anyone's done (correct me if I'm wrong).


    Obviously from reading the comments, some have expressed concerns about the quality of the "control" in my experiment, so take it as you will. I still think it proves my point...
  20. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    the major difference in sonic quality can largely be summed up as a better built neck = better tone

    IME a top notch build job on a 34" scale neck will have a better sounding B than a mediocre built neck with a 35" scale.

    all the best,