Fretless scale length question

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Eli M., Sep 8, 2004.

  1. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    I plan on ordering a Nordstrand NJ4 fretless. But I don’t know what scale length I want. I won’t go over 34” because anything longer than that would make the spacing too wide. My Fender Jazz is a 34”, and I find myself using double bass fingering (1-2-4) in the lowest positions sometimes. I don’t know if this would be such a good idea on a fretless bass - I don’t want to be reaching for notes. I also don’t want a scale length shorter than 33” - the spacing would be too narrow (or would it?).

    So my question is:
    What impact, if any, does a shorter scale length have on the sound of the bass? Also, what will it do to string tension? I like to play with medium to high tension and action.
    What I mean is, will changing the scale length by .5 inch make a noticeable difference in the sound or tension?

    So… 33, 33.5, or 34? Opinions? I would especially like to hear people’s experiences with fretless basses, dealing with this issue.

    By the way, I did a search on this topic, but I mostly found discussions on long scale (35” for example) vs. short scale basses (30” for example). My question has more to do with subtle differences in scale lengths and what that will do to the bass.
  2. RunngDog

    RunngDog Supporting Member

    Jan 22, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    My gut feel (and that's all it is, but based on some experience) is that for a 4 string bass the 1" scale reduction won't make a significant difference in tone or tightness. However, you might want to think about whether that reduction is going to mess with any "muscle memory" you've already developed with respect to fret locations on a 34" scale. In that regard, you may be getting a little extra comfort in exchange for a lot of intonation problems.

    FWIW, I'm very happy playing a 30" scale Rob Allen fretless "Mouse" bass.
  3. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    your muscle memory already is use to 34"... might be easiest to stay there. I think shorter scale lends a sweetness to the upper register but like said, the 1/2 to 1 inch wouldn't change much in feel or tone.
  4. winston

    winston Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    I used to have a fretless Alembic Spoiler with a 32" scale. It had a lot of low and high end but not a whole lot of cutting mids. It had an ebony FB and a maple through-body neck, and maple wings so the lack of mids could be partly attributable to all the bright woods.

    This bass sounded phenomenal in situations without loud drums and guitars--I played it in jazz and ethno-acoustic groups. It got lost in louder groups, part of which I attributed to the shorter scale. I didn't find the tension to be noticeably different from longer-scale basses and I appreciated the ease of lefthand reach afforded by the shorter scale.
  5. JPJ


    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    If there isn't any reason why you would need to have a shorter scale length, I'd just stick with 34". A shorter scale will change the feel and tention of the strings a bit, but whether this difference would have a significant impact on your playing is hard to tell...depends on how sensitive you are to scale lenght changes, etc. Nevertheless, if there isn't a reason why you would need a shorter scale, you're already familiar and comfortable with 34", so you might want to stick with what you know.

  6. Nick man

    Nick man

    Apr 7, 2002
    Tampa Bay
    I agree with most of whats been said.

    Stay with what you are familiar with and keep the 34".

    It will be especially helpful since you wont have frets and will need to use more muscle memory to reach the correct notes.
  7. My two cents: I can personally attest to Jaco using double bass fingering below the 5th fret. (Even on fretted).
    Stick w/ the 34 IMO.
  8. jgsbass


    May 28, 2003
    Floral Park, NY
    I had a bass which I assumed was a 34 " scale. I made it into a fretless a loong time ago. Never compared it to my other basses for neck length. When I had the fingerboard replaned. my luthier pointed out that the length of the scale was 33 and1/4 ". Never noticed a difference playing it and had no difficulty changing back and forth between basses.