Harmonics, tone, and scale length

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by vicenzajay, Jan 26, 2005.

  1. All,

    Could use some advice, and I'll cut to the chase. I have smaller hands, and I'm making a decision on whether or not to make my 5-string a 34 or 35" scale. Playing on instruments in town, I am tempted to just stay at 34 inches (given the stretch)...my question is simple. How much will this affect my tone, harmonics, etc. etc.? What will I be sacrificing without the extra inch of scale length.

    Thanks for any help,
  2. Jay, though the measured difference is 1" between a 34 and a 35 but the actual "stretch" isn't near that figure and in fact doesn't have to be any if other geometry's are attended to. For instance, the actual difference in length between the nut and first frets of these scales is only around 1/4" and that figure decreases with every fret as you go up the neck. I would concentrate more on the number of frets my neck has, the attachment area needed for my neck (unless it's a neckthru) and the length of my body. The relationship between these things can be manipulated to bring the neck in closer to the body and this can have the effect of minimizing any reach problems the 35 can give you.

    And I certainly recommend 35" 5'ers!
  3. Anthony Jackson (atteeeeeen-hut!) has the smallest fattest hands and the shortest fingers you can find (that's an exaggeration, of course) and he plays a 36" inch scale. It's just a matter of getting used to it. Most people will sacrifice a little comfort for a better sound.
  4. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Pickup placement is more critical than scale length. Take a Strat and a Tele. Put each on the neck pickup position. The Strat gets ringing chiming harmonics, the Tele gets almost none (literally none at the 5th fret). Same woods, same scale, very similar pickups. But the Tele neck pickup is in a very slightly different location than the Strat neck pickup. The Tele neck pickup is in fact directly under the node where the 24th fret would be. And that kills the harmonic response with that pickup. The Strat neck pickup isn't directly under that node, and you get all the harmonics you need. We're talking a difference of about 1/16".
  5. But doesn't that harmonic node change it's relative position on the string with every fretted note? In fact there are an infinite number of harmonic nodes on a vibrating string but we only hear about 6 of them. Don't those too change with fretting the instrument?
  6. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Yes, but some are more commonly used than others. Anything that interferes with the sound of open strings should be avoided. That said, the Tele neck pickup sucks for most harmonics, and I do a lot of Lenny Breau style fretted harmonics all over the neck. I never have a problem with the Strat neck pickup.

    Anyway, my point is to experiment with pickup placement.

    How strong a pickup's magnetic field is also matters, regardless of the fret. Again, I think the pickup choice and placement is the key. You can get excellent harmonic response with any reasonable scale length, if other factors aren't getting in the way.

    Add good witness points and coupling to the important factors- nothing like a badly cut nut or loose saddle to kill tone and harmonics.
  7. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    That suggests that the problem has to do with the nature of the PU itself, not its placement. If this happens "all over the neck" with *fretted* harmonics, then the harmonic node thing is extremely unlikely to be playing a role. Hard to see how it could, in fact. All the nodes move when you fret a note, as we know.

    Besides, if you're talking about a distance of 1/16", consider that the PU's "aperture" is certainly considerably wider than that. So even if it were parked exactly at a node, which during a lot of playing it's not, it would still be picking up the string to either side of the node.

    But your basic point, about experimenting with PU placement, is right on the money IMO.:bassist:
  8. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    It's not just the pickup itself. I've put a Strat neck pickup in the same location on a Tele and it didn't have the right harmonic response, either. Moved it to the "strat" location and they came back. It's a holistic thang, I guess.
  9. Thanks for the advice to date. Hambone...I especially appreciate your ideas concerning neck construction and fret placement. It's not that I mind stretching a bit to accomodate slightly wider fret spacing - it's the basic fact that if an instrument is a "stretch" or uncomfortable to play (and I'm not giving up my four string 34" basses...what I grew up on) it will be human nature to default to comfortability in choosing instruments for any given session. I am excited about this instrument as my first 5-string...so I want to set myself up for success. After trying a few 35-inchers, I have some concerns...and thus the reason for this forum topic.

    I really appreciate the discussion as it's helping me cage my brain as to which direction to take.


  10. Just a final thought from me and my post. When you try an off-the-shelf bass, you are being asked to conform your body to a set of dimensions and angles that have been standardized to fit as many frames as possible. Call it "economical ergonomics". The great thing about having a bass built or doing one yourself is that you can reassemble all of those dimensions in a way that will fit you like a glove. And that fit might come with changes as small as that 1/4". It's sort of funny that you might have been only that far from the perfect instrument if only the rest of the world were that 1/4" different.

    So what I would recommend is that if you have particular requirements for size or spacing is to make simple neck and body blanks from MDF to play with the possibilities. If you mark the important references like 12th fret, you can clamp them together and make some discoveries.

    Boy are you going to have some fun!
  11. Again,

    Thanks...I'm going to do some of this...I had started a thread on the same topic in "basses" The only response advised me to go with a 36" bass! So I'm starting to get the point. I just want to do it smartly...so thanks again.