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How important is Scale Length? Pros? Cons?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by pat1151, Jan 7, 2005.

  1. pat1151


    Jun 22, 2004
    Montreal, Quebec
    Hello Everybody, Im an electric bass player of 5 years now and I am ready to make the move to the Double Bass because I am now playing jazz full time and would like the authentic sound. For sure I am going to be getting one of those thinner Meisel Basses (I know its not as good as a standard depth bass but let's put that aside), My problem is that I dont know weither i should get the 3/4 or the 1/2 sized. For sure ill be able to travle easily with the 1/2 but the scale lengths are bothering me in the final decision. From what I have read in my searches of this forum is that many players wont play anything under 40'' long. The 3/4 bass has a 41'' scale length and the 1/2 bass has a 37 3/4'' scale length. My bass guitar is only 34'' scale length which is only 3 and 1/4'' shorter. Should the double bass have a much longer scale length than the electric bass guitar? What are the Pros and Cons of having longer and shorter Scale lengths? Will there be any signifigant differences in tone between the 2? I have realized that the notes will be closer together but i dont think that would be a problem for me.

    Thanks alot
  2. Jazzman


    Nov 26, 2002
    Raleigh, NC
    There is no relation between how you will play this and you bass guitar. So comparing the scale lengths doesn't make sense. Don't worry about it.

    I would suggest going for the 3/4 bass. The huge difference is the 1/2 scale is made for a child who is a student. It wouldn't make any sense for a serious musician to get a 1/2 scale bass because the scale is close to that of a bass guitar. The bass is a whole different beast than the bass guitar...approach them as two different instruments and you will do just fine. ;)
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  3. Jazzman is right- though I play 99% BG, I agree DB is a vastly different beast. Going from a 34" scale to 41" is for me like going from bass (either one) to guitar- I'm familiar with both, but again, 2 different instruments. Also, I'm uninformed but suspect a 1/2 size bass might not be very loud compared with 3/4.
  4. JeffKissell


    Nov 21, 2004
    Soquel, CA
    I just sold a 1/2 sized bass that I have been playing for the last several years. I got it originally because the scale length was closer to my EB. Now I'm faced with the challenge of relearning my intonation on a 3/4 scale bass. IMO if you're serious about playing UB, learn to play a 3/4 scaled bass from the beginning. I'm left handed and when I first was learning the EB, my teacher had me try both a left and a right handed bass. When I told him they both felt equally awkward, he said learn to play right handed, that way you can always sit in or borrow a bass if you need to. I think the same applies to 3/4 scaled upright basses.That being said, there is some variation in sizes and string lengths of 3/4 basses. It doesn't hurt to play as many basses as possible. Good luck!
    RaggaDruida and Max George like this.
  5. Ike Harris

    Ike Harris

    May 16, 2001
    Nashville TN
    I think there's something about playing a vertically positioned neck that makes it a little more doable on the upright. You have gravity and a freer arm position going for you so that you can make the spread easier than you may think. Also the thickness of the neck usually matches the overall scale of the upright. Although it will take some getting used to(get a good teacher and method book, it's a different instrument), the generally bigger setup will work if you give it some time and effort. Having a well setup bass by someone who also plays makes a big difference. I'm not a luthier by any stretch, but I like doing my own setup better than anyone else's.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  6. bassgurl


    Dec 2, 2004
    i agree with all you guys i started DB like a couple months ago and it is like a totally new instrument and it takes some ear.

    i use a 3/4 bass and i don't realy know the scale length difference and the notation will be easy for you since you played electric for so long. you develop a good ear playing and that will improve your DB skills

    and i agree that you should play multiple basses and get the feel of each because a DB is like a custom shoe it only fits you and ur skills.

    good luck getting used to the feel and have fun in jazz band! :bassist:

    GENE STUFFEL Commercial User

    Mar 4, 2017
    I have heard so much talk about SCALE LENGTH my mind is in a fog. I started building Bass Guitars about 2-3 years ago. I just finished a nice (OLD SCHOOL) three knobs- four strings- great sound. My friend with 35+ years playing offered to set it up for me. I measured 34" from the front on the nut to the middle of the adjustment on the bridge. He called and said i had to move the bridge back about 1/2" for it to be right. That would put the scale length at 34.500. Why bother with measuring. Just play it, stop being so technical. Get on stage in front of 200 screaming fans and see how many come up to you and say (HA YOUR SCALE LENGTH IS OFF) Best To All you Bass Players: BASS MONKEY
  8. jsf729

    jsf729 Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2014
    Central Maryland
    Zombie Thread is about UPRIGHT/ DOUBLE BASS scale. But thanks for digging it up...
    Max George likes this.
  9. Max George

    Max George

    Dec 27, 2015
    With us double bass players, 200 people might be screaming "Hey dude, your scale length is off!!". We're technical like that.
  10. Roger Mouton

    Roger Mouton Supporting Member

    Aug 19, 2003
    Southern California
    Not to complicate matters here but there's talk of 3/4 size basses as having a set scale. I've played 3/4 basses that ranged in scale length from 40.5" to 43".
  11. B String

    B String Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
    I'm finding out just how important string length (I think that's what the OP means) is. I have a short arm and short fingers. I've never looked for a bass based on string length. Mainly on tone. For many years I played a large 7/8 bass with a fairly long string length. Just had a Carpal Tunnel surgery due in large part to that bass. I'm told I should be playing a bass between 40.5" & 41". I'm wondering why there aren't more moderately priced basses with shorter string lengths. Its rather easy to find them in the $13,000 and up range. I've found it so much easier to play with a shorter length.
  12. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Avoiding injury playing DB is about thoughtful ergonomically-sound technique, not about how big you are or long your string is. For every lanky Ron Carter-type there is a matching gravitationally-challenged Gary Karr, Linda MH Oh, Kristin Korb or Joe Fonda.

    Besides, string length is only one component of string tension. String construction, string gauge and neck angle are each at least as important. Going from 42" to 43" adds 2.38% more tension. According to this handy-dandy chart, going from Helicore Mediums to Spiro Mittels adds about 8.39% more tension (and we love it).
  13. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    A short scale as a work around is a bad idea. Trying to find work arounds for the double bass at all is a terrible idea. First of all, it will cripple you when you need to borrow a bass in a pinch, no sitting in, and other problems. It is best to come to the instrument with a willingness to learn how to deal with it's many issues, otherwise it is just best to listen to concerts and recordings of others who are willing to put the work in.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2017
    Sam Sherry likes this.
  14. B String

    B String Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
    I agree with much of what you're saying. I've been very fortunate to study and be friends with some major teachers who taught me the importance of playing in tune. For a musician who's been doing this his whole life, and doing much of it on a large 7/8 bass with a long string length, having a short arm and (unfortunately) very short fingers, it was a revelation the first time I played a 41.25" string length bass. Double stops were easier to play in tune. Holding root-fifth on an F for a while was easier. Playing was more fun. Going to Weichs was more fun. None of this was too much of an issue when I was younger, but at some point its just simple math. With the same strings, a 41" string length is easier to play than a 42.25".
    And according to my surgeon, it's the only way I won't do further damage to my left hand.
  15. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003
    My first bass was 42" scale. But since a left hand injury, and surgery. I prefer a 40.5'' to 41" scale bass. I does help in my case.
  16. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    I'm afraid I have to disagree respectfully with Damon and Sam. A few years ago I developed neck and shoulder issues which ultimately led to major neck surgery (pins in 5 of my 7 vertebrae). Before the surgery I tried all kinds of work arounds - basses with smaller upper bouts (out goes the Gagnon Maggini; in comes the Upton Karr); lower tension strings (out go the Spiro starks; in come the Corellis and solos tuned down to concert pitch); out goes standing, in comes sitting on a low stool etc.

    I say all this because I thought I had made all the needed adjustments, so that when I was allowed to go back to playing (eventually after surgery) I thought I was all set up. But the hand spread and distance on a 42" or 42.5" SL was just too painful, and again through trading, buying, selling, commissioning etc, my basses are now between 40-41" SL - and it does make a significant difference in ease of playing - without any tonal loss or volume on the basses I have.

    Going with B-String and Mojo Man above, the short scale helps in injury prevention -- given that, and the great era bass building we are lucky enough to live in, shouldn't we start to consider, say, a 40-41" string length as OPTIMUM for a modern bass?

    Don Kasper likes this.
  17. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Agreed, but with all the sizes and shapes we come in, and diverse styles of playing we do, optimum for the individual is about as far as I'd go with assigning a rating for a particular measurement.
  18. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Fair enough!
  19. A work around out of ignorance or laziness is one thing, a workaround for health reasons is another entirely. In that case you do what you need to do in order to play, and to enjoy playing and to remain healthy while you do it
    Sam Sherry, B String and Don Kasper like this.