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How low can you go on a 30" Scale?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by rockerjeff, Apr 29, 2009.

  1. rockerjeff


    Apr 25, 2009
    General Manager, Halo Custom Guitars, Inc.
    Hello Everyone,

    I am working on a 10-string guitar with a 30" scale length. I'm wondering what is the optimal string gauge, in your opinion, to achieve the lowest note possible without sacrificing tone and feel relating to string tension. After that note, I want to tune up the remaining strings in fourths. I appreciate any input - thanks!
  2. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    My experience has been that the construction of the bass itself has a bigger impact on the quality of tone and feel than the scale length or the diameter of the string. So for an expert luthier the question becomes "how can I engineer my bass design so that it will have the best tone and feel at a given scale length, using normal bass strings".

    But of course there are practical limits. Given a good bass design and construction, the low E of a standard 4-string bass tuning is the lowest usable note for a 30" scale IMO, given normal strings in the 120-135 ga. range. Note that the bigger diameter does not always result in the best tone or feel in this situation.
  3. Pics?
  4. I'm gonna say that it will be hard to have 10 strings sound good in a single scale length.
  5. knuckle_head

    knuckle_head Commercial User

    Jul 30, 2002
    Owner; Knuckle Guitar Works & Circle K Strings
    You will be hard pressed to find short scale bass strings in any flavor other than standard - for 34" scale. Optimally a .125 to .135 bass string will give you a properly tensioned standard E and if you're willing to live with guitar tensions you might be able to go a bit lower. It will sound like a bass - not a guitar. I am unaware of a guitar style string thicker than .095 or so.

    You might want to inquire with Octave 4 Plus strings to see if you can come by their ├╝ber thin high strings.
  6. I disagree.

    Given two nearly identically constructed instruments, same materials, same electronics, everything adjusted for scale- the short scale instrument will always have a different characteristic sound. That's the starting point- anything you do with construction, you're working around the characteristic of the scale length of the instrument. The scale length will determine how much the string is able to vibrate. Anything else in the instrument's construction is designed around what is going to be accentuated or de-emphasized. Whether that's wood choice, neck join, pickup placement, hardware choice or electronics. It's all predicated on how much the string will vibrate.

    As far as the feel of the scale length, the longer the scale length, the more tension is on the string at pitch. It's not imagination. It's just easier to play a short scale instrument, not just because the frets are closer together, it's because there's less tension on the string. If you've heard guitar players say that 'Fenders fight you back' it's because of the scale length difference in comparison with the shorter scale length of a Gibson. And that difference is less than one inch. With bass, the difference in 3.5 or 4" depending on the bass.

    Here's a calculator that you can roughly demonstrate the difference of tension on different scale lengths. Just highlight and change the numbers next to "len" at the top of the box and click "calculate." You can also change the numbers for the string size, although it is designed for guitar strings.

  7. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    I'm not sure we're saying different things actually--it's just that the words can be interpreted differently. I agree that if all else was exactly identical, the short scale will sound different from the long scale. My point and experience is that putting the same strings (in my case LaBella Deep Talkin' flats .049-.109) on a wide range of about ten different short scale instruments produced a noticeable range of "perceived tension" in the feel and "perceived focus" in the tone. A tensionometer would have read the same value on all instruments when they were tuned identically, but they felt and sounded "better" and "worse" on different instruments, to the point where the open low E was similar in tone to a long-scale's open low E on some basses, and unusably floppy seeming on others.
  8. It's interesting you say this... and at first I was going to completely disagree then I realized that different setups can influence the perceived tension, but not tension at pitch.

    A perfect example is the Gibson style Tune-O-Matic bridge. Normally, the strings are routed through the tailpiece and over the bridge saddles. However, some people "top wrap" the bridge. They go through the tailpiece, to the rear, and then wrap the strings over the top of the tailpiece and then over the bridge saddles. Doing that increases the string length, but not the scale length. It also reduces the break angle of the strings over the saddle- allowing the string to flow through the saddle more easily instead of binding (which it shouldn't do either). When you top wrap, there's much less perceived tension. The strings feel "rubberier" and it's easier to bend. I personally hear no difference in the tone, but some people swear there is.


    I'm not really sure how exactly that translates onto most hardware/setup issues on most basses, but with the TOM setup, by increasing the length of the string and lessening the break angle, that essentially gives the string more ability to stretch, thereby affecting the overall perceived tension... And again, I would have no idea how that would affect open strings unless there were NO resistance at the bridge saddle...
  9. Buskman


    Apr 13, 2007
    Jersey Shore, USA
    Really? I would think the opposite. By increasing the overall distance the string has to travel, aren't you increasing the overall tension as well?

    If not, it sounds like the whole '34"/35" scale B string' debate has been blown out of the water! :)
  10. rockerjeff


    Apr 25, 2009
    General Manager, Halo Custom Guitars, Inc.
    Thanks for all the input guys! Solarmist: I can send you a picture of the instrument in question via e-mail, because I don't want to post on here and have a problem with the terms of use. I am employed by Halo Guitars...

    To give more info on the construction: It is a neck through body design built with solid mahogany body and neck. There are 27 frets with rosewood fingerboard, graphite nut, and Kahler USA bridge system (flat mount). The pickups I used are the EMG-45DC with 1 volume, 1 Tone, and a 3-way toggle switch.

    Is there a preference between flat wound and round wound bass strings when matched with EMG active pickups?
  11. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    I'm pretty sure you're allowed to post pics as a commercial user when asking for input on the design. It's just not allowed when the item is for sale. Plus you're allowed to give pics and info when directly requested by another TB'er, so you're all good. I'd like to see it too! :)
  12. You're not increasing the scale length, you're increasing the string length.

    The distance from saddle to nut is fixed, but the distance behind the nut and behind the saddle also figure into it at some point. Figure the string can still stretch behind the saddle- if you've ever played a guitar with a tailpiece or a long vibrato like a Bigsby or Fender's Jazzmaster or Jaguar- you know you can adjust the pitch of the string by applying pressure to the string behind the bridge but in front of the tailpiece.

    Most bridges don't have much of any room behind the saddle and the string's termination, so it's usually a non-issue. It's also usually a non-issue because the height of the string's termination point is usually not variable.

    Regarding the TOM, I've done it with raising the tailpiece and I've top wrapped- I can't tell the difference in feel between those two setups, but I can from the "normal" setup. In either case, I'm sure there are people that think they can tell the difference. I prefer my tailpiece set up the old fashioned way, strung from back to front, with the strings clearing the back edge of the bridge.
  13. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw

    I disagree with your disagreement.

    Empirically I found this simply is not true. Just one case in point as an example:

    I have quite a few 30 and 34 inch scale instruments and the 30's are all very different designs but I wanted a 30" scale that sounds like my J basses. The only 30 inch scale J bass I've found so far is the SX so I ordered one.

    When I received the SX I treated it to the same strings I use on my 34" J bass and found it sounded a bit harsh compared to my 34" J. I swapped the pickups on the 30" SX J with Fender '62 RI pickups and voila, the sound is right in line with the expected sonic characteristics of a 34" J.

    I thought myself lucky and then decided I wanted a backup for the 30" so I ordered another SX (why not, they're cheap) and did the same string and pickup change with the same results.

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