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Is a shortscale bass easier to fret?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by redhotblues, Dec 6, 2017.

  1. I've currently got a Fender Jazz [wear 45-100], and I've been giving someone lessons on it. They start out OK but within an hour or so their hand cramps up. The worry is they won't be able to make it through a show if they get in a band. We've hiked he strap up higher and tilted it at a 40 degree angle or so to ease hand stress but we still can only get an hour or so.

    I'm thinking a short scale bass [30" scale] might be easier to fret, and be easier to play over a longer period of time?

    I did some preliminary searching, but didn't exactly find the answer I was looking for, so forgive me if this has been answered before.

    Thanks in advance!~
  2. ajkula66


    Sep 23, 2016
    This may not be the answer that you're looking for but I'll put in my unsolicited two cents anyway...

    Generally speaking, the answer would be "yes" but...

    1) I own two similar basses - one SS and one LS - practice on the LS one, and record with the SS one. I'd describe myself as being a somewhat medium height (5' 10"/175cm) with fairly delicate hands for a male, with my fingers definitely being on the shorter side of the spectrum.

    2) Unless your student is facing a gig on a really short notice and/or has some type of ailment/injury that would affect their fretting hand, I would stick with the 34" scale.

    3) Not all SS basses are created equal, and if your student ends up taking that route for whatever reason, some shopping around will be required IMO.

    Wishing both of you the very best of luck.
    Duder likes this.
  3. Solude


    Sep 16, 2017
    The force needed won't change but the stretch does so... yes... ish.

    That said, new students shouldn't be able to fret for an hour straight. Lessons I've taken focus on building up slowly to longer play throughs and if the lesson itself is long they go for say 2-5 minutes and then pause to address any issue before going for another play through. They can build their stamina at home ;)
    Aqualung60 and Lbsterner like this.
  4. jaybones

    jaybones Banned

    Mar 4, 2015
    Kelleys Island, Ohio
    I'm also going to answer yes-ish.

    When I started playing bass, coming from only owning an acoustic the first (borrowed) bass I had to play was a Lyon P(OS) copy. Long scale jumbo frets, and my short fingered meaty paws had a hard time. I would get cramps between my knuckles and along the bones in the back of my hands.

    Had the headstock elevated, good playing position and everything. Compensated my moving my hand around only using my index and middle finger to fret.

    Finally when that bass ended its life (fell apart after so many repairs soldering the wiring harness back together due to shortage of wire, solder and flux at the factory that day) the guy got a Yamaha Motion B short scale. Very easy to play compared to what I had before.

    Needed to relearn left hand technique as I could keep my hand stationary and use my fingers to reach the frets.

    If I'd had a bass teacher, other than the guy I borrowed it from showing me few things I think I would have made the transition easier. Even now, I can't play my P for an hour straight without some discomfort in the fretting hand. Jazz is fine for that period though. And my Rivoli (EA 260 really) is a joy.

    But when I first started playing guitar (saxophone, piano, drums) I had to build up the muscles needed for each.
  5. turbo2256b


    Jan 4, 2011
    I started lifting weights at 14. By the time I WAS 21 22 when I STARTED LEARNING BASs could grab a bathroom scale that went up to 280 lbs with one hand and and peg it. So just a guess here some exercising with one of those gripper things and finger / wrist curls could help.
  6. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    Two things:

    1) As you get more experienced, your hand position naturally improves, and you can play with less pressure, because things are in the right place. I'm 40 years older than when I started, nowhere hear as strong, but I can play a lot longer now that when I first started because I know what I'm doing.

    2) Have someone who knows how to set up a bass go over the action - it may be too high, which would make things a lot harder.
    foolforthecity and Spidey2112 like this.
  7. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Scale has nothing to do with how hard it is to press the strings down.
    That's a product of how thick the strings are, what notes they're tuned to, how they're constructed and how the instrument is set up. Neck relief and string height at the bridge and nut.

    With the right (or wrong) strings and setup you can easily make a short scale more difficult to play than a long scale.

    Why is your student using your bass, not their own? If they don't own a bass they can't practice between lessons and get their hands in shape for playing.
    Son of Wobble, Lbsterner and lfmn16 like this.
  8. lfmn16

    lfmn16 SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    If you are teaching them proper technique their hands shouldn't be cramping. If you can play one finger per fret comfortably, that's great, but too many people think they HAVE to. The Simandl technique, for string bass but applicable to electric bass, teaches you how to shift. Most of the time extreme speed is not required to play the bass. Having said that, I know some wickedly fast bass players that use the Simandl method.

    Skip the short scale bass. If they learn good technique they can play any bass they want. :thumbsup:
    Son of Wobble, Duder, JRA and 4 others like this.
  9. lfmn16

    lfmn16 SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    You don't need to be able to bench press a Volkswagen to play the electric bass. :D It actually takes very little hand strength. What you need is endurance, and the best way to get that is by playing the bass.
    Son of Wobble, Duder, JRA and 5 others like this.
  10. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    I agree, unless they're a really little kid. Some of the shorties under 5 feet tall need shorties when they're first starting out.
    Jeff Elkins and lfmn16 like this.
  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    A couple of thoughts:

    1. Not to knock on your teaching credentials or anything, but, is this your first bass student? Are you 100% sure you are teaching them safe and relaxed left-hand technique? There is a lot of bad advice floating around out there about what constitutes "safe" technique. If you haven't done so already, I recommend that you take a couple hours and peruse the many existing TalkBass discussion on this topic. I've shared my thoughts on the topic many times and at great length. :)

    2. Assuming that you are, in fact, an excellent teacher, and the student is using comfortable and relaxed technique, here is a quick and easy test to determine whether or not the student would benefit from a short scale bass: Take a standard 34" bass and put a capo at the 1st fret. Imagine that the 1st fret is your nut or "open strings" and move all your patterns up by 1 fret. This simulates what a 32" bass feels like (because it is approximately 32" from the 1st fret to the bridge). Now move the capo to the 2nd fret and adjust your patterns accordingly. This simulates the feel of a 30" bass (because it is roughly 30" from the 2nd fret to the bridge).
    Jeff Elkins, JRA and mikewalker like this.
  12. "Generally" speaking I would say yes. But not all shorties are alike. There are some shorties I won't go near and I'm a shorty player basically.

    I do own a longscale and play that frequently too. Happens to be a Yamaha RBX170 and it plays a lot more comfortably than many other longscales I've tried.

    Whenever I play the Yamaha I play in "shift" mode....NOT one-finger-per-fret. You can do anything in "shift" mode that you can do in OFPF.

    I also like to play with zero bend in the wrist or as close to it as I can get.

    The other side of the coin is neck thickness, neck shape, neck radius, nut width. It matters.

    Buying or playing a bass just because it is 'x' brand would be like going to a bicycle shop and just picking any old bike off the rack without ever having ridden it, wrong frame size and zero adjustments made to it.
  13. Marko 1

    Marko 1

    Mar 9, 2009
    N.E. Ohio
    lol... give the beginner a break; that's longer than a set! :D

    Bus seriously, with experience comes a lighter touch, so maybe that'll help.

    Also, if the student has bigger hands, a skinny neck can do that; I don't even have long fingers, but remember trying a buddy's four-string bass with a skinny neck (I play fivers) and my hand cramped up pretty quickly. :)
    staurosjohn and Spidey2112 like this.
  14. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Lower action and lower tension is what makes a bass easier to fret.

    The same strings will have lower tension on a shorter scale.

    Lighter gauge does not always mean lower tension.

    So I would just look into changing the strings first.
    gebass6 and AlekB like this.
  15. The Jazz bass is set up with 45-100 D'Addario roundwounds, and I set it up myself to the Fender Factory spec.

    Student is a teen son of a good friend who doesn't own an instrument yet, and I'm doing this because he asked and out of kindness - not getting paid. They want to learn to play so they can join/start/get into a band, and dad wants to make sure they are going to stick with it before spending a bunch of money. So I think half the exercise is to make sure they stay interested and are wiling to put in effort.

    Supposedly he can practice on Dad's bass at home, though I'm slightly unsure why dad won't also let him bring one to practice with me.

    I've been playing guitar for 25 years or so, started bas myself earlier this year to pick up some more gigs as I am a full time musician [only income for how I pay the bills]. I play 3-6 nights a week, and 4-8 hours a day [again, mostly guitar]. While I don't profess to be an amazing bass player, or even an amazing teacher, I do know my theory, and know what has worked for me for years. So that's what I'm trying to pass on. The kid might be better suited with a better, more 'bass specific' teacher, I'll admit - but dad can be a tight wad.

    that is a fantastic idea - patently obvious and I missed it. If I tune the bass to D and capo at the second fret, then tension and scale should be equal to a short scale bass tuned to standard, correct? Or would the tension be the same and tuning down would not be correct?
    Marko 1 likes this.
  16. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    central NY state
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    All other things being equal, yes. All other things are rarely equal, however.
  17. Solude


    Sep 16, 2017

    Keep in mind while the scale will be similar the nut width just got even larger ;)
  18. Spidey2112


    Aug 3, 2016
    How long has your student been playing? Might take a while to build up the muscles used for fretting/fingering, let alone worrying about a gig...
    JRA and Lbsterner like this.
  19. turbo2256b


    Jan 4, 2011
    Not trying to imply that but probably had a lot to do with never had an issue with endurance
  20. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    My answer is a definite, unambiguous and unequivocal yes.

    Short scales have made playing much much easier for me. They're all I play. Now I primarily use a Hofner Ignition Club bass and 500/5 President Contemporary since their "pencil" neck makes it ever easier.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017

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