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Medium Scale vs. Long Scale Basses

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by BassHappy, Mar 12, 2011.

  1. Hey All

    I posted a version of this in the Medium Scale Bass Thread and it was suggested to me that I post it here as well.

    I know this will be controversial to some, probably to most, but I feel compelled to get a dialog going on this.

    I don't have much experience with standard short scale basses, (except my Rob Allen Mouse) but I have a pretty interesting collection of medium scale 32" scale basses, including PRS #11, two Roscoe Midi Basses, a nice selection of custom MIJ Fenders, a Warwick Alien and what I believe is a prototype Stu Hamm MIM.

    They are here:


    I have been hearing all about the superiority of long scale 34" basses most of my natural life and frankly, I am sick of it. The physics guys will explain all day why the medium scale is inferior - string isn't long enough, vibrates slower (or faster), tension is more (or less) longer string length creates more overtones or more harmonics, blah blah blah. I have heard them all over the years. My point is simply that all things being equal, no one in the room could tell the difference between the two in a blindfold test. In the end it's all about ears, not physics.

    What I would like to see, for example, is a standard Fender Jazz 34" scale bass vs a medium scale 32" Fender Jazz from the same era, same pickups, same strings, same body wood, same fingerboard, same control settings - in a studio somewhere, run through the exact same electronics signal path - in a blindfold test. My contention is that not a person in the room could tell the difference. My good friend and favorite drummer, Ron Riddle toured with Stu Hamm, in addition to playing with me in "Happy the Man" and other projects, and I would love to hear Stu's take on this. For example, what is the REAL REASON for moving the Urge from medium to long scale? I would suspect, if the real truth were exposed, (it won't be) it was a marketing decision based on Fender wanting to sell more basses to the much bigger market - the long scale crowd. On that note, why not do the blind test with a long scale and medium scale Stu Hamm? That would work fine as long as all things were reasonably equal.

    Let me support my position. When Keith Roscoe finished my first 32" scale bass he was overwhelmed with how amazing the bass sounded the first time he plugged it in. When I got to North Carolina to pick it up he had this funny look on his face and he said: "I have heard so much over the years about this 34" vs 32" scale length thing, but let me tell you - this is one of the best sounding basses I have ever heard, period!" I believe at the time that my first Roscoe was his first 32" scale bass, although he made another "twin" for me later on and may have made a few since. Keith if you see this feel free to weigh in.

    I know the reviews are mixed at best on PRS Basses, but Paul Reed Smith's standard bass neck was 32" scale for years. When I was in the Studio with Ken Scott producing our first record at A&M Studios in Hollywood, Stanley Clarke was sharing the studio with us; we working noon to midnight, he working midnight to noon. We befriended each other via Ken Scott and he offered to let me use any of his basses that were laying around in the studio (he took the Alembics with him). I particularly liked a certain vintage Jazz bass he had, so I brought it in strapped it on, plugged it in, hit four or five notes - Ken only smiled, shook his head "No" and without saying a word, he pointed back to the PRS and smiled. For those in the know, Ken Scott probably has ears in the top .1% of the world, as evidenced by his work with Jeff Beck, Billy Cobham, Supertramp, The Beatles, Elton John, David Bowie, etc. Here he was, preferring my PRS medium scale to the full scale Jazz Bass. I realize that we are talking apples and oranges here, but the story still sticks. We had recorded one of our bass tracks with the PRS and Ken asked me to "double" portions of it. When Stanley arrived at the studio that day, Ken grabbed him right away and played it for him. He simply smiled and congratulated me with VERY wide eyes; as he KNOWS the sound, power and value of a quality medium scale bass via his Alembics. Although, this was 1977 and Paul was a complete unknown - he then wanted to check out this bass made by this unknown luthier from Maryland. There are many more stories; I really want to bust this incredible myth that medium scale basses are somehow inferior to long scale basses. Quite simply - they aren't

    By the way, I am doing a Line 6 Variax transplant into a custom Viola Bass using a Stradivarius as a template:

    Three bass projects for Rick

    I am looking to buy another 4 String Variax Bass 700. Any for sale out there? Not interested in cosmetics, only need the guts which need to be working flawlessly.


    saltydude, SkinCoffin and j5eugene like this.
  2. GM60466


    May 20, 2006
    Land of Lakland
    Years ago I had a Mustang bass with 32" scale. It just never felt right and there were very few strings sets available. I sold it or traded it on a Jazz bass.
  3. If the bass sounds great in the mix at the end, then why worry what others thinK? I'm a fan of short scales myself, and use two on a regular basis due to joint issues these days. In the end, if it sounds good it is good, and that's all that matters.
  4. Hi GM60466

    As a point of clarification, as far as I know all Mustang basses are short scale 30".


    iamthebassman likes this.
  5. mulchor


    Apr 21, 2010
    St Pete, FL
    In terms of string tension or fret-to-fret differences, it's really a small difference, not even 6% shorter than standard. For my hands, neck thickness and width matter more than length, and choice of strings, too.
  6. Musicbiz60


    May 27, 2009
    Frustrated at finding a 32' scale bass in decent condition, I'm now having a custom luthier - Dave Pushkin in GA - make me a custom P Bass in medium scale. I'll post pictures whenj I get it in about two weeks. The medium scale seems ideal for me and I find no difference in sound between that and a 34".
  7. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    Not this one. i started on shortscales, then played longscales for a few decades, but now I'm a confirmed shortscaler. I haven't had much experience with medium scale instruments but I see no real reason why they would be inherently inferior.
  8. N.F.A.


    Jun 25, 2009
    In a blue funk
    I am also having a medium scale bass built. I like short scales, don't like long scales as much. Want to try a medium scale, so one is being built for me and should be done in early summer.
  9. duckman


    Jan 16, 2011
    Ghent Belgium
    Beside two fretless basses (a Wal Pro '78, Pedulla Buzz '92) I have two fretted ones (S D Curlee Yankee II 1980, Warwick Thumb B.O 1993). The Yankee is 32 1/2 inch and has an incredible range; from Stanley Clarke to traditional Pbass tone or Epiphone semi acoustic). The only thing you have to do is play with the pick ups and adjust from finger style to palm hand mute. The neck is incredibly fast and it's the bends that makes this funky little machine unsurpassable. Yes, I have to add some bass on my amp compared to the Wick or the Wal, but that's about it. After thirty years it's not reliable enough to recommend it to any pro or semi pro player, but it still is underrated little American gem.
  10. hdracer


    Feb 15, 2009
    Elk River, MN.
    My 32" CIJ Jazz gets way more playing time then my 34". I love it.
    One funny thing I have noticed that has nothing to do with sound or playability is that I never seem to hit the headstock on anything. My 34" jazz & MM SUB has lots of nicks & dings on them but my 32 is perfect, and it has a painted headstock. It seems to just miss getting hit.
    I find it easier on my left hand to play, it is just a little faster. I just cannot understand why 32's are not more popular.
  11. Loel

    Loel Blazin' Acadian

    Oct 31, 2004
    Confirmed medium scale player,recently built a warmoth
    32" sent the neck to TB'er Johnk to apply his magic, it
    is my main player,i find little to no difference in 32" 34"
    amplification is key..

    edit: you can't change hand size, you can change neck size.
  12. DeanT

    DeanT Send lawyers, guns and money...

    When it comes to basses, one scale is not "better" than another. Yes, string tension differs, tone differs, harmonics, etc. But one is not better than the other just because it has become a standard over the past 50 years.

    It all comes down to what is more comfortable for you to play.

    Try this experiment. Turn on the radio to a station you normally don't listen to. Wait for the next song to come on and listen to it with headphones. I defy you to tell me if the bass player is using a 34" scale, bass, a 30" scale bass or something in between.

    Anyone who says they can definitively tell the difference is full of you know what. There are a lot of people here on TB that claim to be able to her the differences that no human can possibly hear.

    Again, that's not the point either. The bass is just a tool to make music. Use whatever you're comfortable using to make your music. Maybe it's a 7-string bass, maybe it's a 35" scale 5-string or a short-scale Gibson. It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the music.
  13. With my most recent sale, I'm down to 1 long scale bass--the BB300 in my signature. The CSB 450 is 32" and the Birdsongs are 31".

    If I switch from 34" to 31", the difference is quite noticeable on the lower frets. I don't notice much difference going up or down to 32".

    I prefer the shorter scale basses because they're easier to play and I like the sound I can get.

    I have a gig tonight. I'm willing to put money on it that nobody in the audience will come up to me and say anything about my basses being short or medium scale.

    Players complain about short scale basses sounding "tubby." I was listening to the first 2 Big Star albums yesterday. I know for a fact that Andy Hummell played a Hofner on those tracks. To me it just sounds like a bass.

    I played an Epiphone Elitist '61 RI EB3 as my main bass for about 3 years. Now that is a bass that can have a "tubby" sound. I chalk that up to the pickups. I loved the sound of that bass, but only got rid of it because of the balance issues.

    My $.02, YMMV, FWIW, OMG, LOL, etc.
  14. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    My new Gretsch 5123 and my Dearmond Jet Star are both 32" scale. Both sound really good - in their own ways.

    A good sounding bass is simply a good sounding bass. A big part of that "good sound" is the person playing it.
  15. bassobrutto

    bassobrutto Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2010
    Yellow Springs, Ohio
    It is interesting to consider how and why the norm has become the norm. One wonders whether there was a lot of "science" involved in Leo Fender's choice of 34" scale for the original Precision, or whether that scale length choice was relatively arbitrary.

    Either way, it's worth remembering that 34" did not become the "normal" scale length until the early '70s. Most manufacturers were making mostly shorter scale basses up to that time. Where it not for Fender's eye-catching designs, production and marketing muscle, and usable tones, the history of the instrument could have been quite different.

    That a bassist as accomplished as the OP still feels the need to defend the use of a scale length just 2 inches less than the standard tells us a lot about the power of today's conventional wisdom, and about the power of Fender's market dominance. If Fender/Squier were to make 32" models at an affordable price, they would surely become more popular. I'd certainly buy one.
  16. steelbed45

    steelbed45 TRemington Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2011
    Nolanville, TX
    I'm also having a medium scale bass built, a torzal model from little guitars. (32.09"). Should be ready in the next couple of months and I am really looking forward to it. I was concerned about strings but found D'addario had just what I was looking for in that length.
  17. DeanT

    DeanT Send lawyers, guns and money...

    According to Jim Roberts' "How the Fender Bass Changed the World," Leo Fender was looking to make a bass that guitar players could comfortably play. They couldn't play an upright, so a guitar-like bass was needed. He settled on 34" scale by trial and error. Shorter scales didn't give the resonance he was looking for and 36" scale was too large for many to play comfortably.

    If Fender had stuck with short-scale, they would be standard today and 34" scale would be considered somewhat unusual.
  18. Great Posts Everyone...

    Thanks so much for all the great responses and info!

    Just got the new Bass Player magazine and guess what? There is good old Jonas Hellborg on the cover playing the amazing $12,000.00 medium scale bass he designed with Warwick!

    Haven't had a chance to play that sucker yet, but I can't wait. As a pick player, i sure wish it didn't have that thumb rest though. Talk about getting in the way. Sheeeesh. Think if I plop down $12K they will leave it off for me?

  19. Bigjohn


    Mar 5, 2010
    I agree with everything you said except the last sentence.
    I think if Leo had stuck to short scale, Fender (and short scale) wouldn't have become the standard. Someone else would have settled on 34" (or close to it).
    You said it yourself, 34" scale was settled on by trial and error. Like in so many other aspects of his designs, Leo found the sweet spot. Overall, all things considered, 34" is the best for the most people sound wise. Most people (myself included) think short basses are comfy and fast and fun to play but they don't sound as good over the range of notes.
  20. DeanT

    DeanT Send lawyers, guns and money...

    This is your opinion. There is no proof "most" people think 34" scale sounds better than short scale.

    This is typical of the bias against short scales. It also emphasizes my point that no one bass scale is inherently better than another. They are different. You may like the sound and tone of a long scale over a short scale, but that does not make it better. There is no scientific evidence that a long scale bass sounds better than a short scale bass. This is just personal opinion.