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Scale length

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ultravisitor, Nov 13, 2004.

  1. ultravisitor


    Nov 11, 2004
    How important is scale length on basses? I'm ordering a new bass soon and having small hands, I want a proper fit. 30" 32" and 35" models are available.
  2. This is mostly a preference type of question...if a shorter scale length will make it easier on you, get a shorter scale length.
  3. stamman5


    Aug 10, 2004
    I aggree with mikewho, it is a preference thing. Ideally, go out and find a bass to play that has each length. Then, whatever feels best get. If it is four banger you should have no problems. If it is a five it might be an issue, but I have found that a good builder can achieve good tension at all different scale lengths. Good luck with the purchase :bassist:
  4. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    If you have a lot of money to spend, scale does not matter as much as it does in the low budget end of the spectrum.

    If your budget is small(say, under $1500) then generally you will find that 30" scale basses lack the punch and clarity of longer scale basses. They tend to be muddy and indistinct.

    The 32" scale is a nice compromise. A lot of the clarity of a 34", and a little more playable for those with extremely small hands.

    But if your technique is good, there is no reason you can't play a longer scale bass.

    I have very short, stubby fingers, and have no problem playing 35" scale five and six string basses.
  5. I wouldn't worry about hands being too small so much as arms being too short w/ extended scales.
  6. dunamis


    Aug 2, 2004
  7. dunamis


    Aug 2, 2004
    I agree with Embellisher about short scales and clarity. I do think the 32" represents a good balance between tone and playability.

    Playability is a *huge* factor in how we sound in performance and recording, and one that doesn't get discussed very often. I can't play a 39" scale bass, and even struggle to play well on a 35", so it won't sound good even if the bass is a tone monster.
  8. Fealach

    Fealach Guest

    Apr 23, 2003
    Gone to a better place
    I agree with the budget comment. It is easier to find a quality lower priced 34" scale bass than a shorter scale. Have you played basses of the type you plan to order?

    I have basses in 34", 33", and 32" scales, none of them were particularly cheap. Being a hobbit, I have small hands and short reach. Ordering bass is tough unless you've played some basses by the same manufacturer. In general I find the shorter scale makes a bass easier to play. There are other factors though, shape of the neck etc. I played a Mike Dirnt P-bass and found the baseball bat neck to be virtually unplayable, then played a Jazz bass and it was fine. Both are 34". I played an MTD 535, and the 35" scale 5 string neck felt very comfortable and natural. My 32" scale Alembic has a moderately thick neck with little taper from bofy to nut, it is harder to play than my 34" fretless which has a thin Jazzish neck with much more taper.

    All things being the same, I'd prefer the 32" or 30". If my Alembic was longer scale it would be one more difficulty to deal with. I would rather concentrate on my technique than struggle just to play the instrument.
  9. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize! Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    Another problem with short scale basses is that the lower end models always seem to have a neck dive problem. I don't know why this is.

    Also, some short scales are designed for kids hands and have narrow string spacings. If you have short thick fingers, you may not like the spacing. My short scale Musicmaster reissue has a 1 5/8" nut, which I find ideal.

    I think you have to try a short scale to see if you like it. The scale dosen't seem to affect me as much as I thought it would. If I play the 30" all day, then play the 34", I will mess up a bit at first (unless I look at the fretboard). But I quite often jump from 30" to 32" to 34" and don't seem to have problems switching.

    Also, short scales are *great* for playing in tight spaces!
  10. longer scale means more taught lows. you can string a longer scale pretty low and still have room to dig in a little.

    all strings and all notes seem to sound better to my ears in longer scales, assuming the bass in well made.

    my subjective opnion about short scale basses?

    a bass should be big. short scale is o.k. if you are little and can't reach. but that is just an accomidation, not the ideal.
  11. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    I've found the same to be true. Multi-string basses also help when playing extra-long scale basses (5-strings and up), as you can avoid playing in the lowest register, instead playing at the next register up on the low B (or F#). 35" has become the standard on a majority of high-end brands, so you often can't avoid getting one if you want to pick from those brands.
  12. longer scale basses tend to sound better. but may be harder to play, but you can always switch to fingering DB-style with your left hand (1-2-4 instead of 1-2-3-4) and considering that DBs have a scale length of ~42" those so-called extra long scale basses seem rather puny ;)

    BTW, i have pretty short fingers for my height (im ~6'2" tall) but have wide hands and never had any problems with 34"+ basses, i have far more difficulty playing guitar and other instruments with short scale lengths.
  13. knuckle_head

    knuckle_head Commercial User

    Jul 30, 2002
    Owner; Knuckle Guitar Works & Circle K Strings
    Tonal content and your desire for a specific sound ought to be your first concern IMO. A longer string brings better physics to the platform in a few very important ways; a longer string can be tighter over the length of the string and still maintain a loose 'feel' to it, and thinner gauges can be used in general which offer up at least the potential for more articulate sound out of your lowest strings.

    There is the increasing popularity of playing 'in the box' - where you have what may seem like an extraordinary number of strings and/or a very long scale length but you can constrain your technique to horizontal relationships starting at the fifth fret or so as opposed to playing the length of the fret board.

    Just other things to consider - beyond my monster basses I own a couple baritone or 'tic tac' basses and love and have owned several Fender Mustang basses. Pure subjectivity - the only true way to know is to get as many of these options in your hands and see which one lights you up as a player.
  14. gruuv


    Jan 23, 2004
    I agree with both this quoted comment and knuckle_head's. . . I believe that the longer the scale length (assuming the luthier knows what he's doing) the more depth of tone. Some believe the C string suffers on a 36 in scale instrument, but this can be more than made up for by a special set of pickups. I'm not sure what kind of budget constraints you may be under, but I would definitely advise you to try out as many as you can before making a decision. For me, the tone aspect took top priority when ordering my 36 in scale 6 (which isn't completed yet), and I believe it will yield spectacular results.

    Regarding playability, assuming you don't have any medical roadblocks (CTS, etc...) that absolutely dictate that a short scale is necessary then you're relatively free to choose whatever scale you think sounds best. Anthony Jackson is a perfect example... his is a 36 in scale 6 with P Bass spacing (I believe that's correct) string to string making for a very wide neck. He doesn't by any means have large hands or long fingers, rather the opposite, but he can play the _____ out of it! A slight concession of technique might be helpful, but it's ultimately your choice!

  15. Sure, the C-String might suffer a little but this can be easily made up for by simply switching to a smaller gauge C-String because going for smaller gauge on the higher strings on a long scale instrument is better than increasing the size of the low strings on a shorter scale instrument for sound due to the fact that strings with a smaller gauge are closer to an ideal string and don't suffer from problems such as warbly pitch that can be heard with very thick strings. You don't even need special pickups for that ;-)

    About playability: by moving the neck further to the right by extending the upper horn most issues can be compensated (although playing higher up on the neck becomes a bit harder because your own body might be in the way) and this actually also reduces neck-dive
  16. mattmcnewf


    May 27, 2004
    Size of the persons is meaning less. I have long arms and fingers and i still would like to have a small bass alot of the time.
  17. 35 or 36, no big deal. I let people play this 36" without saying anything. about the size They are rough in the the first few minutes in the positions I-III, but adjust quickly. And this doesn't have active electronics, yet delivers tone with authority.

    You can string light guage strings very low, yet they remain pretty taut and really allows digging in with speed.

    The assertion that the highs suffer? Just the opposite is true. A bass guitar is a scaled down version of an upright, isn't it? I absolutely love the power of the higher notes played on an upright-a 42" scale.

    Bigger scale is a different "feel" and a more powerful one, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to bass the first place. And even non-musicians instantly learn that your bass isn't another "guitar."

    Size matters. . . .
  18. Although arco the g-string can be problematic on many DBs., so there still might be a certain degree of truth.
  19. The difference in distance between the 1st and 4th frets of a 34" scale and a 36" scale is just 0.3"...definitely noticeable but not that hard to get used to...

    similarly...the difference between a 32" scale and 34" scale on (1st & 4th frets) is also around 0.3".

    So...if you can get around playing a 34" scale...by ALL MEANS get a 34" scale. The tonal differences are worth it (not to mention selection of instruments available).

    Personally, I've always played 34" 4-strings...but I would seriously consider a 35" or 36" scale if I ever went 5-string
  20. dunamis


    Aug 2, 2004
    Scale length has absolutely nothing to do with playability and doesn't mean ****. Anyone who can play a 30.5" short scale should just as easily be able to play a 39" knuckle with no problems... :scowl: