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Short Scale - How Small Do Hands Need to Be?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Misterwogan, Jan 25, 2013.

  1. I'm beginning to think that there are some aspects of playing a 34 inch bass that I will never master.

    Such as, playing in the third position, G Major Arpeggios. Especially the stretch from the 5th on the 3rd string to the sixth on the 2nd string.

    I can do this without issue on my 30.5 inch Gibson SG, but not on the full-scalers.

    I never considered my hands to be small, but clearly I must have been too optimistic on that score.

    So, I wanted to understand the metrics of hand size and finger length and how they map to bass playing capability.

    Here are some simple measurements I've just taken.

    The length of the middle finger of my fretting hand is: 85mm (measured from the line where it joins the wrist to the tip), the distance from where the finger joins the hand to the line of the wrist is 112mm.

    How does this compare with other bass players?

    If you can do this quick measurement of your own fretting hand and post the results (inches or mm) I would be very grateful.

    Also, along with the measurements, let me know how big you consider your hand to be and if you have any stretching issues on a full-scale bass.
  2. Evil Undead

    Evil Undead

    Oct 31, 2009
    I'm unclear about where you're measuring from. Diagram?
  3. sobie18


    May 5, 2002
    Shaw AFB, SC
    You need to stretch and adapt your playing to accomodate the larger fret positions (1-5). Sure, you might spend 90% of your playing on the 30.5" scale bass and expect your skills to be equally adept on the 34" scale bass. That takes time to overcome and balance out. It won't come overnight, so continue to practice and keep your chin up.
  4. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Well, let me just offer this. I attended Victor Wooten's camp in 2001. Got to "hang out" with him a little because everybody else went to bed pretty early. During one conversation the topic of long scales basses and small hands came up. He picked up Adam Nitty's 35" bass and just went to town on it. Then he held his hand up to mine and his hands were at least 1 1/2" shorter than mine. (Both extremes - mine are huge and his are tiny) Then he just grinned.

    Don't get me wrong. You play whatever you like and are comfortable with. I'm just saying that people with really small hands play long scale basses.
  5. Just stop with the measuring and go straight to your conclusion. You find short scale to be more comfortable, therefore more easily played. I find short and medium scales easier to play, so that's what I own.

    There aren't any rules. If there are, burn em down. Burn the whole rule book. Play what feels good.
  6. If there are players with my size and smaller hands, comfortably playing full-scale - then that would suggest that I need to try harder. On the other hand, if my hand size is outside of the comfort range - then I may well give up.

    This is why measurements matter. They are objective rather than subjective.
  7. Evil Undead

    Evil Undead

    Oct 31, 2009
    I just measured my hand.

    Middle finger from the tip to the line where it joins my hand is 77mm

    And my hand palm, from wrist line to where the finger joins on is 100mm

    Oh, I play 34" scale by the way
  8. Geroi Asfalta

    Geroi Asfalta

    Aug 23, 2011
    I've played short scales, and their fun. My hands are big, sometimes a chunky P neck feels like a toothpick.

    From wrist to tip of middle finger is about 8 in (~200mm). My taste in which bass is most comfortable changes on an almost weekly basis. Sometimes it's my P, sometimes one of my Js, or my Peavey.

    On my 34 scales, the most comfortable spot for me is between the 5 and 12 frets. Above that they're a little packed together, below that they're a hair far apart. I used to stick to the 1 finger per fret rule, now I stick to 1-2-4 below the 5 fret.

    I figure as long as you're not hurting yourself, play any size bass you want. I knew a chick when I first started going to college played a full size P bass. She had tiny hands but could tear that thing apart.

    Maybe it's me, but I find string spacing a neck profile affects my playing lot more than scale length. As soon as I remember it's a shorter scale, I can generally get long with not problems. eg- on a Geddy, I have a little trouble getting on the G string, while on a Harris, I sometimes have trouble on the E (I fret with my thumb on some chords)
  9. Much appreciated. This is good news. Do you play full-scale comfortably?

    Seems like I just need to try harder.
  10. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    I agree with both sides. I have small hands, but I think I should be able to play long scaled basses just like someone with large hands. I have a no excuses attitude, and I've played 35" 5 stringed basses for about eight or nine years now.

    On the other hand: I just had a 32" scaled 5 string made for me, and I'm loving it. I don't know what the future holds for me. But as of right now, I don't see myself going back to anything longer than 32" scale. It's made playing easier to the point where I actually enjoy practicing scales and exercises for the first time in my life.
  11. bassman10096


    Jul 30, 2004
    I struggled with the short vs long scale issue for a long time. I have relatively short digits, so I suspected I was destined to need short scales for the duration. I had the problems you describe stretching to make a long scale work, and ran around the fingerboard of my short scale like a scooter. I never quite gave up on the long scales, though. After years of switching between shorts and longs, I finally bought a Modulus Q5 (35"). I love the sound and feel of the Modulus. It has forced me to stretch and shift to make it work. Now playing my shorties make me feel like my fingers are piling on top of each other. The moral: I'm happy now with long scales - more so than shorties, but it took a long, long time to get there. I wouldn't hesitate to stick with short scale if it suits you. But it's probably not your only option - the long scale challenge is surmountable but takes time, work and motivation.
  12. BassBuzzRS


    Oct 18, 2005
    Don't stiffen up in a position, if you must move your hand a little, just move it. Fluid hand movement makes for relaxed hand positioning and not so much stretching :)
  13. I absolutely don't want to stuck with the SG as my only bass. I love my J, P, and Ray too much.

    One weird thing though. If I play with a pick, the scales feel easier to play, as soon as I drop the pick and use the fingers - the left hand seems to become retarded. Explain that.
  14. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    I'm 5'10" and have average-sized hands. I still find playing in first position on a 34" 4-string for long periods to be uncomfortable. The end result is that I usually violate the "one finger per fret" rule by using my index and pinky fingers for two-fret spans on lower notes, rather than index and ring finger (which sounds like the same as Geroi above). If I am playing a part so intricate that one-finger-per-fret is necessary in first position I will do so, and it doesn't tend to unduly cause strain simply because it is relatively rare compared to most of my playing.

    I also have a short scale (30.5") and medium scale (32") bass, which are more comfortable but not so much so that I feel the need to abandon my main 34" bass. The short answer is, do what is comfortable and don't worry about what you "should" be doing.
  15. middlefinger: 87mm
    palm: 120mm (I've got big hands with standard fingers)

    And I play on a 24" (yes, TWENTYFOUR) pocket bass the same as on a standard 34" bass.
  16. Thanks for that - very useful info. So it sound like I've got standard fingers and hands. Good.
  17. Evil Undead

    Evil Undead

    Oct 31, 2009
    Eeeeeee, I was avoiding that question :p

    Honestly, no. Not very comfortably. It depends on the bass.

    I can only play octaves with my pinky, which makes it hurt after a short while. I have to shift a lot just playing a scale down at the lower frets.

    But I've so far refused to go short scale... I figure that with enough practice, one day I'll suddenly realise that I'm used to it and it doesn't ache any more.

    Or I'll have arthritis. :rolleyes:

    But, really, I'm a stubborn old goat, and also I really like the variety that 34" scale offers.

    I must admit though that I have recently started gawping at mustang basses, but quickly stopped myself.
  18. Evil Undead

    Evil Undead

    Oct 31, 2009
    Good grief, my hands must be teeensy compared to you guys.
  19. The stuff I now use is a vintage P-bass (34"), a Ripper (34.5"), an EB2 (30.5") and a National 58 (24"), and I used to play an upright bass (42"). I can't claim I have a perfect techique, but I can pull off some nasty high-speed soul-riffs without any problem. I like my flatwound strings ridiculously thick and my action high. I guess it all comes down to "growing accustomed to", condition & strength and knowing your limits.
  20. Well your middle finger is the length of my third finger and you're playing 34 inch. Respect!

    And here's me moaning with an extra 5mm of middle finger. I consider my problem solved - practise, practise...