Very long scales (36" and beyond) and Carl Thompson your thoughts?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Taylor Livingston, Jun 17, 2003.

  1. Taylor Livingston

    Taylor Livingston Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    Louisiana, US
    Owner, Iron Ether Electronics
    I've been reading some things on about scale length. His basses are the only ones I've seen that go beyond the 36" mark (38" is common to CTs) - though I'm sure there are others. Now, I've read the discussions on 35" vs 34", but Carl flat-out says that anything less than 36" is pointless

    This was copied, btw, so spelling errors are the fault of the transcriber.

    What do you guys think? I think Carl is being closed-minded here (similar to the Hub thread in Misc.). IMO, scale is about preference. A lot of people really like the sound of a short scale, and obviously the feel. I, personally, have only played a Hofner short scale, and didn't like it, but I don't think it's a good barometer. I'd love to play an Alembic short scale. Anyway, I'm rambling...

    So, I can imagine how a 38" might sound really deep, but I think it's a bit much to say people shouldn't be playing 34s or 35s or short scales.

    Then he makes this big point about how scale makes a world more difference to sound than wood:


    Beyond the 38s, he made Anthony Jackson a 44" scale that AJ never played because it was so hard to play. I'm not a luthier, so Carl beats me in experience, so, rather than just saying "hogwash", I figured I'd let you guys opine.

    Is scale the most important single factor of a basses sound? Is a 35" or less scale just a long scale guitar? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
  2. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    Isn't michael manring's hyperbass 40" or something pretty long.

    Of course, the fretboard on that thing(3 octaves) stretches almost to the bridge.

    Personally, I don't mind what scale length it is as long as it plays well and sounds good.

    I suppose it if was really really long, it would be difficult to play and not much fun.
    But it still might be neat. I don't know.

    I have never played more than 34" basses

    CT knows his stuff though, he's a little bizarre, he's experimental and pretty free-flowing stuff, whatever happens happens I guess. But since he has so much experience, it's usually good.

    ya know?

    whatever works

    I'm sure JT has something to say here, I think some of his basses are 38" +
  3. abaguer


    Nov 27, 2001
    Milford, NJ
    Carl absolutely knows what he is talking about. I have a 36 Fodera and the sound is much clearer and more focused than my 34 Stringray 5 which has always had a very good sounding B string.

    The problem I have is that as a gigging bassist it is much more comfortable for me to play a 34 scale instrument. The longer scale bass may sound better, but I PLAY the 34 better, so I SOUND better. I say this after playing bass for 23 years and experimenting with a ton of basses on the market. After a while you get to know what you like and you have to balance the sound statistics with what works for you.
  4. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    The Hyperbass is a regular 34" scale, and JT's basses are 34" and 35" -- the number of frets (or non-frets, for the Hyperbass) has nothing to do with scale length.

    The longest scale I've owned is a 36" scale David King. There was definately something special about the way it sounded, especially on the B string--it was great from the bottom to the top. Hard to say how much of that was due to the scale, how much was due to the reinforced wenge and purpleheart neck, how much was due to the headless design, and so forth. It was definately harder to play than a 34" scale, though.

    I find it interesting the CT doesn't think the benefit of the extra-long scale is in the lower range, to get a killer low B, but in the upper registers. Makes sense to me.

    Since he says right up front that it's just his opinion and "has nothing to do with fact", you can't really say he's being closed minded, just expressing his own preferences. Scale length is definately a compromise between several different factors, and he leans towards the "tone" end (tone that he likes, anyway) of that spectrum rather than the "playability" end.

  5. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    When Sheldon Dingwall did his own experimenting, he came out with the opinion that 37" is (to him) the best length for a B-string. Fortunately, since he uses fanned frets, the G-string is still 34".
  6. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    I agree with Carl. It comes down to how bad you want serious, thick, luscious TONE. How much playability you're willing to sacrifice for it. Once you go past 34" or 35", you start having to use more and more double-bass technique with your fretting hand. I play a 36" bass, and I'd imagine a 38" sounds wonderful. I've heard a 41" (Rob Wasserman playing EUB) and it was like "THAT is what bass should sound like". If you could hang one of those on a strap, I'd be there, but I'm pretty much a rock guy, not willing to give up mobility. First position on my 36" is a bit of a stretch, so I'd guess 38" would be the absolute limit for me.

    I think the wood does have an effect on tone, but not nearly as much as the scale length.
  7. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Another maker who uses extra-long scales is Overwater ( They normally use 36" for 5-6 string basses, but have gone longer--there's a 38" scale 7-string (F# - C) pictured on their site. I've got no personal experience with them, though.

  8. gyancey


    Mar 25, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I built a 36" scale 6-string for a guy who calls it his "nuclear missle." It sounded great. I plan on using 36" again when I get the chance.
  9. Taylor Livingston

    Taylor Livingston Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    Louisiana, US
    Owner, Iron Ether Electronics
    So, there's another question: is it worth flailing your hands about to get good tone? Personally, the way I play bass, it wouldn't be. I actually have a hard enough time getting around quickly on the lowest frets of a 34".

    There you have two more things Carl is against: laminate necks and cf (I assume) reinforcement.

    I agree that it's a bad idea to put in cf or graphite without a truss rod, though.

    The Novax thing is a great idea, but again, I think you have to decide if it's something you're willing to do to get a particular sound. I've never played a bass with fanned frets (though I'd love to give Geoff's a try), and it may not be as big of a deal as I think. Maybe I should try to get my hands on one.

    I would really like to play a CT. It'd be a great way to find out for myself if Carl knows his stuff. I also really like the "flavor" of his basses - I like the lack of visible metal, the organic quality. I think one with two scrolls would be very cool. BUt, I'm pretty poor, and I don't want one bad enough to put myself into deep debt (Wals, OTOH...).
  10. Erick Warner

    Erick Warner

    Jun 26, 2002
    I own one of Carl's 38" basses. It took a little getting use to - ok -a lot of getting use to, but everytime I'd get a little worn out playing, someone would tell me how much they loved the sound. The other CT I own is a 36" - Ive gotten so use to the longer scale sound that anything else just doesnt sound right. The set up of the bass makes playing easier, so it kind of offsets the extra stretch of the longer neck.
  11. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    I think it's the same sort of thing as neck-through vs. bolt-on. You can look at it one way: bolt-ons lose energy in the joint, they have a lower fundamental, and why would you want to lose sound in the bass? Or, you can look at it this way: they sound different - some prefer one, some prefer the other.

    We've passed the point where so many people see neck-through as inherently superior, I think (at least I have). Now we have the same hurdle with scale length.
  12. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Part of playing well is learning not to "flail your hands about", but to know exactly where they need to go and use the least motion necessary to get them there. That applies to 34" scale as well as 38" or 41" (upright), I think.

    But the point is, it's always a bit of a trade off--how much flailing about are you willing to do, vs. how much difference do you hear in the sound as the scale length gets longer? And of course, scale length is only one piece of that puzzle--there's also low vs. high action, light vs. heavy strings, and all kinds of other factors where you're weighing ease of playing vs. "ideal" tone (somebody's idea, anyway).

  13. MyDogBo


    Aug 25, 2002
    Rick Turner's overall preference is "32! ahhh **** ...but what does he know about tone and acoustics huh..?

    put down the crack pipe, I say it's all personal preference because my short scale will smoke the hair off a chicken's ass at 100 yards.

    yes hairless chicken!

    if carl wants to build "38 scale, i say great, but why would i want to kill myself playing one.

    and all this talk about short scale being muddy and big scales having greater clarity is total poppy cock that stuck from the old gibson eb days. gibson pups sucked then and they suck now! that's why most real players tossed them quickly!

    Anyone like Stanley's sound? duh....!
  14. Taylor Livingston

    Taylor Livingston Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    Louisiana, US
    Owner, Iron Ether Electronics
    Hmm... I really need to stay off the pipe, right? :rolleyes:
  15. MyDogBo


    Aug 25, 2002
    ok, good catch, bravo! now back to our regularly scheduled programing "David meets Goliath"!
  16. neptoon


    Jul 25, 2000
    summerville, sc
    i played a 36" scale fretless schack bass at bass nw (the one that's at bass central now) and it sounded great. i just don't dig all that increased string tension...i would have to search for the right guages to make it comfortable, but the tension is what drives me away from the really long scale basses.
  17. Bryan R. Tyler

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

    May 3, 2002
    The thing that seems most intimidating about those 38" scale CTs is that a lot of them are fretless, so the stretches in the lower registers would have to be even greater than a fretted to get proper intonation. I'm sure the longer scale does give a nice sound (thinking of uprights), but I think I'd just get an upright if I wanted that sound.
  18. Taylor Livingston

    Taylor Livingston Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    Louisiana, US
    Owner, Iron Ether Electronics
    Hehe, from the same interview:

    What a silly guy. :D