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Why are most basses 34 inch scale? I know WHY, but still....why?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by KayXero, Dec 21, 2013.

  1. KayXero


    Apr 3, 2007
    So I know that string tension, down-tuning capability, extended range basses, are all reasons Ive learned that 34 inch scale (or greater) is helpful.

    But Ive already heard a few people say Leo Fender arbitrarily chose that length when he popularized electric bass back in the day.

    And then when I thought about it, Ive played SGs, Beetle basses, and several other basses between 30 and 33 inches in length, and didnt find an issue with tone or down tuning really. As long as I had the right strings, things seemed ok on those basses. And in reality, some of the most famous and good sounding basslines in history have come out of scales under 34 inches. So I do really wonder how Leo settled on that figure, because its not as if smaller scale are totally incapable.

    Granted I only really ever played at most a half step down, this may be why I was not much affected. All that said, I do currently have a new SX short scale that Im getting new strings for because I wanna play a couple songs DADG (Rage Against the Machine covers)...and the stock E string is flop city when tuned to D. But my SX string experience is different from the string experience Ive had on other short scale basses. Whenever Ive been in stores or played on my friends shorter scale basses, things seems fine.
  2. zortation


    Dec 26, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    Just because.
  3. Mustang Surly

    Mustang Surly

    Jul 10, 2013
    "Why are most basses 34 inch scale?"

    Not mine. I must be "special"...
  4. KayXero


    Apr 3, 2007
    Lol ok

    Which bass do you have?

    And what I was really asking, is how 34 became the standard given that other lengths are very serviceable. I was seeing if anyone knew how Leo Fender landed on that measurement.
  5. I believe the user name is a bit of a giveaway on what bass mustangsurly uses.

    I am curious as well how 34" was chosen. Nothing wrong with 34" scale basses mind you. You do have to imagine, going from an upright bass, 34" would be short scale.

  6. I'm betting Leo tried to see how long a scale he could get to fit on to a telecaster body.

    I personally think basses should probably be a longer scale. Get yourself a zero fret, play the open strings and you shouldn't have much in the way of difficulty with a 36" or longer.

    I'm also in the minority opinion that we should be calling 34" basses medium scale, but string manufacturers don't seem to agree.
  7. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    According to "Fender - The Sound Hear 'Round The World" by Richard R. Smith, pg. 103, Leo Fender derived the scale length "from a physics textbook borrowed from secretary Elizabeth Nagel Hayzlett, a student at UCLA."
  8. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Just like any standard,it's arbitrary.
    It became so because most people did it.
  9. What I was always told was that there were no electric bass strings when the Precision was designed. Leo had to cut down upright strings. Since he wanted Upright players to feel relatively comfortable switching to electric, and guitar players to be able to double on electric bass he had to compromise between the scales both were used to. Using physics and trial and error he came to the conclusion that the tension and tone on those cut down bass strings would work best with a 34 inch scale. It was a compromise that could work for both type of players. Personally I think he got it just about perfect.

    Now lets not talk about the pickup placement on those early precisions.
  10. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member


    Attached Files:

  11. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member


    Attached Files:

  12. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    That's what I've always understood. Some people get it right the first time. Sure, there have been variations either side: 32" 33.5", 35", etc. but the 34" has held fast as the standard in the eyes of many.

    Same holds true with the Fig Newton.

  13. jake3

    jake3 Guest

    Aug 23, 2013
    34" kind of stands to reason as approximately halfway between upright (41-1/2 or 42") and Fender guitar (usually 25-1/2"), if Leo's purpose was to attract both upright players and guitarists. I'm not sure it's the physics since, as pointed out, bass guitar scales from 30" to 36" all seem to work OK.
  14. jamminology101


    Aug 22, 2012
    Indianapolis In
    Endorsing Artist: Glockenklang
    +100...42" upright + 26"(rounded up from 25.5)=68".....divided by two is 34"...talk about an even split compromise!!!
  15. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    Never heard this exact explaination, but I'm certainly buying it... seems very consistent with Leo's reportedly straightforward approach.
  16. Marcus Willett

    Marcus Willett

    Feb 8, 2005
    Palm Bay, FL
    Endorsing Artist: Bag End - Dean Markley - Thunderfunk
    That's what I've always suspected. Leo split the difference between the two, while still making sure it was playable to the average guitarist. The "official" explanations run the gamut from the number being arrived at through trial and error (just wanting the longest playable length) to "deriving it from a physics textbook"....an explanation I've always found suspect.
  17. KayXero


    Apr 3, 2007
    Good find! Reading some more excerpts on google books right now. Thanks
  18. tjh

    tjh Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2006
    .. one would have to think that Leo and Mr Fullerton had one of the earlier model electric basses (Audiovox ?) in hand, and from that with its 30+" scale started to evaluate ... all of the theories/ideas mentioned are certainly plausible, but they may have also just thought after playing the earlier model that the frets were simply just too close together (like many of us that struggle with a 'short scale' bass), and proceeded from there to make it more comfortable ... just another speculation, but the fact that just a few years later they returned to the short scale with the Mustang, may also indicate that it was a consideration in the initial design ... especially since Gibson and others that followed with mass produced instruments stuck with that short scale ...

    .. just another thought ...
  19. chris merrill

    chris merrill Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    Endorsing Artist for: GHS Strings, Lakland Basses
    Wow. Never occurred to me, but this makes a lot of sense!
  20. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    +1 -- It has remained the standard because it is still accepted as the norm, and because it's the path of least resistance: it's far easier to find basses and strings in 34" scale.

    I give props to manufacturers who deviate from the norm: shorter, longer, "fanned fret". I've owned and played those "deviant" basses, but while other scales give a different timbre, I still prefer 34" for tone and playability, even with BEADG five string.