If you have little need or desire to play down-tunings or use heavy gauge strings, or you have small hands — you may be better off with shorter guitar scale lengths.
The biggest thing to take away from this brief dive into the world of guitar scale lengths is that in the modern-day there really is an adequate scale length available for every guitar player.
This grants immense leeway for individuals to experiment and find what works for them, which is a far cry from the number of options available to guitarists in the decades prior.
So, to get a little more in-depth, let’s explore some factors when deciding on the right scale length for you.
What Is Scale Length?
Electric guitar scale lengths are determined by the distance between the nut and the bridge of the instrument. This will be the maximum length at which a string vibrates and produces sound.
This alone is a relatively easy concept to grasp but it is important to note that guitars are manufactured in a variety of scale lengths and this factor will greatly influence the feel of an instrument.
Fender and Gibson have essentially set the standard for electric guitar scale lengths amongst most manufacturers over the course of 70 years or so.
The Fender Stratocaster has inherited a scale length of 25.5″ and this scale length is commonly referred to as the ‘Fender Scale’ as it has been implemented across a variety of other Fender models over the decades.
On the other hand, the Gibson Les Paul and other associated Gibson models utilize a scale length of 24.75″ commonly referred to as the ‘Gibson Scale’.
For decades Fender scale lengths and Gibson scale lengths near-dominated the electric guitar industry, though it is worth mentioning that a variety of other options have become available over time.
Some examples include models that PRS, Carvin, and Danelectro offer in a 24.5″ scale length, and 25″ scale lengths, respectively.
Both being variations on the more traditional Fender and Gibson scale lengths, we will also take a second to note that most 7-string guitars will encompass a 26.5″ scale length, with a standard bass generally coming in at 34″.
Is a short-scale guitar right for you or would you perhaps be better suited to a long-scale guitar?
To determine the answer let’s look into how scale affects the playability of an instrument.
Understanding String Tension
One of the primary factors influenced by a guitar’s scale length is string tension.
An instrument with a longer scale length will require more tension in order to bring the strings to pitch whereas a guitar with a shorter scale will require less (granted that both are tuned to the same pitch with the same string gauge).
This is why many players will remark that they find it easier to bend and implement other techniques such as vibrato on a guitar with a shorter scale length such as a Gibson Les Paul.
Whereas a person playing a long-scale guitar, such as a Fender Stratocaster or Ibanez RG, may find it easier to play chords with the increased string tension.
These factors can also be influenced by using lighter or heavier gauge guitar strings, leaving a vast amount of setup options available to guitarists.
The only way to determine the ideal combination for your own playing style is to experiment with what is available to you, though your local guitar technician can likely provide some valuable advice to aid you along the journey.
Thus far, we have spent a considerable amount of time focusing on the traditional Fender and Gibson scale lengths, however, it is important to note that there are a plethora of other scale lengths outside of these two.
Players with small hands may find comfort in true short-scale guitars such as the Fender Mustang, and Jaguar. Both of which measure at a scale length of 24″.
This will actually result in the frets being spaced closer together across the length of the fretboard, making it easier for some players to grab chord shapes and execute stretches.
On the other end of the spectrum, long-scale guitars are also widely available on the contemporary market, with baritone guitars from companies such as Ibanez – measuring in at a scale length of 27″ or more.
These instruments are well suited for players who tune their instrument below the concert pitch of 440hz, for example. Many modern metal players can be observed utilizing low tunings with some going as low as G or F standard “or even E an octave below 440hz”.
These longer baritone guitar scale lengthsensure that these instruments maintain a useable string tension in scenarios where other traditional scale lengths would require extremely heavy string gauges to maintain any essence of tension at pitch “likely suffering intonation problems and other issues in the process”.
Multi-scale guitars have also come to prominence in recent years, in which you may recall seeing instruments with a “fanned fret” arrangement adorning the fretboard.
This is exceedingly common on longer-scale baritone guitars but can also be found on more traditional 25″ scale instruments.
This serves the purpose of providing more tension on the lower strings and providing less string tension on the upper strings, resulting in a balance that some guitarists would not be able to obtain without resorting to extreme setup scenarios, which may impact negatively on the overall playability of their instrument.