Short Scale vs Long Scale Bass – 2021 Everything You Need To Know

Craig
| Last Updated: February 6, 2021

If you have ever held a bass guitar in your hands you probably have noticed that the neck is much longer than one found on an electric guitar.

If this size turned you away from playing bass guitar, you should know that people have made a smaller, short-scale bass, too.

What is a Short Scale Bass and Why Choose One?

Short scale bass was made for people who had struggled with the size of the regular bass guitar. It sacrificed a bit of the string tension to get the neck shorter while maintaining pretty much the same sound.

Photo Credit: TalkBass.com

It’s a perfect choice if you have trouble with handling the weight of the Long Scale bass guitar or the neck seems to be too wide for you to reach the first frets.

Due to its more portable size, it became so popular that you can even find 5 string bass guitar on the market these days.

Who Invented Short Scale Bass?

The first short scale bass ever made was created by Gibson in 1961. It was the Gibson EB-3, a 4 string bass guitar model that pretty much “borrowed” the body shape from the Gibson SG electric guitar.

How Long Is a Short Scale Bass?

Short Scale Bass can be found in several lengths. Initially, it was 30.5-inch long, but nowadays you can find them even shorter.

In general everything under 31 inches is considered to be a short-scale bass. So, for example, Ibanez Mikro is the shortest one with a scale length of 28.6 and pretty much similar performance.

There are some experimental models coming at 25-inch or even 24-inch length as well.

How Many Frets is a Short Scale Bass?

Speaking of frets, short-scale bass is no different from a long scale bass guitar so it will cover all models from 20 up to 24 frets.

What is a Long Scale Bass and Why Choose One?

Long Scale bass is actually nothing else than a regular electric bass guitar. It’s named “long scale” just as an opposite to the short scale models. This actually means - if you don’t mention scale length, everybody will think you’re talking about these models.

Photo Credit: ThomannMusic.com

Long scale bass is probably the model everybody should start with. It will build your finger muscles better and get you used to this string tension if you need to borrow a guitar.

But, if you want to experiment further, you may find 5 string or 6 string bass guitars or even fretless bass guitars at this scale length. 5 string long scale bass is considered to be an industry-standard these days.

What Made the First Long Scale Bass?

The first Long Scale bass guitar was Fender Precision and it was made in 1950. This prototype got improved in years to come so in 1957, Fender created a model that is considered to be a bass guitar benchmark even today.

How Many Frets Is a Long Scale Bass?

Long scale models may have a different number of frets based on the manufacturer’s decision, but, in general, every bass guitar will have between 20 and 24 frets.

How Long Is a Long Scale Bass?

Most bass guitars come with a 34-inch scale length. It’s pretty much considered as a standard length nowadays. Some 5 string and 6 string models may have extended scales to cover the lower notes sound so they may come with 35 or 36-inch length.

Short Scale vs Long Scale Bass Similarities and Differences

Based on what we already said, you may probably guess that these two bass guitars have a lot in common, so it might be a little bit tricky to emphasize significant differences or to name some important similarities as they tend to serve the same purpose.

Photo Credit: SweatWater

Short Scale and Long Scale Bass Similarities

Here’s what those bass guitars have in common:

Build Quality

If you purchase the guitars from the same price tiers, there should be no difference between short scale and long scale models. They will have the same tonewood quality, same pickups, and tone control options so the overall quality won’t be compromised at all.

Tone

While some people tend to hear the difference, manufacturers are doing a great job to keep differences minimal. The idea behind the short-scale bass guitar is to be portable while delivering the same bass sound. We doubt that any beginner or semi-pro players would hear a difference at all.

Playability

There shouldn’t be any significant difference between those two models and you can find models made for both newbies or pros. Actually, there are many pro players who are playing and recording on a short-scale bass regularly.

Short Scale and Long Scale Bass Differences

Fretboard

Short scale bass can have up to 5.4 inches in length difference and this affects the fret size a lot. Some experimental short-scale bass will even match the size of the electric guitar.

So, for those with small hands, short-scale bass guitars are an irreplaceable solution. If you struggle reaching certain frets, this will be a totally legit replacement. And because of smaller frets, shifting between notes can be much easier.

Weight and Size

With the significantly shorter neck, it’s quite obvious that short-scale guitars are lighter than a long scale. It will be much easier to carry around and it will fit in any car trunk. There is a higher chance that you could even bring it with you directly to the airplane.

Photo Credit: Reverb.com

Also, if your kid is struggling with the size of the long scale bass guitar, the short scale is the way to go. They will reach first frets much easier and we would gladly recommend the same solution to female players because of their hand sizes.

Tension

Some players love the string tension of the short-scale model as it allows them to play with less effort and bend strings easier. But, the real pro bass player finds this tension awkward at first. Those differences can be diminished a lot if you set the short scale bass strings, though.

Tonewood Characteristics

While the tonewood will be the same, the body size of the short-scale bass is smaller. This results in shorter tone sustain, lower volume, and a more “flat” sound with a bit fewer trebles and bass.

Feel

No matter how good and comfortable short-scale bass guitars can be, most bass players will agree that nothing can replace that feeling when you hit the good old long scale bass like Fender Precision.

Impression

It may sound irrelevant, but everybody is expecting the regular long scale bass, so be prepared to have some lame jokes if you decide to go with a short bass model.

The truth is that modern materials are completely capable of replacing old craftsmanship under more portable solutions.

Top Pick Between Short Scale and Long Scale Bass

If we had to pick the one for you it would be a close call but we would get the long-scale bass eventually.

Simply put, long scale bass is how the bass guitar was initially made to look like and it’s also what people expect to see. The string tension in this model is higher and it will create a small difference in low-end sound noticeable to pro players.

The parts and spare strings for long-scale bass are also much easier to find and in case you have to borrow a spare one or play on another piece of equipment, the chances to get a long-scale bass are very high. If you play only short-scale bass you may have some hard time adapting to the new string tension.

However, if you still want to go with a short-scale bass bear in mind that there is nothing wrong with this choice. It will sound about the same when you compare it to the long scale model at the same price range.

And afterall, any long scale bass can become short scale - to get the idea about the short scale concept, just put the capo around the 3rd or 4th fret and re-tune the guitar.

Photo Credit: TalkBass.Com

Conclusion

If you’re struggling with the size of the regular long scale bass guitar you should know that the short scale bass can help you to solve this out while still sounding pretty much the same.

Always remember that the final touch comes from the player and not the gear being used.

People Also Ask

Hope you have learned something new today about electric bass guitars scale length.

Let us cover some questions about which famous artists have been playing this instrument, what playing techniques you can perform on it, and explain in general how to measure a scale length on your own.

Who Plays Short Scale Bass Guitar?

There is a myth going on around short-scale bass guitars, so here’s a list of a famous artist who has used in regularly:

  • Paul McCartney
  • Bill Wyman (The Rolling Stones)
  • Allen Woody (The Allman Brothers)
  • Stanley Clark
  • Gene Simons (KISS)
  • Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads)

Photo Credit: Guitar-LoveToKnow.com

Are There Medium Scale Basses?

While such a phrase isn’t used officially, all bass guitars that come within the size of 31 up to 33 inches could be considered as medium scale bass guitars.

For example, Fender’s Jaguar bass placed under Squier Vibe series could be a nice example of such a bass guitar. 

How Much Frets Do I Need on Bass Guitar?

When we talk about bass guitar, the sound you want to produce should be placed in the lower sound spectrum. These notes are usually called bass notes. If you go up the fretboard, you’re using an instrument more like a guitar. That’s why most players will be satisfied with a 20-fret fingerboard.

Does Fender Make a Short Scale Bass?

As Fender being a pioneer of electric bass guitar, you would probably want to check if they are making any short-scale bass. There are few models available right now such as Mustang, Bonco, or Jaguar, but we believe that you should try out other brands as well such as G&L, Ibanez, Gretsch, or Supro.

Is A Short Scale Bass Easier To Play?

Due to the shorter string length, yes, these bass guitars should be much easier to play as the string tension won’t be so hard like on a regular bass guitar. This feature makes it ideal for kids and people with smaller hands that can’t make a good grip on a bass guitar.

Photo Credit: BassGuitarHub.com

Can I Put Long Scale Strings On A Short Scale Bass?

While we would recommend you to get short scale strings as it may prevent some winding issues that you may encounter otherwise, there is nothing wrong in using long scale strings on this bass guitar and they should sound exactly like when used on a correct scale length instrument.

Can You Slap A Short Scale Bass?

Yes, you can. Slap is just a playing technique and short scale bass is no different from any other electric bass guitar. Perhaps the sound may not be so full like on a long scale bass, but the essence of the sound will be in there.

How Do You Measure Bass Scale Length?

The bass scale length is measured starting from the nut position right at the end of the headstock all the way to the bridge saddles placed in the tonewood. The straight line between those two points is called scale length.

Photo Credit: StringsDirect.com

How To Tell If Your Bass Is Short Scale Or Long Scale

The difference should be visible by the naked eye. If your bass resembles more of an electric guitar size, then it’s definitely short-scale bass guitar. If it looks like a regular bass guitar then it’s probably a long scale. But, watch out - the 30-inch scale bass guitar may fall somewhere in between.

What Are The Drawbacks To A Short Scale Bass?

While those bass guitars may sound the same as the original bass, you might need some time to adapt to its smaller format visually. Also, short scale strings are a little bit harder to get and there is a myth about low E string definition due to less string tension.

Craig

Hi there, my name is Craig. I took over Gear Savvy in mid-2019 and have had a blast writing content about music ever since. My role here is to steer the ship and ensure readers have the best information available for learning a thing or two. When I’m not working on content, I’m a husband and a dad. I enjoy spending time with my family, playing guitar, or messing around in my woodshop.