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I'm considering buying my first bass. I already play guitar, and find that even though I'm an adult, stretching to a fifth is a struggle -- so handling a bass with its more widely spaced frets is going to be a challenge.

It occurred to me that a short-scale bass might be easier for me to play. Of course a smaller acoustic instrument is quieter, but for an amplified instrument like a bass, it shouldn't be an issue.

Are there any reasons I should prefer a full size bass?

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Just for closure, I went to the guitar shop, and there was a Gretsch short-scale bass on display. I had a go, and not only did I find the closer-spaced frets much more pleasant to play, but (to my ears) it sounded much nicer than the other basses in my price range. So I am happy. –  slim Oct 25 '11 at 11:27
One disadvantage that has occurred to me, however, is that as much as I practice on my short-scale instrument, if someone hands me a normal bass, I'll be less able to play it. –  slim Oct 25 '11 at 11:29
FWIW, when it comes to bass guitar, "full size" simply means "the size Leo Fender picked in 1951." It's not as if a 34" scale length is divinely mandated. Sounds like you like a shorter scale, so I'd say go for it. –  Alex Basson Dec 11 '12 at 3:05
@AlexBasson true, but presumably Leo Fender didn't pluck that size from the air - he'll have experimented with different sizes. Then again, he didn't have the materials we have today. I'm very tempted by the Kala U-Bass, which uses polyurethane strings to get bass pitches from an instrument the size of a baritone ukulele. –  slim Dec 11 '12 at 17:10
@slim Late to the party perhaps, but as someone who regularly switches between an EB-0 and a standard P-bass, I find that after a while switching between them isn't particularly difficult. As a matter of fact, I tend to be just a bit faster on the EB-0, although every once in a while I feel clumsy when playing some things higher up on the neck. –  Kaji Jul 8 '14 at 10:46

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Volume is obviously not the only aspect of an instrument's sound: frequency distribution, attack characteristics, sustain, tuning accuracy etc. are equally or more important.

Short scales tend to (but don't necessarily) result in

  • shorter sustain
  • less pronounced treble frequencies
  • somewhat "flappier" attack
  • less well-defined pitch control.

Most of this seems technically disadvantageous, but how good or bad it is musically depends on the context and playing style. The sound of many Beatles songs is influenced quite heavily by McCartney's Höfner bass, in part by the fact that it's short-scale. The same sound would probably not work very well in, say, a funk rock or metal band.

On the other hand, it's of course not only the scale that makes up the sound. If you put bright-sounding strings on a 30" with low-impedance active electronics and tune it up to A, you get much the opposite of the characteristics described above: a glassy piccolo-sound well-suited for playing soloes.

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Nice. Since I'm planning to play reggae, loss of treble doesn't worry me too much. Not sure about loss of attack though. Since these are all questions of sound, I can make a judgement in the shop. Will leave a couple of days to allow for other opinions before accepting the answer. –  slim Oct 4 '11 at 9:56
Shorter scale basses don't allow for the range of bottom end either. The Low E gets floppy. –  Jarrod Roberson Oct 10 '11 at 19:43
@JarrodRoberson: in practice yes, indeed; however not in principle. That's also a matter of not just scale but as well string gauge and -height. A shortscale bass with fat flatwound strings one inch above the fretboard can easily compete with ordinary longscale basses in the low end – nowhere else, though... –  leftaroundabout Oct 10 '11 at 20:12
@leftaroundabout That is exactly what I had a short scale Les Paul with flat wound strings, it was great for what it was, I mean "Sunshine of your Love" sounded awesome on it. But it was very limited for other genres, I don't think it would have made a good Reggae instrument, no sustain and no brightness. –  Jarrod Roberson Oct 10 '11 at 20:16

Want thump on a short scale? Decent price and playability as well? FLATWOUNDS. I have an Epiphone EB-0 (30" scale), an Ibenez Mikro (another 30"), and I think a Memphis, and I've owned Musicmasters, Mustangs, and Corts, and all of them were exceptional, played like champs and gave me their all...as long as I made one slight modification, FLATWOUNDS. Roundwounds tend to muddy up with time as well as compete with the guitars, flatwounds put me in the missing spot when playing live and in practice, and I get alla the girlies hawt when I give them the lower end thump, rather than the twang. 34" scales are murder on my tiny hands, I've loved 30" scales and once tjey have flatwounds and been set up proper with neck angle, truss rod tweak, and bridge intonation (I'm a huge fan of bolt-on necks, as set necks rob me of adjustments when I change strings), then I can compete with just about any millie long scale out there. see my kids on my site xanDOTduneDOTnet for details. The long scale I have is a Jazz copy, and flatwounds make her sweeter. I also have a Dean EAB, and she's a killer to play, long scale, but again, flatwounds make her stand out of the croud. I've played her with three acoustics and she was still abke to be heard without an amp. Flatwounds whatever you choose, will make the difference. Short scales will make you concentrate on the music, not your stretch. The Mikro I was playing in a music store while a friend shopped for a tele, and I couldn't leave the store without her, $125 and they threw in a bag, cable, strap, and the whole 9 yards. Enjoy, just go flatwounds.

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It is more difficult to achieve drop tunings while keeping sufficient string tension on short scale basses.

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Only just picked up your question.Probably you've equipped yourself with a bass by now. However - if one is used to a standard guitar, the bass will feel like a different beast. That's 'cos it is !Longer strings will be necessary anyway, so it's worth just playing in a different way. You will get used to it. Longer strings will give more 'body' to the sound - they need to be thicker to produce the same notes.You're not going to be playing chords (unless you have a 5-string high C or a 6-string).So the stretch you are concerned about won't be a worry.If it's reggae, then a lovely low sound is in order, so I'd advocate a 5 string in any case - low B may not be much help open, but the extra richness of a thicker string, along with the fact that you've got another 5th (interval) under most people's E is a great bonus.

Bass Collection basses (!) are one of our best kept secrets.SGC Nanyo versions, '80s and 90s, though, not the newer Chinese versions.Loads of tonal differences, lovely to play, and not expensive.Even if you're already tooled-up, try to play one - you won't be disappointed.

You've already mentioned getting used to a short scale and then struggling to play a proffered standard.Don't go there ! Get used to what most people use. After all, if short scales were superior, why are they relatively rare ? Small hands are no excuse - I can just stretch an octave on piano, and it doesn't stop me using standard.

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