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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
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    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
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    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
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    @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

12 Answers 12

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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.

  • 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
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    Shorter scale basses don't allow for the range of bottom end either. The Low E gets floppy. – user1240 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. – user1240 Oct 10 '11 at 20:16
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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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After 15 years of playing around with 34 inch basses, I bought an Ibanez 5 string mikro.

I love it.

Overnight many things which I struggled and failed to be able to play years ago, I can play now with ease. I can't put the bass down and it has totally brought me back into playing music.

Before purchase I did research online, and honestly, I don't know what people are talking about.

The strings ARE NOT FLOPPY. They just are not. I kept on reading this online. All someone needs to do is actually pick up a short scale bass - and this should be clear nonsense.

Are far as the others - I have an old Peavy Forum and a Dean edge 5 string. All I can compare to is what I have. The Ibanez as a thicker, richer tone, if anything more sustain, and oh... the other basses have dead spots, the Ibanez Mikro does not. It sounds great and for $200 - I paid about $300 for the others and that was 15 or so years ago!

About comments like this: "Get used to what most people use."

1) play what works for you, not what someone else tell you to play because it works for them.

"After all, if short scales were superior, why are they relatively rare ?"

2) As far as I can tell, short scales are relatively rare b/c of ignoramuses telling people to not use them... and making up nonsenses about poor tone and floppy strings.

3) "Small hands are no excuse"

Um, if your hands can't reach, they can not reach. PERIOD. You can not magically grow larger hands!

This is what happens in real life. You have to play an F and G note on the E string. Can you reach with your index finger or use your pinky? If you have to use your pinky, then it's sort of big for you. Now what if you have to play F and then 4th fret. Now you have to move your hand where someone with larger hands does not. So now you have to work harder, trying to plan how to move your hand around to play, in order to compensate for small hands. Or your can just get a smaller instrument that actually fits your hand.

Maybe, if people were not bullied into buying the wrong instrument for them, then 2 things would happen:

1) More people actually playing and enjoying bass, because they have an instrument to play

2) More availability of short scale basses!

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To answer your question about the disadvantages of buying a 30" scale bass...there are none. For those naysayers...think Hofner for starters... Leo Fender, when he picked 34" was simply using @ 3/4 of the scale length of an upright bass. At one time most of the cheap copies were short scale, which probably contributed to the Short scale bad rep. Now that more people are using their ears instead of their egos, the 30" scale is becoming more popular. IF you look at some of the "Bass Gods" from the 1960s (See old Ed Sullivan shows), you will find that Fenders rarely appear, and Epiphone/Gibson, Vox, Hofner, Framus, Hagstrom are far more prevalent and they are almost exclusively short scale instruments, and yet the SOUND!!! With amplifiers and computers today , if you can pass a signal through a wire, you can make it sound like a 32-piece orchestra if you are of that mind...And I read some things here that are incorrect, in particular, sustain, which is a function of the materials of the instrument rather than scale length (Think: if it were scale length, guitars would have no sustain at all). Do your research, and buy the bass that you will enjoy playing rather than one bought from silly peer pressure.

  • Wonder whether even shorter scale basses would be even better then? – Tim Feb 18 '16 at 17:23
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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 4th (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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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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I am a newbie bass player. I found that easiest instrument to play is a medium-scaled (32 inches) bass with capodaster set on the 1st or 2nd fret, and tuned to standard EADG. This make the scale equivalent to 30 or 28.5 inches, respectively. Not only frets are shorter and do not require stretching, but also strings are closer to frets, and string tension is less. Sustain and timbre are even better than without capodaster, to my taste.

The only drawback is that the distance between strings become wider, which become noticeable when it is set at 2nd fret. My bass has 17.5 mm distance between strings at bridge which cannot be changed. I'd like to have strings closer to each other.

I am sure capodaster can be applied to 34" scaled basses too (capodaster on 2nd fret turns scale to 30.3 inches), only choose bridge with strings close to each other.

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    You bring up a good point: a longscale bass basically contains a shortscale piccolo, if you just don't use the lowest frets! A capo isn't even really necessary for this – many bassists almost never play empty strings anyway. – leftaroundabout Feb 13 '17 at 14:09
  • Unless you play a lot of open strings, the capo isn't going to make much difference. Once you fret above where the capo is, there could be another foot of neck stretching out behind it, not affecting anything. – Tim May 22 '17 at 14:00
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There are many reasons for wanting a SS bass. I have a gimp fretting hand /arm from a motorcycle accident and both pronation and supination are limited. I have to play in a more upright position and need a SS for comfort. The bottom line is what works for you doesn't work for me. So get what works for you and I will do the same.

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I was bass player once during my early stage being a string musician, but now I'm a lead guitarist by now. I used both of that short and long scaled basses mentioned here. My own gear is a long scale custom p-bass and sometimes I use a 5 string short scale Ibanez.

Short scale:

  • Rapid transition of notes is possible because of smaller fret spacing
  • easy for me to get used to especially when using pick
  • it almost same size of regular guitar
  • smaller overall package
  • strings are not tight compared to full scale

Long scale:

  • better sustain
  • richer sound ever for a single coil
  • more pronounced treble good for slapping
  • for some players but not me,the tighter strings is a plus. They like the feel especially when finger picking
  • Nobody is mentioning how the higher notes on a SS sound fatter. – user28405 May 6 '16 at 1:52
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I started bass in 1958 that will be 60 years next October. All that time I have had what someone called a "Gimpy" arm. It wont straighten and I often have to throw my shoulders way left to get across the fret board so I developed my own -Thumb Over- style. I played 34" for 50 years. At 60 I started to play short scale bass and just converted a copy Telecaster and a Strat, guitars to 30" bass. Once I sorted the fretboard and tuning out. I used some old flat wounds fitted Fender Single coil pups and the resultant instrument blew me away! I have helped a lot of people and now I'm 72 years old I would recommend SS to anyone. I see fools on Ebay selling SS bass as "Kids Bass and it saddens me. I have seen SS Bass played in Orchestras in New York London and Helsinki. A 30" or 32" bass is not a kids bass. It's an instrument with its own special place amongst stringed instruments. It not only meets physical needs of some people. It meets very demanding musical needs within the profession. Only a fool knocks a short scale bass!

  • One fact overlooked in the answers is that if one plays a SS, and is given a full-sized to play (at a gig, open mic, rehearsal, et al) one looks a bit of a fool saying 'I can only play the SS.' And, because it's so guitar like, the tendency for some is to play it like a guitar. – Tim May 22 '17 at 14:03
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There are no disadvantages to playing a short scale guitar or bass. As long as a Short Scale is whats needed. I make and play them, and I play them when they are needed. If you don't need one and cannot find a practical reason for owning one, don't go there! As a bass player of 60 years I have played hundreds of pieces of the years where a short scale was asked for and did its job. Visit YouTube. There are some interesting videos relating to SS Guitars. Good Luck

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    Can't think why a SS bass would be required over a standard bass for any job that could not be done equally as efficiently with a standard bass. Enlighten me. I've played for several decades and never come across the differentiation. – Tim Sep 21 '17 at 21:00
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I am in my second life as a bass player. The first time around I had a '67 Fender Mustang Bass and a `67 Gibson EB-0 fitted with Guild nylon tape wound strings. Both of these guitars were 30 inch scale and were great guitars (once I quit using Gibson strings, the flatwounds sounded head and the roundwounds were like kon my ol.d carpanives on my fingers. I have fat fingers but small hands and short arms and the 30 inch scale and smaller bodies worked well for me. i unfortunately gave up playing and sold my stuff (wish I still had those guitars) so when the bug bit me again I bought what I knew and what I could afford as a retiree, a Squirer Bass, a PJ Bass (precission neck pickups and jazz bass bridge pickup. Nice bass but the stretches are hard p

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