One of the most important aspects of a bass guitar is its scale length. In the framework of guitars, bass guitars and any other string instruments, the scale length refers to the distance between the bridge and the nut, essentially the entire vibrating length of the strings as opposed to the length of the neck or fingerboard. Short scale basses are usually designated as those with a 30” length. Long scale basses on the other hand ordinarily have 34” lengths.
It was actually Fender that is credited with creating the prototypical long scale length distance with the release of their immensely influential Precision Bass in 1951, followed by the Jazz Bass in 1960 along with a few other long-scale models (such as the Telecaster Bass and Jaguar Bass in 1968 and 2006, respectively). Although there are no hard and fast rules, the 34” is now pretty much universally accepted as the standard scale length of a bass. There are certainly other sizes available, such as the 32” medium scale and 35” long scale, although both are not as common as 34".
As far as strings go, they tend to vary but a very common set made by Fender for their long scale basses features, from high to low, .040, .060, .080 and .100 millimeters. Short scale strings on the other hand are frequently thicker, meaning they have a heavier gauge. A common set features strings that have diameters of .60, .75, .90 and .115 millimeters.
The lighter gauge strings on a long scale bass give it a brighter, snappier sound as opposed to the common, heavier set of strings of a short scale, which can be described as thicker with more bass. Strings on a short scale bass also demand lower tension to be properly tuned, giving them a soft, “floppy” feel to them along with those fatter, “blooming” low notes. And of course, the overall sound also highly depends on the actual bass and player behind it.
The most common reason for suggesting a short scale bass is due to their physical size as long scale instruments may be more difficult to maneuver for younger or inexperienced players. With their shorter necks, less distance between the frets and overall smaller dimensions, short scale basses make a good choice for anyone who feels a bit challenged by the extra reach required by a long scale bass.
In fact, short scale basses were first largely introduced as student models, such as Fender’s original short scale, the Mustang Bass, released in the summer of 1966. Between the mid-50s and ‘60s, several other makers released their own short and medium scale models, making the instrument size popular at the time.
It should also be said that short scale basses are far from just for beginners as many of the greatest bassists in music history have sported the instruments. Some of these greats include Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce (Cream), Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), Andy Fraser (Free), Glenn Cornick (Jethro Tull), Trevor Bolder (Spiders From Mars, Uriah Heep), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Garry Tallent (E Street Band), Bruce Thomas (the Attractions), Gary Mounfield (Stone Roses, Primal Scream), Mike Watt (Minuteman, Firehose, Stooges) and with plenty more.
Although short scale bass guitars were popular a few decades back, the industry has largely moved towards the 34" long scale as the standard.
While some players prefer the sound and easier fret reach of a small scale bass, other's love the classic tone of a standard scale. In the end, the right choice comes down to what feels -- and sounds -- right for you! Need a little more advice? Chat with one of our pros by using the chat box below and be sure to browse our entire selection of Bass Guitars right here!