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Tech Talk

Is a Short-Scale Bass Right for You?

Good things come in small packages.

The scale of a guitar refers to the distance between the bridge an the nut. Most bass guitars are long-scale instruments. In fact, Fender itself defined the long-scale bass guitar when it introduced the profoundly influential Precision Bass® in 1951. It, as well as many other models that followed, has a 34” scale, which can prove to be a bit of a stretch for players with smaller hands and shorter reach.

Realizing this, Fender--which already had been offering smaller-model electric guitars since 1955--introduced its first short-scale bass guitar, the Mustang® Bass, in 1966. This was the last Fender bass guitar designed by Leo Fender himself, and featured a student-friendly 30” scale, shorter distance between frets and a more compact overall size. Another short-scale model, the Musicmaster Bass, debuted in 1971 and remained in the Fender line until 1981.

Between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s, several other makers introduced their own short- and medium-scale basses. Standards fell into place: the dominant long scale established by Fender (34”; rarely, other makers have offered longer scales), the less prevalent short scale (30” and slightly longer) and the much rarer medium scale (around 32”).

Today, Fender’s widely varied bass guitar selection continues to feature several quality short-scale models. These include the modern version of the Fender Mustang Bass, Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special SS and Squier Bronco Bass.

So, while there's an obvious visual difference between long- and short-scale basses, many players wonder: Do they sound different?

Yes, definitely. For one thing, short-scale bass guitars sometimes use a slightly heavier string gauge than their long-scale brothers, which imparts a thicker tone. Furthermore, shorter strings require lower string tension for proper intonation, which gives both a looser, more “floppy” feel to the strings as well as fatter-sounding low notes.

While the short-scale bass has obvious benefits for students and kids, it's been used by plenty of bass greats as well: 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 many others.