Skip to content

Forum

Notifications
Clear all

short vs. long scale


 Gump
(@gump)
Eminent Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 32
Topic starter  

What are the pros and cons of a short scale bass?

Sorry I know this is a bonehead FAQ, there are a lot of threads about short scale but I don'T see any that address the basic question.


Quote
(@danlasley)
Noble Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 2135
 

I thought that this thread was useful:

https://www.guitarnoise.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=16719

Laz


ReplyQuote
 Gump
(@gump)
Eminent Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 32
Topic starter  

I saw that thread, but it's mostly about specific models. I'm a guitar player and I only dabble in bass, it's a really basic question. Lemme try again -

As far as I can tell, short scale sounds like long scale but it's easier to play. But I'd guesstimate that only 5% or less of bass players actually use a short scale. Is it a problem with intonation, feedback, or ... ? There's usually a reason for everything.


ReplyQuote
(@demoetc)
Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 2168
 

I saw that thread, but it's mostly about specific models. I'm a guitar player and I only dabble in bass, it's a really basic question. Lemme try again -

As far as I can tell, short scale sounds like long scale but it's easier to play. But I'd guesstimate that only 5% or less of bass players actually use a short scale. Is it a problem with intonation, feedback, or ... ? There's usually a reason for everything.

Yes, they're way easier to play because the shorter scale makes the strings, tuned to the same pitch of a regular 34" bass, looser, therefore softer and more easily fretted. I think your guesstimate is close, though I'm thinking 1%-2%. Shortscales aren't popular because few of the major artists use them, and I think that has to do with the popularity of the 'Fender' type basses. Gibson tried their hand with basses and were not too successful - even when they dumped the EB-0 line and went longer scale. I think the damage was done by that time - 70s, I think. Fender had already wrapped the market up; they were, as far as I can tell, the manufacturers of the first electric bass.

But it isn't all just marketing. The longer scale (4" in the comparison between a Fender P, J, or T - back when the Telecaster basses were happening - and the 30" scale of a Hofner) does make the strings more taut, thereby giving a harder...I guess you could say, more 'dynamic' feel. Descriptions are probably best left to the guys over at TalkBass.com. The frequencies produced are more toward the mids and highs rather than the fundamental with a shorter, softer tension string. You get more bite out of the sound, more 'clank' perhaps is a good word. And for the harder and louder rock styles coming out in the 60s-80s, it was perfect. The bassists were competing with some pretty metallic sounding guitars and no longer in the backseat as it were, of the group. They also were no longer 'sidemen' but were up front with everyone else. The longscales seem 'louder' and 'stronger' even though that's also the type of amplification. The shortscales sound more 'woody' and 'mellow' - more like an acoustic bass (again, depending on the amp settings, string type, etc) and they just weren't up front enough to keep up with a powerful drummer or screaming guitars.

So that, coupled with the high visibility of the longscales, made the shortscales sorta fade out. And justly so, I think.

Then in the late 80s through the present, the bass has come out even more from a backing, rhythm-section-only role and that's when you start to see 35-36" scale basses using roundwound strings to give them even more presence. They've become, or are trying to be made into, solo instruments - and that's okay. Being a bassist as well as a guitarist, I don't personally agree with this mentality - it takes careful, thoughtful arrangment to keep a busily playing bassist clear in the mix and out of the way, musically. It's being done obviously, but...it's something I prefer not to do.

Add to that the ERBs (Extended Range Basses) with 5-6-7-11 strings, and the bass is pushed even further out front. Some people welcome this, I don't; when I play bass or lay bass tracks, I think and act and write the parts as a bassist, trying to leave a 'hole' as it were, for everything else. I enjoy changing into the bassist - thinking 'down there', thinking low and simple - because I also get to put the guitar parts on.

And I don't want to have any arrangement arguments with...myself :)

Anyhow, as far as intonation or feedback is concerned - it's no more or less than with a long scale. A hollowbody bass - as discussed in that other thread - 'might' have more of a feedback problem, but even that's controllable. You as a guitarist know what I'm getting at. Intonation on the Turser Beatle isn't 'as' adjustable as some other basses because it's basically a movable wooden bridge (like on a mandolin) but with little pieces of what appears to be fretwire, set into the top of the bridge, which has four grooves across it for that purpose. They're set in the typical 'stair step' pattern, and the rest of the adjustment you do by rotating the whole bridge and 'foot' around slightly. You can get it close enough so it reads true on the meter.

I don't usually play above the 12th fret, but I've tested it at the top frets and the intonation is still great.

But that's just that particular bass. The other aspects of shortscales have been covered, but...they're easy to play, easy on the fretting hand wrist (you don't have to reach WAY out THERE), and fun to play for those reasons. And sometimes, when a thing is fun to play, you tend to do stuff you might not normally have come up with.

Best regards :)


ReplyQuote
(@danlasley)
Noble Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 2135
 

Demo;

Don't forget the advent of drop-D and 5-strings tuned BEADG. These also require a standard or long-scale bass, or the strings get too floppy.

And the last item would be sustain. In general, tension helps sustain.

The rest of your discussion seems quite thorough.

I will add a short anecdote. I was at an open jam, and the bassist ahead of me was playing a Gibson short-scale. The next song was one I knew well (Somebody to Love), so I asked if I could play. Since I hadn't tuned up yet, the guy let me borrow his bass. I was doing fine until I went to play this little lick up around the 7th fret, and I overshot! I've played this song for 20+ years, so my fingers know exactly where to go - but the frets weren't in the same place! All I could do was grin and recover.

Laz


ReplyQuote
(@demoetc)
Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 2168
 

Yup, sustain! and that floppy thing. I did BEAD on my Rick once and...I'm just glad I don't dig in when I play - they were like rubber bands. But then again it was just to write parts for our at-the-time bassist, who was on a five.

That's a funny story though. Lucky it wasn't a first fret note or you would've been hitting the G tuner. :)


ReplyQuote
(@musenfreund)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5134
 

You know, a complete newbie to bass, I never thought about scale length. I've got a Samick Corsair that's been a load of fun and has a 30" scale. That is a short scale bass, isn't it? I take it McCartney's Hofner is a short scale bass too.

I do enjoy it.

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon


ReplyQuote
(@demoetc)
Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 2168
 

Those Corsairs (I looked them up) are pretty cool looking! Yah, 30-32 (or so) are short scales. I think my Rick was 33.25 or something so...that would be medium? I put 'regular' length strings on it and it was okay. I think some people say 30-31 is short, 32-33 is medium and 34 is long. 35+ is Extra or Super long.

The Hofners were 30 I think, and my Turser Beatle is 32 - so I have to get Rotosound mediums. The short scale strings which I first got...there was a little bit of the silk going past the nut.

Maybe you could add something about your experiences and thoughts on bass, and what Gump originally asked about. Seems like he's after a bass, but coming from a guitarist's point of view too.


ReplyQuote
(@musenfreund)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5134
 

Now I'm confused. When I checked the information at the Samick website, the bass that looks most like mine is the CR 1-3 with the two pickups. When I got home though, it says CR-1 on the back, so it may not be a short scale.

How do I measure the scale length? I'm curious now. I've seen another one on ebay that looks just like mine but has a 34" scale. If I measure from the nut to the tail, just past the bridge pickup, it's 36". Would that be a 34" scale then?

It looks just like this one with a 34" scale:

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon


ReplyQuote
(@demoetc)
Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 2168
 

The length of the 'speaking' length of the string, from the inner face of the nut to the inner face of the saddle piece (or the spot where the string angles down over the saddle).

I thought yours was the 'mini' bass they have. That one looked kinda cool too. But if it's 'Fenderish' then you'll probably find it's 34" speaking-length.

I like the Fender type body and the 2-on-a-side headstock though. Sometimes with the 4-inline you gotta reach waay over there, lol

Me? I love the smallness of the Turser, and how light it is. If I were a guitar player (which I am, but...) and wanted to play bass I'd probably look into a short scale - but then again, it depends on the style of music I'd be playing. I have found a place for my 5-string (34" scale) Essex, but it's only like one song on the last album. I wanted to surprise the listener by starting the last song off (Hawaii '78) using just the EADG strings so it sounds like I'm playing a four (but a different one because the Turser has a pretty distinctive sound), and hold back, hold back and then use the B string on...I forget what it was - the 2nd chorus or something. All of a sudden the bottom just drops out. I don't know if anyone will really notice, but 'I' know it's there, lol.

And then there's upright basses (double-bass, bass-viol) that have a 42" speaking length. That's a lot of string vibrating. I've got to try one before my time's up, that's for sure! But it's funny how a short scale sounds so much like an upright sometimes. 30" compared to 42" that's a 'foot' longer! I think the upright has more fundamental and way less of the other frequencies, but...I dunno; the short scale has such a soft feel to the strings, maybe it has something to do with the looseness that makes it sound rounder or more upright-ish.


ReplyQuote
(@musenfreund)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5134
 

Well, mine's a 34" scale then. Sorry for the confusion.

But as to your other question about coming to this particular bass from the guitar -- it's been a lot of fun. I'm learning the bass part on some Beatles songs for a concert the band will perform in January. I've found the transition to be easy and I've not had any problems handling this bass (though I tend to play with a pick rather than with my fingers.) The action and feel are good and it sounds fine. The band's regular bass player (who'll be doing some keyboard work when I take the bass), complimented me on the sound of it the other night.

And coming to the bass from guitar has been good for me as well. It makes me think about the music from a different angle as I learn how to make the bass line work.

In short, then, I haven't found the longer scale length to be an issue. Sure, there was some adjustment and I spent some time working on hand position to make some of those stretches on the arpeggios, but I started to get used to it fairly quickly.

Hope that's helpful.

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon


ReplyQuote
(@vic-lewis-vl)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 10340
 

When I bought my bass (cheapish Freshman, but it'll do to learn on....) the first thing I noticed were how big the frets were compared to guitar...I had a lot of trouble stretching at first, and I have BIG hands....

If I'd even known at the time there was such a thing as a short-scale bass, I'd have probably plumped for one of those....but with hindsight, I'm glad I got the long scale, it's had two hidden benefits...

1 - My hands are stronger and more flexible....
2 - I now have callouses on BOTH hands!!!

:D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


ReplyQuote
(@demoetc)
Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 2168
 

Heheeh, yup.

You know, maybe, at least for me, it's a nostalgia thing. I start 'playing bass' on an old, nameless Japanese import guitar my parents bought me. I took the two top strings off and made do. But then they got me a Sears 'Beatle Bass' - a floor model, and it was really the first 'good' instrument I had. I think it was a Silvertone. Both the instruments were righty which I switched around lefty - reversing the strings and stuff.

Then, years later (like 30!) I see all these import violin basses (well, they're in the 'viol' shape with the sloping shoulders), and get to hankering after one of them, lol. A 'real' left handed Beatle bass.

Between that 'full circle' though, I had an Ampeg Lucy Lucite (righty, reversed) and then a Rickenbacker 4001 lefty; short scale and medium-long scale respectively. But that Turser (and the Rondomusic Brice and the Rogue) just sorta called out to me. It was really funny; almost like a quiet obsession or something. GAS I guess some people would say, but it was more than wanting to 'acquire' it; I wanted to sorta 'come home' to it.

Anyhow, this was after my Rick was stolen and I'd gotten a Squier P Bass Special and then an Essex 5-string to replace it. I wasn't 'that' in love with the Rick even though I'd recorded and gigged with it for years and years. That's another story :). So I had 2 really nice and playable 34" scale basses, and the Beatle was still there, waving at me!

The funny thing is, and it's like what you guys say about getting used to the longer scale length, playing the long scale bass for extended periods - like when you're laying tracks and you're on the instrument for literally hours and days and weeks - when I was finally done with the bass tracks and picked up the guitar, it was...like playing a ukulele or something. Even the big 12-string dread felt tiny in comparison, and yah the fingers are almost 'too' strong. You can bend strings waay up without thinking about it and the strings feel like hairs under your fingers. I've never been in bands where, like Rutherford or something, you play both instruments in the same set or show; I've always either been 'the bassist' or 'the guitarist' and never mixed the two in the same band.

Musenfreund: congrats on getting a compliment from the actual bass guy. That's gotta say something right there. But it's that other part you spoke about; hearing and thinking about the music - even the exact same song - from a different perspective. It does, I think, benefit anyone's general musicianship to play a different instrument for awhile, or at least a little bit. You start to 'morph' into that other role, and when you're working on your own stuff, original stuff, you sometimes realize you instinctively know what the bass line would and should be.

It's really cool.

Vic: same here with the callouses, except I've lost mine awhile back. I don't actually practice or play much between recording 'marathons.' The thing that sorta bugs me though, is fingernails. I've played fingerstyle (classical and acoustic) for about as long as I've played bass, and when I get ready to play bass, I've got to loose the nails on the first and second fingers of the plucking hand. Just to get rid of that 'click' you get sometimes. Then, when it's time to do the guitars, I've gotta wait a week or so till they grow back enough to be useful. I do play bass with a flatpick too, but I prefer the 'fingers tone' for most things and so there's always a waiting period.

The actual 'feel transition' from the short scale bass to guitar, or vice versa, does seem easier to me though. It's more like a BIG guitar than a small bass. I love how relaxed the strings feel too. I've got the .040-.090 Rotosound set on it so that makes it even softer.

Funny thing about not realizing that short scales were available. I didn't either at one point. The Silvertone was short scale, and the Ampeg was short scale. I didn't get them because they were short scale though. I didn't even know the difference. I liked the Ampeg because Bill Wyman played on in the Stones (and one happened to become available), and it was clear and cool looking. Turned out to be a surprisingly good bass though. Actually, looking back (I don't have it anymore), it was a great bass. Brilliant, cutting edge design, great look, and a great, thick, powerful sound. I look at them now online and gag; they're waaay out of my price range now. I got mine ('used', no 'vintage' back then) for $260 from some guy in the papers (w/ohsc, lol, but the case had a missing handle). I'd like to have one again to see if it really was as good as memory relates, but at $900 and up, that's not going to happen.

Anyhow, enough of my early morning musings. I could go on all day.

Take care :)


ReplyQuote
 Gump
(@gump)
Eminent Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 32
Topic starter  

Thanks Demo that answered my question.
Add to that the ERBs (Extended Range Basses) with 5-6-7-11 strings, and the bass is pushed even further out front. Some people welcome this, I don't; when I play bass or lay bass tracks, I think and act and write the parts as a bassist, trying to leave a 'hole' as it were, for everything else. I enjoy changing into the bassist - thinking 'down there', thinking low and simple - because I also get to put the guitar parts on.

Confession: I have a jaguar baritone custom which I use as a cheater bass for home recording. Well, really I use it mostly as a baritone guitar but when I need to record a bass line it comes in handy. I'd really rather play a regular bass but I just don't have time to develop & maintain bass chops in addition to guitar.

At 28 1/2" scale the strings are quite floppy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I love that grungy sound. If I need a clean bass line I can use the keyboard. Before I get flamed too bad just keep in mind the Doors did it...

Most bass lines I've played tend to gravitate towards eighth notes, so sustain really doesn't concern me too much.


ReplyQuote
(@demoetc)
Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 2168
 

Hey, the Jag should be fine. If it feels to floppy, you could always up the string gauge, but since you like the sound, leave it way it is.

And yes, I agree with the fast notes vs sustain thing. I always get a kick out of it when there's discussions about 'which guitar has the best sustain - bolt-on or set-neck?' and in the next thread the same guys are arguing about how to play fast! If they're playing fast, they wouldn't know if the thing sustained well or not - excepting if they were playing a banjo or something, lol.

And that term - "Sweet, violin-like sustain..."

Anyone who's ever picked up a violin and plucked it can tell you exactly how much sustain the thing has. None. It's the bowing of course, but it looks great in ad-copy!

But yah, the baritone should do just fine, or any number of keyboard patches these days. I still love the sound of the basslines in the first Missing Persons tunes.

Funny, back in the last century when I started playing, there weren't even such things as baritone guitars, so if you wanted bass, you just got one (if possible) and played it. Or if you were like me and couldn't afford it, you got an electric guitar, took the high E and B string off and went for it that way :)


ReplyQuote