If you’re a guitarist, you know that the scale length of your guitar is an important factor in determining its playability and sound.
Measuring your guitar’s scale length may seem daunting, but with some simple tools and techniques, it’s quite easy.
In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about measuring guitar scale length. We’ll cover the differences between long and short-scale guitars, explain the standard scale length for different types of guitars, and give you tips on choosing the right scale length for your needs.
We’ll also discuss how scale length affects playability and sound quality, as well as other factors to consider when selecting a new set of strings for your instrument.
So whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out on your musical journey, read on to learn all about measuring guitar scale length!
What does guitar scale length mean?
Scale length is the distance between the nut and the bridge of your guitar, and it can vary depending on the type of guitar you have.
Simply put, it’s the length of the vibrating string between these two points that determine the pitch of each note.
The scale length can vary from one guitar to another, with some guitars having shorter scales than others.
Shorter scales tend to have less tension on their strings, making it easier to bend notes or play faster runs. Longer scales require more tension on their strings, producing a brighter tone and better intonation.
Knowing your guitar’s scale length will help you select appropriate string gauges and set up your instrument correctly for optimal performance.
How to measure guitar scale length
Measuring the scale length of a guitar is a straightforward process that involves measuring from the nut to the bridge. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to get the perfect fit for your strings by following these simple steps:
- Remove all the strings from your guitar.
- Place a ruler or measuring tape on top of the fretboard, aligning it with the nut and covering the entire length of the fretboard.
- Locate the 12th fret marker on your guitar (usually marked by two dots).
- Measure from the 12th fret marker to where the ruler meets the bridge saddles.
- This measurement will give you the accurate scale length of your guitar.
Well, that’s it! Now you know how to measure your guitar scale length.
But if you want to have a better understanding of scale length, you definitely should continue reading.
Long scale vs short scale guitars: understanding the scale length
Guitars can be categorized into two groups: long scale or short scale, determined by their length. Surprisingly, scale length plays a significant role in shaping the overall playability of the instrument.
Now, we explore all the differences between long-scale and short-scale guitars.
Differences in length
When it comes to steel-string acoustic guitars, a scale length of 25.4 inches, 25.5 inches, or beyond is classified as long, while anything shorter is deemed as short.
The commonly utilized short scales typically range from 25 to 24.625 inches, with measurements such as 24.9, 24.75, and 24.625 inches being popular.
However, it’s worth noting that nylon-string and classical guitars have their own distinct categories of long and short scale lengths, with the majority exceeding 25.5 inches.
Differences about comfort
When it comes to comfort, the scale length of a guitar plays a significant role in its overall playability.
Short scale guitars typically require less tension to bring the strings to pitch, making them generally easier to play. On the other hand, long scale guitars necessitate more tension in the strings, resulting in a greater challenge for the fretting hand.
However, it’s important to note that comfort is not the sole determining factor. Other aspects such as tonal characteristics, string tension preferences, and playing style also come into play when choosing between long scale and short scale guitars.
Differences in fret spacing
The difference in scale length between long and short scale guitars affects the distance between frets.
Short-scale guitars have frets that are closer together, but they can still have the same number of frets as long-scale guitars.
Short-scale guitars are better for players with narrow or short fingers, while long-scale guitars are preferable for those with thicker or longer fingers.
The choice between long and short scales depends on individual finger size and playing style.
Differences in articulation
The length of a guitar’s scale affects how well the notes are heard when playing.
Long scale guitars have more tension in the strings, which makes them more responsive with better note separation. They’re also louder when strummed.
Short-scale guitars highlight the middle sounds better, but aren’t as loud. The choice between long and short scale guitars depends on the type of music and sound preferred.
Differences in playing techniques
The scale length of a guitar influences the ease of performing various playing techniques.
Short scale guitars, with their smaller scale length, make it simpler to perform techniques like bends. For instance, bending strings on a guitar with a 24.75″ scale is generally easier compared to a guitar with a longer 27″ scale, assuming they use the same string gauge.
On the other hand, long scale guitars often lend themselves well to flatpicking, making them favorable for players who prefer that style.
The choice between long scale and short scale guitars depends on the desired playing techniques and individual playing preferences.
What is the standard guitar scale length?
For standard scale length is considered 25.5 inches (647.7mm). But let’s see what are the usual scale lengths of the main guitar types:
Acoustic guitar scale length
Typically, the standard scale length for acoustic guitars is 25.5 inches. However, manufacturers may use scale lengths ranging from 24.75 to 25.6 inches for their 6-string acoustic guitars.
For 12-string acoustic guitars, the standard scale length is also 25.5 inches, but different models may have varying scale lengths that range from 24.724 to 25.6 inches.
Electric guitar scale length
Electric guitar scale lengths vary, but the most common scale length is also 25.5 inches. This scale length is associated with many iconic guitar models, such as the fender stratocaster and telecaster.
Extended range guitars
Extended-range guitars or multi-scale guitars, are instruments designed to offer additional low-end range beyond the traditional six-string guitar. They have a longer scale length than traditional six-string electric guitars.
Seven-string electric guitars typically have scale lengths ranging from 25.5 inches to 26.5 inches.
In the case of 8-string electric guitars, scale lengths generally fall within the range of 27 inches to 29.4 inches.
Classical guitar scale length
The typical scale length for classical guitars is 25.5 inches.
It is uncommon to find standard-sized classical guitars with shorter scale lengths, as this would result in loose strings and a muddled, unclear sound. Instead, regular-sized classical guitars often feature slightly longer scale lengths, slightly surpassing the 25.5-inch mark, to ensure proper string tension and optimal sound quality.
First and foremost, when it comes to choosing the right guitar scale length, it’s crucial to have hands-on experience.
We highly recommend testing guitars with various scale lengths to truly understand the feel and playability they offer. By playing different guitars, you’ll develop a better sense of which scale length suits your playing style and preferences.
Once you’ve had the chance to explore guitars with different scale lengths, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons associated with each option. While personal preference plays a significant role, understanding the potential advantages and disadvantages can help inform your decision.
Standard scale length
Pros of standard scale length:
- Snappy and firm feel: guitars with standard scale lengths often offer a snappy and firm feel, striking a balance between responsiveness and ease of play. This can provide a comfortable and versatile playing experience for a wide range of guitarists.
- Suitable for super low action: standard scale length guitars can work well with super low action setups. The moderate string tension allows for lower string heights without sacrificing playability, enabling smooth and effortless fretting.
- Compatible with drop tunings: standard scale length guitars are generally well-suited for drop tunings. The balanced string tension helps maintain proper intonation and string stability, ensuring clear and defined notes even when playing in lower tunings.
- Bright, crisp, snappy tone: standard scale length guitars often produce a bright, crisp, and snappy tone. This tonal characteristic can be desirable for genres and playing styles that require clarity, note definition, and a lively sound.
- Frets with sufficient room for larger hands: standard scale length guitars typically offer frets with adequate room for larger hands. This ensures comfortable finger placement and minimizes the risk of accidental muting or buzzing, accommodating players with bigger hands.
Cons of standard scale length:
- Increased string difficulty: standard scale length guitars may require more finger strength to press down the strings compared to shorter scale guitars, which can be a drawback for some players who prefer a lighter touch or have less hand strength.
- Less warm tone: standard scale length guitars generally have a brighter and more focused tone, which may not be ideal for those who prefer a warmer and mellower sound.
- Larger and farther frets: standard scale length guitars often have larger and more spaced-out frets, which may not be an issue for most players, but could be slightly less comfortable for individuals with smaller hands or those accustomed to narrower fret spacing.
Short scale length
Pros of short scale length:
- Easier string pressing and bending: short scale length guitars feature looser strings that require less finger strength to press down and bend. This can be beneficial for players who prefer a lighter touch or those with less hand strength, as it allows for effortless fretting and more comfortable bending.
- Closer fret spacing: guitars with short scale lengths typically have frets that are closer to each other. This is advantageous for players with smaller hands or those who prefer a compact feel, as it reduces the stretch between frets, making it easier to navigate the fretboard and reach complex chord shapes and intricate melodies.
- Warm and mellow tone: short scale length guitars often produce a warm and mellow tone. The reduced string tension and shorter vibrating length contribute to a softer and more rounded sound, which can be particularly desirable for certain musical genres and playing styles.
Cons of short scale length:
- Limited brightness and articulation: short scale length guitars generally produce a softer and less articulate sound. This may not be ideal for players seeking a bright and crisp tone with clear note definition.
- Fret buzz with drop tunings: short scale length guitars are more prone to fret buzz when played in drop tunings. This can be mitigated by using strings specifically designed for drop tunings, but it may still require some adjustments in setup and playing technique.
- Limited super low action: the looser string tension of short scale length guitars may not always be conducive to super low action setups. This can affect playability and fretting accuracy, especially for players who prefer very low string heights.
- Challenging fret spacing for large hands: short scale length guitars have frets that are closer to each other, which may pose a challenge for players with larger hands. The reduced fret spacing can make it more difficult to place fingers accurately and comfortably on the fretboard, requiring some adaptation in playing technique.
Pros of multi-scale guitars:
- Improved ergonomics and reduced wrist pain: the fanned or angled fret design of multi-scale guitars can provide better ergonomics and reduce wrist pain. The varying fret angles allow for a more natural hand position and can minimize the strain on the wrist, making it easier to play for longer periods.
- Enhanced playability and sound with drop tunings: multi-scale guitars are well-suited for drop tunings as they help to eliminate loose and buzzing strings. The varying string lengths provide optimal tension across all strings, resulting in improved playability and sound quality.
- Versatile tone and string feel: the thicker strings on multi-scale guitars feel firm and produce a rich, full-bodied sound, while the lighter strings feel smooth to bend and produce a more delicate, nuanced sound. This allows for greater versatility in tone and string feel, catering to a wide range of playing styles and preferences.
- Unique and aesthetically pleasing design: multi-scale guitars have a distinctive and eye-catching appearance. The fanned or angled frets create an unusual, yet aesthetically pleasing visual effect that sets them apart from conventional guitars.
Cons of multi-scale guitars:
- Higher price: multi-scale guitars are generally more expensive than traditional guitars due to the additional design and manufacturing requirements.
- Angled frets: the angled frets of multi-scale guitars can take some time to get used to, especially if you are transitioning from a traditional guitar. The varying string lengths and fret angles may require some adjustment to your playing style.
- Adjusting picking hand position: the non-linear placement of saddles on multi-scale guitars means that you may need to adjust the positioning of your picking hand when palm muting different strings. While some multi-scale guitars have a more regular bridge design, this can still be a factor to consider when playing.
Does guitar scale length affect the playability?
Scale length plays a significant role in the playability of a guitar. Here are some key points to consider:
- As scale length increases, so does the string tension. Longer scale lengths result in higher string tension, while shorter scale lengths have less tension.
- If you prefer a slinky feel and enjoy bending strings effortlessly, a shorter scale length may be a suitable choice. With lower string tension, it becomes easier to bend strings to your desired pitch. Shorter scale lengths also make fretting notes and pressing the strings down easier due to the reduced tension.
- Standard scale length guitars are often favored by those who prefer a firm and snappy feel. The balanced string tension in standard scale guitars provides a responsive and dynamic playing experience.
- If you are used to with playing 25.5″ scale guitars, shorter scale guitars may initially feel unfamiliar. Likewise, transitioning from shorter scale guitars to a standard scale length might require some adjustment. It’s important to consider your comfort and adaptability when choosing a scale length.
- Some players enjoy the feel of both standard and shorter-scale guitars, appreciating the unique characteristics each offers.
Does guitar scale length affect the sound of a guitar?
Scale length does have a minor impact on the tone and sound of a guitar, but it’s not a game-changer.
When it comes to acoustic guitars, scale length plays a smaller role in shaping the sound compared to factors like tonewoods and pickups (for plugged-in tone).
Shorter scale length acoustic guitars may have a slightly less snappy and bright sound, but it’s not a major concern.
For electric guitars, the pickup type, model, and position have a much greater influence on the sound than the scale length itself.
In what other ways does guitar scale length affect the guitar?
Scale length plays a role in several aspects of a guitar.
Firstly, it determines the length of the vibrating strings. A longer scale length means longer strings, and vice versa.
Secondly, scale length affects the spacing between the frets. As the scale length increases, the frets are placed farther apart.
In terms of tone, shorter scale length guitars tend to have a slightly less bright and snappy sound compared to longer scale length guitars.
Playability is also influenced by scale length. Shorter scale guitars can be more comfortable for players with small hands, thanks to their lower string tension and shorter fret spacing.
When it comes to different tunings, scale length matters. Short scale guitars with already low string tension may experience buzzing and muddled sound when tuned to drop d or c tunings due to the loose strings.
Lastly, the combination of shorter scale length and super low action can sometimes result in fret buzz. The lower string tension in shorter scale guitars makes them more susceptible to buzzing when the action is set very low.
What gauge strings are best for different scale lengths?
There are no strict rules for choosing string gauge or type for different guitar scale lengths, as each combination has its own pros and cons.
Lower string gauge (009-042) with shorter scale guitar:
- Strings feel really loose.
- Easier to achieve lower action without fret buzz.
- Light strings are extremely easy to fret.
- Tricky to use drop tunings without buzz.
Lower string gauge (009-042) with standard scale guitar:
- Strings feel looser than with thick strings.
- Less tension in the strings.
Higher string gauge (011-050) with shorter scales:
- Strings have a firmer feel.
- Enables smoother use of drop tunings.
- Harder to achieve super low action.
Higher string gauge (011-050) with standard scale guitar:
- Smooth use of drop tunings.
- Strings can feel quite tense and hard to press down if you’re used to playing short-scale guitars.
Measuring the scale length of a guitar gives you the power to choose the right strings, tweak your setup, and ensure your instrument matches your style. It doesn’t matter if you’re a guitar guru or a newbie, understanding scale length opens up a world of possibilities.
So, get your measuring tape ready and dive into the thrilling quest of discovering your perfect scale length. Let the musical adventure unfold, and enjoy the journey!
Can you use the same measurement technique for both acoustic and electric guitars when measuring scale length?
The process of measuring scale length is essentially the same for both types of guitars. However, it’s important to note that there may be slight variations in scale length between individual models and brands.
So, while the technique may be the same, it’s always best to double-check the manufacturer’s specifications before making any final measurements.
How does the number of frets on a guitar affect the scale length?
The number of frets doesn’t necessarily affect this measurement, as it mainly determines the range of notes that can be played on each string.
However, guitars with more frets will typically have a longer overall length due to their extended fingerboard.
Are there any notable guitar models that deviate from the standard scale length?
The fender jaguar has a 24-inch scale length instead of the typical 25.5 inches found in most fender models. This shorter distance between the nut and bridge creates a more compact and twangy sound that suits alternative rock or surf music styles.
On the other hand, gibson’s iconic les paul model comes with either a 24.75 or 25-inch scale length depending on the year of production. This difference may seem small, but it can affect how tight or loose the strings feel when playing chords or soloing.
Other guitar makers like prs, ibanez, or schecter also offer variations in scale length to cater to different players’ preferences and needs.
Whether you’re looking for more sustain, clarity, or ease of playability, exploring non-standard scale lengths could open up new sonic possibilities for your music-making journey.
Is it possible to modify a guitar’s scale length, and if so, what are the potential risks and benefits?
It’s possible to modify the scale length, but it requires significant modifications to the neck and fretboard.
There are potential benefits, such as changing the playing feel or intonation of the instrument, but there are also risks involved.
A modified guitar may not hold its value as well as an unmodified one, and poorly executed modifications can damage or even ruin the instrument entirely.
If you’re thinking about making this kind of modification, it’s important to work with a skilled luthier who can guide you through the process. They can ensure that you end up with an instrument that meets your needs without sacrificing quality or playability.