Scale length - does it really affect sound?

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stumax
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Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by stumax » Fri Feb 08, 2013 6:12 pm

Hi guys, I have been born with possibly the worst affliction known to guitarists: short fingers. Thankfully they're not fat or I'd be in real trouble, but I look at players like Steve Vai and Joe Robinson in particular, and they have been blessed with super long fingers. Now I know these guys have bucket loads of talent, but I also wonder just how much easier it is for them to play super tricky stuff given they can reach it so much easier than us shorties.

Most guitars have a scale length between 24.75 and 25.25 inches. I have an Eastman AC222 which is at the longer side of things, and a 1952 Gibson (not sure what it is, a small bodied acoustic, tobacco sunburst) which has a scale length of about 24.75", I think. I don't notice much difference in playability with such a small difference in scale length, and no real difference in sound regarding frequency response - both have booming bottom end and nice crisp top end.

What I'm wondering is: if my hands are say 90% the size of these guys, how would a guitar sound which is scaled down 90% in every sense, ie imagine I took my AC222 and put it in a scaling down machine, strings and all, giving a scale length of 22.73". Perhaps the string spacing and neck width would need to be scaled down less, but then I have slim fingers, too, probably 90% the thickness of those guy's fingers, so 90% in all direction just may work. I'm not talking about a short scale length guitar, but something which has been designed from the outset to be say 90% of a full size guitar, with thinner top, back & sides, smaller cross section bracing, smaller bridge plate etc. Has anyone ever done something like this? I'm thinking the size change isn't so big that it would change to sound too much, perhaps lose some volume. I'm thinking of building one to find out, but it would be good to hear from someone who may have tried it.

Stu.

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Allen
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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by Allen » Fri Feb 08, 2013 6:35 pm

Well, first off welcome to the forum Stu.

I absolutely am in love with small body guitars and ukuleles. I actually shudder to think that someone might ask me to build a dread some day.

You might like to consider a style 5 guitar. It's got a short scale at 20 3/4 if memory serves correct. And they are just the most amazing sounding instrument in Terz or Nashville tuning. And people that hear them for the first time are blown away and the volume and richness of tone from such a small instrument.

For standard guitar tuning you might like to consider using the same body size or go with an 0 or 00. You could easily adjust the scale length to suit and then a careful choice in strings will get you in the right spot.
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Trevor Gore
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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by Trevor Gore » Fri Feb 08, 2013 6:42 pm

Welcome Stu.

Have you tried, say, a 00 or 0 sized guitar with a capo at 2? That would give you an idea for the feel of a smaller guitar. The "nut" width would be larger than you'd like, though. Next step would be to try said 00 or 0 with heavy strings and capo at 2, tuned down a whole tone and that would give you an even better feel for the thing before you get your chisels out.

I've made plenty of 00 sized guitars but with standard scale lengths. If anything, they are louder than larger guitars, so no need to worry about volume. If you go short scale you might have to play with string gauges a bit to get the right feel, string tension and power, especially if you're a finger picker.

Or just get a ukulele. :mrgreen:

Ha, seems like Allen got in before me...

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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by jeffhigh » Fri Feb 08, 2013 6:59 pm

Try using a capo on your existing guitars on the 1st or second fret and retuning back down to standard to get an Idea of the sound and feel
I'm inclined to feel 22.73" might be a little short, but that is for you to decide

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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by liam_fnq » Fri Feb 08, 2013 8:15 pm

I think it's a case of a solution looking for a problem.

I've got a mate who is built like an ewok. With hands like an ewok. He plays plenty well. No like Steve Vai but I doubt that's his thing anyway.

Also, if you look through Ukulele Underground forum you'll find numerous threads where people think they need a smaller size uke because they've got small hands.

I bet there are bass players out there who think a smaller bass will be the solution to all their small hand problems.

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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by Matt Bach » Fri Feb 08, 2013 9:28 pm

Your hands are plenty big enough. :wink:


youtu.be/

Personally I find longer scale lengths easier to play and can play "better" on them because they are less cramped up. Any stretches that span more than 4 frets should probably be re-thought anyway in my books! Can't play a uke to save myself. Don't let anyone tell you not to build a guitar, but I don't buy into the small hands = small guitar = easier to play = shredlord.

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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by simso » Fri Feb 08, 2013 9:41 pm

That video was freaky
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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by P Bill » Fri Feb 08, 2013 10:15 pm

Those kids show it's all relative. Most adults with a guitar background feel they have sausage fingers if they start to play the fiddle or mandolin. Guitar bass players going to a double bass think it's too much.
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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by kiwigeo » Fri Feb 08, 2013 10:20 pm

At 1:50 the chick on the left grabs a pick blue tacked to the bridge before embarking on her lead break. Very tacky....and very bizarre.

If North Korea's ballistic missile program is as developed as the guitar playing abilities of this mob then the world doesnt have much to worry about
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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by charangohabsburg » Fri Feb 08, 2013 10:27 pm

stumax wrote:24.75 and 25.25 inches
Not a big deal soundwise, I'd say. Talking about the implied string tension difference (and its correlated sound quality) it is about the same as tuning the guitar 1/4 tone higher, respectively lower. Go figure!

I agree with you that such a small scale length difference does not make a big difference in playability either. In my opinion, neck shape (no only or not necessarily neck thickness!) makes a much greater difference on playability and which notes on a chord you still can reach +/- comfortably.
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stumax
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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by stumax » Sat Feb 09, 2013 1:37 pm

Thanks for the welcome, guys, been a lurker for a while, blown away by some of the luthiering talent in Aus. I've never biult an acoustic (lots of electrics, though) but I have some ideas for a carbon fibre/wood hybrid guitar which I'll get into later this year.

Wow, that video is freaky, I'm gonna have nightmares for weeks now. Right up there with the teethy dolls in Barbarella which destroyed me as a kid.

I did a quick experiment, worked out where to capo to get the equivalent of a 90% scale length and tried it. I should probably have used lighter strings and tuned to concert pitch but didn't bother. Results was I could manage a whole lot easier. BTW, I've been playing since I was 8, but had a break for 10 years with wife, kids & the whole catastrophe, and just began playing often enough to make a difference a few weeks ago. I chose an easy :shock: piece called Angelina by Tommy Emmanuel to get back into it with. No way I will ever get the second chord in the verse happening (bar 2nd fret, 4th finger on 6th string 4th fret, pinky on 1st string 5th fret) as easily as Tommy does, and the awkward stretch makes it hard to get the next chord happening as well. This is capoed at the 2nd fret, BTW. When I capo at the 4th fret I can play it fluently because the crazy stretch isn't there, and because I have slim fingers it doesn't get bunched up. In time I guess my finger joints will become more flexible sideways, so it will be easier, I hope.

cheers,

Stu.

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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by charangohabsburg » Sat Feb 09, 2013 2:39 pm

stumax wrote:When I capo at the 4th fret I can play it fluently because the crazy stretch isn't there, [...]
As Trevor already pointed out:
trevtheshed wrote:Or just get a ukulele. :mrgreen:
...a capo at the 4th fret of a steel string guitar makes about a baritone ukulele ;) (although with 6 strings)
Markus

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Kim
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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by Kim » Sat Feb 09, 2013 3:39 pm

simso wrote:That video was freaky
It's all a shame...If you look very carefully you can see the adult size forearms protruding from the floorboards below each little seat....yep..the NK propaganda machine is hard at work and this time its with clever little hand puppets...What will they contrive next to have us believe we are so inferior?? My guess is they'll probably stoop to using performance enhancing drugs in sporting events.. :dru

Cheers

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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by Dominic » Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:09 pm

kiwigeo wrote:At 1:50 the chick on the left grabs a pick blue tacked to the bridge before embarking on her lead break. Very tacky....and very bizarre.

If North Korea's ballistic missile program is as developed as the guitar playing abilities of this mob then the world doesnt have much to worry about
Is it the lead break that's freaky or the fact you called a 3 year old girl a chick.
You can bomb the world to pieces,
but you can't bomb the world to peace!

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kiwigeo
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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by kiwigeo » Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:47 pm

Dominic wrote:
kiwigeo wrote:At 1:50 the chick on the left grabs a pick blue tacked to the bridge before embarking on her lead break. Very tacky....and very bizarre.

If North Korea's ballistic missile program is as developed as the guitar playing abilities of this mob then the world doesnt have much to worry about
Is it the lead break that's freaky or the fact you called a 3 year old girl a chick.
Well she's woman enough to handle a full sized classical so yes..she's a chick.
Martin

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Re: Scale length - does it really affect sound?

Post by tippie53 » Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:52 am

Yes scale length will indeed influence the voice of the guitar. Capoing won't simulate that change really. The difference is that a longer scale will need more tension to tune to pitch. This allows more energy to be converted to work. It is all about Physics.

I like longer scales for lead picking and flat picken, short scale for finger pickin
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