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Thread: What role does scale length play in guitars?

  1. #1
    Senior Member ExpatGirl's Avatar
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    What role does scale length play in guitars?

    Hi guys,
    A quick glance at the PRS price list shows that instruments are available in a bewildering variety of scale lengths. What role does this play in a guitar? Does it affect tone & playability & if so, how? Thanks!

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by ExpatGirl View Post
    Hi guys,
    A quick glance at the PRS price list shows that instruments are available in a bewildering variety of scale lengths. What role does this play in a guitar? Does it affect tone & playability & if so, how? Thanks!
    SHORT SCALE= easy to bend strings= less twang= LES PAUL= dark tone LONG SCALE= hard to bend strings= more twang= fender strat= bright tone
    Last edited by bluefade; 09-03-2012 at 08:32 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Rango's Avatar
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    Cool

    You could write a book on this.... Start here:
    http://www.stewmac.com/freeinfo/Fret...alelength.html

    ======================================
    HOW SCALE LENGTH AFFECTS TONE

    Fender
    One of the most common scale lengths is the Fender 25-1/2" guitar scale. Found on Stratocasters®, Telecasters®, and the huge variety of instruments inspired by them as well as the replacement, and custom parts available for them.

    The 25-1/2" produces a rich, strong, bell-like tone, and defined low-end.

    Gibson
    The Gibson 24-3/4" scale is also very common, but it is also the most confusing of all scale lengths—this is because it rarely ever measures out to be 24-3/4 inches! This scale has gradually changed over the past fifty or so years due to changes in production equipment.

    Being shorter than the Fender 25-1/2" scale, the Gibson 24-3/4" scale has a lower tension/easier to play feel, and a warmer tone.

    PRS, Dobro, & National
    When luthier Paul Reed Smith was developing his now highly desirable guitars, he was looking to capture the harmonic richness of the Fender electric's tone as well as the fullness, warmth, and playability of the Gibson electric guitars. PRS opted for a scale length of 25", which is also found on Dobro and National guitars.

    =====================

    What's this all mean to you? Not much, just get one and START PLAYING... Over time you may develop a preference, but many of us will just play what ever we have at hand!

  4. #4
    Senior Member ExpatGirl's Avatar
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    So, with the Strat-like PRSs, we've got the following scale lengths;
    The Swamp Ash Special Narrowfield at 25 inches.
    The DC3 and NF3 at 25.25 inches.
    The 305 at 25.5 inches.

    I have a SE Custom 24 and SE Custom Semi-Hollow both have a scale length of 25 inches and I love the way they feel. However, I would love to get a guitar that's kind of Strat-esque in terms of tone. It seems like the DC3 would be a really good compromise, as it splits the difference. Or the SAS NF could work too. I've got some test playing to do.

  5. #5
    Bridge constructor MykeWright's Avatar
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    Also the 513 is 25.25 inches.

    Bear in mind that the 305 and 513 are set neck guitars, whilst the SAS, DC3 and NF3 are all bolt-on neck. Whilst this won't make as much difference as scale length or pickups it it a factor in the respective classic tones.

    In balance the DC3 is probably the most Strat like with the 305 coming a close second - but neither are EXACTLY like a Strat (which as we all know can vary enormously between different genuine Strats).
    2Tek'd to the MAX

  6. #6
    PRS Addiction CoreyT's Avatar
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    Expat, thank you for this thread.
    I knew my Gibson SG and the SE Santana are 24.75" scales with 22 frets, but I did not realize the SE Semi-Hollow I picked up for my son this past weekend was a 25" scale, as it only has 22 frets also.
    I had to look at the specs again for the Semi-Hollow, and sure enough it is 25".

    This might explain why I did not play my SG or Santana at all this holiday weekend.
    I could not put his guitar down, it got a workout, and I did not have to even tune it once except for when I first brought it home Saturday.

    I am looking forward to seeing how my SE Custom 24 like you have plays when it comes in.
    I hope it has the same neck profile as the Semi-Hollow, as it was so easy to play.

    I did not have any difficultly bending strings on it like I read in one of the articles above.
    Seemed just as easy as my SG and Santana.

  7. #7
    Scale length impacts string tension
    - The longer the scale, the tighter the strings need to be (relatively speaking) to achieve standard tuning with A440.
    - The shorter the scale, the looser the strings need to be to achieve standard tuning with A440.
    - Another way to think about it... when you fret a note, you haven't changed the tension; you only shorten the scale and the note goes up.
    - Have a tendancy to "grip" chords out of tune? Try a longer scale guitar - or change **heavier strings.
    - Have a hard time bending strings far enough? Try a shorter scale guitar - or change to **lighter strings.

    **String size impacts string tension too
    - Heavier strings require more tension to achieve standard tuning (relatively speaking) in A440.
    - String size (and metal composition) impacts tone and feel.
    - Have some buzz in your frets but your action and truss rod are set properly? Try increasing your string tension with heavier strings.

    A note for those who may be new to guitars
    -
    Experiment as much as possible (hopefully with a good dealer who has a wide selection) before you try and figure out your optimal combination with a cheque-book. Try playing the guitar(s) acoustically first. Once you find the scale length and string tension that "feels" right, add the amp to the equation. Choosing the right pickups, knob positions, and amp is a whole new animal.
    One Life

  8. #8
    One thing about string tension is the effect of a trem.

    My 25" scale Artist V (with trem), is set up pretty much the same as my 24.5" scale SC58. Both guitars are strung with .010s and have nearly identical action. However the Artist V is easier to bend on than the SC58, and in general feels "softer" to play. This was also true in comparison with the Stripped 58 I formerly had.

    A trem gives the strings a little wiggle room.

    And of course, things like the break angle over the bridge, and other factors also contribute.

  9. #9
    Senior Member ExpatGirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CoreyT View Post
    Expat, thank you for this thread.

    I am looking forward to seeing how my SE Custom 24 like you have plays when it comes in.
    I hope it has the same neck profile as the Semi-Hollow, as it was so easy to play.
    The SE Custom 24 has a wide thin neck, where the SE Custom Semi-Hollow has a wide fat neck. Both are easy to play but there are differences. The guys at the shop described the wide thin neck as "fast". It alse seems to be easier to bend the strings on the wide thin neck.

  10. #10
    Senior Member ExpatGirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ]-[ @ n $ 0 |v| a T ! © View Post
    Scale length impacts string tension
    - The longer the scale, the tighter the strings need to be (relatively speaking) to achieve standard tuning with A440.
    - The shorter the scale, the looser the strings need to be to achieve standard tuning with A440.
    - Another way to think about it... when you fret a note, you haven't changed the tension; you only shorten the scale and the note goes up.
    - Have a tendancy to "grip" chords out of tune? Try a longer scale guitar - or change **heavier strings.
    - Have a hard time bending strings far enough? Try a shorter scale guitar - or change to **lighter strings.

    **String size impacts string tension too
    - Heavier strings require more tension to achieve standard tuning (relatively speaking) in A440.
    - String size (and metal composition) impacts tone and feel.
    - Have some buzz in your frets but your action and truss rod are set properly? Try increasing your string tension with heavier strings.

    A note for those who may be new to guitars
    -
    Experiment as much as possible (hopefully with a good dealer who has a wide selection) before you try and figure out your optimal combination with a cheque-book. Try playing the guitar(s) acoustically first. Once you find the scale length and string tension that "feels" right, add the amp to the equation. Choosing the right pickups, knob positions, and amp is a whole new animal.
    Thanks very much for this!

    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    One thing about string tension is the effect of a trem.

    My 25" scale Artist V (with trem), is set up pretty much the same as my 24.5" scale SC58. Both guitars are strung with .010s and have nearly identical action. However the Artist V is easier to bend on than the SC58, and in general feels "softer" to play. This was also true in comparison with the Stripped 58 I formerly had.

    A trem gives the strings a little wiggle room.

    And of course, things like the break angle over the bridge, and other factors also contribute.
    Okay, first of all, you have my sincerest jealousy for owning an Artist V. Which finish did you get? I have the tremelo on my SE Custom 24 set up so it's all the way back. I tend to rest my hand on the bridge when I play and I found I prefer the trem set up that way. Do you reckon that might have an impact?

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by ExpatGirl View Post
    Thanks very much for this!
    You are most welcome. I'm happy to help.
    One Life

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by ExpatGirl View Post
    Okay, first of all, you have my sincerest jealousy for owning an Artist V. Which finish did you get? I have the tremelo on my SE Custom 24 set up so it's all the way back. I tend to rest my hand on the bridge when I play and I found I prefer the trem set up that way. Do you reckon that might have an impact?
    I think you might be better off having the trem set so it's parallel to the body of the guitar, the way they do at the factory. The break angle will be right, and if you find you're moving the trem too much, you might simply want to think about something like a Tremel-No, that lets you decide when to let the trem move.

    As for the Artist V...I love it. Phenomenal to play and sounds wonderful. Here's my black gold one:


  13. #13
    Love Boat Captain butterfly's Avatar
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    In addition to the above, scale length for some--including me--is a big factor in the guitar's feel. I grew up on the Gibson short scale, and to this day, Fenders feel too long. PRS feels fine, but of course I am more comfortable with the 24.5 PRSi. I really want a Stripped 58, which may be (i have to play one first, maybe XPRS 2012) my dream PRS.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by butterfly View Post
    In addition to the above, scale length for some--including me--is a big factor in the guitar's feel. I grew up on the Gibson short scale, and to this day, Fenders feel too long. PRS feels fine, but of course I am more comfortable with the 24.5 PRSi. I really want a Stripped 58, which may be (i have to play one first, maybe XPRS 2012) my dream PRS.
    I should've kept mine. Loved it. I have an SC58 now, but if I had to choose between them, it'd be a tough choice. One of the three or four best guitars I've owned since 1966.

  15. #15
    Junior Member In2Blues's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    I think you might be better off having the trem set so it's parallel to the body of the guitar, the way they do at the factory. The break angle will be right, and if you find you're moving the trem too much, you might simply want to think about something like a Tremel-No, that lets you decide when to let the trem move.

    As for the Artist V...I love it. Phenomenal to play and sounds wonderful. Here's my black gold one:
    Man, those black gold's are beautiful esp as they don't have the binding they just flow...

  16. #16
    Love Boat Captain butterfly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    I should've kept mine. Loved it. I have an SC58 now, but if I had to choose between them, it'd be a tough choice. One of the three or four best guitars I've owned since 1966.
    I know..I mean I could tell from your previous posts. Like you really want to love the SC58, but you have to work for it. The S58 had you at hello I gather. Like my 01 Platinum SC AR guitar, which is (save for the scale lol) my dream guitar tone and feel wise. I wouldn't have picked Plat, but when it feels and sounds so good, who cares what color it is.

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