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Adventures with strings on a short scale bass guitar

When you watch the above video (which is here if you can't play the above for whatever reason), you'll say to yourself, "Hey, that's sounds pretty good!"

Yeah, it sounds good now. But to get it sounding good wasn't easy. Actually, that's not true. It was easy once what made it sound bad was figured out.

If you want a bass that always sounds right, use the Fender standard scale length

A Fender standard scale length for an electric bass guitar is 34 inches (864 millimeters).

Compared to the 6-string guitar world which has a few standard scale lengths, in the electric bass world, the Fender standard scale is the only one that matters. Why? Because it's the only one where pretty much any string sounds correct on it.

Overtone issues with short scale electric bass

The most famous short scale bass is a Hofner 500/1, a.k.a. the "Beatle Bass." And yes, there are less expensive models such as the Hofner Violin Bass in Ignition Sunburst.

Anyway, the point is that the 500/1 has a 30-inch scale length, and that very specific length is what defines a short scale electric bass guitar.

Any electric bass billed as a short scale, such as the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass SS I own, will have that 30-inch scale length.

The #1 problem with a short scale electric bass is that they have overtone issues, and unless you know what causes the overtones, it will drive you frickin' nuts.

"What overtones are you talking about?"

The specific overtone I'm talking about is when you fret a single note, and it sounds like two notes are being played at the same time, with one being slightly off key.

No matter what you do to that bass for adjustment, that overtone absolutely will not go away. You can adjust the string saddle height, change the nut, change the electronics, change the pickups, change the tuning keys, etc. Doesn't matter. That overtone will still be there.

There is a cure for it, however. And it's the last thing you would think about.

Properly balanced strings cures everything

The tension of the vast majority of bass guitar string sets is designed for the Fender standard 34-inch scale.

Unfortunately, what a lot of string makers do is that for short scale sets, they simply take a standard long scale set, shorten it, sell as a short scale set and call it a day...

...and that's where the overtone problem comes from.

What happens is that when you string up a short scale set that was originally meant for long scale, the balance goes completely out, resulting in overtones.

The solution to this problem is to buy a string set that is specifically balanced to a short scale bass instrument, and ta-da, the overtones go away.

Namely, this set:

La Bella 760FS-S

The La Bella 760FS-S are flatwound strings, which is my preferred bass string winding type (much easier on the fingers). The -S on the end of the model name means short scale. 760FS-M is medium (standard Fender length) and 760FS-XL is extra long scale.

And yeah, this is a set of strings that will run you $35 to $45 depending on where you get them from.

Why so expensive? Well, when you buy flatwound strings, they cost more to make, so you will spend more on them. Any decent set of flatwounds will be a minimum of $30 for a 4-string set because they are not your typical cheapo $15 roundwound set.

The La Bella set in particular is a stainless steel balanced flatwound set. That means the string will never rust, and the only time you would ever have to change them is if the string started denting. And unless you're a really hard player, it takes a very long time before that starts happening. As long as the strings are kept clean and the bass maintained properly, the 760FS-S set is easily a string that will last at least 2 to 5 years for those who play often, and 10+ years for the hobbyist player.

Tautness

There is only one problem with a balanced short scale set. Its solution to curing overtones by having greater balanced tension makes the instrument feel decidedly different when playing it because of the tautness of the string.

A properly balanced flatwound short scale string set feels tight because it's supposed to. If you want the string to be more bendy without feeling floppy, La Bella makes those too, but not in a short scale set as far as I can tell.

Ultimately, the La Bella short set, while tight-feeling, is the best option available for a short scale electric bass guitar.

Next time around, I'm going with standard Fender scale

Had I known you needed properly balanced strings on a short scale bass, I never would have bought one.

The next time I buy a bass, it's going to be a 34-inch scale. Probably a Squier or maybe a Fender bass if I can find a good used one that's in good shape, not wrecked and priced right.

A 34-inch scale bass gives me way more string choice and I should never have to worry about balance/tension issues. Or at least not worry about them too much.

Some say the Fender Precision Bass and Fender Jazz Bass are overrated. Trust me, they're not. When you want a bass that's the most hassle-free you can buy that works the way it's supposed to, you get one in Fender or Squier flavor, plug in, play and it will sound correct the first time. As long as the thing plays comfortably and sounds proper, that's all anyone wants out of a bass.

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