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Short Scale vs. Standard Scale electric guitar necks

Fender Classic Player '50s Stratocaster Neck Soft V Shape - Maple Fingerboard

The scale length of a guitar refers to the measurement from the bridge saddle to the nut. No guitar company I know of makes all their guitars exclusively using one specific length, because there are times when the design of a guitar neck needs to be a certain length for either appearance, function or both.

The two most-used scale lengths are "Fender Standard" 25.5-inch (647.70mm) and "Gibson Standard" 24.75-inch (628.65mm), however that doesn't mean that all electric guitars are one or the other. Some guitar companies (including Fender and Gibson themselves) will produce super-long (like baritone guitars) or super-short (like "mini" models) scale lengths depending on what the guitar model is and what it's supposed to sound like.

Fender's 25.5-inch, commonly referred to as "twenty-five and a half", is considered the standard scale length that most guitar companies use. Whenever playing a Fender Stratocaster or Fender Telecaster, you are playing a guitar with a neck that has a 25.5-inch scale length. Does Squier follow this same scale? Yes, they do for Strats and Telecasters. An example of a totally different guitar that uses Fender Standard scale length is the modern Schecter C-1 Hellraiser, which does use a 25.5-inch scale.

Fret Spacing

If you take two guitars, each with 22-fret necks, the one with the shorter scale length will usually have the frets closer to each other.

For example, a USA Stratocaster has 22 frets and a 25.5-inch scale and a USA Les Paul also has 22 frets but with a 24.75-inch scale. Due to the scale difference, frets are spaced differently.

On a traditional Strat neck: The distance from fret 1 to 2 is 34.31mm, the distance from 2 to 3 is 32.39mm, the distance from 3 to 4 is 30.57mm and so on.

On a traditional Les Paul neck: The distance from fret 1 to 2 is 33.30mm, the distance from 2 to 3 is 31.43mm, the distance from 3 to 4 is 29.67mm and so on.

These tiny differences in length do make a difference when playing, and it is true that the spacing from fret to fret is shorter on the Paul compared to the Strat. That doesn't necessarily make it better. Just shorter.

Fret spacing is the first thing you will notice about 25.5-inch vs. 24.75-inch or shorter. If you are used to playing on guitar necks that have a 25.5-inch scale, you are going to have one of two reactions when playing a shorter scale neck:

  1. You'll love it and will be able to play chords and solo a lot easier.
  2. You'll hate it and experience minor wrist pain after playing it for a few minutes.

Also, if you're used to 24.75 and try a 25.5, the same applies. Either you'll love it or hate it.

A 24-fret neck that has a scale length under 25 inches is usually a bad idea

Some people like 24-fret necks. I personally don't. In fact, I prefer the 21-fret vintage style Fender necks (which both my Squier Bullet Strat and Squier Bullet HH have).

When you're playing on a 24-fret neck but it only has a 24.75-inch scale length, you run out of room real fast after the 20th fret because the frets are so close together. On the lower frets you usually won't have a problem, but for those solos on the higher frets, you barely have enough room to do anything up there.

Whether you have little hands or big hands, 24 frets on a 24.75-inch scale neck simply doesn't work most of the time unless you are very precise with your fingers on the frets.

I'll put it another way. If you like soloing on the high frets and keep "missing notes" constantly, look up the scale length for the guitar you have. If it's a 24.75-inch scale length or shorter, consider switching to a 25.5-inch and the missed-note problem will probably go away quickly. You will have to adjust for the wider spacing on the lower frets, but you'll get used to it. And no, I'm not saying "Play a Fender" even though I like that brand. I'm saying that if you keep missing notes on the high frets, continue to use the guitar brand you like and seek out something they offer with a 25.5-inch scale length neck on it.

When are short scale necks better?

If you're the type of player that encounters one or more of the following:

...then you want an electric guitar with a short scale neck. The closer spacing of the frets will make a world of difference.

Fender and Squier both make guitars that have short 24.0-inch scale necks, including Fender Jaguar, Squier Jaguar, Fender Mustang and Squier Mustang. The extra-short 24.0-inch scale is something you'll really like if the 25.5-inch doesn't really fit your playing style (or just makes your hands hurt).

Gibson and Epiphone use the 24.75-inch scale on almost every popular model they have. The Gibson Les Paul, SG, ES-335 and several other models all use it on standard (meaning not "mini") models. The Epiphone Les Paul, SG, Dot and several other models also use the same scale.

Keep in mind that all of the Gibsons and Epiphones are a full three-quarter-inch longer than the 24.0-inch short scale Fender/Squier guitars are, so you should try the shortest first with the Fender/Squier offerings. If that's too short for your taste, move up to the Gibson/Epiphone with the slightly longer 24.75-inch - OR - find a guitar brand that offers 24.75-inch scale necks and try those out.

You will have to play a different scale neck for at least 15 full minutes to know if you like it or not

When trying a shorter or longer scale neck guitar in the guitar store, you will not know instantly if you like it or not. This is something where you have to sit down and play for at least a good 15 minutes before you know if the guitar neck "agrees" with you or not.

My suggestion is to sit down with the guitar and purposely play it unplugged to figure this out. Don't even bother plugging into an amp at this point because you're testing how your hands react, and not how the guitar sounds.

How will you know if a shorter or longer scale is good for you?

That's an easy answer.

Do your hands hurt after playing for 15 minutes on the guitar with the different scale length?

If you encounter annoying wrist pain, then you know that scale length you tried is not for you.

If your fingers or wrist hurts "a little bit", then the guitar may be something you will become accustomed to over time - or not. You will have to decide whether it's worth the risk to continue.

If you didn't encounter any wrist pain, and you really feel you can play the guitar with the different scale length better, that's when you plug in to an amp and see if the guitar sounds right. If yes, buy it. If no, at least you know what scale length your fret hand "agrees" with better and can seek out an alternative brand.

My final bit of advice is this:

If there's a specific guitar you really, really want, but it has a neck with a scale length that your fret hand doesn't agree with, you will never get used to it. Every time you play that guitar, you will get finger and wrist pain. Don't make the mistake of getting a guitar that has a scale length you know doesn't work for you. Stick to what feels most comfortable. Your hands will thank you for it.

Published 2012 Jul 9

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