Scale length (string instruments)

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The scale length of a string instrument is the maximum vibrating length of the strings that produce sound, and determines the range of tones that string can produce at a given tension. It is also called string length. On instruments in which strings are not "stopped" or divided in length (typically by frets, the player's fingers, or other mechanism, such as the piano) it is the actual length of string between the nut and the bridge.


String instruments produce sound through the vibration of their strings. The range of tones these strings can produce is determined by three primary factors: the linear density of the string, that is its mass per unit length (which is determined by its thickness and the density of the material), the tension placed upon it, and the instrument's scale length.

Generally, a string instrument has all strings approximately the same length, so the scale length can be expressed as a single measurement, e.g., the violin and most guitars.

Bowed strings

Violin family

The two most famous violin makers, Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1698–1744), both used an open string length of 12.8 inches (330 mm) for their violins, which had already been established a generation before by Jacob Stainer (c. 1617–1683). Later makers have been unwilling to deviate from this.

Smaller scale instruments are used extensively to teach younger players. The size of these is described by a "conventional" fraction that has no mathematical significance. For example, a 7/8 violin has a scale of about 317 mm, a 3/4-size instrument a scale of 307 mm, a half-size one 287 mm, and a quarter-size one 267 mm. 1/8, 1/10, 1/16 and 1/32 and even 1/64 violins also exist, becoming progressively smaller, but again in no proportional relationship. (A full-size instrument is described as 4/4.)

Cellos exist in a smaller range of sizes than violins, with 4/4, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/10 being reasonably common. As with the violin, the Stradivarius scale is regarded as standard for orchestral work; This is about 27.4 inches (700 mm).

Violas are commonly described in terms of their body length rather than—as with other violin-family instruments—by a fraction. There are two reasons for this. First, unlike that of the violin and the cello, the viola scale length has not standardised, but rather advanced players use whatever scale length best suits them. Secondly, student sizes are not as often required, as most viola players who start learning at a young age start on the violin. Common sizes include 17 inches (430 mm), 16+12 inches (420 mm), 16 inches (410 mm), 15+12 inches (390 mm), 15 inches (380 mm), 14 inches (360 mm), and less commonly 12 inches (300 mm), smaller than a standard violin; These measurements are nominal and approximate. At least one of the surviving Stradivarius violas has a scale length of 14+14 inches (360 mm).

Double bass

There is some variation in the scale length of an orchestral double bass, generally in the range 41.3–43.3 inches (1,050–1,100 mm). There are also smaller versions of this "full scale" double bass with the same scale length but with a smaller sound box, intended for other musical idioms. Smaller scale instruments are also quite commonly used by full-sized players in jazz, folk music and similar ensembles.

The system of conventional fractions is taken to its logical conclusion with string bass sizes, in that a full-size (4/4) bass is uncommon. Most basses are 3/4 or 7/8, and younger players can use 1/2 or even 1/4 size instruments.


Classical guitar

Like that of the violin, the scale of the classical guitar was standardized by the work of its most famous maker. Antonio De Torres (1817–1892) used a scale length of 25.6 inches (650 mm), and later makers have followed suit. However, from the mid- 20th Century luthiers seeking increased volume have moved to a 26 inches (660 mm) scale, which is now the standard for such leading makers as Ramirez.

Steel-string acoustic guitar

The steel-string acoustic guitar typically has a scale slightly shorter than the classical instrument, the most common scales ranging between short scale (24 inches (610 mm)) and long scale (25.5 inches (650 mm)). Small travel guitars and guitars specifically designed for children can have even shorter scales. For example, a 3/4 size steel string guitar might have a scale length of 23 inches (580 mm).

Electric guitar

Electric guitars reflect the range of scale lengths found with steel-string acoustics. With regard to tone, a longer scale favors "brightness" or cleaner overtones and more separated harmonics versus a shorter scales, which favors "warmth" or more muddy overtones. According to Dave Hunter's Tone Manual (2011), each scale length has its characteristic sound and tone, which is individual from other sounds in the tone chain: strings, pickups, pedals, amplifiers, speakers, and cabinets.

Most Fender electric guitars, including the Stratocaster, Telecaster, Esquire, and Jazzmaster use a scale length of 25.5 inches (650 mm). A few Fender models such as the Jaguar and Mustang use a scale length of 24 inches (610 mm). Fender has also built some 3/4-size student guitars with a scale length of 22.5 inches (570 mm) or shorter.

Gibson uses a scale length of 24+34 inches (630 mm) on many of its electric guitars, including the Les Paul, Flying V, Explorer, SG, and ES-335. Gibson has used other scale lengths on various models through the years. Gibson's nominal "24.75" in scale length has itself varied, sometimes measuring 24+58 or 24+916 inches (625 or 624 mm) depending on the production equipment used. [1] As Gibson necks are not often interchangeable, this usually goes unnoticed in practice.

Bass guitar

The first electric basses were upright electric basses built in the 1930s by fitting an otherwise normal double bass with electric pickups, and so had a scale length of about 43" (109 cm).

In 1951 the Fender Precision Bass shortened this to 34" (86 cm). This is still often regarded as the standard length for a bass guitar. On a modern bass guitar, 30" (76 cm) or less is considered short scale, standard (also called long) scale is 34" (86 cm) for a 4-string and 35" (89 cm) for a B-E-A-D-G 5-string, and extra-long scale basses of 36" (91 cm) also exist.

Other chordophones

Mandolin family




The scale length of a piano is the length of the longest string. As this is normally the lowest bass note, it is a single string.

Grand piano

Concert grand pianos range in scale from about 7 feet 6 inches to 9 feet 0 inches (229 to 274 cm) or occasionally more. Notable concert grands include:

Smaller grand pianos vary in naming. The larger models, about 6 feet (180 cm) or more in scale length, may have the full grand piano action, and are used in smaller concert spaces. Others are intended for larger homes, and may have a simplified action lacking the repeat lever that is only useful for advanced players.

Baby grand pianos are the smallest, intended for homes, restaurants and similar applications where the grand style of piano is desired even at the expense of the longer scale and better sound that an upright format would permit in the available space.

See also

Further reading


  2. "U-Bass Information Page". Road Toad Music. Retrieved 21 April 2021. The original Mahogany U-Bass was based on the Road Toad Big Bufo Bass.
  3. Liebman, Jon (January 7, 2015). "The Story Behind the Kala U-BASS". For Bass Players Only. Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved 21 April 2021.

Related Research Articles

The bass guitar, electric bass or simply bass, is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family. It is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric or an acoustic guitar, but with a longer neck and scale length, and typically four to six strings or courses. Since the mid-1950s, the bass guitar has largely replaced the double bass in popular music.

Electric guitar Electrical string instrument

An electric guitar is a guitar that requires external amplification in order to be heard at typical performance volumes, unlike a standard acoustic guitar. It uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound is sometimes shaped or electronically altered to achieve different timbres or tonal qualities from that of an acoustic guitar. Often, this is done through the use of effects such as reverb, distortion and "overdrive"; the latter is considered to be a key element of electric blues guitar music and rock guitar playing.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing selected strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.

Mandolin Musical instrument in the lute family

A mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is generally plucked with a plectrum. It most commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison, thus giving a total of 8 strings, although five and six course versions also exist. The courses are typically tuned in an interval of perfect fifths, with the same tuning as a violin. Also, like the violin, it is the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.

String instrument Class of musical instruments with vibrating strings

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

C. F. Martin & Company American guitar manufacturer established in 1833

C.F. Martin & Company is an American guitar manufacturer established in 1833, by Christian Frederick Martin. It is highly respected for its acoustic guitars and is a leading manufacturer of flat top guitars. The company has also made mandolins and as well as several models of electric guitars and electric basses, although none of these other instruments are currently in production.

The fingerboard is an important component of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge. To play the instrument, a musician presses strings down to the fingerboard to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch. This is called stopping the strings. Depending on the instrument and the style of music, the musician may pluck, strum or bow one or more strings with the hand that is not fretting the notes. On some instruments, notes can be sounded by the fretting hand alone, such as with hammer ons, an electric guitar technique.

Appalachian dulcimer fretted string instrument

The Appalachian dulcimer is a fretted string instrument of the zither family, typically with three or four strings, originally played in the Appalachian region of the United States. The body extends the length of the fingerboard, and its fretting is generally diatonic.

Archtop guitar Type of steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar

An archtop guitar is a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semiacoustic guitar with a full body and a distinctive arched top, whose sound is particularly popular with jazz, blues, and rockabilly players.

Jazz bass

Jazz bass is the use of the double bass or bass guitar to improvise accompaniment ("comping") basslines and solos in a jazz or jazz fusion style. Players began using the double bass in jazz in the 1890s to supply the low-pitched walking basslines that outlined the chord progressions of the songs. From the 1920s and 1930s Swing and big band era, through 1940s Bebop and 1950s Hard Bop, to the 1960s-era "free jazz" movement, the resonant, woody sound of the double bass anchored everything from small jazz combos to large jazz big bands.

Baritone guitar

The baritone guitar is a guitar with a longer scale length, typically a larger body, and heavier internal bracing, so it can be tuned to a lower pitch. Gretsch, Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, ESP Guitars, PRS Guitars, Music Man, Danelectro, Schecter, Jerry Jones Guitars, Burns London and many other companies have produced electric baritone guitars since the 1960s, although always in small numbers due to low popularity. Tacoma, Santa Cruz, Taylor, Martin, Alvarez Guitars and others have made acoustic baritone guitars.

String (music) Sound producing musical instrument component

A string is the vibrating element that produces sound in string instruments such as the guitar, harp, piano, and members of the violin family. Strings are lengths of a flexible material that a musical instrument holds under tension so that they can vibrate freely, but controllably. Strings may be "plain", consisting only of a single material, like steel, nylon, or gut, or wound, having a "core" of one material and an overwinding of another. This is to make the string vibrate at the desired pitch, while maintaining a low profile and sufficient flexibility for playability.

Tenor guitar Four-stringed guitar

The tenor guitar or four-string guitar is a slightly smaller, four-string relative of the steel-string acoustic guitar or electric guitar. The instrument was initially developed in its acoustic form by Gibson and C.F. Martin so that players of the four-string tenor banjo could double on guitar.


The mandolin-banjo is a hybrid instrument, combining a banjo body with the neck and tuning of a mandolin or violin. It is a soprano banjo. It has been independently invented in more than one country, being called banjolin and banjourine in English-speaking countries, banjoline and bandoline in France, and the Cümbüş in Turkey.

Headstock Part of the guitar which houses the pegs

A headstock or peghead is part of a guitar or similar stringed instrument such as a lute, mandolin, banjo, ukulele and others of the lute lineage. The main function of a headstock is to house the pegs or mechanism that holds the strings at the "head" of the instrument. At the "tail" of the instrument the strings are usually held by a tailpiece or bridge. Machine heads on the headstock are commonly used to tune the instrument by adjusting the tension of strings and, consequentially, the pitch of sound they produce.

A solid-body musical instrument is a string instrument such as a guitar, bass or violin built without its normal sound box and relying on an electromagnetic pickup system to directly detect the vibrations of the strings; these instruments are usually plugged into an instrument amplifier and loudspeaker to be heard. Solid-body instruments are preferred in situations where acoustic feedback may otherwise be a problem and are inherently both less expensive to build and more rugged than acoustic electric instruments.

Reentrant tuning

On a stringed instrument, a break in an otherwise ascending order of string pitches is known as a re-entry. A re-entrant tuning, therefore, is a tuning where the strings are not all ordered from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch.

String resonance occurs on string instruments. Strings or parts of strings may resonate at their fundamental or overtone frequencies when other strings are sounded. For example, an A string at 440 Hz will cause an E string at 330 Hz to resonate, because they share an overtone of 1320 Hz.

Bass guitar tuning

Each bass guitar tuning assigns pitches to the strings of an electric bass. Because pitches are associated with notes, bass-guitar tunings assign open notes to open strings. There are several techniques for accurately tuning the strings of an electric bass. Bass method or lesson books or videos introduce one or more tuning techniques, such as:

3rd bridge

The 3rd bridge is an extended playing technique used on the electric guitar and other string instruments that allows a musician to produce distinctive timbres and overtones that are unavailable on a conventional string instrument with two bridges. The timbre created with this technique is close to that of gamelan instruments like the bonang and similar Indonesian types of pitched gongs.

A third bridge can be devised by inserting a rigid preparation object between the strings and the body or neck of the instrument, effectively diving the string into distinct vibrating segments.