Scale length (string instruments)

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For the musical (rather than instrumental) scale, see Pythagorean tuning.

The scale length or scale 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's 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 mass of the string (related to its thickness as well as other aspects of its construction: density of the metal/alloy etc.), 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[edit]

Violin family[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Unlike Stradivarius, Torres had no strong tradition on which to build regarding scale length, so the 25.6 in figure can be attributed to him with confidence.[citation needed]

Steel-string acoustic guitar[edit]

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[edit]

The scale length of an electric guitar affects both its playability and its tone. Regarding playability, a shorter scale length allows more compact fingering and favors shorter fingers and hand-span. A longer scale allows more expanded finger and favors longer fingers and hand-span. With regard to tone, a longer scale (e.g. Fender Telecasters with 25.5-inch (650 mm) scale length) favors "brightness" or cleaner overtones and more separated harmonics versus a shorter scale (e.g., Gibson Les Paul with 24.75-inch (629 mm) scale length), 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 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 24.75 in (628 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 5/8" or 24 9/16" depending on the production equipment used.[1] As Gibson necks are not often interchangeable, this usually goes unnoticed in practice.


Single Scale[edit]


  • 24.5 in (622 mm) to 27 in (686 mm)
    • Agile All models ending in 2427. First number is string count. So 62427, 72427 .. 102427.
  • 24.72 in (628 mm) to 26.5 in (673.2 mm)
    • Partridge Guitars Multiscale
  • 25.5 in (648 mm) to 27 in (686 mm)
    • Agile All models ending in 2527. First number is string count. So 62527, 72527 .. 102527.
  • 25.5 in (648 mm) to 28 in (711 mm)
    • RAN Guitars FF8 model
  • 27 in (686 mm) to 28.625 in (727 mm)
    • Agile All models ending in 2728. First number is string count. So 62728, 72728 .. 102728.
  • 27 in (686 mm) to 30 in (762 mm)
    • Agile All models ending in 2730. First number is string count. So 62730, 72730 .. 102730.

Acoustic bass[edit]

Electric bass[edit]


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.

Quite an uncommon scale construction using the Novax Fanned-Fret system that "fan outward" for the ability to play in tune with the unequal scale lengths of each string that is used to find the optimal equal tonal response and equal string tension from string-to-string for easier playing is represented by Dingwall Basses, who uses a 37" to 34" span on their Prima, Z1, Z2, and Afterburner original designs and a shorter 34.25" to 32" span for their "Super J" Jazz Bass design.


Single Scale[edit]


  • 33 in (838 mm) to 34 in (863 mm)

Helios R-Evolution 7 strings bass Heliosguitars

  • 34 in (863 mm) to 35 in (889 mm)

Helios ANTARES 6 strings bass Heliosguitars

  • 32 in (813 mm) to 34.25 in (870 mm)
  • 32 in (813 mm) to 35 in (889 mm)
    • Brice Defiant, 53235 models
    • Dingwall Super J 5 string
  • 34 in (864 mm) to 36.25 in (921 mm)
  • 34 in (864 mm) to 37 in (940 mm)
    • Dingwall Most 5 string basses
    • Brice (Agile) Defiant, 53437 models
  • 33.25 in (845 mm) to 37 in (940 mm)
  • 42.3–43.3 in (1074.42–1100 mm) full-scale double bass (for comparison; see above about fractional sizes of bowed instruments).

Other chordophones[edit]

  • Mandola: 20.2 in (51 cm)
  • Mandolin: 14.1 in (36 cm)
    • Piccolo mandolin 9.5 in (24 cm)
    • Mandocello 27 in (686 mm)
    • Octave mandolin: 22.75 in (58 cm)
  • Ukulele:
    • Soprano ukulele: 13.6 in (35 cm)
    • Concert ukulele: 14.75 in (37 cm)
    • Tenor ukulele: 17 in (43 cm)
    • Baritone ukulele: 20.1 in (51 cm)
    • Kala U-Bass: 21" in
  • Charango:
    • Standard charango: 14.5 in (37 cm)
    • Ronroco: 18.5 in (47 cm)
  • Banjo: (Gibson five string standard and plectrum) 26.25 in
    • Long-neck banjo 32.25 in
    • Tenor banjo (19 fret) 22.25 in
    • Tenor banjo (17 fret "Irish tenor") 21.0 in


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[edit]

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

Smaller grand pianos vary in naming. The larger models, about 6 ft (183 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[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


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  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-09-16. Retrieved 2013-09-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)