Bass guitar scale length – what you need to know

Different Scale Length Strings

Scale length for bass guitars can be a rather grey area due to the huge variation of basses and strings on the market today. As with all things strings and musical instruments, there’s often some idiosyncrasies that throw curve balls into the mix so we’re here to help clear things up and guide you as you navigate your way through the (sometimes) murky waters of scale lengths.

So what exactly is scale length?

Scale length is the distance (usually measured in inches) from the bridge saddles of your bass up to the nut. You may have heard scale length referred to as “speaking length” at some point. These two terms are NOT interchangeable and refer to two different things; here at Strings Direct we prefer to use speaking lengths and we’ll explain why a bit later on.

Not all bass scale lengths are the same so they are generally categorised into 4 main groups; short scale, medium scale, long scale, and extra-long scale.

Below we’ve listed these 4 scale lengths along with some corresponding measurements:

Short Scale – 30-32” Scale length
Medium Scale – 32-34” Scale Length
Long Scale (standard) – 34-36” Scale Length
Extra Long Scale – 36” plus

It’s worth noting that these measurements are meant as a guide only. Unfortunately, there aren’t any firm “rules” on scale length that bass and string manufacturers stick to and as a result we often end up with conflicting interpretations of scale lengths where the length of one brand’s set will be longer than another brand’s, and vice versa (this is true for all scale lengths, not just long scale so it’s definitely something you should try to be mindful of).

What do I need to know about my bass?

Here at Strings Direct, we know all too well about the issues players have when selecting the correct length of strings for their bass.

Whilst it’s important to be aware of your scale length (short, medium, long etc… ), more importantly, we encourage bassists to know how long they need their strings to be, which will be a slightly longer measurement than basic scale length, aka Speaking Length.

To find this out, rather than simply measuring from the bridge to the nut, we insist players measure their current set of strings (if your bass has a set on there) from the ball end of the string to where it crosses the nut. If you have a bass where you cannot see the ball end i.e. a thru-body bass, you will have to do this exercise once the string has been removed. If you do need to do this, before removing the string be sure to make a mark on the string with a permanent marker just behind the nut so you know where to measure up to. Knowing this measurement will always stand you in good stead for getting the right length of bass strings.

Scale length vs Speaking Length
Measure your strings from here
Measure your strings to here

Why’s that? We hear you ask

Well this distance will be the minimum length your strings need to be before any silk wrap or tapering should start. You’re aiming for the string to be long enough to pass through your bridge or body (depending on how you restring your bass) and for the wound portion of the string to then pass over the nut before the silk winding starts or the string starts to taper down.

(In an ideal world you would also need the string to start to taper or for the silk to start behind the nut but before it reaches the machine heads. Sometimes this can’t always be helped, especially on the machineheads that sit closer to the nut).

If the silk does start before or on the nut, it is a big no, no (see the image below). If this happens, the string simply won’t sound as it should, not to mention they may not even be long enough to reach or wrap around the posts of your machineheads.

Silk starting before it reaches the nut

If you were to consider the scale length only (bridge saddles to nut) you are potentially neglecting a few extra inches of string that crucially need to be accounted for. For instance, some tailpieces sit further back from the saddles than others, whilst some basses need to be strung through the back of the body. These kind of features often mean the ball end resides several inches from the saddles and consequently require longer sets.

An example of this is the Hofner Violin ‘Beatle’ Bass. This iconic bass is described as a 30” short scale bass (bridge saddles to nut). Logically, you would assume that this bass would therefore need a ‘Short Scale’ set of strings. However, because of its trapeze-style tailpiece, the strings are anchored approximately 3-4 inches further back from the saddles. As a result of this, most “short scale” sets turn out to be a too short and medium scale sets are usually the order of the day in this instance.

Under the bass string section of our website, we categorise our strings into ‘short scale sets’, ‘medium scale sets’ and so on. However, where possible, we make every effort to include the speaking length of each set from the ball end to the start of the silk winding or taper (where some strings have no silk winding). We like to quote this measurement as we believe it gives a more accurate depiction of the length of the string rather than simply being referred to as ‘Short Scale/Medium Scale/Long Scale etc.… This way our customers can take this measurement and see how it corresponds with their own bass helping make a more informed decision as to whether the string will fit or not.

Bigger is better, right!?

“If bass players run the risk of selecting a set of strings that are ‘too short’, what’s stopping me buying a longer set and just trimming them down to the length that I need?

On face value, this is a logical question, and yes this can work for some people. We have a staff member here that loves Elixir strings and trims them down to fit his short scale Fender Mustang. That being said, string manufacturers will create their sets specifically for certain scale length basses and often the gauges they select are carefully chosen to help give optimum performance and playability.

It’s also worth noting that when a set of bass strings has been created solely for a specific scale length, often the thicker gauge strings will taper at a certain point so that they can be threaded through the holes in the machineheads. This might sound crazy, but we do come across instances where some strings just won’t fit through the machineheads because they’re simply too thick.

Also if you buy a longer set of strings with silk windings and cut them down, there’s a strong chance that the silk may be lost and you will have the main portion of the string travelling around the post, as opposed to the silk winding. This is particularly significant for flatwound sets. It’s important that the silk on these sets is wound around the post as opposed to the windings themselves as they can be prone to breaking if the windings become separated and the core is exposed.

The bass string landscape can prove baffling at times, but we do hope that we have been able to explain the concept of scale length a bit more here.

As always, we’re here to answer any further questions you guys may have so feel free to send us an e-mail or comment below and we’ll be happy to help out wherever we can. Also if you have any suggestions for topics you’d like us to blog about, let us know and we’ll see what we can do. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you on the other side 🙂

*For your information; amongst some other brands D’Addario and Rotosound also use speaking lengths to categorise their bass strings. Here’s a small table showing how their lengths compare to standard ‘Scale Length’ measurements. Notice how the lengths can also vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.

 

52 Comments

  • Chris Rees

    Thanks for this article. Very helpful.

    • stringsdirect

      You’re welcome 🙂

    • Ralph Nelson

      Excellent information.

      • Does it matter how far the frets are from one to another? What I think I’m asking is, if its 1 3/16″ from F# to G on my 4th string (E) but on my 1st string (G) from A to b- it measures 1 5/16″ from fret to fret do I need to compensate for the extra ahhhhh……..”finger play”? Not sure what to call that. Other than poor carpentry. I made the guitar myself and I slanted the frets hoping that my hands won’t cramp up as easily. But I don’t know the terminology for better research and I’m just winging it as of now. I suck, yes, I know.
        Thanks,
        Antipicks

      • Sebastian Tan

        I had a epiphone viola and switched to Fender Bronco. Both are short scale bass. Now I thinking of getting a Fender Mustang. I do hv still a Yamaha 414 and a Gregg Benett 34 in.
        Between the Bronco and Mustang fenders are there any differences in sound since both are short
        Scale?

  • Geoff Walker

    Thanks for that – interesting to read.

    • stringsdirect

      Thanks Geoff

    • Stephen Lochhead

      I’ve measured from the ball end to the nut. Exactly 36 inches. Does this mean I need extra long strings?

      • Dan

        I’m learning this the hard way. Ibanez acoustic bass. PCBE12MH. LONG SCALE TOO LONG.short scale too short.. Rotosounds. So I guess I need medium!

        • stringsdirect

          Hi Dan,
          FYI the Rotosound medium scale sets measure 35.25″ from the ball end of the string to the start of the silk winding. Just in case you wanted to measure your bass before you buy this particular set 🙂
          Hope this helps. Thanks

    • DonutHeaven

      What string length would be good for my 28.6″ scale Ibanez mikro bass? As I see the shortest strings listed here are the 32″ ones
      Thanks in advance.

      • stringsdirect

        Hi there, thanks for the question. Do you know where the 28.6″ is being measured from please? Just to be sure, if you could measure the length of your Mikro bass from the ball end of the string (at the bridge) up to where it crosses the nut? If you provide us with this measurement we’ll be sure to let you know which strings will be most suited.
        Thanks
        Lee

  • Jonathan Underwood

    Very interesting article. Will keep for future reference. Thank you

    • stringsdirect

      Thanks Jonathan. If you do need any guidance with this in future, please don’t hesitate to get in touch

      • Brian Norris

        Wow, 58 years playing bass, never had a scooby about this, explains how I broke a new E on an EBO in ‘66

        • stringsdirect

          Hi Brian, thanks for the feedback and glad you got some good info from the article 🙂

  • Christopher Yrarrazaval

    Very informative, keep up the good work!

    • stringsdirect

      Thanks Christopher 🙂

  • Leon Heinimann

    Great bit of info. I have a Warwick $$ Corvette 5 string and I always struggle to get the b to fit the neck – manufactures states long scale yet on buying various long scale brands I end up trimming way to fat into the B and it hardly sits in the neck.

    Warwick black labels strings are the only definite strings that fit. . What brands do you suggest that are for tapered long scale that might work?

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Leon, thanks for the comments. How Long is the string from the ball end to the nut? If you let us know then we’ll be able to help you out.

  • John carlisle

    Hi guys
    I have an Ibanez fan fret 5 string bass and having a bit of bother trying to find a replacement set

    Cheers

    • stringsdirect

      Hey John! Sorry for the late reply.

      If I remember rightly, on this bass the top four strings are standard long scale and the low B is super long. If you could measure the bass as per the directions in the blog above, I’ll be able to tell you exactly.

      Thanks,
      Sam

    • stringsdirect

      Hi John,
      So sorry for the delay in replying to this. Did you get in touch with us any other way…di this get sorted?
      Thanks
      Lee

  • HATTER

    I have an Ibanez Gio GSR 190 4 string bass. the speaking legnth is 35 1/2 inches while the scale length is 34 inches. can you suggest an affordable set of strings? my strings are too close to my frets and the clatter when I try to play, can you tell me what is wrong with it?

    • stringsdirect

      Hi and thanks for the message. Sounds like you’ve just got a standard ‘Long Scale’ bass there. If you take a look at our site, you can filter out the scale length of bass strings down the left hand side. If you select ‘Long Scale’ most of the popular brands should be suitable. We try to specify the ball end to silk length on each set so as long as that exceeds your 35.5″ measurement you should be fine.
      With regards to your strings being too close to the frets, it could be one (or a combination of a few of the following factors). You could need more relief in the neck (this is adjusted via the truss rod). It’s a fairly standard adjustment, however, if you are at all unsure about adjusting this, we’d highly recommend getting these things looked at by your local music shop where a guitar repairer could advise you on the best way to proceed.
      Fret height is another thing that may need looking at. If your frets are all at different heights then one my be catching the string which would cause buzzing.
      Another thing that could need adjusting is your saddle and/or nut height depending on where exactly your strings are catching the frets.
      Without seeing the bass itself, it’s difficult to say which one of these things need addressing but I hope this has given you some ideas.

  • Sam

    Cheers – I wish I had read this before getting Rotosound RS88S’s on my Fender Mustang… I suppose the Rotosund Medium would be the correct fit for the Mustang, any opinion or fact for this?

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Sam,
      One of our guys here has a Fender Mustang bass too. If yours is the exact same sizing as his, the distance from the bridge saddles to the top nut is 30.75″ / 78cm, however, because it’s a thru-body bass, the ball end to the nut is 33.5″ / 85cm (which is the important measurement here).
      The Rotosound RS88S (short scale) Bass set only measures 32.5″ from the ball end to the start of the silk…with this in mind I gather that the set you bought turned out to be about 1″ short of the nut? The medium scale set measures 35.25″ from the ball end to the silk so yes this would be the correct scale length to go for. Hope this helps clear things up.
      If you need any more help just send me an email at lee@stringsdirect.co.uk.
      Thanks

      • Sam

        Yup, you’re correct about that ~1 inch short of -part. I’ll go for the medium scale set next – thanks for the fast reply and for the very clear and informative article!

        • stringsdirect

          You’re welcome Sam, if you need anything else, please just give us a call or drop us a message again 🙂

  • Sander

    Hi, thanks for the informative piece. One question however, does it matter that the silk on the bridge side rests on the saddles, or doesn’t that matter as much as silk resting on the nut? I have tried a set of Rotosound 77 flats and they had the silk on the saddles. I thought it would matter to the sound and took them off. Was I wrong in that belief?

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Sander,
      No, you weren’t wrong, you ideally need the silk to end before the saddles as this would hinder the tonality and vibration of the string.
      If you need any further guidance, just let us know.
      Thanks

  • Peter Whitfield

    I am thinking of buying an Ibanez 2018 GSRM20B Short Scale Bass Guitar – Walnut Flat. I will need to order the strings seperately, as I think the La Bella 0760M-S 4-String Original 1954 Fender Style Short Scale Flatwound Bass Strings seem like a good choice, but are not offered by most guitar shops. I wonder if you have any knowledge of this instrument in regard to the ball-end to nut distance ? Websites all seem to go for the scale length.
    Many thanks for a clear and precise article.
    Cheers, Peter.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Peter, unfortunately we don’t have any direct experience of that particular model bass. The strings themselves measure 32 1/4″ from the ball end to the start of the silk and La Bella always recommend ensuring the silk winding should be wrapped around the tuning post. If the shorts are a little too short, the medium scale set measures may be more suited to your needs as these measure 34″ and the long scale set measures 36 3/4″. We hope this helps.

  • Will

    Hi, love the article!
    I have a handmade acoustic bass and it has a speaking length of 36” and a scale of 34 1/4”. Any suggestion on string length would be much appreciated! Also, are there preferred strings for an acoustic over Electric? Thank you in advance!
    Will Penny

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Will,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes there are dedicated Acoustic Bass strings but there’s nothing stopping you using standard bass strings, you just may not get the bright resonant tone you’ll get from Acoustic Bronze strings.
      Here’s a link to our Acoustic bass set range. Each set has the ‘Ball end to silk’ measurement listed in there but you can use the filter down the left hand side… just scroll down for the left-hand side and locate the ‘Ball End to Silk’ filter.
      Hope that helps.
      Thanks
      Lee

  • Sty

    ok. I have a schecter Stilletto Stealth 5 string which is telling me its 35″ neck. I can’t work out if i need the Rotosound RS665LD strings or the RS665EL strings. I also have an Ibanez SR305E-MSS which is a 34″ neck. Ideally i’d like to use the RS665LD strings if they can acomodate both guitars to save confusing things. My question is, can these strings be used for both these basses? Thanks

    • stringsdirect

      Hey there, thanks for the question.
      With regards to the measurements you have kindly given us, are these measurements that you have taken yourself, or have you got these from the manufacturer’s website directly. In any case, we would recommend taking the measurements yourself. If you measure from the ball end of your string up to where it crosses the top nut, this would be ideal and give us a true representation of whether these would fit your basses or not.
      In any case, the Rotosound long scale bass strings RS665LD strings measure 37″ from the ball end up to the start of the silk and the extra-long scale set (RS665EL) measures 38″.
      Hope this helps
      Look forward to hearing from you soon.

  • This guide covers everything you would want to know about guitar scale length. It explains what scale length, why it s important, how to measure scale length, and FAQ.

  • Multiscale guitars offer a different solution. The lower strings have a long scale length (eg: 28 ) and progressively become shorter towards the higher strings (eg: 25.5 ). You end up with higher tension on the low strings and lower tension on the higher strings.

  • Steve Pena

    Thanks Guys for your information provided. However the grey just became a deeper shade of grey in my mind. I am guitar player who recently purchased short scale
    Bass ( Squier Bronco ) and want to replace the strings as part of a complete upgrade of electronics, bridge and P/U etc. I am measuring from the nut to bridge and coming up with 31.25″ and from Nut to first saddle I am getting 30″. So am I to purchase Short Scale Strings or Medium length ? Thanks in Advance, Steve

  • Julie

    Hi really interesting post so thank you but I think I still need help. A beginner bass player and just bought myself the fender mustang short scale. I’m after some flat wounds and am unsure of the size I need , can you suggest any please ?

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Julie,

      So sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this. One of our staff members has a Fender Mustang. This measures 33.5″ from the ball end to the top nut. So basically you need a set that measures more than 33.5″ from the ball end to the silk or start of the taper to ensure this doesn’t start before the nut. (hope that makes sense!)

      I’ll send you an email.

      Thanks

  • A: Metal guitarists tend to prefer longer scale lengths (eg: 26.5? or higher) due to the increased string tension. Having high string tension makes it easier to create a tight and punchy rhythm. If you use a lower tuning (eg: Drop C), a longer scale length means you don’t need to buy super heavy gauge strings.

  • Paul

    Hello,
    I have an Ozark Professional 3385 Acoustic bass.
    I did a rough measurement and and get around 32.5″ scale length and 33.5″ speaking length So I guess I am looking for Medium Length strings.
    Do you sell something appropriate for that basis in Flatwound or Tapewound ?

    Thanks a lot.

  • Walker

    Hey,
    I’m trying to setup a 30″ scale length Bass IV to low C-standard. My guess is I need to get 5-string gauge (130mm for the low C) strings, and then buy a single for the high C, but they also need to be tapered to fit the tuning pegs and short enough to fit the scale. Does anyone make strings to these specs? Thanks for your time.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your question, yes if you send me an email to lee@stringsdirect.co.uk, I’d be happy to help here.

      Many Thanks

      Lee

  • Don Kersting

    Hi,
    I have an Ampeg Fretless Bass guitar ( model AUB-1 ). It has a bridge/membrane type pickup (sometimes referred to as he “Mystery Pickup) rather than the magnetic kind. This makes the Scale Length 35.25”.
    A website by Bruce Johnson, xstrange.com specializing in Ampeg Basses, recommends : “40 1/4″ from the ball end to the end of the outer winding (the beginning of the silk threads).
    45” in overall length.
    Unfortunately, I read on BassTalk forum, he was in poor health and there was no response in his contact options.
    He lists various string manufacturers , but I have received no response from any of them.
    I would like a set of 4 flatwound strings
    I hope you can help me?
    Don K.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Don,

      Thanks for your question. I’ve taken a look at some images of the bass online and can see that the strings you would need would need to be fairly lengthy.
      Do you know what strings you have used on this before?

      Thanks Lee

  • RAFAEL MIYAMOTO

    Hello, I have a 5 string bass with inverted headstock and some strings dont fit on the nut correctly because the length of the real measure wrap of the string. The length of the D’addario 045-130 standard is the same of your chart (36 inches)? They will fit?

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Rafael,
      Thanks for your question, would you be able to send me some pictures of the headstock of your bass and I’d be happy to help.
      Thanks again
      Lee

  • Derek

    Hello – I have an Epiphone Vintage Pro Thunderbird and that means a 1960s claw tailpiece and a very big headstock – so the issue is getting enough winds around the G-String peg. Length from the ball end of the G-String to the nut is 36.3 inches – from the nut to the centre og the G-String peg is another 8.5 inches. Would Rotosounds ELs do it?

  • Richard O'Donnell

    I’m looking the exact set of strings that came on a Kay K-162 bass I just bought.
    The previous owner thought they were Rotosound TruBass black nylon wound flatwound strings.
    The bass has a 31″ scale length – and the strings on it fit perfectly, with the neon green silk windings starting just after the nut.
    (there is also green silk windings on the ball ends for about 0.5″).
    The ball ends to the start of the headstock end green silk windings is pretty much on 34″.
    Measuring with a digital caliper (but get slightly different readings on different parts of the string, so I’ve averaged multiple readings) are :
    53, 77, 95, 115

    Hoping you can help ! Many thanks !

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