You may have come across different guitar scale lengths and wondered what that’s all about. Some guitars appear to have the same amount of frets, but the listed scale length differs between them. So naturally some guitars have smaller frets, but then how does that affect the pitch? Most guitar specs will list the scale length, so it must make a difference, right?
Yes. The scale length of a guitar actually makes quite a difference to the playability and even things like fret buzz. And yes, the scale length will also affect the size of the frets and the number of frets a guitar has. All your questions about guitar scale length will be answered in this article. Plus, I’ve included a buying guide too in case you’re shopping for a guitar with a specific scale length.
What Is Guitar Scale Length?
Simply put, it’s the distance from the nut (at the top of the fretboard) to the bridge (where the bottom of the strings are anchored), measured in inches. If you want to familiarize yourself with the parts of the guitar, here you go. Most guitars, electric, classical, and acoustic will list scale length in their specs.
How is Scale Length Measured?
This can be a bit tricky. Even the scale length listed in the specs is more of an approximation rather than a precise measurement. As you’ll notice, your strings are all different lengths. This is so that the intonation (accuracy of pitch), is on point. A general rule of thumb is to measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret and then multiply it by 2.
Standard scale length (also considered full scale length) for 6 and 12-string acoustics and electrics is 25.5”. You’ll see scale lengths vary from 24.75” to 25.6” on these guitars.
Guitars with 7 strings generally go from 25.5” to 26.5”. Guitars with 8 strings or higher range from 27” to 29.4”. These guitars are often multiscale guitars and so their specs will list the specs as X to X inches.
On the other hand, ¾ guitars, a.k.a. mini guitars, have scale lengths of 22” to 23”. Mini guitars are usually used by children, but also by guitarists with small hands and/or short arms, and those who travel regularly.
Travel guitars’ scale lengths range from 23.5” to 24.75”. Sure, travel guitar can be played by smaller humans, but they’re for bigger humans too. They’re designed to fit into overhead compartments in planes and just be easier to travel with in general.
Why Guitar Scale Length Matters
It’s not that one scale length is necessarily better than another. This has more to do with preference. But here’s what scale length affects:
Generally, standard scale guitars have a fuller and richer tone than those with shorter scale lengths. Some guitars with shorter scale lengths can sound warmer. That said, mini guitars can rarely compete with the guitars with scale lengths of 24.75” and above when it comes to tone, although there are those that sound pretty good in their own right. This can also be due to the size of the body, not just string length.
As for multiscale guitars, if you’re into metal or jazz, you’ve likely heard a multiscale guitar. They sound amazing.
Of course, there are many things that impact the tone of the guitar, from the quality and gauge of the strings, the tonewood of acoustic guitars, and the pickups of electric guitars.
The longer the scale length, the higher the string tension. This is because the strings will have to be tightened more to reach the correct pitch. String tension is important because it affects the action. Sure, you can adjust the truss rod to lower the action a little, but if the action is lowered too much, you’ll end up with fret buzz.
A workaround for this is to get lighter gauge strings. If lighter gauge strings aren’t for you, don’t worry, you can build up the strength in your fingers to compensate. Before I knew about guitar set up, I played my guitar with very high action for a few years. Since lowering the action on my guitar, it’s certainly been easier to play. And with lighter gauge strings, I have no issue bending the notes or pull-offs and hammer-ons.
Number and Size of Frets
The number of frets that a guitar has differs by model and brand. The standard number for most guitars is 22 frets, though you will find those with only 12 frets and some that have up to 39 frets. Naturally, you can fit more frets onto a guitar with a longer scale. But for guitars with 21 to 24 frets, the scale length is often between 24.75 and 25.5.
Scale length affects the size of the space between the frets, rather than the size of the frets themselves. Fret size refers to the actual fret wire. So speaking of the spaces, if you’re going to have 22 frets on guitars with a scale length of 24.75” and a 25.5”, you’ll naturally have smaller frets. Because of the differences in string tension, the smaller frets on a 24.75” scale guitar doesn’t affect the pitch.
If you have really big hands, a guitar with fewer frets and a longer scale length will work well, although it’s more about the width of the neck than the distance between frets. If you have small hands, you’ll easily manage guitars with a shorter scale length and more frets. That said, most people can play guitars with the standard scale length and standard number of frets just fine.
Guitar Recommendations By Scale Length
You’ll find acoustic, classical, and electric guitars in this list suitable for various budgets. Something for everyone.
Mini Guitars- 22” to 23”
Good for kids and guitarists with small hands.
Fender Squier Mini Stratocaster- 22.75”
If you want a decent electric guitar for suitable for guitarists with smaller hands, you can’t go wrong with this Squier Mini Stratocaster. It has 20 frets. You get three single coil pickups, 5-way pickup selector, and a tone and volume control. The body is poplar, the neck maple, and the fretboard is Indian laurel. This mini Squier Strat is available in shell pink, Dakota red, black, metallic orange, surf green, or brown sunburst.
Most people feel that this guitar is decent as a beginner guitar once it’s been set up. It has enough volume and good tone. But there were a few complaints about it being too heavy for smaller children and spotty quality control.
This mini Strat comes with a 2-year warranty.
Pyle 3/4 Beginner Classical Guitar Kit- 19.7”/ 22”/ 22.8”
No, this isn’t a multiscale guitar. But you do get three different options, either the really short 19.7” scale model (the overall 30-inch length model) for the younger budding guitarists out there, 22” model (the 34-inch model), or the 22.8” model (the 36-inch model). These are all in the ¾ range.
The back and top tonewoods vary by color, options include:
- Linden wood
The rest of the body is basswood.
The neck wood also varies by color and can be:
The fretboard wood also varies:
- Engineered wood
- Dyed hardwood
This Pyle ¾ classical guitar has 18 frets. It’s available in natural gloss, midnight black, blue burst, sun burst, red burst, sapele, western sun set, and natural ash.
This guitar is part of a kit that includes:
- Gig bag
- Extra strings
- Cleaning cloth
- 2x Picks
- Clip-on tuner
- Gift voucher for 2 months of online guitar lessons
Most people feel this guitar sounds good for a small guitar, even the 30-inch model. Many adults like to use them as travel guitars, although the gig bag won’t offer much protection. Many people enjoy that it comes as a kit with everything a guitarist needs and at a very affordable price.
There were a few complaints about the quality and about the voucher not working as advertised. There were also complaints about the guitar becoming out of tune quickly, but just remember that strings need to stretch out initially before they settle, this can take a few days. And nylon strings take longer than steel strings and will also go out of tune quicker than steel strings once settled.
These Pyle ¾ classical guitars come with a 1-year warranty.
Fender FA-15 3/4 Scale Steel String Acoustic Guitar- 23.3”
For more serious young guitarists or guitarists who like to travel, the Fender FA-15 provides a decent quality steel string option. You get 18 frets. The back is sapele, the top is mahogany, and the rest of the body is agathis. This is a laminate body and top guitar. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard. Choose from sunburst, black, blue, natural, red, or moonlight burst.
For those who like to stand and play, the FA-15 isn’t suitable, as it doesn’t have pegs for a strap. This guitar comes with a gig bag.
Most people love this guitar and feel that it’s good quality. Many note that the action is quite low out of the box which causes fret buzz when played enthusiastically, but make it easier to play. There were a few complaints about the quality of the tuning pegs. Some people found that the guitar went out of tune easily even after the strings had settled.
This guitar comes with a 2-year warranty.
The scale length on travel guitars is generally slightly longer than ¾ guitars and are suitable even for most adult male guitarists.
Enya NOVA Go SP1 Carbon Fiber Acoustic Electric Guitar- 23 ⅛ ”
This guitar is a semi-hollow carbon fiber travel guitar and has 20 frets. It’s pretty quiet when played acoustically, perfect for hotel rooms. The built-in preamp comes with a range of effects including reverb, delay, wah, and fusion. No need to lug an effects pedal or amp around. That said, if you want to pump up the volume, you will need an amp. It also has Bluetooth. The fiber carbon withstands various temperatures and humidity, unlike solid woods.
This guitar comes with a USB to micro USB cable, ¼ inch jack to jack, Allen key, access to a recording app, and gig bag. The USB cable allows you to record on the go without an audio interface. Choose from black, pink, purple, blue, white, sparkling green, sparkling pink, or sparkling silver.
Most people enjoy this guitar and what it comes with. The sound is described as pretty resonant despite how thin the body is. They also like that they can put effects on without plugging the guitar in. There were a few complaints, most seem to be about defects such as the guitar not staying in tune. Some people mention that the guitar isn’t actually carbon fiber, rather that it just seems to contain some carbon fiber.
The Enya Nova Go comes with a 1-year warranty.
Martin Steel String Backpacker Travel Guitar- 24”
From the renowned guitar brand, Martin, you get this quality travel guitar. The back and sides are solid mahogany and the top is solid spruce. The fretboard is hardwood. The smaller shape makes it much easier to pack on the go than regular sized guitars. You get a padded travel bag with this guitar.
Most people feel the guitar sounds pretty good for its size, albeit not as good as a full-sized acoustic. It’s not overly loud and is easy to fit in an overhead storage bin aboard a plane. There are a few complaints about the sound. Some people found that they expected more of a Martin sound, but instead the sound is hollow. It can also take some getting used to playing a guitar with this shape and size.
Martin guitars come with a limited lifetime warranty provided you purchase it through an authorized dealer.
Traveler Guitar EG-1 Custom Electric Guitar- 24 ¾”
If you’re into headless guitars, check out the EG-1. It’s almost a full scale guitar, but the lack of a headstock makes it shorter. That, along with the smaller body, makes it easy to bring your guitar along on your travels. Sure, you can plug this guitar into an amp, but it has a built-in headphone amp, so you can play privately. This also allows you to use clean, distortion, overdrive, and boost the signal without the use of an amp or pedal. Plus, you get a built-in chromatic tuner.
You get an Alnico humbucker pickup and controls for the volume, tone, and to select channels on the headphone amp. This guitar comes with a gig bag.
Most people like the size of the guitar and the sound in general. There were a few complaints about the distortion sounding very harsh and unpleasant, and the guitar being difficult to restring. Using an amp takes care of the distortion.
Traveler Guitars offer a 1-year warranty on their guitars.
Full Scale Guitars
This is by far the biggest category. You won’t struggle to find a full-scale guitar in your budget that you’ll love. That includes acoustic guitars in their various types, semi-acoustic options, classical guitars, and electric guitars.
Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar-25.5”
This Jasmine S35 dreadnought guitar is a good option if you like an affordable, full sounding guitar. Jasmine is a brand that falls under Takamine, a brand used by many pro-guitarists. Depending on which color you get, you’ll get either a spruce or mahogany top and either nato, mahogany, or agathis back and sides. The same goes for the neck. It has 20 frets. Choose from black, natural, or mahogany.
Most people love this guitar once it’s been set up. Many say that it sounds like a guitar worth 4 to 5 times more. The sound is described as full, loud, and crisp. There were a few complaints, although most seem based on things that would be solved by setting the guitar up and letting the strings settle. There were a few, however, that had to do with quality control issues like scratches in the finish or cracked wood.
Jasmine guitars come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Yamaha APX600 Acoustic-Electric Guitar- 25”
If you’re in the market for a semi-acoustic, here you go. The APX series has evolved since its creation in the 80s. The APX600 has a slightly thicker body, although it still falls in the thinline category. This means it has a fuller sound than past models. The cutaway shape makes it easier to reach those lower frets (there are 22 frets).
The neck, back, and sides are mahogany and the top is spruce. The fretboard is rosewood. Choose from black, natural, old violin sunburst, oriental blue burst, or vintage white. The 65A pickup helps to reject feedback while staying true to the natural tone of the guitar. It also has a tuner, EQ, and a mid-frequency booster. Beginner guitarists can benefit from access to the player portal which gives you tips, tricks, and videos.
Most people feel this guitar sounds good when played acoustically or plugged in, and is built well. It’s also comfortable to play thanks to the thinner body, and the playability is good once set up. There were a few complaints, mostly related to set up, and a few cosmetic issues. Some also wished for a fuller sound, but this is just what you get with a thinner body.
Yamaha gives a 1-year warranty on their guitars, although you can get it extended to 2 or 3 years.
Guild F-1512 Jumbo 12-string Acoustic Guitar-25.5”
Guild is a pretty good guitar brand, so you can expect quality. If you’re into big sound and prefer big guitars, this Guild Jumbo 12-string will suit you well. Despite that, the slim c-shape neck is suitable for most adults. It has 20 frets, an African mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard. The back and sides are solid Indian rosewood and the top is solid sitka spruce. This guitar comes with a gig bag.
I haven’t come across any negative reviews. The sound is rich and full, and most people feel that this guitar is comparable to more expensive 12-string guitars. If you are a small person, this guitar will likely be a bit big for you.
Guild offers a lifetime limited warranty on their guitars.
Get the Guild F-1512 at Sweetwater.
Ibanez GRX70QA 6 String Solid-Body Electric Guitar- 25.5”
Ibanez is known for their range of electric guitars from beginner to pro options. The GRX has two ceramic humbucker pickups and ceramic one single coil pickup. This makes this guitar a good option for those who love to rock. That said, you still have the versatility for more mellow genres, too. You get a 5-way pickup selector, a volume knob, and a tone knob. For even greater musical expression and fun, this guitar has a tremolo bridge.
The body is poplar with a maple top, the neck is maple with a jatoba or pine fretboard. Choose between violet sunburst, transparent emerald burst, sunburst, transparent red burst, transparent black sunburst, or transparent blue burst.
Most people love this guitar and feels that it sounds better than its affordable price suggests. It’s good for beginners and more seasoned guitarists on a budget and looks beautiful. There were a few complaints, but most complaints would be solved after a good set up. There were a few mentions about the color not being accurate, and that the strings go out of tune when the whammy bar is used.
Ibanez offers a lifetime limited warranty on their guitars.
For those that want the ultimate versatility.
Schecter Damien-7 Multiscale Electric Guitar- 25.5” to 27”
This 7-string guitar has 24 frets and offers a lot of versatility, especially in terms of pitch. The fanned frets can take some getting used to, but that, along with the flatter 16” radius of the fretboard, you should be able to shred and bend with ease. You get two humbucker pickups, a 3-way pickup selector, and push-pull tone and volume knobs. The body is mahogany, and the neck is maple with a rosewood fingerboard.
Most people feel this guitar offers great sound with flexibility and versatility. There aren’t really any negative things to be said about this guitar. It’s also one of the more affordable 7-string guitars.
Schecter guitars come with a lifetime limited warranty.
Get the Damien-7 at Sweetwater.
Strandberg Boden Original NX 8 Electric Guitar-26.5” to 28”
If you’re into headless guitars and want an 8-string guitar, here you go. From the original creators of headless guitars, you get 24 fanned frets set in a birdseye maple fretboard. The neck is maple, body is swamp ash with a maple top. In terms of pickups, you get a Fishman Fluence Modern 7 Alnico humbucker and a Fishman Fluence Mordern 7 ceramic pickup. It has a 3-way pickup selector, and push-pull tone and volume controls.
The tuners are string lock tuners to make sure the guitar stays in tune no matter how hard you thrash the strings. Choose from charcoal black, earth green, natural quilt, or natural flame. This guitar comes with a gig bag.
No one has bad things to say. This guitar is versatile, being suitable for metal and classical type guitar (albeit not with nylon strings), and everything in between.
Strandberg offers a 2-year warranty with their guitars.
Get the Boden Original NX 8 at Sweetwater.
There you have it. Scale lengths explained and options that will suit tall and short humans alike. Whether you want a shorter scale guitar for travel or for a younger or smaller guitarist, or a full scale guitar for better versatility and range, there is something out there for you.
Cheanné Lombard lives in the home of one of the new Seven World Wonders, Cape Town, South Africa. She can’t go a day without listening to or making music.
Her love of music started when her grandparents gave her a guitar. It was a smaller version of the full-sized guitars fit for her little hands. Later came a keyboard and a few years after that, a beautiful dreadnought guitar and a violin too. While she is self-taught when it comes to the guitar, she had piano lessons as a child and is now taking violin lessons as an adult.
She has been playing guitar for over 15 years and enjoys a good jam session with her husband, also an avid guitarist. In fact, the way he played those jazzy, bluesy numbers that kindled the fire in her punk rock heart. Now she explores a variety of genres and plays in the church worship group too and with whoever else is up for a jam session.