Short scale bass guitars are exactly what you might expect them to be. A typical instrument has a scale length shorter than 31 inches and is best suited for beginners, young players or professional musicians looking to experiment with the bass riffs. Over the years short-scale bass guitars have been used regularly in rock music, made famous by Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, and Talking Heads. But what are the best short-scale bass guitars currently available to purchase?
To purchase the best short-scale bass guitar for your musical needs, we have gathered together the most impressive instruments that fit the parameters we’ve considered necessary: scale length, guitar weight, tonewood, pickups, price tag, and warranty.
Top 5 Short Scale Bass Guitars Review 2020
The article features first a comparison table of the five products, followed by reviews that include the key features, pros and cons as well as a product description. The buying guide is then broken down into the key distinguishing features of a short scale bass guitar, purchasing tips and then specific aspects you should consider. Information for the article has been gathered from numerous sources and customer reviews of products. It is important you take your time and do as much research as possible before committing to one specific short scale bass guitar.
Gretsch G5442BDC – Editor’s Choice
- Tonewood: 5-ply maple
- Scale: 30.25’’
- Pickups: Black Top Filter’Tron™
- Weight: 7 lb
- Warranty: 1-year limited
More features: 22 medium jumbo frets, rosewood fretboard, 3-position switch, 4-saddle adjusto-matic bridge
The Gretsch G5442BDC is a premium short scale bass guitar that has a distinctive ruby red design with a gloss urethane finish. Featuring a scale length of 30.25″, the G5442BDC is at the higher end of the scale lengths for short scale bass guitars currently available in the market. This may be suited to experience long scale bass guitar players who want to transition to short scale but prefer not to have as much of a radical change.
The instrument contains 22 medium jumbo frets which lie on a rosewood fretboard, designed to give maximum comfort for players when transitioning between notes. This in addition to hump-block fingerboard inlays, black top filter tron pickup, bound sound holes and an adjustable truss rod, ensure the sound of the G5442BDC is very dense. The 5 ply maple wood construction is particularly strong and adds to the sustainability of the sound that is produced. This instrument sounds particularly good when played live.
A downside of the maple wood design is the weight of the instrument. Weighing 7 lbs, the G5442BDC can be considered heavier than rival short-scale bass guitars available to purchase due to thicker woods. This may cause issues when it comes to portability and playing on stage for long periods.
The G5442BDC comes with a one-year warranty agreement which gives you a decent degree of protection in the first year of purchase. This may not be long enough for those wishing to take the instrument on tour. That said the strong product design ensures the bass is very durable.
- Distinctive red design
- High-quality construction
- Good for those transitioning from long scale
- Premium price
- Feels heavy
Hofner HCT5007SBO – Best Short Scale Bass Guitar to Play Live
- Tonewood: spruce top, flame maple back and sides
- Scale: 30”
- Pickups: Hofner Staple Nickel
- Weight: 5.9 lb
- Warranty: 2-year limited
More features: 3-piece maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, 22 frets, ebony bridge, Hofner HCT Roundwound strings
The Hofner HCT5007SBO is inspired by the original bass guitar designed by Hofner in the 1960s. The vintage look of the HCT5007SBO created by the sunburst color scheme is particularly appealing. The tonewood design of the guitar is a spruce top with flame maple back and sides. The scale length of the HCT5007SBO is 30″ which allows it to be a smooth transition for long scale bass guitarists. This scale length is very easy to play and is ideal for those with a shorter reach.
One of the best aspects of this premium short scale bass guitar is the weight. Weighing only 5.9 lbs, the HCT5007SBO is remarkably light and is very easy to play over long periods of time. The lightweight feel is also ideal when needing to transport the instrument when gigging. The lightweight feel is created by the semi-hollow design.
Investing in the HCT5007SBO ensures bassists will get a modern deep bass sound that also reduces the feedback commonly associated with cheaper constructed products. While the price may be premium, in this instance, the added price really is an investment in quality engineering that produces a quality sound. It is definitely catered towards more experienced musicians who will be able to get the best out of the sound potential.
The sound of the HCT5007SBO is aided by the original Hofner stable-top pickups as well as added tone and volume controls. Using the original Hofner pickup is certainly a winner for bassists who know their product history, the HCT5007SBO gives a perfect blend of historical construction and modern bass sound.
- Vintage appearance
- High quality
- Premium price
Ibanez GSRM25BK – Best 5-String Short Scale Bass
- Tonewood: mahogany
- Scale: 28.6’’
- Pickups: standard J
- Weight: 7 lb
- Warranty: 1-year limited
More features: maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, B15 bridge
The Ibanez GSRM25BK is an affordably priced short scale bass guitar that is unique for having five strings. The added the string enables greater tonal variety to the instrument compared to four string bass guitars. The advantage of the tonewood being mahogany is that the sound created has fantastic sustainability as well as a warm tone. For such an affordable price, these are really great features.
The Ibanez GSRM25BK has a short scale length at 28.6″ making it an ideal length for beginners starting out on bass guitar, especially for children. This, in addition, the lightweight feel weighing only 7 lbs, ensures that the guitar is easy to transport and does not burden players when it is being played live.
Ibanez has really put comfort and the forefront of the product design. In addition to the GSRM25BK being lightweight, it contains a compact design. The fast and slim maple neck accompanied with the thin mahogany body and rosewood fingerboard ensures that instrument is completely streamlined. Having such a design not only adds comfort but also usability. This instrument would be ideal to learn on.
The sound of the instrument is enhanced through a standard J pickup and contains volume and tone controls. While the cheaper construction may suffer when it comes to having feedback from the amplifier, the affordable cost and streamlined design are certainly welcome features to the short scale bass guitar market.
The instrument also comes with a one-year warranty agreement to give purchasers added protection.
- Affordable price
- Streamlined compact design
- Some feedback through an amplifier
Danelectro Longhorn Bass – Most Versatile Short Scale Bass Guitar
- Tonewood: alder
- Scale: 29.75’’
- Pickups: high output, high impedance lipstick®
- Weight: 10 lb
- Warranty: 1-year limited
More features: 24 frets, bridge with a rosewood saddle, double stacked controls
The Danelectro Longhorn Bass is a short scale bass guitar that features a slick black alder wood tonewood and the body of the guitar is shaped with a distinctive horn. The scale length of the guitar is 29.75” which is the medium range for short scale bass guitars. The price of the guitar is also in the medium range and could be a great option for beginners to move on to, or for more experienced long scale bass guitarists to experiment with.
Through having an alder tonewood design, the sound characteristics of the Longhorn Bass are very clear and versatile. This is a great advantage of choosing the Longhorn Bass as no matter whether you want a low deep driving bass or warmer higher notes, the instrument is able to deliver high quality sounding notes across the whole range.
The Longhorn Bass comes fitted with 24 frets, providing players with access to two whole octaves, further adding to the sound versatility. Also incorporated into the design are two pickups high output and high impedance lipstic as well as the addition of double stacked controls which also add to the spectrum of sounds that can be experimented with.
Weighing 10 lbs, the Longhorn Bass is one of the heavier short scale bass guitars available in the market. This may turn some away from purchasing especially those who play live music. That said, the weight of this model is still lighter than the long scale alternative.
- 24 frets
- Medium-range scale length
- Great sound versatility
Squier by Fender Bronco Bass, Torino Red – Budget Pick
- Tonewood: agathis
- Scale: 30’’
- Pickups: Special Design Single-Coil
- Weight: 9 lb
- Warranty: 2-year limited
More features: C-shaped maple neck, 19 medium jumbo frets, maple fingerboard, two-saddle chrome bridge
The Squier by Fender Bronco Bass is a budget short scale bass guitar that is perfect for those starting out on the instrument. Constructed from the cheaper agathis tonewood, the Bronco Bass has decent tonality despite having reduced sound sustainability. The agathis body is finished with a gloss polyurethane finish which gives the guitar a smart looking appearance. The C-shaped maple necks add to this slick look.
At 30″, the Bronco Bass has a scale length that is in the higher range of short scale bass guitars. Costs are saved throughout the product design with 19 medium jumbo frets and a maple fingerboard. While professionals may complain about these cost-cutting measures that make the playing experience less comfortable, for beginners these aspects are not so important and the bargain price of the Bronco Bass is certainly something to consider.
Weighing 9 lbs, the Bronco Bass is in the medium range of weights for short scale bass guitars. The instrument travels well and is robust enough to withstand live performance.
The pickup for the guitar is a special design single-coil which although limited, is able to transduce the sound output to ensure that the Bronco Bass can be connected with decent amplifiers to manipulate the sound.
The instrument is available on a two-year warranty which is among the most generous of warranty offerings in the online short scale bass guitar market. Having this warranty provides purchasers with great protection, especially when purchasing the guitar for a beginner who may be unsure about committing to the instrument.
- Bargain price
- Slick appearance
- Reduced sound quality
- Cheaper, less-quality construction
Choose your style – short and long scale bass guitar differences
It is common knowledge that short-scale bass guitars are best suited to younger players or those who struggle with added reach of a long scale bass guitar. If you are a guitarist transitioning to bass, often the short-scale model is better suited for this transition as it better replicates the size of a standard guitar. That said, long scale bass guitar is still the most common bass guitar used by musicians.
To say that short-scale bass guitars are best used for beginners is quite misleading. Many seasoned professionals prefer using the short scale because of the fat (“phaaat!”) that it produces. This refers to the deeper sounding (bassier) lower string on the short scale, which is enabled by the lower tension on the strings. No matter whether you prefer to play in the studio or live performance, the short scale is an excellent weapon for a musician to have at their disposal.
Although a bassist may be comfortable and content with having a long scale bass guitar, adding a short scale to the armory adds so much diversity to the musical palette.
Some of the key advantages of opting for a long scale bass is the significantly better sustain, more robust treble effects, and the ability to play slap bass.
The decision of choosing between a short and long scale bass should ultimately be down to personal preference and musical style. Before deciding it is recommended that you try both bass guitars and then also consider the musical style that you want to play.
For those who are unaware, scale length refers to the exact distance from the nut to the bridge of the bass guitar. The distance of a long scale bass guitar has, in effect, become known as the standard distance for a bass guitar which was first introduced by Fender and Precision Bass in 1951. The standard scale length of a long scale bass guitar is now 34”.
This length was not always the case for bass guitars. Rival manufacturers to Fender such as Gibson have sold short length bass guitars for many years to target those adopting different musical styles and playing preferences.
The general rule for the scale length of a short-scale bass guitar is that it does not exceed 31”.
The most obvious reason for someone to choose a short scale over a long scale bass guitar is the physical size. Despite short-scale bass guitars generally being accepted as more comfortable to play due to the closer fret spacing, the long scale bass guitar has remained popular due to the added variety and strength of musical effects.
During the 1960s, short-scale bass guitars had a considerable rise in popularity. This popularity was however pretty short-lived due to the ‘student models’, which were cheap in construction, contained very narrow spaces between strings and the tonal character of the instrument was very poor. After falling out of favor, the short-scale bass guitar has been somewhat stereotyped by bassists as a primary, inferior instrument to the long scale bass.
With modern technological advancements in manufacturing, the previous criticisms of the short-scale bass guitar are now misguided. An increasing number of studios are now in favor of the use of short-scale bass guitars, mainly due to the warmer high notes and the booming low notes. Short scale bass guitars do have an essential place among the instrument line-up of many musicians. They should continue to be considered as a serious alternative to conventional long scale bass guitars.
Tips to an excellent short-scale bass playing
The transition from a long to a short-scale bass guitar is a pretty pain-free process. Below are some specific tips for those looking to make the transition.
Choose the right strings
Choosing the most suitable short scale bass strings can be quite a complicated process. If you are stuck, first look at the website of the manufacturer of your guitar to see what strings they would recommend. If that information is not available, check-in at your local music store where an expert can guide you through the different string choices.
The recommended gauge for a short-scale bass guitar is 45-100.
This may seem slightly strange to some bass guitarists, but among the short-scale bass guitar community, it is pretty common knowledge to tune your E-string slightly flat.
The reason does this due to the lower tension of short scale strings. Lower tension generally causes a rise in pitch when the string is played. On the short-scale bass, this rise in pitch is only noticeable on the E-string. Although this may not be noticeable to many, it is recommended the practice to tune the E-string slightly flat to ensure strong tonal balance.
Use a lighter touch
Short-scale bass guitars sound much better when they are played with a lighter touch and feel. The sound will become too gammy if you apply similar amounts of digging-in to that associated with the long scale bass guitar. This is not to say that you cannot create a strong driving bass effect with the short scale guitar, but simply, to get the most out of a short-scale bass, you need to play with a greater degree of care.
Features to consider while buying the perfect short scale bass
Below are details of some features you should consider before purchasing the best short scale bass to suit your musical needs.
Scale length, of course
Depending on the size of your reach, the scale length is an important aspect consider. If you are purchasing for a child, it is recommended that you buy a short scale bass at least a couple of inches longer than others to allow them to grow into the guitar.
It is down to personal preference. Some bassists do not like playing the guitars with a scale length that exceeds 31″, preferring a scale length below 30″.
You should try out the different scale lengths to work out, which is the most suitable for your playing style.
Research the best strings for short scale guitar and investigate what is recommended by the manufacturer. Short-scale bass guitars typically require strings of 45-100 gauge. Most strings used for long scale bass guitars will also work fine on a short-scale bass guitar.
Short scale bass guitars tend to be significantly lighter than long scale bass guitars. For those who are touring, selecting the lightest bass guitar such as the Hofner HCT5007SBO will be helpful in terms of comfort as well as portability.
Some say the choice of wood for a short-scale bass guitar is significant, whereas others claim the electronics are more important. Standard wood choices and their properties include:
- Alderwood – clarity and sound versatility
- Ash – bright sound
- Maple – dense and more extended sustainability
- Mahogany – less bright, warmer and most sustainability
- Basswood & Agathis – less tonality and shorter sustainability
The most common material for the fretwood of a short-scale bass guitar is rosewood due to its softness when fingers push down on the strings.
Numbers of frets generally vary between 20 and 24 frets. Guitars such as the Danelectro Longhorn Bass which have 24 frets allow players to access two full octaves. Some instruments with 36 frets also exist. It is down to personal preference as to how many frets you would like.
It is worth checking with the manufacturer as to which pickup they recommend. Common short-scale pickups include single-coil and Black Top Filter’Tron as a feature in the Gretsch G5442BDC.
Check what accessories come with purchasing the short-scale bass. Accessories may include a guitar case, strap, and amplifier.
Purchasing with a warranty gives you extra protection. Typical warranty agreements last between 1 to 2 years.
There is a wide range of prices for short scale bass guitars, ranging from $150-$1000. There are products accessible for both beginners and more experienced bass guitar players.
Before you buy, here are the answers to some helpful, most-frequently asked questions:
Even the reach of the beginner is short, having a short scale bass guitar will certainly aid the beginner learning process. However, short scale bass guitars have a different sound and are also appealing for more experienced bass guitar players.
Short scale bass strings need to have a gauge of 45-100. Many long scale bass strings will also work on the short scale instrument.
Measure from the front edge of the nut to the center of the 12th fret, then double that distance to get the actual scale length.
Hopefully, this article has given you all the information you need to know about short scale bass guitars as well as highlighting some potential purchasing options.
Our verdict on the top three best short-scale bass guitars is:
The Gretsch G5442BDC comes in the first place because of distinctive red design as well as it is ideal for those transitioning from long scale bass guitars.
The Hofner HCT5007SBO finishes in second place in the ranking because of its excellent lightweight design. This bass guitar is perfect for playing live and has a great vintage feel.
The Ibanez GSRM25BK comes in third place because of its affordability and compact design. This guitar is perfect for beginners to learn on even though it.
Before purchasing the best short-scale bass guitar for yourself, you must identify your playing preferences and musical style. Product designs have subtleties that should be understood to ensure you get the best value for money.