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Scale length and tone?


Davo-London

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Fellow Lowdowners

 

I find my GAS is leading me to a short-scale fretted 30.75" Alembic Stanley Clarke model. This directly opposes the current trend of increasing scale length from 34" to 35" and in the case of Phil Lipscomb 37" (BP March 2005). I know about the tension variation (I am an engineer) with scale length, but with the variation of string gauges available today, getting the right string gauge/tension shouldn't be a problem.

 

The advantage of shorter scales should be that the bass is easier to play near the nut, especially for small hands. So what are the real disadvantages of shorter scale lengths?

 

Have I done a search - check

Have I done a spell check - check

 

Davo

"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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One problem with shorter scale lenghts, or just different scale lengths, is a certain unfarmiliarity with the neck. Of course this affects muscle memory. Think about how weird it is to play a bass with a very small nut (read; hofner, guild). It's a similar concept.
Hiram Bullock thinks I like the band volume too soft (but he plays guitar). Joe Sample thinks I like it way too loud (but he plays piano). -Marcus Miller
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The question is, "What would Lemmy do?" And the answer is, play a bass with less than 34" scale.

 

Seriously, we don't all play long scale. Stanley Clarke, Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, Allan Woody, Geddy Lee, Jack Bruce...all of these guys sound great, & they all play under 34" (or have at important points in their career).

 

More to the point, you're looking at an Alembic & unsure whether it'll have great tone?!?

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the only disadvantage i have with these kind of basses is

 

1- the tone is different. the bottom sounds different and the sustain also. if this is your cup of tea, go for it.

 

2- because of the smaller scale i start to play more notes sometimes, which isn't always the right thing to do, it's just sooooo tempting with such a scale and all these notes readily available. a bit of restrain gets this solved

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Yeah, I could see that the tone would be different, but is it enough to warrant struggling with long scale. There must be a lot of female players who would prefer shorter scale lengths?
"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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Suzi Quattro was on an afternoon TV thing recently and was showing her collection of basses. She still had her original P bass (see!!! - doesn't sell anything!!!) but when showing a Gibson Les Paul Recording Bass (I think) said that she felt 'like Jimi Hendrix on it - fingers all over the keyboard - short scale'.

 

By the way, she also said a lot of bassists were failed guitarists, which I kinda resent, as I play bass with one band and sing/lead/rhythm with another. I play bass because it fits the band - and, of course, because I THOROUGHLY enjoy it!!

 

Come to think of it, I don't see much about Suzi on this forum - is that 'cos she lives in the UK, or most people just don't think she's very remarkable?

 

G.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power the World will know Peace": Jimi Hendrix

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The Geoff - blame Caevan!!!

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Suzi Quatro is living in the U.K.?

 

She is from Detroit---you can't claim her!

 

Stanley Clarke is very tall and has huge hands...and plays a short scale bass.

 

Rhonda Smith is short....and plays a long scale bass.

 

Carol Kaye is not the tallest woman in the world either and she never seemed to have a problem with a long scale bass.

 

Go figure.

 

The two kinds of basses sound drastically different to me. I've heard very few short scale basses that sounded good on the low notes.

 

Except maybe for Stanley Clarke's Alembic Series I. ;)

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A lot of recording types actually prefer short scale basses. I'm not exactly sure why, maybe less pronounced harmonics? Less sustain?

 

I played a 31" scale bass for many years. It's low notes were fine and its sustain was also very good. It was also 13 lbs of solid mahagony (oww my back). I do now prefer a 34" scale. Higher sting tension and I could never get a pleasing sound plucking near the bridge on the short scale. Maybe it was just that bass though.

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Some interesting thoughts from Carl Thompson:

 

http://www.ctbasses.com/CTinterview.html

 

Are you sure you've searched? ;) The eminent Greenboy has expounded at length on scale length as have various less verbose LDLers.

 

My understanding is that as scale length increases, the lower and higher harmonics increase, the string acts more like a pure string and therefore sounds more musical particularly when playing chords, the sustain increases and the attack increases. Basically clearer, punchier, deeper and more piano-like but with the deep bottom only a bass or huge grand piano has.

 

Conversely, shortening the scale length reduces the lower and higher harmonics, makes the overtones less in tune, decreases the sustain and decreases the attack. Basically more midrangey, rounder, muddier. Saying that, the Hofner/Gibson sound is nothing like the Alembic sound.

 

Using heavier gauge strings is a logical way of increasing the tension on a shortscale bass. Unfortunately, although it'll improve the feel, it only serves to increase the inherent muddy impure string problems of trying to get 41Hz from a 30" string.

 

I do like the sound Stanley gets on the Return to Forever albums - not sure how it would hang up in a thicker mix though - and the clarity and top end on his solo stuff is almost unique.

 

Alex

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Originally posted by C. Alexander Claber:

Some interesting thoughts from Carl Thompson:

 

http://www.ctbasses.com/CTinterview.html

Damn, you beat me to that one... I get a few laughs every time I read it.

 

Originally posted by C. Alexander Claber:

I do like the sound Stanley gets on the Return to Forever albums - not sure how it would hang up in a thicker mix though - and the clarity and top end on his solo stuff is almost unique.

When I saw his solo act (think it was the "School Daze" tour) after RTF he didn't seem to have any intonation or tone issues with the Alembic; his sound was virtually identical to the live cuts available on commercial releases. What really impressed me was his playing on full-size upright for a few numbers. Suffice it to say the man definitely was comfortable with both scales - no limitations!

:wave:

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Colin Moulding of XTC played a Fender Musicmaster(?) short-scale bass for many years and I saw Ken Stringfellow of The Posies/Big Star a couple years ago (appearing with Minus Five) and he played one too. He played the living hell out of it and sounded great. And, of course, Jack Bruce did alright with his Gibson EB's.

 

The tone will be somewhat different with a short scale bass, so play the Alembic SC. If that's the one for you then that's the one for you.

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Some of the small-scale instruments were also less expensive instruments (Fender). Some were guitar clones (Gibson EB). An Alembic isn't going to have any issues associated with "inexpensive" or "guitar clone" instruments.

 

Before lug gets in here and wipes the floor up with me, I love my EB3. The scale is only one of it's "challenges", so it's not a completely fair comparison to what you are thinking about.

 

The physics of the situation is that you are asking the strings to vibrate at a frequency that is not optimal to their length. That's why Novax and Dingwall have longer strings for the low end. Short scale works, just not quite as well.

 

If you searched thoroughly, you'll see that finding the right strings was important for me. I think TI doesn't make the strings that worked so well for me. I found that the instrument played better with thinner gauge strings.

 

Another issue that only came to light recently is finger positioning. You are somewhere between a guitar and bass, so your fingering technique will be non-standard. Jeremy gave me a "lesson" a few years back about using the index, middle, and pinky. The reason I'd been using the ring finger was that my short scale neck was too tight for the approach he was teaching me.

 

You may find that you love the short scale, especially in a 4. They are small and fast, and can be lots of fun. I still love playing mine, and for some songs it's wonderful. Don't expect to do much "drop-D" stuff....

 

Tom

www.stoneflyrocks.com

Acoustic Color

 

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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Hmmm ... interesting. I'm happy to admit that tone is King, but I guess a shorty might sit nicely in my collection.

 

Thanks guys. Davo

"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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B4U settle on the Alembic, I recommend you find and check out an Epiphone Viola. Going rate on the web is USD $469 (less if you shop around) but its one of those things you just have to sit down with and play. It's easy to call it a cheap Hofner but it really isn't, it's more like a mellower, semi-hollow EB-3. A couple of the other clones (Rogue and Brice come to mind) but I had an opportunity to score mine from a friend (who just scored a Hofner) and couldn't afford to let it slide.

:wave:

Just noticed the Allen Woody signature model is on the same link. 30" scale length. Haven't checked that one out yet.

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Originally posted by Davo-London:

Yeah, I could see that the tone would be different, but is it enough to warrant struggling with long scale. There must be a lot of female players who would prefer shorter scale lengths?

Actually the prevailing bass among female rockers, anyway, is the Thunderbird.

"For instance" is not proof.

 

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Originally posted by Quinn:

Colin Moulding of XTC played a Fender Musicmaster(?) short-scale bass[sNIP]

My first bass was a Fender Musicmaster. My parents bought it new for me in '78 or '79. It was a 3/4-size bass. I always assumed it was inexpensive and marketed for snot-nosed kids like I was back then. :P Trying to play a P-bass as a kid made me hate playing anywhere near the head; on the Musicmaster it was cake.

 

When I was a foolish teenager I traded it in for a Peavey T-40. :eek: As I recall, among other things the Peavey had more frets. :D My hands were also bigger by then and I could handle a full size bass.

 

Have been a big SC fan since I played RTF's "Spain" when I was 12 (the sheet music version), probably on the Musicmaster.

 

Yeah, here's what it looked like . 19 frets? Funny how this one has round-wound strings on it; mine came with flats.

 

Other than sentimental reasons I don't really miss that small bass. Then again, it's no $5k+ Alembic, either! Would love to have a SC Alembic, but I gotta hit the lotto first! ;)

 

Egads! My Ric is only 33-1/4 scale!!! No wonder it doesn't have 24 frets!

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