The bass guitar is the member of the guitar family that produces the lowest pitch. Most often used as a supporting instrument, they differ from other guitars in many ways, including size and scale. Whether you’re a bass guitar expert, learning how to play, or are just interested in facts about guitars, you might be wondering, why are bass guitar necks longer?
Bass guitars have longer necks, compared to other types of guitars, to accommodate and produce the deep pitch they’re meant to play. The guitar strings need to be long and heavy to play this type of sound, and they require a longer neck to support them.
The rest of this article will outline and explain in depth why bass guitar necks are longer than other guitars. The different types of bass guitars, varying mechanisms, and other general questions about guitars will also be discussed. To learn more about bass guitars and their size, continue reading below.
Bass Guitar Neck Length
The bass guitar produces a unique sound. Without it, most of the popular songs we know and love today would not sound the way they’re supposed to.
Bass guitars are similar in shape to their cousins, the acoustic and electric guitar, but the bass guitar is really quite different when you get down to it. One of the most significant differences between the bass guitar and its companions is its neck length.
In order to produce its deep notes, the bass guitar needs to comply with simple laws of physics. Bass notes, or low sounding notes, create a sound wave with a lower frequency. Frequency is the term used to describe the waves’ rate in a fixed unit of time, like seconds or milliseconds.
It’s All About Frequency
Lower frequency waves are more extended than short frequency waves. This means that they take up more space and require more length to occur correctly. and for a bass guitar to accommodate long sound waves, a thicker and longer guitar string is required to produce the desired sound.
A guitar makes its noise when the player pulls or plucks at the strings. The strings vibrate back and forth in waves that create sound. The frequency of a sound wave that a guitar string generates when plucked depends on two components, the string’s radius and its length.
If the radius or thickness of the guitar string increases, this will make the pitch of the vibration sound lower. In order to hold the correct amount of tension on the thicker string, a longer guitar neck is necessary. Without this tension, the string will flop and vibrate too much, causing it to have the incorrect pitch.
If you were to place the thick strings of a bass guitar onto a regularly-pitched guitar, the result would be a lower sounding note. Still, the shorter length would prevent the wave of lower frequency from traveling the correct distance to generate the right pitch of a bass guitar.
That’s why, to produce the correct sound of a bass guitar, the thickness of the string and the length of the neck must work hand in hand to make the low sounding notes that are desired.
Types of Bass Guitars
The class of “bass guitars” is actually composed of two different types of guitars:
- Long scale bass
- Short scale bass
Both guitars play the octave below a regular guitar, but there are some key differences to note when differentiating between the two.
The scale length of a guitar is defined as the distance between the bridge and the nut. It doesn’t necessarily correspond to the guitar’s neck length, although generally speaking, the long scale bass has a longer guitar neck than the short scale bass. Let’s dive in and take a look at how the two scale bass guitars are different.
A long scale bass is more or less the “standard” bass guitar. The long scale bass features a scale length of 34 inches (86.36 cm). Its sister guitar, the short scale bass, has varying sizes, but typically only reaches a height of about 30 inches (76.2 cm).
Long Scale Bass
A long scale bass guitar usually measures around 34 inches (86.36 cm) long. This type of guitar was introduced by a famous American inventor known as Leo Fender, the creator of the Precision Bass, or “P Bass” guitar, debuted in 1951. It was through this invention that the long scale bass grew in popularity among musicians and became the standard size for the bass guitar (Why Are Bass Guitars So Quiet?).
Due to the long scale’s length, the tension on the strings is increased. This makes the pitch of the notes played lower in comparison to the short scale bass. Increased pressure also causes the long scale bass to produce more clear and defined bass.
The long scale bass is generally heavier than other variations of bass guitars. The extended scale length causes a longer neck length to be used, which causes the guitar to weigh more. This increased weight is usually not a problem if you are playing sitting down, but for professional musicians, it can be harder to play a long scale bass guitar (Question: why is bass played with fingers).
Short Scale Bass
Another type of bass guitar is the short scale bass. While the long scale bass has a standardized size of 34 inches(86.36 cm), a short scale bass may vary in size. To be considered a short scale bass, the neck length must measure less than 31 inches (78.74 cm).
The short scale bass was introduced after the debut of the long scale bass by Leo Fender. The short scale bass was designed to be lighter and smaller for musicians who struggled to hold the long scale while playing standing up.
A musician might opt to use a short scale bass instead of a long scale because, generally speaking, they’re easier to play. With a lightweight feel and frets placed closer to one another, complex chords and notes that require a stretching of the fingers are achieved far more easily on the short scale bass.
Another critical aspect of the short scale bass is the tension of the strings. Because the neck is more straightforward, the strings are held in place with less stress than a bass guitar with a longer neck. Some guitar players may prefer this feel because it’s looser and floppier. Other musicians prefer the long scale bass because of the close tension it holds.
While both bass guitars play on the bass scale, their differences allow each guitar to produce its own unique sounds. Remember, the scale length and neck length are not necessarily related, but usually, a more extended scale means the guitar’s neck must be longer to accommodate the strings.
Uncommon Types of Bass Guitars
As highlighted above, the bass guitar can be divided into two main subfamilies: the long scale and short scale bass. These are the most common types of bass guitar, but there are other types that are classified by their scale length.
Here are the more uncommon varieties of the bass guitar:
Medium Scale Bass
It can be inferred from the name of this bass guitar that the scale length is somewhere in the middle between the long and short scale bass, and that’s precisely correct. With the long scale measuring at 34 inches (86.36 cm) and the short scale at around 30 inches (76.2 cm), the medium scale bass clocks in at approximately 32 to 33 inches (81.28 to 83.82 cm) long.
This type of bass guitar was designed with the intent of keeping the smaller and lighter size of the short scale bass, but including a portion of the length, the long scale bass offers to pull more tension between the strings (Question: Can Bass Guitars Have Whammy Bars?). This guitar maintains the tone and pitch of the standard bass without the incredibly long length and heavy weight.
Extra Long Scale Bass
The most uncommon type of bass guitar is by far the extra long bass. The scale has to be anywhere above 34 inches (86.36 cm) to be considered extra long, typically ranging between 35 and 36 inches (88.9 and 91.44 cm). This type of guitar is meant to include extra strings, which is why most five and six string basses have an extra long scale.
The extended length of the extra long scale bass helps hold tension on the additional strings on the neck. It goes beyond the deepened pitch of the long scale bass with thicker strings and added tension.
Bass guitars are the backbone of most pop and rock songs today. The bass guitar is one of the more difficult guitars to play, mainly because of its neck length.
A bass guitar has a longer neck compared to the acoustic or electric guitar because in order to produce the low notes desired, the guitar needs thicker strings over a longer distance so that sound waves of lower frequency have the room they need to travel.