FRETS.COM Illustrated Glossary

Simple or maybe not so simple
Scale Length
© Frank Ford, 2/9/01; Photos by FF

The "scale length" or "scale" is a tricky bit to define. Generally, it's understood to be the vibrating string length, from nut to saddle, measured like this:

As far as I can tell, most luthiers measure from the nut to the center of the 12th fret and double that measurement for the "scale length." The only thing is that it doesn't seem to fit a lot of manufacturers' stated specifications if you do it that way. I like to measure to the 12th, double that distance, and call that the scale length, just to be consistent. Then, adding compensation for various strings, I'll call each of those lengths "compensated scale length." That way, at least I don't go crazy right off.

Now, just to drive us all nuts, some builders shorten the distance between the nut and first fret to improve intonation in low positions. That, of course, messes with our ability to measure the scale length on a given instrument.

Precise measurements are critical in building an instrument, but for the practical purposes of comparing instruments as to their tone and performance, approximate measure is just fine. I don't think 1/8" one way or the other will have much effect.

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