The short-scale bass – underappreciated, misunderstood and damn fun to play! Now, I think we can all agree that the bass guitar as we know it owes everything to its founding father, the Fender Precision Bass. This revolutionary instrument forever changed the face of popular music when it was released back in 1951, and it's still being mimicked today – with its 34″ scale length, arguably the most copied element of its iconic design. That said, not all basses follow in the footsteps of the P-Bass as this guide to the best short-scale basses proves.
Before getting into our top picks for the best short-scale bass guitars on the market, it's essential to understand what makes the short-scale bass such a different animal. Over the years, 'short-scale' has come to mean any bass with a scale length 31″ and under, with the average being 30″ or thereabouts. While it may seem insignificant, subtracting four inches from a bass string's vibrating length (standard scale length is 34") profoundly impacts timbre and feel. The bass becomes easier to navigate due to the frets being closer together, and the tension on the strings is reduced, resulting in a slinkier feel. From a tonal point of view, the bass can actually sound fuller and fatter.
To keep this guide diverse, we've chosen basses from a wide range of brands from Fender to Gibson, Jackson to Spector, covering a myriad of genres. We've also included handy buying advice at the end of this piece to help you better understand the world of short-scale instruments. So without further ado, let's dive into our choices of the greatest short-scale basses on the market that are sure to help you bring the thunder.
Best short-scale bass: Our top picks
If you are only going to have one short-scale bass guitar, you'd want it to be the Fender Player Mustang. For us, the Mustang is the reigning king of short-scale, and the new Player Series take on the late '60s classic, is one of the most versatile you can get. Combining the thunderous low end of the P-Bass pickup and the articulation of the rear Jazz Bass pickup, there isn't any sound this plucky little bass can't do.
For those on a limited budget, we'd highly recommend the Ibanez Talman Series TMB30-IV. This quirky offset bass clearly draws inspiration from Fender's underground heroes but still manages to put its own stamp on the design – resulting in a great-looking, fantastic-sounding bass that's surprisingly affordable.
Best short-scale bass: Product guide
The Mustang Bass has made quite the impact since it was released back in '64, finding its way into the hands of everyone from Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads, Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones and even Mikey Way of My Chemical Romance. Now, as cool as the original Mustang was, it wasn't the most sonically diverse. Well, that's where the new Fender Player Mustang comes in.
Combining the vintage look of the original with the superbly versatile PJ pickup configuration, this Mustang certainly kicks out a tremendous amount of tone. The popular C profile neck, with its 9.5″ radius fingerboard, will fit most hands. At the same time, the Satin Urethane finish gives the instrument a silky smooth feel.
So if you are longing for a versatile, good-looking bass that packs a punch, then you need to try the Fender Player Mustang.
Normally referred to as the EB-3, Gibson now calls the devil-horned short-scale bass the SG Standard Bass – and let's be honest, that's what most people call it anyway. While not exactly the same as the original EB-3, the SG Standard does sport all the hallmarks you'd expect from this bringer of low end.
At its heart is a set of Rhythm and Lead SG Bass pickups, with the large neck pickup delivering the creamy tone you want out of an EB, while the mini bridge pickup adds the much-needed brightness to balance out the sound. You also have a dual set of volume controls which means you can blend the pickups to your exact preference.
The deeply sculpted mahogany body of the SG isn't just beautiful, it's also functional. The rounded edges make it incredibly comfortable against your body, while the lightweight nature of the SG means it's less taxing on your back.
In the incredibly crowded beginner bass market, it's difficult to stand out. Still, the Ibanez TMB30-IV most definitely sets itself apart from the competition. Featuring a funky offset design and PJ pickup configuration, this bass looks as good as it sounds – couple this with the Talman's 30″ scale and you get a bass that it's insanely fun to play.
We can't stress enough how much bass you get for your money with the Talman Series. Coming in under $200/£200, this bass is a total steal, and with three finishes available - Black, Ivory and Mint Green – you'll easily find a color option that will suit your playing style and personality.
If you are a budding bass player looking to get into the short-scale game – without breaking the bank – the Ibanez TMB30-IV is the bass for you.
Many great players have proven that they don't need expensive gear to sound great, and nobody quite expresses this sentiment more than Mike Kerr of Royal Blood. The frontman and bass rule-breaker can often be seen putting this affordable Gretsch through its paces on stages around the world.
With a basswood body, bolt-on maple neck, 30.3″ scale length and basic control layout, it's fair to say the G2220 is a simple affair, but that's part of the charm. The mini humbucking pickups deliver all the low end you could ask for while bringing enough high frequencies to the table to ensure you hear every detail in your playing.
For us, this affordable bass gives you everything you need to get the job done. It's comfortable, lightweight and sounds outstanding – what more do you need from a bass?
Few basses are as distinctive and iconic as the legendary violin bass, thanks massively to a certain Liverpudlian who loved its lightweight, small neck and sweet tone.
The Ignition Series leverages the low cost of Asian manufacturing to offer a remarkably affordable take on the venerable classic. Combining a spruce top with maple back and sides, this bass doesn't just look the part, it sounds it as well!
With many details inspired by the original, including the set neck, Staple pickups and rosewood bridge, this is a surprisingly close replica for not a lot of money - and yes, it's available in a right-handed edition, thankfully.
Yes, we are fully aware that the Jaguar comes in a little longer than the rest of the basses on this list, but at 32″, it's still shorter than most standard basses, so we'll give it a pass.
For as enduring as the Jaguar shape is in the world of electric guitar, it may surprise some to learn that Fender didn't officially release a Jaguar bass until 2006 – we have no idea what took them so long. Nevertheless, the asymmetrical design lends itself so well to the larger size of the bass guitar, and the timeless styling means it looks like it has always been a part of the Californian guitar maker's impressive catalog.
This Squier variant offers players a look at what a Jaguar bass released in the '70s would look like, with its 3-Color Sunburst finish, era-inspired decals and block inlays. Luckily the Classic Vibe has a tone to match its handsome good looks, as the Fender-designed alnico single-coil pickups pack plenty of punch.
We have to mention the dual concentric pots, which, as you'd expect, offers control over the volume and tone for both pickups. This configuration leads to an elegant control layout, adding to the aesthetic of the bass as well as being functional.
As the smallest bass on this list, the Jackson JS1X Concert Minion is the perfect weapon of choice for the budding metalhead. Coming in at only 28.6″, this bass is clearly designed with youngsters in mind. That said, Jackson hasn't held back on features.
This all-black metal machine comes loaded with a high-mass bridge, which offers plenty of sustain, as well as Jackson branded P and J style pickups for tonal versatility. Throw in all black hardware, sharkfin inlays and the iconic pointed Jackson headstock and you have a devilishly demonic bass that's ready to rock.
So if you are looking to get your little minion started on the instrument – but you want them to do it in style – the Jackson JS1X Concert Minion is definitely the bass you've been looking for.
Don't let its lightweight, chambered alder body fool you, the Spector Bantam is heavy where it counts – in tone! Its deep-inset bolt-on neck has been meticulously designed to deliver perfect resonance and projection, while the EMG active pickups produce enough low end to level a building.
Featuring the classic NS body style, the Bantam is fully carved and contoured to fit your body, giving you the most comfortable playing experience possible. The aerodynamic silhouette is shown off in all its glory with the addition of a gorgeous quilted maple top, which certainly adds a touch of luxury to this bass.
So if you are looking for a beautifully crafted short-scale bass, you can't get much better than the Spector Bantam 4.
Best short-scale bass: buying advice
What is a short-scale bass?
If you were to measure the distance between the bridge and the nut of a bass guitar, you'd get its scale length. Most commonly, basses are 34″, and as we said before, this is a direct result of the popularity of Fender's Precision Bass.
Now, other basses of the time, such as the Gibson EB-1 and the Höfner 500/1, would try and break the established scale-length mold – by sporting finger-friendly sub-31″ scales – but unfortunately, this shrunken bass style wouldn't become the norm. The short-scale bass would go on to gain the reputation as a niche instrument for beginners and retro geeks – but as you can see with the entries on this list, that really isn't the case!
As the name suggests, short-scale basses reduce the distance between the bridge and nut and typically opt for a scale length around 30″.
This small change drastically affects how the instrument feels to play. As the neck is physically smaller, the frets are closer together, making chords, long stretches, and other taxing techniques easier to pull off, thanks to the tighter confines.
There's a direct correlation between the scale length of a bass and the tension of the bass strings. The reason basses need a longer scale when compared to, say, an acoustic guitar, is that they need to compensate for the loss in tension when tuning an entire octave lower. It stands to reason then, if you were to shorten that scale length – even by only 4 inches – you'll drastically affect how the bass feels to play. The strings on a short-scale bass guitar feel looser and slinkier.
Who are short-scale basses for?
The quick answer is short-scale basses are for anyone! Unfortunately, there's a common misconception among players that short-scale basses are reserved for your early years as a bass player – and it's simply not true. Some players just prefer the feel of the shorter instrument, while others gravitate towards its punchier low frequencies.
Now, while it's true that these shrunken basses are perfect for young players who may struggle to navigate the larger neck of a full-scale bass, they shouldn't be thought of as merely beginner instruments.
Gibson, Spector, Fender, and many other companies have high-end, professional-grade short-scale basses in their catalog, with many of them appearing on popular albums without you even realizing it.
Famous short-scale players
Many famous players have relied on the short-scale bass to achieve their iconic sound. Arguably the most famous 'bassman' of all time, Paul McCartney, used a Höfner 500/1 on many legendary recordings and live performances. In fact, he still uses the bass today!
For many people, when they think of the iconic Gibson EB-3 (SG bass), they think of Cream's inspirational bassist Jack Bruce, who used the short-scale bass to devastating effect on the majority of the band's renowned tracks. This bass was pivotal to the band's sound, and it's interesting to think how they would've sounded if the EB-3 wasn't in the picture.
Another notable fan of the shorter bass is Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads fame. Tina could often be seen putting a Fender Mustang bass through its paces as well as the Fender Musicmaster and Höfner Club.
Taking a look to the modern-day, we have Royal Blood's Mike Kerr, who not only employs the help of the Gretsch G2220 Junior Jet to achieve his earth-shattering tones but, more recently, he's been turning to the Fender Jaguar bass to pull off his effect heavy riffs.
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