A question we often get is how scale length relates to the number of frets to the body on guitars, with a common misconception being that short scale means 12-fret-to-the-body guitars, while long-scale means 14-fret-to-the-body guitars. In order to clear things up, Sound Pure acoustics specialist Barrett Brooks covers the difference between scale length and “frets to the body” in this short video.
The scale length of a guitar is, in common parlance, the distance from the nut to the saddle, and, more precisely, the distance from the nut to the 12th fret multiplied by two (don’t miss our post on measuring scale length if you need to take this measurement on your own guitar). When people talk about a short scale, it’s typically 24 3/4 inches, while long scale is over 25 inches. A greater scale length means more tension in the strings, since they have to span a greater distance.
Since short-scale guitars have less string tension, they have a little more wiggle room and punch. Small-bodied guitars tend to be short scale, including what we think of as blues-style guitars that you can really dig into to get a percussive sound. They tend to be more comfortable as well, since your fingers will be fighting against a bit less tension compared to a long scale. Conversely, because of the greater string tension, long-scale guitars can sometimes lend themselves more to flatpicking (though not always). The advantage in comparison to short-scale guitars is that you get more articulation, note-to-note separation, and volume, particularly if you’re strumming. (Short-scale guitars will sometimes produce too much string noise if you really lay into them.)
But what is the relationship of scale length to frets to the body? Instead of thinking about 12- or 14-frets as a length measurement, think of it more as a difference in where the neck meets the body, where the sound hole is, where the bridge is, and where the bracing is. You absolutely can have a long-scale, 12-fret guitar! Also, the 12-fret position on any guitar is the exact halfway point of the scale length. Conversely, you can have a 14-fret guitar with a short scale.
What’s important is that on a 12-fret guitar, the bridge, the bracing, and the sound hole are all in different places than on a 14-fret guitar, and that a 12-fret guitar will lose a little clarity and balance, but give you a much more bassy, full sound. In contrast, a 14-fret guitar will have more articulation and balance from bass to treble. Because this is similar to the distinction between short- and long-scale guitars, the two often get confused!
To drive the point home, Barrett goes over examples of guitars with different frets-to-the-body and scale-length combinations and the characteristics of each, so you can get an idea of the interplay between them. Some of the examples covered are 14-fret short-scale guitars, such as the Collings CJ35, 14-fret long-scale guitars, such as the Santa Cruz Pre-War OM, a 12-fret short scale, such as the Collings 001, and a 12-fret long scale, such as the Santa Cruz D12—all of which have unique characteristics due to their measurements and build. As always, do contact us with questions about particular models you might be considering, and how tonewoods, body style, and other build choices affect their playability and tone. We can help you select the perfect instrument for your playing style and comfort!