When talking about the scale length of a guitar, it has to be understood that it has nothing in common with the scales that can be played using a guitar. Typically, scale length of a guitar is the length of the neck of the guitar. That is, the measurement from the nut to the bridge saddle. None of the guitar manufacturers make the instrument with a standard scale length. This is because the strings have to be of a certain length to keep the appearance, maintain the function or both.
Standard Scale Lengths
The length of the strings defines two major aspects of every electric guitar’s personality: 1) the distance between the frets and 2) the tension of the strings. If the scale length is short, the frets are placed closer to one another.The distance between frets is calculated based on a logarithmic formula. This assumes importance only if you are building your own guitar from scratch.
The most common standard scale lengths used for electric guitars are the Fender Standard (25.5”, 647.7 mm) and Gibson Standard (24.75”, 628.65 mm). Guitar companies also make very long or short ��mini’ guitars depending on what the guitar should sound like.
Whereas in a Les Paul guitar the distance from fret 1 – 2 is 33.30 mm, and from 2 – 3 is 31.43 mm, on a Stratocaster neck the distance from fret 1 – 2 is 34.31 mm, and 2 – 3 is 32.39 mm.
Differences When Playing
Other than fret spacing, when playing a guitar with a full scale length of 25.5 inch, it is slightly more difficult to play the chords and solo. Also, you can experience wrist pain to some extent after a few minutes of playing this guitar.
With a short scale guitar (24.75 inch or less) you can play solo faster and play the chords easily. Shorter scale length guitars are also useful if you are a beginner player and you have small hands.
Guitarists including Kurt Gobain and John Lennon preferred shorter scale guitars when they were into chording and comping. The full scale length guitars came in handy when they wanted their fingers from tripping over while doing acrobatics on the strings. They also used the full scale guitars for shredding and while playing the lead.
Shorter scale lengthy guitars have less tension to reach up to concert pitch. Full scale guitars have greater tension and have more sound clarity while playing higher overtones (twang). Heavier gauge strings used on short scale guitars create more vibrations and consequently fuzzy noise.
Wrapping up, the best method to understand the difference between longer scale and shorter scale electric guitars is to play them and understand the real feel and the music that you can create with each of them.