Short scale guitars are that bit smaller than full size guitars, making them more comfortable to play. But it’s not only about comfort – their size brings with it a whole different tone. In this buyer’s guide, we look at the best available.
A short scale guitar has a shorter scale length, making it more comfortable to play if you’re an adult with small hands or you’re shopping for one for a child. It’s only a matter of an inch or two, but the difference is massive in terms of playability.
In this article, we are going to look at all the reasons why you might want to get a short neck guitar. As you’ll see, the benefits aren’t just for people with smaller sized hands.
Okay, let’s get started.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Short Scale Electric Guitars
- Squier Classic Vibe 60’s Mustang
- Fender Mustang 90
- Squier Mini Strat
- Ibanez Mikro
- Fender Duo-Sonic
- Oscar Schmidt Double Cutaway 3/4 Size
- Peavey Captain America 3/4 Rockmaster
- Jackson JS Dinky Minion
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information on Amazon.
Table of Contents
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Short Scale Electric Guitars
- What are Short Scale Guitars?
- Buyers Guide – Key Considerations
- So, Which Should I Choose?
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Short Scale Electric Guitars
Fender Mustang 90
The Fender Mustang is much more than simply a Fender short scale guitar. It’s an underground indie classic and, along with the Duo-Sonic below, is by far the most prestigious on this list. It has a reputation as a garage rock icon (used by My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, and Sonic Youth) that oozes non-conformity with its unique aesthetics, fat Fender tone, and tiny size.
Indie rockers Sonic Youth even have a whole section of their website dedicated to their gear. You need to have some serious cash to get hold of a vintage model, but if you’re happy to settle for second best you can grab one of these MIM (made in Mexico) Mustangs which will sound almost as good.
In terms of spec, the Mustang has a 24” scale length, small fingerboard radius (9.5 inches) with MP90 single-coil pickups that will give you the signature snarly mid-range and punchy low end. With a six-saddle string-through-body hardtail Strat bridge with bent steel adjustable saddles, it feels a lot like an easy to play Strat.
Scale length: 24”
22 medium jumbo frets
‘C’-shaped maple neck
2 x Mustang single-coil pickups
Six-saddle string-through-body hardtail Strat bridge
Woods: Alder (body) / Maple (neck)
- Classic style with modern electronics in a comfortable to play, short-scale form.
- Shorter frets and low action make it super easy to play.
- Super lightweight, easy enough to transport.
- No tremolo bar, which may frustrate some players wishing to raise or lower the chord.
- Pricier than most on this list, but you’re getting a classic, so it’s worth it.
Squier Classic Vibe 60’s Mustang
If the price of the Mustang puts you off, the good news is you can get a very good cheaper version of the Mustang at a fraction of the price. It’s made by Fender’s budget arm (Squier) so if you’re a Fender purist, it won’t interest you. But if you want a pretty much identical guitar at an affordable price, the Vibe 60’s Mustang is a great deal.
At first glance, the spec is almost identical. Same scale length (24″) and ‘C’- shaped neck and single-coil pickups. A slight difference in tonewood (this uses the cheaper poplar (rather than alder) for the body material.
The big difference is the type of tailpiece. If you look closely, you’ll notice it has a whammy bar. Yes, it has a floating bridge with a dynamic vibrato tailpiece, the same as you’d find on a Strat.
Scale length: 24 inch scale guitar
22 medium jumbo frets
‘C’-shaped maple neck
Bridge: Floating bridge with dynamic vibrato tailpiece (Tremolo)
Woods: Poplar (body) / Laurel (neck)
- A more affordable Mustang 90, using many of the original design features
- The floating bridge and whammy bar is a superb addition
- Same scale length (24″) and ‘C’- shaped neck for playability
- The fact it’s a Squier will put the ‘Fender purists’ off
Squier Mini Strat
Shopping on a budget? Well, here we have a mini Strat and arguably the best value stratocaster available, although admittedly it’s from Fender’s budget arm Squier so it’s not really the real deal.
It does, however. have all the attributes you’d expect to find on a Strat, just scaled down a touch. The scale length is a teeny 22.75″, making it one of the smallest Strats available. You also get the standard ‘C’-shaped neck, a 20-fret fingerboard, three single-coil Stratocaster pickups, and a five-way pickup selector.
It doesn’t have a vibrato tailpiece and opts for a hardtail bridge instead. This basically means no whammy bar, and while it might be fun to play divebombs with a whammy bar, hardtail bridges are much easier to keep in tune which is important for a beginner.
Scale length: 22.75″
22 medium jumbo frets
‘C’-shaped maple neck
Standard single-coil pickups
Bridge: 6-Saddle Hardtail
Woods: Poplar (body) / Laurel (neck)
- Great price.
- Hardtail bridge for solid tuning stability – makes maintenance (from restringing to tweaking intonation) much easier.
- The low weight, comfortable neck, and close frets make this ideal for the younger players.
- The body is made from basswood, meaning this may not be as long-lasting as others on the list.
- Extraordinarily light and therefore could be an issue for older kids or adults who see this too much as a ‘toy’ rather than an instrument.
The Mikro is set up like the full-size Ibanez GRG models, only shrunk down to size. Despite its small size, it still produces the tone you would expect from its larger siblings.
The scale length is particularly small at only 22.2 inches. The maple fingerboard and 24 medium frets make it perfect for shredding, so if you’re into metal, you’ll love it (though its dual pickups make it versatile enough to suit multiple playing styles).
The radius of the neck is quite large, measuring at 12 inches and some children may struggle to get to grips with it initially. The lightness should offset this: weighing only 9 pounds, it’s pretty light.
- Set up like full-size Ibanez GRG models
- Perfect for the traveling musicians or children.
- Low tension on the strings makes for easier playing and ideal for beginners.
- At 12 inches the radius of the neck is large.
The Duo-Sonic is another classic that found fame through the legendary Jimi Hendrix. Its uniqueness comes from its split pickups – a single-coil neck pickup and humbucker bridge pickup with coil-split capability.
Like the Mustang above, it keeps the 9.5″ radius fingerboard but changes things up with a pau ferro fingerboard as opposed to rosewood. Pau ferro boards sit between ebony and rosewood tonally, keeping the warmth of rosewood with a slightly snappier tone.
Despite these differences, you may be thinking the Duo-Sonic looks very similar to the Mustang. You’d be right, it does. There is one subtle, but big, difference. The Duo-Sonic has a slight curve towards the bottom of the body, making its middle curve more forward than the Mustangs. On the Duo-Sonic, the apex (i.e. the high point) of the curve is between the pickups. On the Mustang, the top is directly under the bridge pickup. This creates a slight difference in tone, and the Mustang is more comfortable to play sat down.
- Split pickups give you enhanced upper harmonics with an articulate midrange.
- Pau Ferro fingerboard looks and feels great.
- The 9.5” radius for playability.
- Not so great for playing sat down.
Oscar Schmidt Double Cutaway 3/4 Size
Modeled on the king of electric blues guitars (the Stratocaster), this mini guitar from Oscar Schmidt is worth a look at. It’s a ¾ sized double-cutaway model with a five-way pickup selector and a standard fulcrum tremolo bridge – giving this small six-string a few added extras.
Its tiny size and weight (only 5lb) makes it handy for traveling and busking or as a child’s first electric.
- Easily the smallest on the list, but still packs a punch.
- Extraordinarily lightweight and great for traveling musicians where portability is an issue
- Built to last. The company are reputable and have created a quality short scale.
- Too lightweight? May feel a bit toy-like for experienced players.
- For a ¾ size, it may be difficult to utilize the 24 frets. They are placed together closely which may be great for kids, but not so great for anyone with bigger fingers.
Peavey Captain America 3/4 Rockmaster
The Peavey Captain America is perfect for any comic book fan, child or adult alike. They’ve built the Captain America for the younger players – it’s light, comfortable to hold and easy to grip.
The controls are reasonably intuitive, perfect for beginners. You control the volume by a master switch and a three-way toggle switch. There is a coil-split activation which gives you a few more tonal options.
- Scale length is 22.5”, making it for kids.
- The rosewood fretboard makes for smooth playability and rich sounds.
- The decorative design is fantastic for children and adults with nostalgia for comic books.
- Basswood is one of the cheaper wood options. It sounds decent enough but isn’t as long-lasting as maple or mahogany.
- The sound quality may not be as crisp as some of the more expensive products on the list.
- This is designed for kids. Experienced players may find the instrument lacking in power.
Jackson JS Dinky Minion
In an eye-catching neon green finish, the Dinky Minion (nothing to do with the Minion franchise) is ideal for the younger heavy metal star. The 22.5” scale maple neck is small and comfortable enough for most kids to play sitting or standing.
It has two humbucker pickups, a single master control switch, and a master tone control. This gives children the freedom to mess around while keeping the actual process simple to master.
- Bolt on maple neck can withstand the vibrations produced by heavy usage, especially if used by heavy metal rocking.
- The heavier weight makes the Dinky feel more like the real deal than a toy.
- SA rosewood fingerboard creates a polished look and feel, giving the Dinky its rich, warm tone.
- The fingerboard radius is 12”, which can be tricky to hold for much younger players. However, older children and adults will have no issue getting used to the size.
What are Short Scale Guitars?
For example, Stratocaster and Telecaster scale length is the standard 25.5-inch length as you can see in the picture below. Fender does have short-scale models – namely the Jaguar, Mustang, and Duo-Sonic (which we review below) – which are all 24″.
The interesting thing is the Gibson full-length guitars are shorter by default. Les Paul scale length is usually smaller (around 24 ¾”) and their SG and Melody Maker models are also 24 ¾”. The Byrdland model goes as low as 23.5″, making it one of the smallest guitars in Gibson’s range.
Does short-scale mean there are fewer frets? Not at all, this is a common misconception. There is however less distance between the frets, i.e. the fret spacing is less. Some people call them ‘small fret guitars’. For small-handed players, this is what makes one a lot easier to play.
How to Measure Guitar Scale Length?
Guitar scale length (often known as ‘guitar neck length’) is the distance between the nut and bridge. You work it out by measuring from the nut to the twelfth fret, then doubling it. For example, here’s a Telecaster we measured at 25.5″.
Along with body size and choice of wood, string tension is an essential factor for creating good sound. The shorter length between nut and bridge requires less pressure to keep in tune. This lower tension also means that less force is needed to fret and pick the strings, so it’s easier on the fingers for newer and younger players.
Surprisingly, this also affects sound – the lesser string tension required actually gives you a warmer tone. Low-tension strings better emphasize the lower, middle frequencies, which is especially useful for beginners who will make thousands of mistakes while learning. You may find that the diminished string tension contributes to a slight buzzing sound if your action is set too low. This is fixable by adjusting the action.
In many cases, these products are purpose-built for the beginner, student or child. This means that they are often very affordable. The fact that they require fewer materials to make reduces the overall cost. It is worth noting that, however, there are many premium options that are just as expensive as full-sized models.
For the traveling musician, weight is a big consideration. Being smaller and lighter than a standard guitar, transportation is more straightforward. The smaller size also allows for easier storage which is excellent for homes without much space.
Buyers Guide – Key Considerations
Consider the wood type of the neck as different types are heavier or lighter. Maple can often be neck heavy, therefore not the best for children. Rosewood is also heavy and expensive but a great hard-wearing wood. Basswood is exceptionally light and can also be the cheaper option. As for the fingerboard, rosewood is good too for its warm, rich tones – the one downside is it often comes from Brazilian rainforests. Consider pau ferro, a sustainably sourced wood that captures the warmth of rosewood without destroying the planet.
You should also focus on the neck profile – it doesn’t affect the sound but can change the guitar’s playability.
The C shaped neck is the most common profile. Its comfortable oval shape is suited to most styles of playing. For beginners buying a short scale, go for a C-shaped neck.
Neck width is also important – ensure you have a diameter that fits comfortably in your hand. The standard neck width (of a Strat, for example) is around 43mm (or 1 11/16″) whereas your typical short-scale guitar should be slightly less.
So, Which Should I Choose?
In our opinion, the Fender Mustang is the best electric guitar for small hands. With its MP90 single-coil pickups, you get that signature snarly mid-range and punchy low end. Its low action and contoured body make it super comfy to play too. Plus it’s an underground classic – so if you’re into indie music, it’s the obvious choice.
The Fender Duo Sonic comes a close second and adds a nice twist with its split pickups and coil-split capability.
If you’re looking for a first electric guitar for a young child, then I’d look at the Jackson JS Dinky Minion or Peavey Captain America 3/4 Rockmaster – if your kid is a Marvel fan, then the Captain America is a no-brainer too.
If you’re an adult looking for something super short scale (22.2 inches), I’d check out the Ibanez MiKro. It’s super small size puts it right up there, and for many people, it’s the best guitar for small hands, period. It’s also an excellent travel guitar too.