If you’re an adult with small hands or a child, a guitar with a full-size scale makes it much harder to play the guitar and generally get around the fretboard.
So how do short scale guitars provide a solution? Well, short scale guitars shorten the distance between bridge and nut. The reduction is only a matter of an inch or two, but the difference is massive in terms of playability.
In this article, we are going to deep dive into short scale guitars. As we’ll see, the benefits aren’t just for people with small sized hands. Here’s a brief look at the products we’ll review in details in our product review at the end of this article.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Short Scale Electric Guitars for Adults and Kids
Fender Mustang 90
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Fender Duo-Sonic HS
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Oscar Schmidt Double Cutaway 3/4 Size
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Ibanez GRGM21M MiKro
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Peavey Captain America 3/4 Rockmaster
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Squier by Fender Mini Stratocaster
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Jackson JS Dinky Minion
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Ok, let’s get started. We’ll focus on electric guitars, but in large part, much of the information goes for acoustic guitars as well. By the end of this article, you should have a comprehensive knowledge of the short scale guitar, along with a few of our recommendations for the best models on the market. Let’s get to it.
- What are Short Scale Guitars?
- What Scale Length Are Most Guitars?
- Who are Short Scale Guitars for?
- Benefits of these Guitars
- Which Artists Use These Short Scale Guitars?
- Buyers Guide – How to Choose a Short Scale Electric Guitar?
- Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Short Scale Electric Guitars
- 1. Fender Mustang 90 Electric Guitar
- 2. Fender Duo-Sonic HS Electric Guitar
- 3. Oscar Schmidt Double Cutaway 3/4 Size Electric Guitar
- 4. Ibanez GRGM21M MiKro Mini Electric Guitar
- 5. Peavey Captain America 3/4 Rockmaster Electric Guitar
- 6. Squier by Fender Mini Stratocaster
- 7. Jackson JS Dinky Minion Electric Guitar
- So, Which Should Is Right for Me?
What are Short Scale Guitars?
The short scale electric guitar came into existence in 1958, when guitar maker Rickenbacker started manufacturing its ‘Capri’ series of guitar (which became the Rickenbacker 300 series). With a scale length of 20 ¾ inches, the first known short scale guitars were born.
So what is scale length exactly? Scale length is the distance between bridge and nut. The typical scale length of a guitar is 25.5 inches. A short scale guitar is anywhere from 22 inches on the short side to 24 ¾ inches on the long.
Does a shorter scale mean there are fewer frets? No, the shorter scale does not mean there are fewer frets. However, a shorter scale results in less distance between the frets. For small-handed players, this fractionally smaller distance between frets makes the guitar a lot easier to play.
What Scale Length Are Most Guitars?
Fender uses the standard 25.5-inch length on its Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars as you can see in the picture below. However, they have produced a line of shorter scale guitars – namely, the Jaguar, Mustang and Duo-Sonic, which are all 24 inches.
Gibson’s standard scale length is on the shorter side – they use a 24 ¾ inch scale on models such as the Les Paul, SG and the Melody Maker. Gibson’s Byrdland guitar has a scale length of 23.5 inches, making it one of the smallest guitars in their range. The Japanese make of Ibanez uses a variety of scales also.
Who are Short Scale Guitars for?
Adults with Small Hands
It’s surprising how infrequently scale size is discussed. Many adults (and let’s face it, blokes) feel somewhat ashamed to admit they have small hands. Well, more fool them. Like playing with poor fitting golf clubs, a poorly matched guitar to your physical build will hinder your guitar playing long term. Women, who usually have smaller hands than most men, can benefit significantly from short scale guitars for the same reason. Equally, beginners need all the help they can get – shorter scale length makes for a more compact fretboard with the frets being closer together. Shorter scales make it easier to maneuver between notes and chord shapes.
One of the many gripes that children have when learning guitar is having to stretch their fingers across the fretboard. A smaller scaled guitar makes it much easier for children to position their fingers correctly. Parents opt to buy short scale guitars or ¾ guitars as they are easier to grip and hold for kids. The strings can also be slightly looser on short scales, meaning a child’s fingers won’t get as sore.
Short scale guitars are often referred to as travel guitars, with good reason. They’re highly portable. Students who want to take their instrument away to university where rooms in halls are often small, and a traditional guitar would take up too much room can opt for a short scale. These guitars fit into a lot of cupboards, under the bed and anywhere else a student may go!
Traveling musicians, touring bands and anyone on the move can also benefit from short scale guitars, as they’re lighter and smaller: perfect for strapping on your back or throwing in the car.
Benefits of these Guitars
Along with body size and choice of wood, string tension is an essential factor for creating sound with a guitar. The shorter length between nut and bridge in a short scale means that less pressure is required 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. Remember the first time playing the guitar? Those blisters on your fingers may have been avoided by playing a short scale.
The lesser string tension required on short scales also allows for warmer tones to be played. Low-tension strings better emphasize the lower, middle frequencies, which is especially useful for beginners who will make a thousand and more 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, though it may take a while to figure out the correct action to get your preferred tone.
Full-scale electric guitars can be cumbersome, as their bodies are big and heavy. Short scales solve this problem, and the size factor is one of the main reasons a musician will opt for this over a traditional guitar.
For a child, the smaller body is more comfortable to hold and grip. For any musician, the short scale can be held and played for a more extended period than a full-sized guitar.
In many cases, a short scale guitar is purpose-built for the beginner, student or child. This means that they are often very affordable. These guitars are smaller with obviously fewer materials used to build them (which reduces overall costs). For the budget conscious musician, a short scale guitar might be the perfect fit.
However, as well as the models aimed at children, there are of course many ‘speciality’ short scale guitars which have a premium price tag. Some of the models we look at in this article are as expensive as full-sized guitars.
For the traveling musician, a lighter instrument is preferable. As short scale guitars are smaller and lighter than the traditional guitar, transportation is more straightforward. Their smaller size also allows for easier storage than a full-scale guitar, which is excellent for homes lacking in extra space.
Which Artists Use These Short Scale Guitars?
Indie and jazz musicians have heavily favored short scale guitars. But this doesn’t mean to say rock stars haven’t got their hands on the smaller instruments. John Lennon once expressed his preference to the Rickenbacker 325, as it was easier to play all those “rock and roll chords” on. The Rickenbacker 325 was also a favorite of Susanna Hoff of the Bangles and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. Singer Elvis Costello and Grunge legend Kurt Cobain were also often seen playing short scale guitars for chording and comping.
Buyers Guide – How to Choose a Short Scale Electric Guitar?
The considerations you’ll have when buying a full-size guitar will be the same when you buy a short scale, with a few exceptions. Let’s take a look.
You should be looking at rosewood, ebony or Pau Ferro as your options.
Rosewood has warm, rich tones and is extremely durable. The one downside is that often rosewood comes from Brazilian rainforests. Ebony boards have a similar tonal quality to that of maple boards and are known to be longer lasting than rosewood – and tend to have a darker appearance (dark appearance is one of the reasons they’re the preference of many heavy metal guitarists). In between Rosewood and Ebony, you have a wood called Pau Ferro, which is sustainably sourced wood that captures the warmth of rosewood with slightly more snap.
The best woods to look for are rosewood, mahogany and ash.
- Rosewood bodies are built to last, with beautiful warm sounds. It’s a hardwood, which requires a good deal of ‘pore fill’ before applying lacquer. This adds to its durability and excellent quality. Rosewood bodies usually are quite highly priced.
- Mahogany is mainly used for acoustics, but in electric guitars, it makes for a quality body too. It’s a common hardwood for guitar bodies as its durable and cheaper to buy than rosewood. Mahogany is popular with a wide range of musicians.
- Ashwood is available in two, distinct types: soft and hard. Hard ash is known for its bright tone and durability, whereas soft ash has a warm sound and was popular in Fender guitars in the 50s. Both hard and soft ash has an open grain, which requires extensive work with lacquers. This can lead to a higher price tag.
Neck Wood and Width
The main reason people buy short scale guitars is the comfort factor, so you don’t want to ruin that by purchasing the wrong neck width. Ensure you have a diameter which fits comfortably in your hand. A traditional guitar will have a neck width of roughly 1.7 inches whereas the usual short scale will usually come to around 1.65”.
You can also consider the wood type of the neck width as different types are heavier or lighter. Maple can often be neck heavy, therefore not the best for children. Basswood is exceptionally light and can be the cheaper option. Rosewood is also heavy and expensive but is built to last.
You should also focus on the neck profile when buying a short scale. It doesn’t affect the sound but can change the way you play. There are two main types that you’ll find on short scale guitars.
A C shaped neck is the most common profile for all guitars, short and full scale alike. It’s a comfortable oval shape and is suited to most styles of playing. For beginners buying a short scale, it makes sense to choose a C-Shaped neck.
If you’re buying the guitar for a child, it’s important to consider just how short-scale to go. There are a quarter, half and three quarter sized guitars, each of which is suited to different ages.
Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Short Scale Electric Guitars
So, now you know what you’re looking for in a short scale guitar, it’s time to look at a few of our favorites.
1. Fender Mustang 90 Electric Guitar
The Fender Mustang is much more than simply ‘a short scale guitar’. It’s an underground indie classic and, along with the Duo Sonic below, is by far the most prestigious guitar on this list. It has a reputation as a garage rock guitar (used by My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, 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 the Mustang you can find here. You need to have some serious cash to get hold of a vintage model, second best you can grab one of these MIM (made in Mexico) Mustangs which will sound almost as good (and for the price is an absolute steal).
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. If you want to match it with a similarly small amp, pair it with a Fender Champ 20 or Vox AC10 amp.
While all of the guitars on the list are in theory suited to children thanks to their miniature size, the Mustang is primarily an adult (or at the very least teen’s) guitar. If your 8-year-old child is really into his Nirvana, then he’ll love you forever if you get him one of these. But for the relatively musically clueless kid (I have two kids under ten years old and know all about that), a Mustang is total overkill. It’s like giving your kid a vintage VW Beetle as a first car.
- Shorter frets and relatively low action make it super easy to play
- Super lightweight and short makes it easy enough to transport
- Fretboard radius measures at the standard 9.5 inch
- No tremolo bar, which may frustrate some players wishing to raise or lower the chord
- Pricier than most on this list, but you are getting a classic, so it’s worth it
2. Fender Duo-Sonic HS Electric Guitar
Another MIM model from Fender, the Duo-Sonic is a sought after short scale guitar which began life in the 1950s as a student guitar but eventually found fame with luminaries such as Hendrix who played one. Its uniqueness comes from its split pickups – a single-coil neck pickup and humbucker bridge pick up with coil-split capability. Like the Mustang above, it keeps the 9.5-inch radius fingerboard but changes things up with a Pau Ferro fingerboard as opposed to Rosewood. Pau Ferro boards are between Ebony and Rosewood, keeping the warmth or 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 difference that does make a big difference. The Duo-Sonic has a slight curve towards the bottom of the body, making its middle curve more forward compared to the Mustang. On the Duo-Sonic, the apex (or high point) of the curve is between the pickups. On the Mustang, the top is directly under the bridge pickup. What difference does this make? As well as a slight difference in tone, 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
- a 9.5” radius allows for easy playability
- Like the Mustang, but not as cheap as some short scale guitars on this list
- Mustang is more comfortable to play sat down
3. Oscar Schmidt Double Cutaway 3/4 Size Electric Guitar
The Oscar Schmidt company is over a century old. Their first sales tactic was to take guitars door to door using travelling musicians. Short scale 3/4 size guitars, therefore, are pretty prominent in their repertoire. The model 6 is a ¾ sized double cutaway guitar. It has a five-way pickup selector and a standard fulcrum tremolo bridge, giving this small guitar a few added extras.
A maple body, 3/4 size and 24” scale length makes the Oscar Schmidt 6 grand for any touring musicians as its durable and portable. For a short scale guitar, this unit is exceptionally light; coming in at only 5 pounds. This also makes the Oscar Schmidt 6 the perfect starter electric guitar for children with smaller hands.
- Easily the smallest short scale guitar on the list, but one that 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 who like the weight to their instrument.
- For a ¾ size guitar, it may be difficult to utilize the 24 frets. They are placed together closely; which may be great for kids, but for anyone with bigger fingers, it could be an issue.
4. Ibanez GRGM21M MiKro Mini Electric Guitar
The MiKro is the first small sized guitar produced by Ibanez, making it the ideal instrument for a child. Despite its small size, it can still produce the sound quality you would expect from a traditional guitar. This is especially true when paired up with a decent amp. For a short scale guitar, the scale length is particularly small: 22.2 inches.
The maple fingerboard and 24 medium frets make this guitar perfect for shredding. Its pair of pickups means it is versatile enough to suit multiple playing styles. The radius of the neck is quite large, measuring at 12 inches. Some children may struggle to get to grips initially, but with practice, there shouldn’t be an issue. The lightness of the guitar should offset this; weighing only 9 pounds, it’s one of the lighter instruments out there.
- The unbelievable short scale length allows this instrument to be picked up and carried anywhere. Perfect for the traveling musician or those lacking space at home
- Low tension on the strings makes for easier playing, ideal for beginners wishing to play around and practice for extended periods
- Available in left and right-handed setups. This is a versatile guitar, allowing for a wide variety of players and playing styles
- At 12 inches the radius of the neck is large. More significant than the necks on a lot of other short scale guitars. This would require getting used to, especially for children and those with smaller hands
- The pickups are excellent for components included in the price, but to get the best pick, you should think about upgrading
5. Peavey Captain America 3/4 Rockmaster Electric Guitar
The Peavey is the perfect guitar for any comic book fan, child or adults alike. Peavey is a well-known brand for producing moderately priced guitars for the masses, including this ¾ sized guitar. They built the Captain America for the younger players – it’s light, comfortable to hold and easy to grip.
The controls are reasonably intuitive which is perfect for beginners not used to electric guitars. You control the volume by a master switch and 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 the ideal short scale guitar 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 for guitars. It sounds alright but isn’t as long lasting as maple or mahogany
- The sound quality may not be as crisp as some of the more expensive guitars on the list
- This is designed for kids and is a reasonably beautiful guitar. Experienced players may find the instrument lacking in power
6. Squier by Fender Mini Stratocaster
If you need a beginner electric guitar for a child that won’t break the bank, the Squier is a perfect choice. The 22.75” scale length allows younger players the ability to grip and hold a guitar for an extended period. Great for any newbies who need to grasp the basics of guitar playing. This is the smaller version of the popular Squier Bullet. The C-shaped maple neck and the 20-fret fingerboard is easy to grip which adds to the comfort and playability for smaller players. It has three single-coil Stratocaster pickups and five-way switching, making it easy to learn and use for newer musicians.
Setup has been made simple by the use of a hardtail bridge, instead of the floating tremolo usually found on the Stratocasters. From restringing to intonation, the hardtail makes maintenance simpler as the build is lighter without much tonal difference.
- Affordable price for a mini-Strat considering this is a smaller version of the ever-popular Bullet
- The maple build and hardtail bridge have created a guitar which stays in tune well, even after hard usage
- The low weight, comfortable neck and close frets make this ideal for the younger players who would struggle to hold more prominent guitars
- The body is made from basswood, one of the cheaper options for guitars, 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.
7. Jackson JS Dinky Minion Electric Guitar
Coming 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. This ⅔ scale guitar has all the makings of Jackson’s tone, playability and looks without breaking the bank. 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 a guitar rather than a toy, especially when compared to the Squier
- SA rosewood fingerboard creates a polished look and feel, giving the Dinky rich, warm tones
- 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
So, Which Should Is Right for Me?
As far as short scale guitars for adults go, top of the list has to be the Fender Mustang. 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 a definite. 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 makes it an excellent travel guitar too.
That’s your lot. By now you should have an excellent grasp of why a short scale guitar is worth buying and a pretty good idea of which guitar is right for you. Good luck with your purchase and thanks for dropping by.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.