The scale length of a guitar affects the tone and feel of a guitar but it is an often overlooked specification when many players are looking for a new instrument. In this article, I’ll compare the two most common scale lengths (24.75″ and 25.5″) in-depth so you can decide which is the best option for your next guitar.
The Quick Answer
Guitars with a 25.5″ scale length have wider spaces between frets and often use lighter strings to counteract the added tension created by the longer scale length compared to 24.75″ scale guitars. Guitars with a 24.75″ will often sound warmer compared to guitars with a 25.5″ scale which sound brighter.
Although both Fender and Gibson use various scale lengths, the 25.5″ scale is most synonymous with Fender guitars such as the Strat and Tele, whilst the 24.75″ scale is most commonly associated with Gibson guitars e.g. the Les Paul and SG.
|24.75” Scale Length
|25.5” Scale Length
|Frets are closer together
|Wider spaces between frets
|The strings are under less tension
|The strings are under more tension
|The guitars usually have heavier strings
|The guitars typically have lighter strings
|Harder to get a lower action without causing fret buzz
|Makes it possible to get a lower action without fret buzz
|Creates a warmer and fuller tone
|Produces a brighter and clearer sound
|E.g. Gibson Les Paul and SG
|E.g. Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster
What is Scale Length?
The scale length of a guitar is the distance between the guitar’s nut and the bridge. It is usually measured in inches, with the most common sizes being 25.5″ and 24.75″. The scale length affects the feel and sound of the guitar because it corresponds to the length of the strings.
The term “scale length” is used to give more of an approximate measurement because you can adjust the length of each string on most guitars by altering the saddle position.
Hence, the most accurate way to measure scale length isn’t to measure the distance from the bridge to the nut, but instead to measure the distance from the nut to the 12″ fret and then double it. That’s where the 25.5″ and 24.75″ scale lengths come from.
Effect on Tone
Guitars with a longer 25.5″ scale length will sound brighter and sharper compared to guitars with a shorter 24.75″ scale length which will sound warmer and fuller. Longer scale lengths produce clearer overtones which means that they sound clearer compared to shorter scale lengths which can sound muddier.
This is assuming all other factors are kept the same e.g. pickups, tone wood etc.
- 25.5″ scale length = tighter bottom-end and more high-end emphasis
- 24.75″ scale length = looser bottom end and less high-end emphasis
It’s hard to isolate the effect that scale length has on the tone of a guitar, because it is usually just one of a number of factors which cause two guitars to sound different from one another.
Take the Strat and Les Paul for example. The Stratocaster sounds brighter not only due to it’s scale length, but also due to its single coil pickups, lighter weight and different tone woods. The Les Paul sounds fuller and warmer also due to its humbucker pickups, and thicker body.
Guitars with a longer 25.5″ scale have wider spaces between frets compared to guitars with shorter 24.75″ scales.
Shorter scale lengths can be more useful for players with smaller fingers as it means you do not have to stretch them as far to fret more difficult chords. A 24.75″ scale is also more beneficial if you need to be able to move up and down the fretboard more quickly, as the distance your fingers need to travel is reduced and hence, the time it takes for you to move them.
If you have larger hands, the wider spaced frets on the 25.5″ scale may be more comfortable and feel more accurate and precise.
The difference is quite minimal though (less than 1 mm on most frets), which is why I can switch between by 24.75″ and 25.5″ scale guitars very easily without having to alter the way I play. Here’s a table to demonstrate the different fret spacing between 24.75″ and 25.5″ scale guitars.
|Les Paul (24.75” Scale)
|Stratocaster (25.5” Scale)
|At the 1st Fret
|At the 12th Fret
|At the 22nd Fret
The scale length of a guitar affects the tension of the strings. A guitar with a longer 25.5″ scale will put the strings under more tension compared to a guitar with a 24.75″ scale. The more tension on the string, the harder it is to fret and bend.
So how come Fender Strats and Teles aren’t a lot harder on the fingers compared to Les Paul’s? Well this is all due to the string gauges being used.
It’s not only the scale length which affects the string tension, but also the string gauge being used. In order to reduce the string tension on a guitar with a longer scale length, a lower string gauge is used. The opposite is also true, guitars with a shorter scale length will usually have thicker strings to make up for the lack of tension.
- Typically 25.5″ scale guitars (e.g. Fender Tele and Strat) are fitted with a set of 9-42 gauge strings
- Usually 24.75″ scale guitars (e.g. Gibson Les Paul) are fitted with 10-56 gauge strings
The action of a guitar is the height of the string from the fretboard. Having a low action makes it easier to fret a string, but also makes it more likely to buzz compared to a higher action.
Although you can get the same action with 24.75″ and 25.5″ scale length, you can only do so if it falls within the available range. The available action range differs for 24.75″ and 25.5″ scale guitars.
Guitars with a 25.5″ scale create more string tension which means the string cannot vibrate as freely compared to a 24.75″ scale. This means that you can get a lower action with a 25.5″ scale length without risking fret buzz compared to a 24.75″ scale.
Which Guitars Have a 24.75″ Scale Length?
- Gibson/ Epiphone Les Paul
- Gibson/ Epiphone SG
- Gibson/ Epiphone ES
- Epiphone Dot
- ESP Eclipse
- Gretsch Streamliner
- Ibanez Iceman
- Schecter Solo II
- Rickenbacker 381
Which Guitars Have a 25.5″ Scale Length?
- Fender/ Squier Stratocaster
- Fender/ Squier Telecaster
- Fender/ Squier Jazzmaster
- Fender/ Squier Lead
- PRS Silver Sky
- Jackson Soloist
- EVH 5150
- ESP Horizon
- Schecter C-1
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