When Leo Fender introduced his P bass in 1951, he found 34"to be the optimum scale length, especially for all the upright bassists who suddenly found themselves transitioning to electric. But while a 34"scale length would become the standard in bass design—and still is—many of Fender’s competitors back in the day were content with a shorter string length, as exemplified by the Hofner 500/1 and Gibson EB-0. Fender eventually followed suit, releasing downsized low-enders like the Mustang and Musicmaster, and future builders then took these templates and adventurously sought to build better instruments—assuring the diminutive darlings a place in bass history.
Today, anything less than 31"from nut to bridge is considered “short-scale.” And while some might be tempted to dismiss them as cute instruments that are somehow inferior, informed players know better. But what exactly is it about short-scale basses that makes them so much more than a novelty? Is it playability? Tone? A travel-friendly package? The answer is a resounding yes to allof these. Bassists of all persuasions—from Paul McCartney to Tina Weymouth and Stanley Clarke—have relied on short-scales as their go-to bass. Former Roots bassist Owen Biddle—a fine example of low-end badassery—regularly slayed Late Night with Jimmy Fallon viewers with his CallowHill OBS. What’s more, most studio pros have a short-scale bass in their arsenal because of how well they tend to sit in a mix. And while some poor instruments of yore have inspired naysayers to insist that short-scale basses have floppy string action and inconsistent intonation, many devout, highly experienced players would argue otherwise. That’s largely due to much-improved modern construction techniques.
With both budget and boutique brands introducing instruments that satisfy a wide variety of sonic tastes and looks, it’s an exciting time to be in the market for a short-scale bass. And while there are manyawesome options for the short-scale consumer, the three instruments we’re reviewing here—Fender’s JMJ Road Worn Mustang, Spector’s Bantam 4, and Supro’s Huntington II—are emblematic of the quality and diversity in today’s offerings.