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How I Chose a Bass Guitar

Updated on October 16, 2014
robertzimmerman2 profile image

Robert is from south-east Florida and serves the world as a reference librarian. Also a musician, Bob plays bass in a Indie cover band.

Instruments come in different sizes!

It turns out there are other choices when it comes to the size of an electric bass guitar! Find out how I found the perfect bass for my playing style. Here is what every musician deals with in the size of the instrument they want to learn.

All kinds of stringed instruments, from the pocket ukulele to bass fiddle, each have a set of strings and each string is the same length but differing in thickness. The string length measurement is called the SCALE of the instrument. Even when instruments are identical but are available in several sizes, the scale of each one will be progressively smaller within the “family”.

Good examples of this are the related instruments violin, viola, cello and upright bass. They are the same instrument build to different sizes so the scale lengths are different letting each play different ranges of notes from high to low. Even within each size there are additional sub-sizes. The violin and bass are available in 1/2 and 3/4 sizes to accommodate younger players for example.

Violin body Bass Guitar
Violin body Bass Guitar

What About Bass Guitars?

On the bass guitar, the scale is measured from where the strings go over the bridge to where they go over the nut. The bridge is on the body of the instrument and the nut is on the end of the neck where the tuning pegs are. The strings go over the nut and are wrapped around the tuning pegs, one string per peg. That way each string can be tuned independently.

Stringed instrument bridges and nuts usually have grooves in them so the strings do not pop out. The grooves are not deep enough to bind the strings when tuning, just deep enough to prevent the string from sliding. Most electric guitars and bass guitars incorporate adjustable bridges made up of individual pieces called saddles that allow the player to adjust the functional length of each string so the instrument plays in tune all over the fretboard.

When I play the guitar I use most of the neck so an adjustable bridge is very important to me!

The picture below is an electric bass guitar bridge. The saddles are the pieces that each string bends over. The large black rectangle with silver dots is a pickup. Electric instrument pickups are magnetic so as each metal string vibrates over it, the pickup create an electrical current that goes to the amplifier which drive the speaker which everyone hears.

Bass Guitar Bridge

Bass Guitar Bridge
Bass Guitar Bridge | Source

The Other End!

Remember I mentioned that one end of the string goes over the nut? The nut lives at the end of the fretboard on the neck of the instrument. The end of the neck has a headstock with tuning pegs. The tuning pegs of a bass guitar are usually much larger than those of a guitar because the strings are much thicker to play the lower notes of the bass range.

It’s important to know that the scale length of a stringed instrument is measured from the bridge to the nut. This give you an idea as to the overall size of the instrument since the neck must be mounted on a body, whether that is solid or hollow which is made of some material like wood or graphite.

Sizes of Bass Guitars

The standard scale length of an electric bass guitar is 34 inches. Now, the guitars I am used to playing have scale lengths of 25.5 inches. That makes the standard bass guitar almost 10 inches longer than what I’m used to playing. No wonder I felt like I was reaching so far away to play the lower frets! And, the way stringed instrument scaling works, the frets of bass guitar are much farther apart near the nut than a guitar so my small fingers could not stretch to jumb from note to note easily.

I’ll be the first to admit there are plenty of small statured people (men and women) that play standard sized bass guitars. The difference between them and myself is that bass guitar is not my normal instrument. I don’t play it as often and don’t have the time to practice the technique required to make my fingers jump that far. Lucky for me there are other sizes of bass guitars available.

The next smallest scale length for bass guitar is 32 inches. This is commonly known as a “medium scale” bass. Not really much of a difference. and then, there are bass guitars with a 30 inch scale. These are called “short scale” basses. That size sounded much better to me.

I started looking around for information on medium and short scale bass guitars. Since my budget was about $200, the selection was not huge but there were a couple. Local music stores tended to have standard sizes basses and if the had shorter ones, they were much more expensive.

Bass Guitar String
Bass Guitar String

Internet Forums are great!

During my research I came across several user forums dedicated to bass guitar players. The one that really helped me the most was TalkBass.com. I not only found a friendly forum for a bass guitar noob like myself, but I found out that this forum had “clubs” for users of different bass and amp manufacturers and even specific models. There I learned about the Ibanez Mikro Bass Guitar!

I was already familiar with the name Ibanez, I owned two Ibanez guitars, one electric and one acoustic. Ibanez guitars have a differently shaped neck than other brands. This shape fits my small hands perfectly. On TalkBass.com there was even a Club just for Mikro Owners! I learned all the pluses and some minuses on this model but the overwhelming opinion was that this small scale bass was a great value and would meet my need perfectly.

The Details

I like details and facts ( one aspect of my personality that makes me a great Librarian). Here are the numbers of the Ibanez Mikro Bass.

Scale Length = 28.6 inches
Price = under $200
Quality = It’s an Ibanez!
Availability = Several colors!
Weight = About the same as any of my guitars!

The thing that struck me was the scale length of 28.6 inches, just three inches longer than my guitars. Could this be true? Well, I had to believe published specifications I read many reports of bassists that play standard scale instruments purchasing the MIkro for their children but then using it themselves, often buying their own.

I went to my local music stores and at least one had a Mikro that I could try out. Playing it for about 20 minutes, I could understand the attraction. Although the strings were much thicker than a guitar, the scale length meant the neck was very comfortable and I had no trouble playing notes all over the neck. They only had one color – black. I owned a black guitar in the past and it looked great if I keep it polished. Being a busy person, I rarely cleaned it so it always was covered with fingerprints. No way I would do that again, what should I do?

I checked locally but the only Mikro Basses available were black. That seemed odd. The Ibanez website shows four colors of the Mikro with a rosewood fingerboard – black, white, blue and purple. Also shown are Mikros with a maple fingerboard in black and white.

Well, I already know that the maple fingerboard will sound brighter. That was not the sound I was seeking since I play a wide variety of music, most of which would sound better with the rosewood fingerboard. I did not want black so that leaves white, blue and purple. I was leaning towards a white one.

After searching some more I found out that some were also made in orange. Hmmm , orange you say? I decided that was the color for me! One reason is that my Ibanez electric guitar is sort of orange and I thought they would match well if I played both during a gig.

My Ibanez Mikro Bass Guitar

Ibanez Mikro Bass Guitar
Ibanez Mikro Bass Guitar | Source

I ordered an orange Ibanez Mikro Bass and when it arrived I was excited! See it on the right? I knew I would have to do some adjusting and tweaking on it, I’ve done that on every guitar I have ever owned. I played it every chance I got including rehearsals with my band. The other guys loved the sound of the Mikro and agreed it was a great investment because now we had a bass player for any song we wanted one! The Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro Bass Guitar is a fantastic value!

If you are so inclined . . .

Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro Short-Scale Bass Guitar Roadster Orange Metallic
Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro Short-Scale Bass Guitar Roadster Orange Metallic

The Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro Electric Bass Guitar comes in several modern colors as well as traditional Brown Sunburst. The Mikro Bass is also available in left hand and five string models! Don’t forget to find the Ibanez gig bag to protect your new bass! I can personally recommend this model for younger players, ladies or gentlemen with small hands.

 

Which Size Bass Guitar for You?

MY preferred scale for Bass Guitar is . . .

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© 2014 Robert Zimmerman

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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi, nice hub found this very interesting, will be looking for more guitar hubs. Stella