By Kenny Hill
SHORT SCALE GUITARS 640/630mm
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I have a real affection for shorter scale guitars. Somewhere along the line some people have arrived at the assumption that a longer string will produce more power, and conversely that a shorter string will produce a smaller sound. Not necessarily true! In the 60s, 70s and 80s a lot of Spanish guitars had a 660mm string length and a lot of Ramirez's had 665mm string length, presumably with the intention of making the guitar louder and more powerful. There are many beautiful sounding instrument with that kind of string length, but they are hard to play. Now the standard is 650mm. I think guitarists got tired of fighting with hard action instruments and wanted a more cooperative neck. A shorter string reduces the left hand reaches, and reduces the overall tension of the instrument, because the with the shorter length the string doesn't have to be pulled as tight to reach pitch. Maybe this is counter intuitive , but this lower tension can actually allow the top of the guitar to move more freely, and actually produce more sound.
In a 640mm instrument we take this just a little bit farther. The difference is slight, maybe imperceptible, but this difference can tip the scales of comfort for many people. There may be a general perception that a 640 is a "little" guitar, or under powered and weak, but this just isn't necessarily so. Before trying it I was skeptical, but over the years some of the best guitars I've made have been 640 scale. There tends to be an added warmth, malleability of tone, and cooperative feeling in both right hand tone production and left hand facility. And there is no sacrifice of volume. I've never had anyone, including outstanding players, comment about any inadequacies in a 640 scale. They just don't notice. In fact I've seen them in "blind tests" chosen above 650 scales many times.
I've also made quite a few 630 scale instruments. My London Model 19th century style guitar was the first guitar we made standard with 630, but I've done it with other models on a custom basis, and it's been very successful. In fact this 630mm string length is about the same as a Standard Les Paul, so it certainly not a "kids" feature. I have made 615mm guitars very successfully on our new modern Performance and Signature designs.
In the past we've offered all of our Master Series Models in 640 and 630 scale. And we've even made the Torres with a narrower 1 7/8" neck at the nut. These alterations uniquely suit smaller players, players with smaller hands and players finding fatigue or other physical issues to be obstacles when playing full-size instruments. I think we've succeeded in making smaller bodied and shorter scale guitars without compromising any quality in sound quality or loudness.
Currently you can have 650, 640, 630 and 615mm stringlengths on all of our Hill instruments at no additional charge.
Don't be afraid of a shorter scale, and don't prejudge it as wimpy, or an inadequate compromise. The fact is that this scale may be a more appropriate for many players, because of stature, style, age, or just because of the sensual pleasure of playing a more lithe and free instrument. And you don't have to give up anything.
© Kenny Hill, Felton, CA
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