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As modern guitarists, we're always looking for innovative ways to improve our tone and playing experience. Multi-scale guitars are one of the greatest innovations in the guitar industry, though that's not to say multi-scale instruments are modern. In fact, they have been around for centuries, and many classical instruments incoporate multiple scales in their design. For example, the piano and harp have strings of varying lengths for the exact same reasons as multi-scale guitars. In this article, we'll explore the benefits of having varying scale lengths on a guitar, including how they improve tone and playability.
If you've ever tried playing a baritone scale guitar, be it a 6-string, 7-string, or 8-string, you've surely experienced how much different it can feel than a standard 24.75-inch or 25.5-inch scale. This is partially due to the longer distance between frets, which can make navigating the fretboard a bit slower and more cumbersome. It is also a result of the extra tension placed on each string. The amount of tension in a guitar string is dependent on its length and thickness. A longer string creates greater tension in order to reach the same pitch. In other words, a high E string on a 28-inch scale would feel much stiffer than a high E string on a 25.5-inch scale. More tension is important when you are tuning low and using heavier gauge strings, but it is not beneficial for the bendability of the higher strings. The fanned frets of a multi-scale guitar provide a solution to this problem while also improving ergonomics and intonation.
The primary benefit of multi-scale guitars is the ability to maintain proper string tension on lower strings, while minimizing the tension on the higher strings. It's the same reason pianos and harps have longer strings on the bass side and shorter strings on the treble side. Basses and baritone guitars have longer scale lengths so that their strings can maintain proper tension while producing lower frequencies. However, the increased tension from longer scale lengths makes it much harder to bend the higher strings and can lead to more frequent string breakage during intense bends. Multi-scale guitars deliver the best of both worlds by increasing tension on the lower strings without changing the tension of the lower strings. That means you can still bend notes just as easily on the higher strings, while achieving a crisp, punchy tone and excellent sustain on the lower strings.
Strings that don't have the right tension can wreak havoc on a guitar's intonation. If the string is too floppy, it will essentially bounce around in the saddle, changing the point of contact between the string and the bridge as it vibrates. The result of this is poor intonation, unwanted overtones, and a lack of sustain.
Multi-scale guitars also offer a more comfortable wrist angle due to the more natural position of the fret angles on higher notes. With traditional guitars, the frets are arranged perpendicular to the neck, which can cause strain on the wrist when playing higher notes. Multi-scale guitars solve this problem by angling the frets, resulting in a more natural and comfortable wrist position.
Imagine you are playing a bar chord on the 12th fret. On a standard scale guitar, you rotate your wrist so that your pointer finger is completely vertical at 12 o'clock, parallel with the frets. With a multi-scale guitar, your finger and wrist do not have to rotate so far vertically, making it much more comfortable to play higher frets. However, not all multi-scales are created equal, and it's important to consider the angles of the frets across the length of the fretboard. A multi-scale guitar with a vertical fret at the first fret means that the last frets will be angle forward (towards the bridge) more aggressively, and a vertical fret toward the higher end of the fretboard means the first fret will be angled backwards (toward the headstock) more aggressively.
It's important to consider where on the fretboard you spend, or plan to spend the most time when playing your multi-scale guitar. For those who play equal parts rhythm and lead, you probably don't want aggressive fret angles on either end of the fretboard. That's why we are huge fans of the Cort KX508 and KX507 models which feature vertical frets at the 8th fret. A neutral center makes both ends equally as accessible. However, if you are like most extended range guitarists and play mostly rhythm on your 7 or 8-string (1's and 0's anyone?), then you might want to consider choosing a multi-scale design with the vertical fret closer to the nut. That way, you don't sacrifice the ease of bar chords across the lower frets.
Some guitar players may be hesitant to try a multi-scale guitar because they think it will be harder to play. However, with just a few hours of practice, it's possible to adjust to a multi-scale fretboard. In fact, many guitar players find that the slight adjustment in hand positioning actually improves their playing and reduces hand fatigue.
It should be noted that some complex chords which require your fingers to stretch across multiple frets can at first be more difficult to hit on longer scales, but with some time, your hands will adjust and become more flexible. Just think of all the fantastic rhythm players who have no trouble tearing it up on their 28" scales!
Multi-scale guitars are the future of playing. With improved tone, better string tension, more comfortable wrist angles, and easy adjustability, it's no wonder that guitar players are making the switch to multi-scale guitars. If you're looking to improve your playing experience, consider trying a multi-scale guitar and see the difference for yourself.
Check out our full line multi-scale guitars from Cort.
Brett, the owner and founder of Ploutone, is a modern guitarist on a mission to create a sustainable future and build a thriving community through the power of music. Brett founded Ploutone to celebrate independent artists and foster connections among guitarists worldwide. With a vision of spreading positivity and promoting sustainability, Brett hopes to inspire others to push the boundaries of their instruments and contribute to a better world.MEET THE OWNER