Guitar sizing

What are your thoughts on less-than-650cm fretboard length classical guitars? If an adult novice student (playing daily for less than 2 years) is struggling to stretch between frets in the lower positions for certain passages and chords, is it worth sticking with the standard size for several more years to see if technique and finger mobility improve, or are there advantages to trying a 7/8ths-sized or other smaller instruments? If you know of a good smaller-sized instrument that is readily available, would you recommend it? Is there a decent affordable smaller instrument available online to order to try out the smaller size as an experiment in the event that smaller instruments are not available for local demonstration?

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    • Debbie
    • Debbie
    • 7 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Hi David, if you are in the US there is a Kenny Hill World Player model in 628 scale length. I have an older student in his 80s who doesn’t have great flexibility and this is a good guitar for him. If you’re in the EU Siccas Guitars has some short scale models by Wolfgang Jellinghouse that look nice. 
    I have a Kenny Hill 640 but I haven’t found it to be especially easy to play with regards to scale. I had surgery on my left hand a few years ago so I thought it would be nice to have a smaller scale guitar but just ten centimeters sorter and I don’t notice much of a difference. Actually my Cordoba 650 scale with a 50mm nut width makes a huge difference to me when I’m practicing a lot and my hand gets tired. So sometimes I will go from playing the KH to the Cordoba to give my hand a break. I actually want to sell my KH and go back to a 650. I only wish I could find one with a 50mm nut. They don’t seem to exist unless I get one hand made. 

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      • David
      • David.39
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Debbie Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. My guitar has a 51mm nut and the fretboard is 70mm at its widest at the sound hole. I’m thinking that perhaps the width of the neck is the issue after reading your description. 

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  • I am an older student who just acquired a Darren Hippner Hauser model with a 48 mm nut. Having a narrower keyboard surprisingly made a difference.  This difference is definitely noticeable when you compare it with instruments with a 52 mm nut. Also, having an instrument which has a body depth of 94 mm and a body width which is a little less than many modern designs makes it much easier to play. I noticed the difference when I placed it in my Hiscox guitar case that this particular instrument is a little smaller than my Kenny Hill New World Player Series instrument.  

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      • David
      • David.39
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Richard M Levy I have reached out to the luthier to see if they know where I might demo the instrument. Thank you for the interesting point about the body size. 

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    • David   The instrument I just purchased was a luthier made instrument by Darren Hippner. It might be difficult to find this particular instrument. I have been looking for several years for such an instrument.   I would look for instruments that are slightly smaller (mine is based on the Hauser 1939) and narrow nut 49 or 48 mm.

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  • I custom ordered my Jeremy Cooper double top to be a 640 with the primary thought being to have lower string tension to alleviate the chronic tendinitis I have had since 1976, induced by a 666 mm Ramirez 1A. Since I use only Savarez light tension strings, combining that with the 640 string length allowed making the top slightly thinner and lighter while still sufficiently robust with a benefit that this guitar is amazingly LOUD!

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    • David Krupka
    • Amateur guitarist/lutenist
    • David_Krupka
    • 7 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I agree that string spacing at the nut is more important than small differences in scale length. I have instruments ranging in size from 585 mm to 670 mm, and the difference in feel for the left hand is less than one would think. I suggest, as an experiment, that you try placing a capo in different positions and seeing how you manage with the corresponding scale lengths. This will give you some idea of how a smaller instrument will feel. I should add, though, that the difficulties you are encountering at the moment might have more to do with left hand/arm/wrist position than with instrument size. If you are self-taught, it might be worth consulting an experienced player or teacher. (Just a thought - my apologies if you've already done so.)

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      • David
      • David.39
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      David Krupka great idea! I will try the experiment to see how it feels. 

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  • Interesting question! Namely, I myself am "not-really-grown-up-sized" myself, 158 cm tall, and now on my 60s, my all-my-life friend normal-sized old hand made Yamaha has started to be a bit hard and demanding for my fretting hand. Nowadays, after finding the guitaleles I almost never play it any more, even if I still can stretch to it. Those are so much nicer to my hand, even if they are not that loud, they have a pleasant sound, or a sound that pleases my own ear. Of course they are not guitars, but they are "sort of guitars". I like my Romero Creations, B6 ( I tune it G-G) and "Big.D", the larger Daniel Ho-modell than the tiny tenor -sized is (I tune it E-E). I have not have a possibility to try how the "Papa Romero"-modell might be, but it is parlor, and so it is a guitar. size. https://www.romerocreations.com/parlor

     

    I almost hate the self-evident matter of  "of course an adult person plays full-sized instrument". Of course pianos and organ etc. are always all the same size, but no-one says that an adult must play only the double base, never the  violin,  because it is so little! 

     

    But, for me it somehow has become some sort of normality to change the sizes of an instrument. My main instrument is recorder, and they are all sizes from sopranino to great bass.  And, on my maturity I found found ukuleles - and they are all sizes, too.  And I ride both ponies and big horses, too.  Just "think on which world you now are", and it becomes possible to adjust the changes on your body to the demands of the "tool" - on the fretboard, too.  When changing from an instrument to another it takes some minutes, but it is not impossible, not at all.

     

    But - on the other hand: I have never been quick or virtuoso on that sight of view.  Maybe it is also because of that: All my youth and almost all my adulthood I played too big instrument? If you adjust your body to distances that stay always exactly same, might it be better to the brain-muscular "map"? 

     

    As a teacher I think, there is no reason to make the life too hard: if ever possible,  take an instrument that fits well to your body.  Playing, at least playing with goals, it will be difficult enough anyway.  But when been teaching also ukulele, I almost laugh to the pupils, who insistingly says, that they can not reach the 5th fret on soprano ukulele.  So so small instrument, can not be impossible.  It is your brain that do not stretch now, not your hand!  No reason to take the pupils´s fear or shyness too seriously, either. 

     

    But,  it is the sound, that matters most!  Why should only the beginner instruments be in smaller size?   

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  • As an FYI, Stephanie Jones does not play a full sized guitar, so I think it is fine to play a 7/8 sized guitar if one has small hands or a condition that makes a full sized guitar difficult. 

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      • David
      • David.39
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Dale Needles I was just watching her lessons on tremolo here on TB and was wondering if she might be on a smaller guitar. I was trying to calculate based on the video, so your response is timely and appreciated .

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  • Everyone's hands are different. I have a number of 650 and 640 guitars - all are 51 mm nuts. I find that there is very little difference between them in either sound or playability. That said, I find that players can be sensitive to relatively small changes. I use the same templates for all the necks and yet players will play them and find them to feel different - even though they measure exactly the same (by the same I mean within 100th of a mm). Different strings- both type (nylon, titanium, carbon etc.) and tension (low, medium, high, very high) can make a difference as well. Some players have ended up with mixed sets as their preference. Also many luthiers (Kenny Hill included) put a slight round on the fret board - not radiused as much as in steel string or electric necks but a subtle bit that makes barring easier. If you find the size of the neck or scale length is holding you back from progressing with your playing I wouldn't hesitate to go to a smaller size/scale. Try playing your guitar with a capo on the first fret - on a 650 scale this will bring you down to about 612- a very short scale - if you really want to get a better feel for this get a set of extra high tension strings and tune the guitar so that it is in standard tuning (Eadgbe) with the capo on. This will give you an idea of what a difference to the sound and playability it makes to go to a very short scale length. Iliana Matos said she recently tried a 630 scale length and might be switching to that.

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      • David
      • David.39
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Robert St Cyr so much to consider. Thank you very much for the detailed response and ideas to using a capo to test out lengths.

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  • A relatively simple test; at this stage play the "finger down chromatic exercise". That is on each string play it open then fretted at the first fret, leave your finger down on the first fret and play the second fret, leave both fingers in place and play the third fret, leave all fingers down and play the fourth fret. This is challenging for beginners and designed to help develop stretch in the left hand. If after 2 years this is not relatively easy then you should definitely consider a guitar with a shorter scale length. Put the capo on the 1st fret and try the exercise again. The scale is only about 612 mm there so should be very easy. The typical 7/8 guitar is around 620 to 630 mm so somewhere in between the full 650 scale and the capo on first fret. Hope this helps you narrow down what you need. 

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      • David
      • David.39
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Robert St Cyr I am going to try that test now. Thank you very much for sharing the idea. 

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    • david
    • david.24
    • 7 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I had a shorter scale length guitar for a while that I loved, and the main thing I noticed was actually with my right hand. The shorter scale length makes the strings a a lot softer feeling. You might want to try using lighter tension strings to see how that feels for your left hand when placing barres etc. The scale length hasn't made a noticeable difference to left hand stretches in my experience.

     

    I personally prefer the feeling of normal tension strings on a 650 scale length guitar. It feels responsive and comfortable for playing moderately fast scales to me. The softer strings resulting from a shorter scale length were really nice for holding chords for a long time, but sometimes felt more challenging to play accurately at speed.

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    • David
    • David.39
    • 7 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    That is an interesting point you make. I would not have thought of that. I’m thinking I might just have to spend more time working in my warmup on mobility exercises. That and time might be what is needed.

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