Hand Size And Scale Length

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...

Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby scottfree » Thu Oct 07, 2010 3:50 pm

Hello,
My hand size with fingers spread is 8" from the tip of thumb to the tip of little finger. I have been looking at guitars and trying to figure out the best scale length. The guitar I've been playing on for years is a Ramirez 1A, 54mm nut 664mm scale length. It's just too uncomfortable to play and since I just play for my own pleasure, I might as well be comfortable. I was going to just get a 650 instrument but I'm wondering if i should go 640 or even 630. I know there are many factors that determine a guitar's playability other than just scale length, but I would appreciate any advice or opinions. Thank you!
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby FrankBlack » Thu Oct 07, 2010 11:57 pm

Something you might try is capoing your guitar on the first fret and then playing a few pieces as if the capo was the nut of the guitar. That is a fairly drastic change as it changes a 650mm guitar to a 615mm guitar. While 10mm (from 650 to 640) sounds like a lot, it really is negligible for most people. For some it may work, but if you are having a hard time making reaches, that 10mm might not offer much consolation. Of course, like anything, it is always best to try it out and see. Many local music stores should have a shorter scale instrument. It might be the right thing for you. Along with the shorter scale you might look into a slightly narrower nut/fingerboard. That might not work out if your fingers are short, yet still... ummm... "pudgy". On top of those options is a radiused fingerboard. Lots to consider. If you are playing regularly and still feel your stretch isn't enough, you certainly wouldn't be wrong to try some alternatives. It is all about the music, so do what works best for you and let us know how it goes.
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby scottfree » Fri Oct 08, 2010 2:48 am

Thank you!
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby musicake » Sun Oct 17, 2010 10:37 pm

I too thought about this question when I was purchasing my guitar a few years back-
for reference my hand size (tip of thumb to tip of little finger) is just a bit above 7 inches. I thought that a smaller scale would be better, allowing me to make farther reaches, and manage difficult passages with lots of string changes. However, the store I went to didn't have them, and I decided that I would stick to being a bit uncomfortable. (my guitar's scale length is 650mm) I was convinced that I couldn't do anything about my small hands and my inability to reach. However, a few years later and I scarcely notice that my guitar which was previously "too large" is now a very good fit, I can make most reaches quite comfortably (for example index finger on 6th string g, middle finger on 3rd string d and little finger on 1st string b)

I'm sure that with a little practice you'll be able to manage the scale of your guitar- after all you've got a good inch on my span to manage 1.4cm more scale length! All you need is some stretching :) (although scale length is a pretty good reason to get a new guitar ;))
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby lucy » Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:50 am

Hi musicake

musicake wrote: I was convinced that I couldn't do anything about my small hands and my inability to reach. However, a few years later and I scarcely notice that my guitar which was previously "too large" is now a very good fit, I can make most reaches quite comfortably (for example index finger on 6th string g, middle finger on 3rd string d and little finger on 1st string b)

I'm sure that with a little practice you'll be able to manage the scale of your guitar- after all you've got a good inch on my span to manage 1.4cm more scale length! All you need is some stretching :) (although scale length is a pretty good reason to get a new guitar ;))

I was interested to read this, as I also have small hands - only a 7 inch stretch. I haven't got my guitar to hand, but I'm fairly certain that I can just manage that stretch you describe above. However, in spite of this I still find some passages in more difficult music very challenging. I'm probably ok with anything up to Grade 7 and most of Grade 8 level. However, diploma level seems like a different story, with such pieces as La Catedral, Dowland Fantasia No.7, Barrios and arrangements of Albeniz.

You said in another thread you were at a conservatory, so presumably you play pieces of this level. I'm now wondering whether my fingers are shorter than yours? :? Earlier this year I ordered a 640mm scale guitar which will also have a neck width of 50mm (not 52mm) and I'm hoping this will help. If not, perhaps I will have to put it down to lack of technique! :mrgreen:
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby musicake » Wed Oct 20, 2010 8:22 pm

lucy wrote:I was interested to read this, as I also have small hands - only a 7 inch stretch. I haven't got my guitar to hand, but I'm fairly certain that I can just manage that stretch you describe above. However, in spite of this I still find some passages in more difficult music very challenging. I'm probably ok with anything up to Grade 7 and most of Grade 8 level. However, diploma level seems like a different story, with such pieces as La Catedral, Dowland Fantasia No.7, Barrios and arrangements of Albeniz.

You said in another thread you were at a conservatory, so presumably you play pieces of this level. I'm now wondering whether my fingers are shorter than yours? :? Earlier this year I ordered a 640mm scale guitar which will also have a neck width of 50mm (not 52mm) and I'm hoping this will help. If not, perhaps I will have to put it down to lack of technique! :mrgreen:


I'm not quite at the level you describe- I'm probably somewhere around the grade 6 and 7 level (maybe 8, judging by the ABRSM website), I can't really say since here in Finland our exams are somewhat different on a whole. Previously what I've done is that if something is completely unplayable, I've changed little bits of the piece (with the approval of my teacher) to accommodate my hand size- for instance leaving out or changing a note in a chord, or attempted to fret the section at a higher position, where frets are closer together and thus less stretching is required.

As for short fingers- I'm convinced that mine are very short! My longest finger is just under 7cm, and the shortest just over 5cm... so they really do cause problems!

As for a neck width of 50 mm, I'm not quite sure that 2 mm would make much of a difference- if we think mathematically we could estimate that on a normal 52mm guitar each string is approximately 9.6mm away from each other, and in a 50 mm somewhere along the lines of 9.2mm apart from each other. (In other words the distance between the 1st and 6th strings would be 48mm and 46mm apart respectively) I can't really say as I've never tried a narrower neck myself, and this is all estimation off the top of my head, but I hope the few millimeters do make a difference :) If you would be so kind as to let me know how the narrower neck turns out I might want to keep it in mind when I get my next guitar :)
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby lucy » Wed Oct 20, 2010 9:46 pm

musicake wrote: As for short fingers- I'm convinced that mine are very short! My longest finger is just under 7cm, and the shortest just over 5cm... so they really do cause problems!

Thanks for your reply musicake. My hands are very similar to yours: my longest finger is just over 7cm and my shortest just under 5cm! It is a problem. :mrgreen:

I have already tried out a guitar with a 50mm neck and it appeared to make quite a lot of difference. However, I won't really know how much difference, until I'm playing one regularly. It is due to be completed in December sometime. I will let you know how I get on.......
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby ken » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:02 pm

My hands are small, about 8" thumb to little finger with short fingers. I can play a 650mm without any trouble but I find tha 640mm makes it a lot easier to play cleaner. I had a 50mm nut once and it made the strings too close in the first positions to play cleanly. It seems hard to find a short scale guitar with a normal nut width. They tend to want to make them too narrow. That may work for some people mabe if you have very skinny fingers.
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby simonm » Sun Nov 21, 2010 3:02 pm

If you look on you tube you will see very young kids playing full size guitars that look bigger than they are.

What my teacher had me do right from the beginning was do finger exercises of various types to stretch and warm up and to develop finger independance. I didn't even touch the guitar during my first lesson. Apparently they are basically the same kind as professional piano teachers get their students to do before they start on the keyboard.
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby lucy » Sat Nov 27, 2010 1:52 pm

simonm wrote:If you look on you tube you will see very young kids playing full size guitars that look bigger than they are.

It's true that the vast majority of pieces are playable by people with smaller hands, even if they have to stretch a bit more, (but this also makes playing inherently more difficult). I'd like to point out that I played a full-size guitar from the age of 10 to well into my adulthood. It's just that now I've got onto the really hard pieces (above Grade Eight) the stretching is becoming too fatiguing and is also affecting the mobility of my other fingers. In addition, some pieces have stretches that are so large that I physically can't reach them. Eg. some chords in Barrios, or if I attempt to reach them, I risk damaging my hand.
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby Robert Goodwin » Mon Dec 27, 2010 8:24 pm

I am particularly interested in this subject because of my age. My entire body lacks the flexibility of a young person and forcing things can be quite painful. although my hand span is 8 1/4", my current guitar is 630mm and there are pieces I can play only on this guitar.

It's my understanding that the only reason for the longer neck is the perception of more volume. I have read arguments that the shorter neck results in lower string tension allowing the soundboard to vibrate more freely and thus giving better volume. I know that my 630mm guitar has a booming 6th string and the first three seem just the tiniest bit weak but that may just be my lack of skill (or fingernails). I can certainly get volume out of them if I make the effort.
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby Jean-Paul » Tue Jan 25, 2011 12:35 am

I have recently been doing research on my new future guitar, and scale has been at the top of the discussion with nearly every luthier I have talked to.

I have 6 guitars currently, and for the most part they are 660mm. My primary gig guitar is a 660mm Masuru Khono. My hands are actually pretty large (especially for my short 5'9" body) coming in from thumb to pinky at 10".

Most of the luthiers I talked to have convinced me to scale down to a 650 at least. I did play on a few and I have to admit that for my tougher pieces it does make a difference--currently working on the Promenade: Gnomus from Yamashita's "Pictures at an Exhibition" which has some really brutal stretches. I would love to play this on that 1A the original poster mentioned!

Renato Bellucci says on his site that if your hand spread is 9" or lower you should be on a 640mm. He hardly builds any spec guitars bigger than that now. I definitely want to try a radiused fret board. I don't know that I've ever played one, but it would probably spare my left hand without sacrificing too much volume.
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby tinpan » Fri Feb 04, 2011 5:23 pm

What a great discussion! You can find virtually any subject on CG being discussed somewhere on this site.

I was just wondering about scale length. My hand width from thumb to pinky is just under 9". I have been considering buying a new guitar with shorter scale length (640mm) in order to improve my dexterity and accuracy. Right now I play a Ramirez 1A with 650mm length. I can play most pieces fine...even more difficult ones such as Chaconne and La Catedral. But I've always gotten a sneaky suspicion that I'm not maximizing my potential on the instrument due to scale length.

I'm curious if others own multiple guitars at varied scale length. If so, is it a tricky proposition to switch back and forth between guitars? I worry about
moving between guitars and messing up my muscle memory of where my fingers go. I definitely want to keep my Ramirez because I love it for that big romantic Spanish sound. I just wanted to add another guitar to use for quicker pieces requiring more dexterity. I think the nut width is fine -52mm...it's
just the scale length I think is an issue for some stretches that are required.

Can someone share their experience owning multiple scale lengths and how it effects their playing/muscle memory when switching between guitars?

Thanks!
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby pablus » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:00 pm

I played 640mm for more than 2 years. Once my fingers got used to it, every time I picked out
my flamenco guitar, 650mm, I felt like it was a very big instrument. I sold my 640mm eventually since not only it
did not improve my playing but I got a bit of unwanted tension in my left hand. The reason for that was that
my 640mm got string spacing at nut a bit too narrow for me (I like 43.5mm). My hand span is around 8".
My lesson is that the most important parameters in a guitar are string spacing (at nut and saddle)
and neck thicnkess (I like very thin). Try to optimize these things first.
Finally, if my hand span was 7" I would definitely go with 640mm or even 630mm.
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Re: Hand Size And Scale Length

Postby Robert Goodwin » Wed Feb 09, 2011 7:09 am

pablus wrote:I played 640mm for more than 2 years. Once my fingers got used to it, every time I picked out
my flamenco guitar, 650mm, I felt like it was a very big instrument. I sold my 640mm eventually since not only it
did not improve my playing but I got a bit of unwanted tension in my left hand. The reason for that was that
my 640mm got string spacing at nut a bit too narrow for me (I like 43.5mm). My hand span is around 8".
My lesson is that the most important parameters in a guitar are string spacing (at nut and saddle)
and neck thicnkess (I like very thin). Try to optimize these things first.
Finally, if my hand span was 7" I would definitely go with 640mm or even 630mm.
P.

It's my understanding that a 'standard' 650mm guitar has a 52mm nut width. Do you have a 650mm with 43.5 width? If so, is this a custom guitar or a specific production guitar? I would be very interested in anything that could make life easier for my left hand.

With 8-1/4" hand span, my 630mm is difficult to bar with '1' and simultaneously span past three of the lower frets with the '4' finger. I can do it but I have to hit it just right. At best, it's not a pleasant experience. Nevertheless I can still make this span on a 650 at which point it is down right painful. I think it partly has to do with the strength in the '4' finger. Being an old geezer, strength takes a long time for me to develop. Fortunately, there isn't a lot of call for this particular acrobatic. Unfortunately my favourite piece requires it.

I also have a 3/4 student guitar which is quite a bit easier to play than my full width 630mm but there's not enough clearance between the strings and the sound is not very good (cheap guitar). It sounds like a cross between a guitar and a ukulele.

I find that playing different sized guitars is easy if you have the piece memorized and can look at the fretboard. It might be a little trickier with sight reading.
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