Scale length and neck width versus hand size

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

Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by kechance » Thu Dec 15, 2011 2:56 pm

There have been many threads about what is better – a guitar with a big scale versus one with a small scale. But a guitar is a tool, and in my opinion there is no right size, except perhaps as defined in relation to the player's hand. The music comes from the interaction of the player with this tool. So, there are no 'monstrous' 664/54's any more than there are 'puny' 630/48's.

So, to the luthiers and instructors in the forum - how does one size the guitar to the player? And, given that there may be a range of suitability, should one play the smallest or the largest instrument that one can manage?

I did some collection of data among posts on scale length, scale width and hand sizes.

First I noticed, everybody gives different dimensions: finger lengths, thumb tip to pinky tip, index tip to pinky tip, palm base to index tip, i-m-a stack width...I personally think that the most important distance is index tip to pinky tip - those are the fingers with which you hold chords. (Despite this, the most commonly given measurement was thumb to pinky...)

Looking at index-to-pinky distances, I saw:
180mm corresponded to a preferred scale length of 664-670mm
170mm corresponded to a preferred scale length of 656-660mm
160mm corresponded to a preferred scale length of 650mm
150mm corresponded to a preferred scale length of 640mm
145mm corresponded to a preferred scale length of 630mm

Can any luthiers or instructors corroborate, or refute, this set of measurements? The goal is to give guitarists a direction as to which scale length to seek.

I was unable to gather enough measurements to develop a set corresponding to fingerboard width. Fat fingers prefer fat boards (52mm-56mm), skinny fingers prefer narrower ones (48mm-52mm).
Last edited by kechance on Thu Dec 15, 2011 4:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Theresa de Prat

Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by Theresa de Prat » Thu Dec 15, 2011 3:42 pm

This is interesting to me. I've been using a 650 scale guitar and just commisioned a 640 scale guitar.
It would be interesting to also take a poll of willing participants to get a better sample population for hopefully more accurate statistical data. Perhaps even giving details on "how" to measure. From tippy tip to tippy tip, or from middle of the finger to middle of the finger. Possibly even providing various lengths. Pinky to thumb, pinky to index, pinky to middle and pinky to ring?


Here are mine from tippy tip to tippy tip stretched out on a table on a ruler and streching each length to the most of my ability:

Pinky to Thumb: 210mm
Pinky to Index: 170mm
Pinky to middle: 140mm
Pinky to ring; 110mm


Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by kechance » Thu Dec 15, 2011 4:57 pm

I'm definitely one who can get bogged down in statistical funk and wonkishness. :?

I wanted to make the number of measurements minimal to simplify things. If people have too many numbers in front of them, then it becomes hard to make a choice or choose a direction.

In terms of how one places ones fingertips on the fingerboard to hold the strings, I think the most important measures are (a) 'finger stretch' for scale length, measured as index tip to pinky tip, and (b) 'finger stack' for board width, measured as pinky-ring-middle stack width.

I see thumb tip to pinky tip as being less relevant since the thumb is placed behind the neck, and short thumbs can be compensated by wrist angle, elbow placement, posture, etc. But most people, when they give a measurement, do seem to give that one.

Could those who are interested in this topic please give:

thumb to pinky distance
index to pinky distance
pinky-ring-middle finger stack (means those three fingertips, lined up in a line, measuring the contact surface that they cover on a ruler - like the A-chord formation)
preferred scale length
preferred neck width

If we get enough responses, I'll compile them into a revision to my initial chart at the head of this thread.

Starting with myself:

thumb to pinky distance 250mm
index to pinky distance 190mm
pinky-ring-middle finger stack 42mm
preferred scale length 664mm
preferred neck width 54mm
Last edited by kechance on Fri Dec 16, 2011 12:06 am, edited 2 times in total.

Theresa de Prat

Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by Theresa de Prat » Thu Dec 15, 2011 6:48 pm

Pinky to Thumb: 210mm
Pinky to Index: 170mm
Pinky-ring-middle finger stack: 34mm
preferred scale length: pending. using 650, but comissioned 640mm
preferred neck width: 52mm


Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by kechance » Tue Dec 27, 2011 3:17 pm


Post your hand size measurements in mm as shown above in this thread, and let us know your preferred guitar scalen length and nut width. I'll compile the results into a table of hand sizes and perferred guitar sizes.

Also, with reference to the question - should one go for the largest or smallest guitar that one can manage? The answer, I think, is go for the largest that you can play comfortably. The longer the string, the higher its tension for the same vibration frequency, and hence more volume. And a wider fingerboard gives more room for fingers in chord stacks. But is there an instructor out there who has an opinion about this?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Joseph Albert

Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by Joseph Albert » Sat Dec 31, 2011 5:38 am

thumb to pinky distance 250mm
index to pinky distance 185mm
pinky-ring-middle finger stack 40mm
preferred scale length Don't know because the largest I've ever played was 660mm. It was quite comfortable however and I don't find a 650 or 645 that I have played to be any easier.
preferred neck width Don't know because the largest I've ever played was 52mm. It was also quite comfortable. Narrower necks are more difficult to cleanly fret adjacent strings.

Of all the different guitars that I have played, the dimension that seems to matter most for me is the thickness of the neck. A thin neck is difficult because it puts my thumb too close to my fingertips and restricts the amount of stretch that I can do. The palm of my hand is long compared to my finger length. From the crease at the underside of my wrist to the crease at the base of middle finger is 122 mm. From the crease at base of the middle finger to the tip of the middle finger is 91 mm. Also, I have some arthritis so the tip joints don't bend very well. Thicker neck seems to help this as well.

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Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by Vlad Kosulin » Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:22 am

Pinky to Thumb: 240mm
Pinky to Index: 195mm
Pinky to middle: 150mm
Pinky to ring: 107mm

Preferred scale: 650
Prefer neck width: 52mm.
(still testing various strings with 2006 Sebastian Stenzel and Olinda OC-300)

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Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by lagartija » Tue Jan 03, 2012 6:15 pm

My hands are rather small (or medium for a woman) in that my palm is only 89 mm across (measured from the base of the thumb straight across to the edge just under the crease of the little finger), but my fingers are very flexible and I can separate them from each other pretty far. This is all due to playing; my other hand does not have this ability. The measurements below are the max separation for each pair.

Pinky to Thumb: 219mm
Pinky to Index: 191mm
Pinky to middle: 162mm
Pinky to ring: 108mm

Stack 234: 35mm

Preferred scale: 650
Preferred neck width: 52mm but the string spacing is 42mm from the center of E1 to center of E6.

Because I have small finger tips, I can use what my luthier calls the "speed spacing", so although the nut is the standard 52mm, the strings are closer together.
When the sun shines, bask.
Classical Guitar forever!

Jeremy Pacailler

Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by Jeremy Pacailler » Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:36 am

Tip-to-tip: (fully stretched)
Pinky to Thumb: ~210mm
Pinky to Index: ~170mm
Pinky to Middle: ~135mm
Pinky to Ring: ~85mm

Tip-to-tip: (relaxed)
Pinky to Thumb: ~190mm
Pinky to Index: ~155mm
Pinky to Middle: ~125mm
Pinky to Ring: ~70mm

the only guitar I have is a 615mm 3/4 sized guitar 48 nut
I believe a little bigger nut width maybe 50 is most comfortable and the 615 size is pretty decent for me.


Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by elcar » Thu Jan 05, 2012 1:04 pm

thumb to pinky distance 230mm
index to pinky distance 170mm
pinky-ring-middle finger stack 36mm
preferred scale length 650mm
preferred neck width 52mm

Robert Goodwin

Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by Robert Goodwin » Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:45 pm

Thumb to pinky - 215mm (small hands overall)
index to pinky - 170mm (amazing match to almost everyone)
pinky-ring-mid - 47mm (fat fingers)

preferred scale 630mm (small hands)
preferred neck width 52mm (fat fingers)

A 650mm scale guitar with a capo at the first fret (615mm effective scale length) works for me for anything not requiring high fret positions. Standard 650mm works fine for me in the Delcamp D02 lessons which are mostly first position with occasional stretches to the fourth fret.

Wayne S

Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by Wayne S » Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:55 am

This is a very useful thread "kechance" thanks for posting.
In answer to your question my opinion is that one should play the smallest instrument that they are most comfortable with.
Take for example the Violin, it has a much shorter string length than any guitar, it has no frets but can be played buy virtuosos at incredible speed without much stretching, (Given the fact that chords are not played) other fretted instruments like the Mandolin, Bouzouki, Balalaika and even the Ukelele have shorter string lengths. I have seen these instruments played very fluently including chords, base and melodies.
Smaller finger movements make for greater speed and accuracy and if less stretching is needed then the hand is more relaxed.
I have always had a problem with playing some pieces because of string length. I have two guitars at the moment one has a string scale of 658mm the other is 650mm. The larger one has the more powerful sound, the smaller is a copy of a Torres but is easier to play, so I guess from the list above my hands would probably suit a scale of 630mm to 640mm. I am not worried about the guitars volume there are ways to get good volume and projection without long string lengths.
The new Guitar I am now starting to build will have a length of 640mm as a starting point to see if it becomes easier for my hands. Too small a string length will hinder some pieces due to the bunching of the fingers in the higher positions (8th and above) and too large a string length causes me to have to stretch too far.
Neck thickness is also very important a few guitars I have played in the past had thin necks and were hard to play when playing barres so for most part a Classical Guitar neck should not be too thin, lets say nothing under 23 mm, 25mm to 27mm would be more suitable.

Here are my left hand sizes for the database:
Thumb to pinky stretched 235mm
Relaxed 225mm
Pinky to index stretched 170mm
Relaxed 160mm
Pinky-Ring-Middle Stack 35mm
Pinky to Ring 90mm
Pinky to Middle 130mm

Width at the nut I prefer 50 to 52 with a string space spread of 45mm
Cheers Wayne S.

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Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by OldC1guy » Fri Jan 06, 2012 3:59 pm

I don't know if I'll ever get another guitar, but I have found this discussion very useful if I do. I measured all the possibilities mentioned, pinkie to index 210 mm, for example, for which my 650mm scale would seem appropriate. Nut width is of interest to me, my old C1 is 50mm. I wondered if anyone has a way to measure the finger tip as it presses against the string. That is the one dimension that does give me some problems. I would like to try a 52mm to see if that helps. I pressed my ring finger against a sheet of paper, and brought a ruler up against the top and drew a line. Then I brought the ruler against the lower part of the tip and drew another line. The gap was 11mm. Has anyone ever tried this? Perhaps that might help one decide on the "correct" nut width.
I could spend hours researching historical posts, but I must get on with other activities, but thank you all for this wonderful resource.
I bought my classical guitar before my first marriage. That didn’t last, but the guitar did; one of the few things she didn't get...


Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by kechance » Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:17 pm

Thanks to all who have submitted data, so far. And thanks for many thoughtful posts.

On the fingertip-to-fingertip measurements, the stretch should be'intentional', but not nosebleed. If your hand is shaking and strained, then it is too much. The idea is to simulate what you can reach when playing. Splay your hand, under its own power in the air in front of you, then make the measurement.

On neck depth, like another thread particpant, I also find that a shallow neck causes considerable hand strain. Despite its importance, in the interest of simplicity, I want to leave that variable out of this analysis. And unlike fingertip stretches, finger stacks, nut width and scale length, all of which can be measured by a ruler, neck depth is best measured via caliper, which not everybody has. And necks of different depths can be compensated in varying degrees by finger curl, wrist arch and thumb placement behind the neck, which are also hard to measure.

Cheers - Ken
Last edited by kechance on Mon Jan 09, 2012 6:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Scale length and neck width versus hand size

Post by LVR » Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:56 pm

thumb to pinky: 195 mm
index to pinky 146 mm
These are first morning measurements, so they may stretch a bit more after practice, but not much.
I play a 630 scale instrument for obvious reasons.
The basic thing about playing the guitar is the pleasure you get from it. There's nothing wrong with pleasure is there?
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