Punchy Tones In A Compact Frame – The Best Short Scale Electric Guitars

BEST CHOICE

Fender Mustang 90 Short Scale Guitar

Fender Mustang 90 Short Scale Electric Guitar
Our Rating:
4.8/5

PREMIUM PICK

Sterling by Music Man Cutlass Short Scale

Sterling By Music Man Cutlass Short Scale Electric Guitar
Our Rating
4.9/5

BEST VALUE

Ibanez GRGM21 Short Scale Electric Guitar

Ibanez GRGM21 Mikro Electric Guitar
Our Rating
4.5/5

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Have you ever longed for the tone and style of a full-size guitar but in a smaller, neater package? If so, a short scale electric guitar could be just what the doctor ordered.

These axes are easier to play, especially for guitarists with small hands, and they offer smooth, focused sounds that pros love.

When it comes to quality, tone and ease of use, the Fender Mustang 90 is hard to beat, making it our pick for best short scale electric guitar. Small frets, P90 pickups and a 24-inch C neck combine to make the Mustang 90 comfortable, yet articulate and punchy. 

If you’re not a Fender fan, don’t worry — six other guitars have made our top contender list. No matter what pickups or style you’re looking for, our comprehensive guide is sure to help you find it.

The 7 Best Short Scale Electric Guitars:

ImageElectric Guitars
Fender Mustang 90 Short Scale Electric GuitarFender Mustang 90 Short Scale Electric Guitar
Ibanez GRGM21 Mikro Electric GuitarIbanez GRGM21 Short Scale Electric Guitar
Sterling By Music Man Cutlass Short Scale Electric GuitarSterling by Music Man Cutlass Short Scale Electric Guitar
Fender Duo-Sonic Short Scale Electric GuitarFender Duo-Sonic Short Scale Electric Guitar
Jackson RR Minion JS1X Electric GuitarJackson RR Minion JS1X Short Scale Electric Guitar
Squier Strat Mini 3-4 Size Electric GuitarSquier Strat Mini 3/4 Size Electric Guitar
Epiphone Les Paul Express Short Scale Electric GuitarEpiphone Les Paul Express Short Scale Electric Guitar

Fender Mustang 90 Short Scale Electric Guitar

If you’re looking for a small guitar with plenty of character and sparkle, you can’t go wrong with the Fender Mustang 90. This axe uses P90 pickups along with a 24-inch scale length to give you tones ranging from luscious and smooth to aggressive and biting. 

This guitar uses a solid alder offset body, along with a “C” shape neck (made from maple) and a pau ferro fretboard. The small offset shape is comfortable to play whether you’re sitting or standing. You’ll also get chrome panels on the body, which accent the space-age styling.

The pair of Fender MP-90 pickups provides smooth, supple tones which capture plenty of articulation. P-90s make great pickups for a wide variety of styles — their airy clean tones and crunchy drive sound great in everything from grunge to jazz. 

Ease Of Use
4.9/5
Sound Quality
5/5
Features
4.9/5
Fender Mustang 90 Short Scale Electric Guitar

Finally, the Mustang 90 offers a string-through body and hardtail bridge to keep your tuning secure.

Positives

Negatives

Ibanez GRGM21 Short Scale Electric Guitar

The Ibanez GRGM21 is a versatile guitar that gives you everything you need to rock out for a reasonable price. With its basswood body, maple neck, 22.2-inch scale, and dual humbucking pickups, this guitar has long been a favorite of adventurous players.

This guitar takes after the JEM style favored by legends like Steve Vai, with two sharp cutaways and pristine fretboard access across the length of the neck. The 3/4 scale (22.2 inches) is great for beginners or players with small hands who might have difficulty managing a full scale.

Behind the guitar neck, you’ll find two Ibanez humbuckers that are built for gain. Whether you like overdriven lead tones or heavy distorted rhythm sounds, the inventive switching system helps you find more of those unique tones. 

Ease Of Use
4.8/5
Sound Quality
4.6/5
Features
4.8/5
Ibanez GRGM21 Mikro Electric Guitar

It also has five positions for outstanding variety and combines both humbucker positions with coil-tapped wiring to give you the tone of single coil pickups in the same guitar.

Positives

Negatives

Sterling by Music Man Cutlass Short Scale Electric Guitar

Music Man is known for its premium models like the Stingray bass and Cutlass, but the Sterling brand makes Music Man quality accessible to many more players. Their short scale version of the Cutlass captures that ethos in an affordable yet luxurious package. 

The Cutlass SS opts for a solid poplar body, with a 24-inch scale and maple neck. It’s available in two flashy colors — shell pink and mint green — with the pink including a laurel fretboard and the green opting for maple.

However, the pickups are the real attraction here. With both a single coil in the neck and a humbucker in the bridge, you get the clarity and smoothness of single coil pickups without sacrificing the warmth and drive of a humbucker. 

Ease Of Use
4.7/5
Sound Quality
4.6/5
Features
4.5/5
Sterling By Music Man Cutlass Short Scale Electric Guitar

The different pickups make it easy to unlock different tones without buying more guitars. If you want to add some spice to your playing, you can also take advantage of the Strat-style vibrato unit for accents.

Positives

Negatives

Fender Duo-Sonic Short Scale Electric Guitar

If you love Fender’s short scale guitar styling and tone but want a bit more bite, the Duo-Sonic is the perfect option for you. This axe takes the features of Fender’s other short scale electric guitars and adds a few touches for greater versatility and power.

Like the Mustang, the Duo-Sonic features Fender’s offset alder body, a maple neck, and a pau ferro fretboard. The 24-inch scale is smooth and buttery to play, with lighter string tension and a hardtail bridge for stability, making it perfect for players with small hands. 

The pickups, however, are what set this guitar apart. The Duo-Sonic offers a single coil pickup in the neck for wavy, glassy tones and pairs it with a humbucker in the bridge to give you some extra punch on solos and leads. 

Ease Of Use
4.6/5
Sound Quality
4.9/5
Features
4.8/5
Fender Duo-Sonic Short Scale Electric Guitar

This combination has enough versatility for relaxed, ambient rhythm, but it shines when you play aggressively. With an amp at the edge of breakup, you’ll hear the guitar’s focused drive, without losing clarity and harmonic range.

Positives

Negatives

Jackson RR Minion JS1X Short Scale Electric Guitar

If you love the flying V body shape but want a more comfortable guitar, the Jackson RR Minion JS1X is a great budget option for you. This guitar condenses the famous silhouette into a 22.5-inch scale for a comfortable yet fun playing experience for players with small hands.

With a string-through poplar body and Jackson’s signature speedy maple neck, this guitar is built to shred. An amaranth fingerboard offers 24 frets for ripping solos high up the neck.

The neck’s graphite reinforcements mean it can hold up to any tunings you want — even crazy drop arrangements.

Ease Of Use
4.8/5
Sound Quality
4.4/5
Features
4.8/5
Jackson RR Minion JS1X Electric Guitar

Finally, Jackson outfitted this guitar with a pair of its high-output humbuckers. These pickups excel with heavy distortion and produce crunchy, soaring tones perfect for rock and metal. 

Positives

Negatives

Squier Strat Mini 3/4 Size Electric Guitar

With a 3/4 size body and scale length, the Squier Strat Mini electric guitar offers great tone in an easy-to-play package for guitarists with small hands or younger kids who are just getting started. So, if you’re in the market for mini electric guitars, this is a perfect choice. 

The lightweight body uses poplar, while the scale is 22.75-inches long. It’s also a full inch shorter than most other short scale electric guitars, giving it an even slinkier feel while further lowering string tension. Atop the maple neck, you get an Indian laurel fingerboard for vintage looks and smooth playability. 

Just because the scale is shorter doesn’t mean this guitar lacks any other appointments. The Mini features a set of three standard Squier single coil pickups, which provide the same tones you hear on Strats of all sizes.

Ease Of Use
4.8/5
Sound Quality
4.5/5
Features
4.6/5
Squier Strat Mini 3-4 Size Electric Guitar

With a hardtail bridge, master volume, tone knobs and a five-way selector switch, this guitar gives you the ability to tweak those tones exactly to your liking. 

Positives

Negatives

Epiphone Les Paul Express Short Scale Electric Guitar

If you want the sound of a Gibson Les Paul in a small, comfortable package, the Epiphone Les Paul Express is your best bet. This short scale electric guitar combines the humbucking sounds of a Les Paul with the comfort and style of a small instrument. 

The body is made from solid mahogany, with an arched mahogany top and set neck. You’ll also find a basswood fretboard, which mimics the look and feel of rosewood. The neck itself utilizes a C shape, with room for 24 frets — no small feat for a guitar this size. 

A pair of high-gain active HBZ humbuckers handle your tones; they’re able to boost or cut frequencies to fine-tune your tone. 

Ease Of Use
4.5/5
Sound Quality
4.2/5
Features
4.3/5
Epiphone Les Paul Express Short Scale Electric Guitar

Unlike a lot of other small guitar models, the Les Paul Express also features a small body shape, combined with a string-through hardtail bridge and bolt-on neck. These features are a bit unusual for Les Pauls, but they’re perfect for players who prioritize steady intonation, low action and affordability. 

Positives

Negatives

What is a Short Scale Guitar?

A short scale electric guitar has strings that travel a shorter distance from the bridge to the nut. This distance is referred to as the scale and shorter scales impact tone, playability and feel. Because it’s such an important aspect of your guitar, it’s important to understand the differences between short scale electric guitars and their full-sized counterparts.

Most full-sized electric guitars have a scale length between 24.75 inches (used by manufacturers like Gibson and Gretsch) and 25.5 inches (used by Fender and similar makers). You’ll find these scale lengths on famous guitars from the Gibson Les Paul and Epiphone Casino to the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster. 

There’s no hard and fast rule on what constitutes a short scale electric guitar, but most companies define a “short scale” as any instrument with a scale length of 24 inches or less. However, you’ll find some of the top short scale electric guitars ranging from 22-inch scales all the way up to the 24-inch “max.” 

This gives you a wide variety of different options to choose from. If you want a dramatic difference in neck size and feel, you can go for a 3/4 size guitar. If you’d rather keep most of the features of a full-size guitar with a bit of flair, a 24-inch scale guitar will be a better choice.

Is a Shorter Scale Guitar Easier to Play?

One of the main advantages of short scale guitars is their playability, particularly for players with smaller hands. The main reason for this is the distance between the frets. Shortening the guitar’s scale places the frets closer to each other. 

Having less space between the frets makes it easier to finger complex chord voicings without straining your hands, and to reach between low and high frets at once. This comes in handy for players with smaller hands, who might have trouble reaching difficult extended chords or shredding solos on a full sized instrument.

To imitate the feel of the frets on a smaller guitar, you can try playing with a capo on the first or second fret of your full sized guitar. This technique will approximate how far apart the frets are at the nut of a short scale guitar, and give you a better idea of the feel and sound of a short scale model. 

With that being said, the shorter scale guitar length also affects factors like the string tension and portability. Electric guitars often pair small scales with small bodies and necks, so it’s important to consider how one piece can change the others. 

String Tension

Along with fret spacing, string tension is the other major difference between a short scale and a full-sized guitar. Because a shorter scale length reduces the distance that a string travels under tension (between the nut and bridge of your guitar), short scale guitars tend to have lower overall string tension than their larger counterparts. 

Reducing the string tension on your guitar reduces the amount of “work” you have to do to fret notes — strings offer less resistance to your touch and it’s easier to perform sweeping bends and silky vibrato. If you love to play rock ’n roll or blues, this makes short scale guitars much easier to play than standard ones.

Of course, string tension also depends on the gauge of strings that you use. A set of the same strings will have lower tension on a short scale guitar than on a full scale, but many players try to compensate for this by using heavier strings on their short scale axe. If you have small hands, you might also exert less pressure on the strings than other players.

This brings the total tension of the string set in line with normal guitars, but gives you the benefits of a heavier set of strings like a louder sound and greater harmonic richness. It’s important to be careful, though — some short scale guitars (particularly Fender offset models) have bridge designs that struggle to accommodate extra heavy strings without buzzing.

Portability

Another factor to consider with short scale guitars is their portability. Because there’s less distance between the neck and bridge, and a shorter overall neck length, some short scale axes feature smaller, more portable bodies than other instruments. 

If you’re looking for a portable, comfortable guitar a short scale might fill the bill. The shorter necks and small bodies are easier to throw in the back of a car or take to a gig around town. The necks and bodies are also easier to grab with your hands — even if your hands are small. 

A 3/4-size instrument will look significantly different from a regular short scale electric guitar and from a full size axe. These small guitars use much less wood for the body and neck, which makes them lighter and more portable than larger alternatives. Not only are they great for players with small hands, but they’re also a fantastic portable option.

Do Short Scale Guitars Sound Different?

Feel is certainly the primary difference between regular and short scale guitars, but there’s a tangible difference in the sound of the two as well. Whether that change is a good thing is up to you, but it’s important to know the distinctions before you make a decision. 

The main difference in sound between short scale and full scale guitars is the “snap” factor. The higher string tension in longer scale guitars produces a snappy, twangy attack with lots of punch and bounce. 

Reducing the tension on short scale guitars also removes some of the pop from the attack of the guitar and creates a smoother, more rounded sound. Overall, this isn’t the primary influence on your tone — and players with heavier pick attack will always sound more “twangy” no matter what length neck they play on. However, it’s still an important part of your overall tone.

In general, longer scale lengths also allow for more harmonic overtones to color your sound. Overtones are the notes in a harmonic series that ring out along with the “fundamental” — the note that you hit on the fretboard. Players often describe guitars with more overtones as having a “luscious” or “colorful” tone with plenty of shimmer and sparkle.

The best short scale electric guitars don’t offer as many harmonics, which can give them a smoother, more direct response. This is perfect for some different styles of music, where letting harmonic overtones bloom isn’t as important. 

You should also note that different body shapes and bridge designs encourage harmonics more than others; short scale offsets often include more harmonic depth than some full scale guitars with different bridges. If you want the focus and smooth tone of the best short scale electric guitars but don’t want to sacrifice harmonic color, these guitars are a great option for you. 

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for the best short scale guitar, the Fender Mustang 90 offers tone and feel that you’ll love. 

However, if you’ve got a bit more cash to spend, a guitar like the Sterling by Music Man Cutlass Short Scale offers versatile pickup combinations with lots of vintage mojo.

Do you prefer a full-sized guitar or are you a short scale guitar fan? Do you have a favorite short scale model? Let us know in the comments section below.  

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