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The Guitar's Scale Length, Your Hand Size and a Chart

I will cite the case of a marvelous concert player, a Japanese lady who is barely 5 ft. tall and with hands that are real miniatures. She plays a 664 mm 10 string guitar and demanded that I build this guitar with an action 1 mm higher than normal, which she handles with incredible ease. This is serious study!

Jose Ramirez III, Things About the Guitar, 1990

Here is the hand size and scale length that I found on the forum at

Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 250+ 664mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 230 to 250 656mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 210 to 230 650mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 190 to 210 640mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 170 to 190 630mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of below 170 615mm scale length

Here is my flexible imperial/metric ruler.

Here is my hand properly placed on the flexible imperial/metric ruler.

Today my reach from little finger to thumb is 240mm. I should more or less be playing a guitar with a 656mm string length. I study on one that is 664mm, but I find it more enjoyable to play on a 650mm!

So, Tico, what is the string length of your steel string guitar?


  1. I'm now learning to play classical, and the guitar, built by Michael Collins, is @ 655 mm. measured from the center of the bridge to the center of the nut. Therefore, it is the correct length for me. It feels good, and because I have played other guitars for years, the left hand is doing pretty well. The right hand, well...

    Thanks for the chart and all the other great stuff.

  2. I just went to Michael Collins website, wow, some nice looking guitars! I'm glad you enjoy your Collins guitar!

  3. Thanks for posting this and the excerpt from J. Ramirez III's book!

    Well, the chart is interesting, I know you did not come up with it, but I suppose it makes some sense. I read that it was derived from statistics based on player's reported scale length preferences vs. their reported hand size. I also read that the statistical sample was very small, only 30 people.

    I have a 248 mm reach (rounded to three significant figures) and play a 660 mm Alvarez-Yairi CY116. Should I switch to a 650 mm guitar? I have no horizontal (scale wise) stretching problems over the first 5 frets. It seems the main issue with classical guitar is the width of the fingerboard and the vertical stretches. If I capo the first fret and just play the guitar as if the 2nd fret were the first fret, I do not notice a huge difference in ease of playing, It just feels different, and the vertical stretches are still there naturally.


    Andrew Bulgin

    1. Andrew:
      Thanks for visiting my blog!

      I don't think you need to switch to a 650mm string length if you are comfortable with a longer string length.

      Since I hardly practice anymore, I find a 640mm scale length most enjoyable to play and that guitar is wonderfully loud and responsive, but so is my old 664mm Sherry-Brenner Hernandis!

  4. Hi Mr. Burnham!

    I just wanted to make a suggestion related to this issue and discussion.

    I think it is important that the measurement of the hand be made AFTER one has been playing for a while. I have found that when the hands have warmed up, the stretch is measurably greater.

    It's just my opinion, but I think the ideal case is to have a guitar of the maximum scale length one can handle given one's particular stretch. I think the thickness of the neck is often much more of an issue than say an extra centimeter of scale length.

    The quote at the top of the page makes clear the issues. This really talented, disciplined classical guitarist knew she needed the longest scale and highest action possible to get the best tone, volume and sustain. The power of the guitar lies in its subtle overtones and infinite variety of tonal colors. I think these are much more pronounced in longer scale instruments, maybe because of higher tension and greater potential energy, and maybe because the harmonics are more spread out and thus better isolated, I don't know. I'm sure there are many other factors affecting tone that are unrelated to scale length, but it does seem to be a major one.

    Best wishes!

    Andrew B.


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