Since long scale format is the norm when it comes to popular acoustic guitar shapes like dreadnought, many have missed out on the benefits of having a short scale acoustic guitar.
To make matters worse, there is very little mention of the scale length when trying to purchase, causing first time buyers to neglect properly assessing the right scale length for their playing style and musical preferences.
A 25.4" long scale OM guitar
In line with this situation, it is only right to put the spotlight on the underdog, highlighting the advantages that short scale acoustic guitars can bring to your sound and overall playing experience.
Note that scale length is the length of the string from the bridge to the nut, and some may be surprised to find that the difference between long (25.4" and up) and short (less than 25.4") is very minimal. However, these seemingly small variances will add up to affect the instrument's tone and more noticeably - playability.
1. Easy on the Hands
Lessening the length between the nut and the bridge results in a shorter string, and because the string length is shortened, it requires less tension to keep in tune. This lower tension reduces the force required to fret and pick the strings, and also eases bending and slides. The overall result is that it makes playing them a bit more comfortable.
My son's 21.5" short scale 3/4 size nylon guitar.
The slightly lower tension may not be noticeable as you start playing, but it will be more obvious the longer you play the instrument. All things being equal, you will generally find that you can play longer on short scale guitars compared to long scale guitars, much like how you can do more lifting repetitions on lighter weights. Ultimately, this translates to longer and more comfortable practice sessions, making short scale acoustics ideal for students, beginners and for players that are having hand/grip problems.
2. Easy on the Ears
Short scale acoustic guitars tend to have a slightly warmer tone that better emphasizes the lower middle frequencies. This makes the guitar ideal for solo playing and for cutting through a small acoustic jam. The warmer voice also gives the guitar a more vintage vibe that many guitarists find inspiring. This is especially obvious when the short scale acoustic guitar has a small parlor style body.
24" Short Scale Alvarez AP70 Parlor Style Guitar
Although some loss of volume and sustain is expected because of the lighter string tension, the actual effect on the sound of the guitar is surprisingly pretty much negligible! Only when you prolong or ring notes will you notice the slight difference. It is also worth mentioning that in this era of microphones and amplification, any lack of volume can easily be compensated when performing on stage.
3. Easy on the Pocket
Although this does not particularly apply to all guitar builders, short scale guitars are generally more affordable - the reason being that they are usually built to target students and beginners.
Of course some specialty builders like Collings can put a premium price tag on a short scale parlor guitar with prices over $3,500, but you can generally get mass produced short scale models at much more affordable prices manufacturers like Ibanez, Alvarez, Fender, Washburn and more have affordable short scale parlor guitars on their lineup, and you can buy them for less than regular sized guitars. This is especially ideal if you are working with a budget, plus you also get the added benefit of a smaller more portable body, and a more pronounced vintage voicing.
In conclusion, although there are some drawbacks, the three advantages above should be reason enough to get a short scale acoustic guitar, even if you already own a long scale model. I especially recommend parlor style guitars because the smaller body and small scale add up to make them truly distinct and unique instruments.