Buyers Guides

7 Best Short-Scale Guitars (2023) That Sound Full!

When Fender released the Mustang in 1964, they wanted to make a petite guitar as a part of their student series, increasing accessibility to the instrument for a wider range of players. Moving into the ’90s, the widespread availability and low prices of these ’60s student models made them fast favorites with grunge artists like Mark Arm and Kurt Cobain, as well as indie-rockers like Buzz Osborne and Damon Albarn.

It turned out that not only were short-scale guitars easier for smaller players to handle, but they were also lightning fast for fully grown adults, and a ton of fun to play.

A number of the big names have a presence in the short-scale segment, ranging from the Mini versions of the Fender Jazzmaster, Jaguar, and Stratocaster, to the Mustang and Duo-Sonic models. The likes of Ibanez, Jackson, and Epiphone are also players in the short-scale guitars space.

In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll be looking at the 7 best short-scale guitars on the market. In this roundup, we focused on aesthetics, tone, and of course, playability.

Whether you are looking for a starter guitar for a young person in your life, or you’re a working musician searching for a serious performer, we’ve covered all the bases. Keep on reading to learn more!

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
Editor's Choice
Fender Duo Sonic

Fender Duo Sonic

Features: G24" Scale, Comfortable C neck profile, Coil splitting bridge humbucker

Benefits: Superb ergonomics, Versatile tones, Fast satin neck finish

10
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Best Value
Fender Mustang 90

Fender Mustang 90

Features: Dual P90 pickups, 24" Scale length, Hardtail bridge

Benefits: Accurate intonation, Huge P90 growl, Comfortable to hold

8.5
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Best Budget
Ibanez GRGM 6

Ibanez GRGM 6

Features: 22" Scale length, Reduced size body, Medium frets

Benefits: Comfortable for small players, Great travel guitar, Big humbucker tones

7
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Best Short-Scale Guitars: Our Top Picks

The Fender Mustang 90 is our Top Pick for a short-scale guitar. This Mexican-made Fender impressed us with its playability and build quality, as well as its attainable price. It looks fantastic and its comfortable 24″ scale length feels noticeably smaller than the typical Fender 25.5″ length.

The Ibanez GRGM21, from the MiKro series features a 22.2-inch scale with good build quality and components at a great price. It’s user friendly, the humbuckers sound clean, and it’s available in a variety of colors. At under $150, we’ve picked it as our Best Budget Option.

Our Editor’s Choice, the Fender Duo-Sonic HS sits somewhere (tonally speaking) between the Telecaster and Stratocaster, but unlike those models, its made with a comfortable short scale. It’s a super comfy guitar that always turns heads. If you’ve got the budget for it, we’re confident it’s a model you’ll fall in love with.


Best Short-Scale Guitars: Individual Reviews

Top Pick

A student guitar that became a grunge and indie icon.

You'll get more growl than you ever thought possible from this dual P90 loaded Mustang. It's big on attitude, and puts out some classic Fender tone.

After the success of the Duo-Sonic models, Fender expanded its Offset Series with the Fender Mustang 90. Today, it’s a longstanding garage rock icon that has been used by guitarists in bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine (and even has a Squier equivalent).

We loved the sleek double-cutaway alder body with offset body contours. Being a Fender-branded model (albeit an entry-level one), it was built with quality components and the kind of fit and finish we’ve come to expect from Fender. This short-scale electric guitar has a C-shaped maple neck, topped with a Pau Ferro fretboard and 22 medium jumbo frets. The radius was tight at 9.5-inches, and it all came together with a 24″ scale length, which in Fender terms is tiny.

The slinky maple neck on the Fender Mustang measured 1.65-inches in width right below the synthetic bone nut. This is a very slim nut width, and we found that it was extremely comfortable, especially for barre chords.

While Fender are renowned for their single coil pickups, P90s aren’t too common on models from the California brand. These pickups leaned hard into the punk image that the Mustang has developed for itself, and gave us the signature growl we expected, plus a relatively fat bottom end that absolutely loved distortion and fuzz. It served up some crisp cleans, too, with a strong midrange emphasis, and some beautiful shimmer, especially when run through a chorus pedal.

Overall, we found the playability on the Fender Mustang to be absolutely fantastic, and this was largely due to the superb factory setup. It came with a nice low action, and tuners that held strong with fantastic tuning stability. The neck relief was perfect and the intonation was accurate from top to bottom.

Verdict:The Fender Mustang 90 is a real icon, and not just in the world of short-scale electric guitars. It’s dynamic in both looks and tone, and is so much more than just another kids’ or student guitar (although it would make a fantastic first guitar if you’re willing to spend the money!). The build quality, playability, and tone were exactly what we expected from a Fender-branded model, and really make it one of the best short-scale electric models around.


Best Budget

Big metal tones from a tiny body.

This short scale Ibanez offers a comfortable reduced size body and a tiny 22.2" scale. It's equipped with a pair of hot humbuckers, that will have you chugging in no time.

While there are several options in the MiKro series, we picked the Ibanez GRGM21 for this roundup. Ibanez is a household name in the full-length guitar segment, but they were one of the first brands to develop a dedicated short-scale series with the launch of MiKro back in the early 2000s. These guitars are designed with the RG-series silhouette, a nato-wood body, and a tiny 22.2-inch scale length.

We found it to be a well-built short-scale electric guitar that sounded great and came in at a price point that should keep even the most budget-conscious buyers happy.

The compact body had a double cutaway for great upper fret access and a Stratocaster-style F106 hardtail bridge. It came with Ibanez trapezoid tuners, which held tune incredibly well considering just how cheap this guitar was. Combined with the hardtail bridge, we found ourselves extremely happy with the overall tuning stability. While it didn’t have a Wizard neck, we still found it to be extremely slim and comfortable. It was narrow at the nut and well suited players with smaller hands.

Topping the neck was a fantastic Jatoba fretboard with 24 medium frets and Sharktooth inlays. For electronics, it came with Ibanez Infinity Passive dual humbucker, which we thought sounded tight in the mids with a strong low-end. At this price point, any pickup that isn’t muddy is an achievement, so getting a pair of humbuckers that were actually good was fantastic.

Among the entry-level ¾-size models (assuming 1/2 size is too small), this Ibanez Mikro offers the most bang for your buck in our opinion. It has great playability for players of all ages and abilities, it was well intonated, and it looked fantastic.

Verdict: The Ibanez MiKro GRGm21 is one of the most affordable short-scale electric guitars on the market, but don’t think for a second that it’s just a “cheap” guitar. Considering the price, the build quality is on par with the entry-level models of the RG series, there are no flaws in the finish, the guitar is put together well, and it’s playable right out of the box.


Editor's Choice

Mustang attitude with the flexibility of mixed pickups.

Players who want sweet the sweet cleans of a single coil neck pickup and the screaming metal tones of a bridge mounted humbucker can get everything they're looking for in this awesome short scale Fender.

Fender has taken its original ’60s Duo-Sonic II and repackaged it with modern components and build quality, resulting in the Fender Duo-Sonic HS. It’s also available in the classic 2 single-coil setup, but our test model had the HS configuration.

The Duo-Sonic HS had an exceptional combination of indie looks and vintage charm, combined with great tone and playability, making it the most logical option for our Editor’s Choice award. Whether you’re young or old, we can all but guarantee this is a guitar you’ll love.

The Duo-Sonic HS is available in Red, Blue, and Sienna Sunburst. Our test model came in Sienna Sunburst, and we thought it really looked amazing. It featured a Player Series humbucker with coil-splitting capability in the bridge position, and a single coil in the neck position. The coil-splitting humbucker is one of the main reasons we prefer the HS version, as we technically got the best of both worlds.

It had a super comfortable offset body, paired with a C-shaped maple neck with a 9.5” radius maple fretboard. It has 22 medium frets with dot inlays, and the scale length was just 24″.

The Duo Sonic is a fixed-bridge model and had a six-saddle string-thru design and die-cast tuners, resulting in rock-solid tuning stability. The lightweight body and slim neck made it a compact, yet highly playable guitar for young players and adults alike. The build quality was excellent and we found no faults with the fretwork, finish, or out-of-the-box setup.

It had versatile tones that handled sparkling cleans and gritty overdrive with equal ease. The overall tone was crisp, with a noticeable emphasis in the lower mids. It was articulate and offered fantastic note separation.

Verdict: A few hours with the Duo-Sonic HS made it clear to us why musicians like Johnny Winters and Rory Gallagher were such big fans of short-scale electric guitars like the Duo Sonic. With its big frets, coil-splitting humbucker, and the lightning-fast neck, the Duo-Sonic is perfect for both studio and stage use. Smaller players will find it to be an exceptionally comfortable guitar, and bigger players will have an absolute blast swinging this thing around.


Also Consider

Aggressive looks and easy playability.

This is a guitar designed for young and young at heart shredders alike. It's loaded with a pair of humbuckers for big tones, and even features the signature sharkfin inlay.

Designed and marketed as a metal electric guitar for kids, the Jackson Dinky Minion JS1X is a 2/3 scale guitar for new players, particularly younger students. It had all the classic Jackson design features, including the reverse headstock, narrow profile, sharkfin inlays, and double-cut Super Strat body. The Dinky Minion is available in a wide range of bright colors like Orange, Pink, and Red, but our test model came in the more subtle black finish.

The JS1X featured a poplar body topped with a maple veneer and a bolt-on maple neck with a 22.5-inch scale length. The Amaranth fingerboard was fitted with 24 jumbo frets and marked with fantastic Pearloid sharkfin inlays. We were really impressed with the feel of the maple neck. It had a nice semigloss finish, which kept it from feeling sticky, something we always appreciate in an electric guitar.

The design coupled jet-black hardware with bright colors for a contemporary look that we absolutely loved. It also featured a contoured neck heel for amazing upper fret access, and a hard tail bridge for strong tuning stability.

The stock pickups were simple Jackson humbuckers that we thought sounded fantastic considering the price. They were hot, high-output ceramic humbuckers, and were clearly designed for aggressive rock and metal tones, although they were still able to produce warm cleans on the neck setting. As for the rest of the electronics, it had a master tone, a master volume, and a 3-way pickup selector switch.

Compared to other models in the roundup (and despite its name), the Dinky Minion felt the most like a full-scale guitar, while still having a shorter scale length. It was quite heavy, and although the scale was indeed short, it had a relatively wide nut. Regardless, playability was still great and we think it could potentially double up as an inexpensive travel guitar.

Verdict: While you won’t be confusing it for a flagship Soloist model, the Jackson Dinky Minion JS1X still does a fantastic job for the price. It’s intended as a starter guitar for both kids and adults who are inclined towards metal and rock, and has the perfect scale length for smaller players. It definitely looks and sounds the part, and it’s reliable enough for any beginner to get involved in playing guitar and to progress to the intermediate stages. For that reason, we’d gladly recommend it.


Also Consider

An affordable entry point to the Music Man Family.

With this guitar you're getting a 24" scale model designed to the same specs as the incredible US made model. It offers effortless playability and some beautiful cleans from its SSS pup setup.

Although Music Man and Sterling (its subsidiary ‘budget brand’) are best known for making excellent basses, they have created some killer guitars in their JP, Majesty, Albert Lee, Valentine, and Cutlass Series, too. One of our favorites, the Strat-style Cutlass series, just so happens to be available in as a fantastic short-scale electric guitar with a a 24-inch scale length.

The Cutlass Short Scale featured a double-cutaway poplar body with the trademark 4+2 MM headstock design. It came with a maple neck and was topped with a laurel fretboard. The slim neck, shorter scale length, and narrowly-spaced frets made it extremely comfortable, and we think it would definitely be suitable for kids and adults with smaller hands.

The pickups were the real attraction with this guitar. Our test model came with an HS pickup configuration, giving us a humbucker in the bridge and a single coil in the neck. We got clarity and biting tones from the single coil, and some superb warmth richness from the humbucker. We thought it had fantastic sustain, and that it did a great job of retaining clarity, even when the amp was heavily overdriven. Overall, it offered a lot of tonal versatility for such an affordable guitar.

This Indonesian-built guitar had a perfect finish, with no noticeable flaws in terms of build quality or finish. One minor complaint, however, was the lack of finish options. There are just two colors to choose from – shell pink and mint green.

Verdict: In terms of value, the Cutlass short scale sits between the economy models like the Mini-Strat and the models aimed at more experienced players like the Mustang P90 and Duo-Sonic. It offers fantastic build quality and tone, and feels more like one of the premium models we’ve featured in this roundup than the budget guitar it really is. We think this makes it ideal for students with a few extra dollars to spare, or adults who want to experiment with the 24-inch scale without spending too much.


Also Consider

All the features of a classic Strat in a compact package.

This mini guitar gives young players and those looking for a compact electric guitar the opportunity to play a genuine Stratocaster with its famous triple single coil setup getting those glassy tones.

The Squier by Fender Mini Strat is a fantastic mini-electric that features a compact neck and short scale to accommodate the needs of children. The guitar is also available as a student bundle with instructional material, a guitar strap, clip-on tuner, picks, and cleaning cloth. It’s available in a variety of classic and bright finish options including Arctic White, Sunburst, and Trans Blue.

We loved that the 3/4-size Mini Strat was almost identical in design to the flagship Strat. It had a robust build with a basswood body and a C-shaped maple neck with a comfortable 9.5-inch neck radius. It even came with a rosewood fretboard, featuring 20 medium jumbo frets and white dot inlays.

Being a budget Strat, it didn’t have a tremolo arm, but in reality, this is probably for the best when you consider the target audience. Instead, it had a six-saddle hardtail bridge, which was much better for keeping the guitar in tune, something students will appreciate a lot more than whammy bars.

At 22.3 inches, the Mini Strat’s scale length made it extremely playable for kids. When their guitar journey reaches 4-fret stretches and barre chords, this will be especially well received. We thought the guitar played well right out of the box and didn’t need any kind of setup. The electronics included 3 single-coil pickups, a 5-way pickup selector switch, and knobs to adjust tone and volume. Unlike with the full-size units, there was no second tone control.

Despite the scale length and smaller proportions, the Mini Strat didn’t stray too far from the classic Fender Strat tone. The bright clean tones sounded just like the iconic Strat tones we all recognize. The pickups were made with ceramic magnets, which made them pretty hot, and as a result they sounded great pushing an overdriven amp. 

Verdict: One of the best ways to ensure your kids actually practice is to ensure they love their guitar. With this genuine Squier Mini Stratocaster, we’re sure they’ll never want to put it down. It offers fantastic value for money, it’s well-made, it sounds great, and it’s perfectly proportioned for younger players. It’s one that we’d highly recommend to parents looking for a great guitar for their kids.


Also Consider

Acoustic warmth and comfortable nylon strings.

If you're not looking for an electric guitar, this short scale classical model is a great alternative. It's a great beginners platform, and offers excellent comfort and easy playability.

The Cordoba Mini II MH is designed for younger players, but it’s also ideal for travel, spontaneous jams, and campfire strumming. It has a narrow (by classical standards) nut width, a minuscule 22 7/8-inch scale length and a very slim neck, all of which helped it to serve as an acoustic guitar for beginners or players with small hands.

We received the mahogany version for this test, which despite the small size, sounded super warm and very well-rounded. It is also available in flamed mahogany and a Spruce/Ebony acoustic-electric version. The body was made with layered mahogany and had a a C-profile neck topped with a very nice Morado fretboard.

It had a matte, stain finish, which we couldn’t fault at all, and we found the overall build quality to be much better than the price would suggest. The neck hit the Goldilocks zone, being neither too narrow nor too wide, making it easy to play barre chords and strum open chords for players of just about any age or size.

If we had one gripe with this guitar, it would be that the sustain wasn’t particularly strong. Then again, it’s designed for new players, not professionals, so as long as your expectations are in check, you won’t be disappointed. Despite this, we found that note separation was good, and even when strummed, there was no muddiness.

Playability was good out of the box. It did have a higher action height, but the low tension of the nylon strings compensated for this. Intonation was accurate, too, and the tuning stability was great.

Verdict: The Cordoba Mini II is a fantastic short-scale classical guitar, with a soft, smooth, and well-balanced tone. Children will enjoy playing a guitar that truly fits them, and adults looking for a compact travel or campfire guitar will love the portability and comfort of this tiny nylon-strung acoustic. It’s well-built and we thought it looked fantastic.


How to Choose the Best Short-Scale Guitar

What Are Short-Scale Guitars?

Short-scale guitars are guitars with a shorter scale length than regular guitars. They offer several advantages, such as easier playability, comfortable fretting, and a unique tonal character. Whether you’re a beginner, a guitarist with smaller hands, or a music enthusiast looking for a different sound, short-scale electric guitars, or short-scale acoustics can be a great option.

One of the most important aspects to pay attention to when shopping for a short-scale model is the scale length. It might seem like an obvious statement, but even within the short-scale segment, the scale length can vary greatly depending on the make and model.

Short-scale guitars typically have a scale length of 22 inches to 24.75 inches, which in any case, makes them more compact and easier to handle. This shorter scale length reduces the string tension, making it easier for beginners and those with smaller hands to play.

Is There Any Difference With the Body Shape or Material of a Short-Scale Guitar?

The body material and shape have a huge impact on the overall sound quality of a short-scale guitar. Some of the most common body materials for short-scale guitars include basswood and poplar. Basswood offers a balanced tone with warm lows and clear highs, while poplar provides a slightly brighter and snappier sound.

Pickups and Electronics

The pickups play the biggest role in determining the overall sound of a short-scale electric guitar. Short-scale electric guitars come with either single-coil pickups, which deliver a bright and articulate tone, P90 pickups, which are bright and sharp but have a distinct growl when pushed into overdrive, or humbucking pickups, which offer a thick tone without the hum and noise associated with single-coil and P90 pickups.

Fretboard and Frets

The fretboard material and frets contribute to the playability and overall feel of the guitar. Guitars with a shorter scale length have shorter fretboards, and as such have fewer frets than their full-scale counterparts. If you are considering a short-scale model with 22+ frets, be conscious that the fret spacing will feel quite tight.

Look for short-scale guitars with a maple or rosewood fingerboard where possible. Maple fingerboards provide a bright tone and a smooth playing surface, while rosewood fingerboards offer a warmer and mellower sound, albeit with a similar overall feel. On more affordable short-scale guitars, you might find laurel, jatoba, or other similar rosewood substitutes.


Final Thoughts on the Best Short-Scale Guitars

If you’re in the market for a short-scale electric guitar or a short-scale acoustic, either for a smaller child or because you’re looking for something with low tension and easy playability, we’re confident that you’ll find something perfect in this roundup.

To summarize our favorite short scale models, our Top Pick was the Fender Mustang 90 which offered an amazing range of tones from cleans to screaming fuzz, while still remaining attainably priced. Our Best Budget short-scale pick, the Ibanez GRGM21 gave us fantastic playability and some genuine rock and metal tones at a price to suit every wallet. Our Editor’s Choice, the Fender Duo-Sonic HS served up an amazing variety of tones, with excellent comfort and styling.

If you liked our roundup, please stick around and check out some of our other articles such as our overview of David Gilmore’s delays, our buyer’s guide for kids guitars, or our deep dive into the gear behind Alice In Chains’ Dirt!

Author

  • Martin Holland

    Growing up in rural Australia, there wasn't much to do but play guitar and stare at the red dirt. When things broke, the only person to fix them was fifty miles away, and eventually fixing gave way to building, giving me my career as a luthier. I wouldn't have it any other way.