This buying guide presents a selection of the best short-scale guitars in the current market and addresses the frequently asked questions about tone, playability and scale-length.
When Fender released the Mustang in 1946, they wanted to make a petite guitar as a part of their student series. Three decades later, the short scale guitar has been adopt by grunge artists like Mark Arm and Kurt Cobain as well as indie-rockers like Buzz Osborne and Damon Albarn.
The Mustang spread through the underground scene in the 1990s and became a style statement. Today, the short-scale segment caters to adults in need of a workhorse as well as kids who struggle for comfort with standard guitars.
Fender dominates this segment with a large catalog of ¾ models ranging from the Mini versions of the Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Stratocaster alongside the Mustang and Duo-Sonic models. The other respectable models are span across a handful of brands like Ibanez, Jackson, and Epiphone.
The options are as extensive as standard guitars. Yet, we’ve tried to present a varied list in terms of aesthetics, tonality, and price. Whether you are looking for a starter guitar for your kid or a serious short-scale for performance, I’m sure you’ll find an instrument for your needs.
Let’s get to it.
- Our Top Picks for best short-scale guitars
- #1 Fender Mustang P90 – Our Top Pick
- #2 Fender Duo-Sonic HS – KGR Editor’s Choice
- #3 Ibanez MiKro GRGM21 – Best Budget Option
- #4 Jackson JS Dinky Minion JS1X
- #5 Sterling By Music Man Cutlass SSS
- #6 Squier by Fender Mini Strat
- #7 Cordoba Mini II Mahogany
- Short Scale Guitars Buying Guide
- Final Thoughts
Our Top Picks for best short-scale guitars
Fender’s Mustang 90 is Our Top Pick for a short-scale guitar. It would be a disservice to club it with the typical ‘student guitar’ short-scale models because it is so much more. The made-in Mexico Mustang 90 has a hip design and grunge tone that will sit well with alt-rock crusaders, garage rock buffs, and indie noiseniks. Think of it as a fashionable way to dive into crunchy and retro-chic tones with a 22.5-inch scale length. If you want a budget-friendly student guitar, I recommend the Squier by Fender Bullet Mustang HH.
Ibanez GRGM21 from the MiKro series features a 22.2-inch scale with good build-quality and components for the price. It isn’t built for recording or performance, but the electronics are simple, the humbuckers sound clean, and the model is available in a variety of colors. At under $150, we’ve picked it as our Best Budget Option. I highly recommend it for kids and young players with small hands.
From assertive bridge tones to midrange punch to jingle-jangle, Fender Duo-Sonic HS has squawk and a squall that is part-Tele and part-Stratocaster. It also adamantly defies the “student guitar” label with its storied history and modern features. The massive tones and modest price tag make a compelling case to feature it as the KGR Editor’s Pick. If the Fender logo isn’t proof enough, Duo-Sonic also carries a John McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix stamp of approval.
#1 Fender Mustang P90 – Our Top Pick
After the success of the Duo-Sonic models, Fender expanded its Offset Series with the 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.
It’s made with a sleek double-cutaway alder body with offset body contours. While it may not conform to the Fender aesthetics, it has the quality components and build that one would expect from Fender. The C-shaped maple neck sports a Pau Ferro fretboard with 22 medium jumbo frets and a modest 9.5-inch fingerboard radius.
The slinky neck measures 1.65-inches right below the synthetic bone nut. A clear indication that small hands will face no problems while playing barre chords. The atypical electronics center around two P90 pickups. The EQ panel consists of a tone knob, volume knob, and a pickup selector.
If you thought a Fender with soap bars cannot sound great, the Mustang’s got news for you. The P90s are often described as the love child of a chunky Les Paul humbucker and a bright Fender single-coil. The deliver a fat low-end and have a penchant for distortion and fuzz. The clean tones also reflect an emphasis in the midrange though there is plenty of ‘Fender twang’ to be had from the bridge position.
Verdict:The Fender Mustang 90 is the most prestigious short-scale on offer. It’s dynamic in both looks and tone and not just another ‘kids’ guitar, although it could accomplish that as well if the price doesn’t bother you. The build quality, playability, and tone carry the Fender pedigree, and the fact that Kurt Cobain’s owned several of these is a bonus.
#2 Fender Duo-Sonic HS – KGR Editor’s Choice
Fender has taken its original 60s Duo-Sonic II and repackaged it with modern elements and an affordable price. Thereby we have Duo-Sonic HS, which we’ll be reviewing, but they also offer the Player Duo-Sonic with two single-coil pickups.
The Duo-Sonic HS is an exceptional combination of indie looks with vintage charm to become our top pick for young or old guitarists looking for a short-scale instrument. The student-turned classic Duo-Sonic HS is available in Red, Blue Sienna Sunburst.
It features a Player Series humbucker with coil-split capability in the bridge position and a single-coil in the neck position. The offset body is shaped to the classic specs alongside a C-shaped maple neck with a 9.5” maple fingerboard. It has 22 medium frets with dot inlays.
The fixed bridge has a six-saddle string-thru design and die-cast tuners ensure rock-solid tuning stability. The lightweight body and slim neck make it a compact yet highly playable guitar for students and adventurous adults. The build quality is high quality with no fault in the fretwork, finish, and consistency.
The versatile tone can shift from sparkling clean to gritty overdrive with a few simple tweaks. The overall tone is crisp with a noticeable emphasis in the low-mids. The notes sound articulate and the chords sound pleasantly chewy. The clean tones, based on the settings, can deliver pretty arpeggios and jangly strumming with equal flair.
Verdict: A few hours with the Duo-Sonic HS makes it clear why musicians like Johnny Winters and Rory Gallagher had a couple of these at arm’s length. With the big frets, a humbucker w/ coil-split, and a fast-action neck, the Duo-Sonic is optimized for studio and stage use If you have diminutive proportions or want to add a high-quality short-scale instrument to your collection, the Duo-Sonic HS or SS is a killer choice.
#3 Ibanez MiKro GRGM21 – Best Budget Option
Just when you thought this is an all-Fender list, Ibanez comes knocking with a scaled-down starter-guitar for young guitarists. While there are several options in the MiKro series, we have featured the GRGM21 – a well-built instrument that sounds good and is easy on the pocket.
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 way back in the early 2000s. These guitars are designed with the RG series silhouette, a Nato-wood body, and a 22.2-inch scale length.
The compact body features a double cutaway for upper fret access and a strat-styled F106 hardtail bridge and Ibanez trapezoid tuners for steady tuning. The ultra-slim maple neck, and Ibanez specialty, is narrow at the nut and well-suited if you have small hands.
The Jatoba fretboard is 41mm (1.61-inch) at the nut and hosts 24 medium frets with Sharktooth inlays. The Ibanez Infinity Passives dual humbuckers sound tight in the mids with a decent low-end. At this price point, any pickup that isn’t muddy is an achievement. Between the tone/volume knobs and pickup selector switch, the GRGM21 has adequate tones for most students/beginners.
Among the entry-level ¾-size models, the Mikro guitars offer the most bang for your buck. As you progress, you can use a thicker gauge of strings and swap the pickups to milk them for another year or two.
Verdict: It doesn’t get cheaper than the Ibanez MiKro GRGm21, and for that 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. If you can get it set up and slap on a better pair of strings (.10-.46 Slinkies), it won’t give you any reason to complain.
Made and marketed as a metal axe for kids, JS1X is a 2/3 scale guitar for ‘shredders-in-the-rough’ and students. It has all the hallmarks of the classic Jackson design with the reverse headstock, narrow profile, sharkfin inlays, and double-cut Super Strat body.
The JS1X features a poplar body topped with a maple veneer and a bolt-on maple neck with a 22.5-inch scale length. The Amaranth fingerboard houses 24 jumbo frets with Pearloid sharkfin inlays. The design couples jet-black hardware with bright colors for a vibrant look. It also features a contoured neck heel for upper fret access and a hard tail bridge for tuning stability.
The stock pickups are cost-effective Jackson humbuckers that sound fantastic for the price. The high output buckers are designed for aggressive rock and metal tones and produce warm clean tones on the neck pickup setting. The control panel has two knobs – tone and volume. The 3-way pickup selector allows you to mess around with the two humbuckers.
Compared to other models, the Dinky Minion has enough heft and neck width for an adult to enjoy it. String bending is a breeze and it can double up as an inexpensive travel guitar. The neck is perfectly-sized for the small hands, but the 12-inch neck radius on the broader side of the spectrum. The Dinky Minion is available in a wide range of bright colors like Orange, Pink, and Red.
Verdict: While there are telltale signs of an ‘economical guitar’, the Jackson Dinky Minion JS1X does a fantastic job for the price. It’s intended as a ‘starter axe’ for kids who are inclined towards metal and rock, and it looks and plays the part. It will survive the early stages of a student’s journey and can pull off a small-venue performance or a school talent show as well.
Although Music Man and Sterling (it’s subsidiary ‘budget brand’) are best known for making excellent bass guitars. They have created killer guitars in their JP, Majesty, Albert Lee, Valentine, and Cutlass Series. The Cutlass series features a commendable short-scale version with a strat-styled guitar and a 24-inch scale length.
The Cutlass Short Scale features a double-cutaway poplar body with the trademark 4+2 MM headstock design. It also has a maple neck and laurel fingerboard. The slender neck, short scale, and narrowly-spaced frets make it suitable for kids and easy to maneuver for adults. It also happens to be the only sub-$300 model that offers a tremolo arm.
The pickups are the real attraction in the guitar. With the HS pickup config, you get clarity and smoothness without sacrificing the warmth and fullness. The guitar sounds loud, resonant, and well-balanced. Overall, it offers a lot of tonal versatility for a budget-model.
Despite being made-in-Indonesia, the guitar has a perfect finish and there is no noticeable flaw in build quality or finish. However, you have to contend with the two colors – shell pink and mint green. Both versions have a different fretboard and we have referenced the pink one that has the poplar/laurel combination as opposed to the alder/rosewood in the green one
Verdict: In terms of price value, the Cutlass short-scale sits between the economy models like the Mini-Strat and the stalwarts like the Mustang P90 and Duo-Sonic. It has decidedly better quality and tone than the former and is cheaper than the premium short-scale guitars. That 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.
Squier by Fender Mini Strat is a vibrant 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.
The 3/4-size Mini Strat is identical in design to the flagship Strat. It has a robust build with a basswood body and a C-shaped maple neck with a 9.5-inch neck radius. The rosewood fretboard hosts 20 medium jumbo frets and white dot inlays.
Being a budget arm strat, it doesn’t have a tremolo arm, but that should not be a big deal for students. Instead, it sports a six-saddle hardtail bridge, which is better for keeping the guitar in tune – something students will appreciate a lot more than whammy bars.
At 22.75-inches, the Mini Strat’s scale length makes it exceedingly playable for kids, more so when they encounter 4-fret stretches and barre chords. The guitar plays well out of the box and does not require a setup. The electronics comprise of 3 single-coil Fender pickups, a 5-way pickup selector switch, and knobs to adjust tone and volume.
Unlike the Duo-Sonic or Mustang, the Mini Strat doesn’t stray too far from the Fender Strat tone. The bright clean tones are a faithful replica of the iconic tone, even if a watered-down version. Either way, the guitar has the requisite tonal features for every beginner’s needs.
Verdict: The iconic looks and tone are a gateway drug to the inevitable lust for Fender guitars that every guitarist will encounter sooner or later. While there is nothing predominantly spectacular about the Squier Mini Strat, it provides good value for the price. I highly recommend it as a solid ‘first electric guitar’ for children. If you factor in the goodies that ship with it, it is a sweet deal for sure.
It is fitting to end our review with an acoustic short-scale that is available with or without electronics. The Mini II is designed for travel, spontaneous jams, and campfire strumming. But the narrow nut width, 22 7/8-inch scale length, and thin neck help it crossover as an ideal acoustic guitar for beginners or players with small hands.
We’ve referenced the mahogany version, which despite the small profile, sounds warm and well-rounded. It is also available in flamed mahogany and a Spruce/Ebony acoustic-electric version. The ½ sized guitar is made with layered mahogany with a C-profile neck and Morado fretboard.
The stain finish is faultless and the construction is tidy. The neck is neither too narrow nor too wide. It is easy to play barre chords and strum open chords. The guitar doesn’t have a cutaway, as is the norm with classical guitars.
The sustain and projection are somewhat subdued and dulcet-like. This is to be expected due to the guitar-style and size, but there is no dearth of warmth in the tone. The individual notes also sound clear and the action/intonation is good to go right out of the box.
Verdict: The Cordoba Mini II is designed to complement the standard tuning and sound like the real deal. The tone is very close to a full-size classical guitar – soft, smooth, and even. Children will enjoy the diminutive size as it is a more manageable alternative to the bulky full-sized Cordobas or other nylon-string instruments. It can also serve as a lightweight travel companion for adults.
Short Scale Guitars Buying Guide
What is Scale length?
In guitar jargon, scale length refers to the distance between the two components that seat the guitar strings – the nut and bridge. Scale length is also determined by doubling the distance between the nut and 12th fret. It represents the vibrating length of the strings and governs the tone and tension of the strings.
For more on scale length, check out our full guide.
What is a short scale electric guitar?
Short-scale guitars, as the name suggests, have a smaller scale length. Guitars with a ‘long scale” or full scale-length guitars have a 25.5-inch scale length, give or take an inch. Short scale guitars, on the other hand, range from 22 to 24.75-inches depending on the make/model of the guitar. The is no definitive measure for long or short scale-length and it varies slightly among manufacturers.
How do short scale guitars differ from full scale guitars?
Short-scale guitars have smaller fret spacing than usual, which is why many people find them easier or more comfortable to play. Additionally, the low tension and action make it easy to fret and bend strings. For those with diminutive proportions, the reduction of a couple of inches can spell the difference between relaxed playing and sore or cramped fingers.
Does scale length affect playability?
Short-scale guitars have a lightweight, compact body making it easy to control and maneuver them during performances. All things being equal, the strings on a short scale guitars are more elastic compared to full scale-length. This low tension, combined with relatively narrow necks, make it easier to play chords and notes. Tonally, they produce a more punchy and warm tone.
Are short scale guitars only for kids and young students?
Short scales guitars belong to two categories. The first is the ‘starter guitar’ segment for kids, which usually consists of cost-effective models like the Mini Strat, Ibanez MiKro, and Jackson Dinky Minion. The second category includes guitars from big-name brands like Fender. These guitars have excellent specs and are preferred by adults for their looks, tone, and playability.
If you’re on the market for a short scale guitar – either for a smaller child or because you want to rip some Nirvana riffs, you really can’t go wrong with the Fender Mustang or Duo Sonic – or on the budget side, the Ibanez. These aren’t just fun guitars or beginner guitars, they play great and sound great, and will satisfy that shorter itch!
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!