So you have saved up your pennies and are about to hit the music shops to buy your first serious guitar. I say serious because you may have already learned to play on something else, but now you want to upgrade.
You have a good idea of which manufacturer and what models that they make. You have probably considered the color and thought about the type of pickups you like the sound of.
But have you forgotten something?
What about the shape of the neck? After all, that is going to have a major impact on you as a guitar player. Most people early in the guitar-playing days don’t consider it.
They buy their guitar, get it home and find it is hard to play because of the neck. The neck is important, but what are the Most Common Guitar Neck Shapes?
It’s a Big Deal
One of the important things about playing is to feel comfortable. If the neck is wrong, you won’t. They aren’t all the same, and different guitar neck shapes suit different people. Until recently, I had a ‘63 Precision bass. I remember having to try plenty before I settled on the neck size.
Fenders were all over the place at the time. There had been “Chunky D” shapes and “U’s.” They were handmade at the time, and they varied. But then they standardized the sizes with an A B C D coding. I got lucky and found the slimline B shape. It was quite wide but very thin. Perfect for me.
When it comes down to playing, the neck is probably the big issue to deal with. It doesn’t alter the sound of the guitar, but as I say, it will affect how you play it.
If you were to sit down and try them all, you will immediately recognize that they don’t all feel good. My own Precision, as I said, was great for me. But a well-known bass player borrowed it one time and said it felt uncomfortably thin for him.
I’m not surprised he had hands that were a lot larger than mine. It didn’t stop him borrowing it a few more times after, though.
There are some other measurements you need to consider as well other than the shape of the neck. Let’s quickly look at those.
The thickness or the depth of the neck is measured from the back to the front. Early guitars, Fender included, tapered somewhat from the first fret down to the twelfth.
At the twelfth, they tended to be about 0.12 of an inch thicker. It might not sound a lot, but you notice it. Today’s necks have mostly lost that difference and might taper only by about 0.05 of an inch from first to twelfth.
That is measured simply from one side to the other on the fingerboard. There are often disagreements about where to measure because necks are wider on the twelfth than the 1st. However, most take those measurements from the nut.
This distance will vary according to the style of the guitar. A classical guitar might be as much as two inches. A modern electric at about 1.75 inches.
Radius of the Fretboard
This is the measurement of the curvature. It’s here you will find some large differences, in-between manufacturers. It is also this that may determine your comfort level.
There are eight main standard guitar neck shapes that I am aware of. Some of these descriptions may not match with what others call them. But these are how I have them called. They are:
- C Chunky.
- V Hard.
- V Soft.
As some of these are variations of each other, you can narrow that list down to the five most common guitar neck shapes. Let’s take a look at them.
1 – The C and C Chunky Shapes
These are probably the most common you will see. You will see them fitted on most of the Fender range, which is why they are the most common. It has a high comfort level as it is nicely rounded into a sleek profile. This seems to suit most people, except those with very large hands.
It is not as deep as a ‘U’ or a ‘V’ neck and tends to be viewed as a “do anything” neck shape. That seems to be a reasonable description. There are various variants of this shape, of course. You get ‘chunkier,’ sometimes known as ‘fat’ versions. And you can get slimline and even extra-slimline options. But the basic design is the same.
There is very little in the way of taper from 1st fret to twelfth. It is a popular guitar neck shape because it is reasonably thin and rounded, and it will accommodate most styles of playing.
2 – The U-Shape Neck and BB Bat
If you have larger hands, then you may find the rather large U shape neck is good for you. However, most people with smaller hands find this shape a bit of a struggle at times. It has been called a “baseball bat” by some, but it works well if you have long fingers. Alvin Lee was a great example with his Gibson 335.
Some very old Fender guitars had this shape, and you have to go back to the early 50s Telecasters to find them. However, Fender uses it on some of their vintage re-issue models. Gibson had them on their 50s Les Paul and also used them on reissues to give them, as they put it, a “classic” feel.
As time moved on, Gibson, like Fender, realized that thinner necks might be the order of the day and also moved away from the ‘U’ shape. Some early classic guitars used the ‘U’ shape. The 335 and Les Paul, I have already mentioned. But add the 70s Stratocaster to the list. But also, in later years, Schecter employed a U shape on their Banshee GT guitar.
3 – V-Shape (Soft and Hard)
This is a much older shape and comes in two variations, soft and hard. They both have a shape that is similar but have a very different feel to them.
The Soft V
Of the two variations, the one that is considered by most to be slightly more comfortable. It gives you enough room to go “over the top” if that is your choice. The taper reduces the V shape to virtually nothing when it gets to the nut. This shape was common on the early 60s Stratocaster.
The Hard V
This is sometimes referred to as the Extreme V guitar neck shape. It is a neck shape that is perfect for “over the top” with the thumb players.
Not a shape we see on guitars made today unless you order it specially. However, you will find it on some reissue models. Some people in the past have said they think this neck generates a better sound from the guitar. I am not convinced about that. You will find the V-shape neck on 50s Stratocasters.
4 – D-Shape
Sometimes called the “Modern Flat Oval,” it is often confused with the ‘C’ shape. However, the edges are much flatter than the ‘C.’ It gets its name from the very flat design on the back of the neck. This makes it very comfortable to hold. It lends itself to speed playing as it is so easy to hold and move around the fingerboard.
The ‘D’ is probably second in terms of popularity and use to the ‘C’ shape. You will find it as a common neck shape for Ibanez and Epiphone guitars. People often speak of the playability and comfort of those two guitar brands. That’s got an awful lot to do with this neck shape.
5 – A-Symmetrical Neck
Let’s finish with the most unusual guitar neck shape. This is a design that was sometimes the result of mistakes by Luthiers when making the neck in the early days. They didn’t know that they were creating a neck shape that would be considered by some a comfortable design.
Looking down on the neck, the side with the Low E is thicker than the High E side. And it tapers across and gets thinner by width. This has the effect of reducing the bulky feeling in your hand for the higher gauge strings.
Some might argue you get the best of both worlds in terms of shape. The thickness on one side where grips are important and a thinner profile where you might need to move your hand fast. It is a design only seen on a signature guitar. Eddie van Halen’s EVH and the Les Paul standard 2018 also use the A-Symmetrical Neck.
Examples of Common Guitar Neck Shapes
Plenty of choices and a chance to get the neck that is most suitable for you. Here are some examples of different necks on guitars. The ‘D’ shape on the Epiphone Les Paul. A ‘C’ shaped neck on this Fender Player Stratocaster. And a ‘U’ neck on this Gretsch Streamliner.
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Most Common Guitar Neck Shapes – Final Thoughts
It won’t alter the sound, but the guitar neck shape affects how you play. There isn’t one shape that is necessarily better than another. But there will be some that are better for you as an individual. It comes down to comfort and your personal preferences.
You need to try a few. Sometimes even one ‘C’ shape might feel different from another. The most important thing above all else is how you feel about it. What does it feel like to you? If it feels good, then it is right.
Until next time, let your music play.