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Guitar Neck Shapes Explained: Which is Right for You?

Guitar Neck Shapes Explained: Which is Right for You?

An essential aspect of any guitar or bass guitar is its neck profile. The neck profile, in a nutshell, is the shape of the neck on the backside of the fretboard, or the fretboard from the nut to the beginning of the heel transition. The neck profile will not affect the tone of a guitar too much, but it will affect the feel of the guitar.

Neck-type preferences vary completely from one guitarist or bassist to another. This is often influenced by the size of the hands, the way the hand is usually positioned (especially thumb placement), and of course the neck profile of the instruments we are used to playing or we have learned to play.

 

Related: Guitar Sizes Explained.

Bottom Line Up Front

The neck shapes we will go over in this article are classified into two main groups:

  • Symmetrical profiles: C, U, D, and V-shaped (also soft V or hard V).
  • Asymmetrical profiles: This is a more customizable tendency, made for certain guitarists who like to reach the treble side of the neck for soloing, but also want to comfortable play barre chords at the top part of the neck.

What is the Guitar’s Neck Profile?

What is guitar neck shape

The term “profile” refers to the curved shape we would see if we were to cut the neck in the direction of the frets perpendicular to the truss rod. The term “profile” refers specifically to the cross-sections of the top (nut area) and bottom (heel area) of the neck (above the 17th fret). Variations in the shape and size of the two cross-sections can give the neck and guitar a different character, feel, and easiness to play.

These cross-sections are essential for design and construction purposes. They are simple two-dimensional representations of a shape that is difficult to imagine otherwise. These differences are subtle and almost impossible to see when looking along the length of the shank. But they are noticeable when playing it. From these two cross-sections, a luthier can create profile templates (pieces of wood or other material to place on the neck as it is shaped).

Wider or thicker necks provide a full-bodied sound with more sustain due to the density and stiffness of the neck. But it can be difficult for players with small hands to comfortably span them.

On the other hand, for guitarists with large hands, a wide neck profile may be more comfortable than a thin one. This type of profile can also be more comfortable to hold in the hand when setting up chords.

Here’s our complete Thin Guitar Neck guide.

C, V, D, and U Neck Shapes

In electric and acoustic guitars, the most common profile is a semicircle or a half oval. This shape is known as a C profile. And from there, you can begin to understand how the V, D, and U profiles came into existence. These profiles, and actually most profiles, have almost infinite variations depending on neck thickness, including the fretboard profile, scale, symmetry, and other factors.

There are many high-profile instruments with asymmetrical necks that some players really like. Some manufacturers have their own profiles that can be categorized as a class of their own.

The difference between C Neck Shape and U Neck Shape

C Neck

One of the most popular neck profiles is the C profile. The profile is also called Oval and is quite similar in width to the D shape but presents a more rounded and uniform curvature between both sides of the fingerboard.

This shape is usually quite comfortable and versatile and plays well in any style. This profile is typical of Fender Stratocaster models from the early 1960s.

C-shaped examples:

  • Fender American Special Series
  • Ibanez JEM and JCM Models
  • ’59 Gibson SG’s

The U-profile is very similar to a C-profile in general shape, only much deeper. It features elongated vertical sides as they descend from the fingerboard compared to C-profiles that begin to curve immediately. They also tend to have visible vertical shoulders. Many necks that use a U-profile will be branded as fat, heavy or some similar term.

This type of neck would be the so-called U-shaped neck, typical of the first Fender Telecaster models of the ’50s. Also known as “baseball bat” neck. A thick profile that resembles the shape of a U with rounded edges and a practically flat centre back. Very similar in shape to the neck of a classical guitar. This type of profile is not easy to find nowadays in electric guitars.

U-shaped examples:

Gibson Les Paul Standard '50s Electric Guitar | Guitar Center

Returning to the roots of a classic, this Les Paul Standard '50s oozes authenticity and serves as a reminder of Gibson's history of innovation. The traditional figured maple on mahogany construction and '50s neck profile bear a gorgeous nitro-lacquer finish for that legendary look.

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Squier by Fender Classic Vibe 70's Stratocaster
$344.99

The Squier Classic Vibe series captures the authenticity of original Fender designs in a “greatest hits” collection of models that are easy on the eyes and ears, easy to play, and impossible to put down. 

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12/09/2022 11:38 am GMT

V Neck Shape

v neck guitar neck shape

The V-shaped profile is very particular. This profile is similar to the thick U-profile, but with the edges lowered more, acquiring the shape of a soft V. The flat areas seem to limit hand rotation. And many guitarists have found the shape to be incompatible with their range of motion. But, for a certain type of guitarist, it is the only way to go.

Blues guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, and guitarists who place their thumb over the top of the fretboard find the V-shape more appropriate. Apparently, the V-shape leads to a vibrant sound; however, there are no peer-reviewed studies on the subject.

Within the V-profiles, we have the hard or marked V-profile (Hard V). This type of profile is so specific that it would be better to try one calmly before making a purchase. There are also mixed or composite neck profiles- those that sport one profile in the upper part of the neck, and another type of profile in the lower part.

V-shaped examples:

  • Eric Clapton Replica Stratocasters
  • American Deluxe “V” Stratocasters
  • 50s Classic Stratocasters

D Neck Shape

D neck

The so-called D, slim, or thin U-profile is very common. Although to my understanding, this type of profile corresponds to the classic D-profile. Also called Modern Flat Oval, in a more technical language, this type of neck is similar to the U-shaped, but with a thinner profile, favouring a faster fingering. And they are usually accompanied by a flatter fingerboard.

The D profile is usually wider than the standard C neck and is always flatter at the bottom (which makes it thinner to hold). Wide-necked necks often have this type of configuration, for example, classical and flamenco guitars often have a D neck. It is also a good idea for necks with more than seven strings.

D-shaped examples:

Ibanez GB10 George Benson Hollowbody Electric Natural | Guitar Center

A gorgeous and sweet-toned hollowbody, it features a spruce top, maple back and sides, and the George Benson neck shape. Its George Benson Special pickups are designed specifically for hollowbody guitars played at high volume. 

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  • Epiphone Sheraton II
  • Epiphone Les Pauls

As you can see, they are found on more “heavy metal” oriented guitars, where you wouldn’t usually do barre chords.

Pros and Cons of Thick Neck Shapes

Pros:

  • Sturdy, less likely to suffer from warping and such.
  • More comfortable for classical style playing, arpeggios, and such
  • If you have big hands, you will your hand has a solid grip on it

Cons:

  • Uncomfortable for small hands
  • Some of these sizes are just abnormally big
  • Hard to solo if you are used to placing your thumb over the neck to silence some of the lower strings

Pros and Cons of Thin Neck Shapes

Pros:

  • You may notice your hands being more agile up and down the neck
  • More comfortable for barre chords
  • If you have big hands, you might feel you can’t properly position your thumb on the back of the neck

Cons:

  • Less wood means more flimsy
  • More prone to warping due to changes in weather

Asymmetric Neck Shapes

asymetric

C, D, U and V profiles are symmetrical. From the ’70s onwards, we started to find asymmetrical neck profile designs. The treble side is slightly narrower, and the bass side is thicker. In this way, we have a neck that facilitates fingering in the treble plucking and is still comfortable in chord changes.

Examples of asymmetrical neck diagrams usually represent some pretty drastic transformations. But it is more commonly a fairly subtle effect in the real world. Gibson and PRS, for example, have their own asymmetrical profiles that are rather mild. In the Fender world, Steve Ray Vaughan uses a slightly asymmetrical C neck.

Luthiers customize this type of profile, so my advice is that if you want to try a profile of this type, leave the job of cutting it out to a professional. Many guitarists adopt this style of strange necks that result in unique guitars. Eddie Van Halen would be the biggest name on this list.

Asymmetric neck shaped examples:

  • EVH Wolfgang Standard.
  • 2018 Gibson Les Paul HP
  • Brad Paisley Signature Telecaster (country rock).

The most used profiles nowadays are the D and C. So most probably with these types of profiles, you will not have any problems. But for the few who might have a problem with these profiles, you can try wider profiles.

FAQ

Question: What guitar neck is best?

Answer: There is no certain answer, but the most common one or generally considered the easiest to play is the C shape guitar neck, found on many Fender Stratocaster type guitars.

Question: Are thinner neck guitars easier to play?

Answer: Yes, and even more true for people with small hands. Flat fretboards are also easier to play, say a radius of 12″ and above. An example is the D’angelico Premier Atlantic.

Question: Which Fender guitar has the thinnest neck?

Answer: It is said to be, as of today, Kurt Cobain’s American Professional Cobain Jaguar. The Fender Mustang is similar in neck dimensions.

Question: What is a “Clapton neck?”

Answer: Named after the soft V neck that Eric Clapton made famous. He is most comfortable with a ’50s V profile that is slightly less pronounced.

Question: How thick is the Stratocaster neck?

Answer: They usually have a C-shaped neck, that comes in at around 21-23mm measured from side to side. Pretty thin. They are famously known as “easier” guitars to solo on than, say, Epiphone Jazz series guitars.

Summary

Manufacturers usually offer us options of different neck profiles in their guitars to suit the tastes and comfort of each one, based on the size of the hand. The problem when we try a guitar in any store, for example, is that the short time we are with it can distort the feeling it offers us.

Let’s try to explain this briefly: a narrow profile, that is to say, a thin neck, we will find it initially very comfortable because it will allow us to reach all the frets very easily. Sounds comfortable, right? This initial ease will probably force us to bend our joints and fingers more than necessary to play. When we have been playing for a while, we will start to feel uncomfortable and, what is worse, annoyed and sore.

The other extreme would be that the neck is quite thick, and the hand will adapt very well to that width and curvature. How comfortable! Again. We will see when we have been playing for a long time if it is difficult for us to perform that require more effort and stretching of our fingers.

Often, the tendinitis that many guitar amateurs suffer is a consequence of factors like these that I have described, due to excessive efforts and those stretching forced by the discomfort or not adapting to a suitable profile.

In short, what we have to take into account is that if it is challenging to play in the upper part of the neck due to discomfort, this requires a thinner neck. On the other hand, we have to take into account that a thin neck in the neck part will force us to articulate the fingers more than usual.

After all, when we get used to a profile, and we play for hours and hours quietly and comfortably, indeed when we change, aches and pains can come. If you have found our profile…stick to it. This has taken many well known guitar player, like Mike Eizinger (Incubus), to have to switch to guitars with necks especially suited for him. He switched to Musicman as his main brand of guitars for tours and live gigs.