Like giraffes’, guitars’ necks are a key component of their construction.
Now, I couldn’t tell you how many types of giraffe neck exist, but I can talk about the guitar neck…
Jokes aside, the guitar neck profile has a large effect on the way it feels and sounds.
The neck of your guitar should feel like a part of your body. But finding the right neck type isn’t always straightforward.
If you’re choosing a good beginner guitar, this post will help you find the kind of neck you need.
This article explores the different types of guitar necks, explaining which types are suitable for certain situations.
It’s a specific detail, but if you’re a stickler for guitar knowledge, or looking to buy a new guitar, keep reading!
What Is A Guitar Neck?
A guitar neck is a long, thin piece of (usually) wood that is attached to the guitar’s body. This is the same definition as most instrument necks.
At the other end of the neck is the headstock, where one end of the strings is fastened.
The strings run across the length of the neck, along the fretboard.
When playing guitar, the neck is held in the left hand (by right-handed players) and is used to alter the strings’ pitches by holding them tight to the fret wires.
Necks come in many different designs. From the way, they’re attached to the body to their length, radius, and profile. Each design has a unique feel and will be more suited to different players’ hand sizes, or playing techniques.
The headstock is another important part of the guitar that is attached to the neck. Sometimes the neck and headstock are made from a single piece of wood, other times they are joined.
The headstock doesn’t have a particularly large effect on feel or sound. Their designs are mostly involved with aesthetics and function. Different headstock angles are available, sometimes they are straight, sometimes they angle back. This is where the tuning pegs are located. Nuts are found in between headstocks and freeboards, these are the first point of contact for guitar strings. Nut Width is another useful measurement for determining the thinnest point of the neck fretboard.
Necks also usually contain a device called a truss rod. This is a thin metal rod that runs the entire length of the neck and is embedded below the fretboard.
The truss rod is used to counteract string tension.
6 tuned strings can create over 80kg of tension force, which could damage and bend the thin wood of the neck.
Truss rods apply a counterforce to neutralize strain on the neck wood.
There are two issues caused by an incorrectly set up truss rod:
High Action: Strings are too far from the fretboard, requiring excessive effort to hold down. The tension is too high, the truss rod is too loose and needs tightening.
Fret Buzz: When fretted, strings make annoying buzzing noises from catching on to other frets. In this situation, there is a lack of tension, the truss is too tight and needs loosening.
The Truss is usually adjusted with a hex or Allen key, with a bolt found in the headstock.
The truss rod may need adjusting to compensate for different string gauges after restringing.
If the truss is perfectly adjusted, neither of these issues should be present when playing.
Adjustment is also required to account for atmospheric changes when touring.
This is a measurement that describes the curve of the fretboard.
A larger fretboard radius creates a flatter fretboard, suiting melodies, and fast picking.
Curved fretboards are more suited for chords, as their small radius curve mimics the curve of fingers.
This creates a more natural feel and increases chord holding power. This curve can make it more difficult to vertically navigate strings, making soloing and melodies slightly harder.
Neck Wood Choice:
The wood choice affects the look, feel, and tone of a guitar, particularly the wood of guitar necks.
Common woods include Maple, Mahogany, Rosewood, Alder, and Basswood.
Some woods have a brighter, high-frequency rich sound, others are warmer, more mellow, and low frequency-based.
The density of the wood also affects its weight, some players prefer to avoid heavy instruments at all costs. Generally, the brighter a wood looks, the brighter it sounds, but not always.
Typically, the guitar’s neck and body are made from separate pieces of wood.
There are a few methods for joining the neck to the body of an electric guitar, each one having differences in sound quality, stability, and production cost.
These are the most common type of neck joints, which use bolts and glue to attach the neck.
For a bolt-on-neck, the neck is screwed into the body and a metal plate is used to reinforce the bolts.
Bolt-on necks are usually found on Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars. Many solid body electrics, including Squire, Epiphone, Ibanez, and Fender Guitars use this neck type.
Bolt-On necks have a long sustain and are easy to fix if broken. They’re cheaper to make than other designs. This style is much more common on electric guitars, and rarely seen on acoustics.
There is a myth in the guitar community that Bolt-On necks are inferior, and have a worse tone and sustain. However, when put to the test, this myth doesn’t always prove to be true. Some bolt-on necks, particularly Fender models, largely have better sustain than other designs.
Set Necks use a dovetail joint and glue to attach them to the body.
There aren’t any screws or metal plates involved, this is an advanced wood joinery technique where the two edges of the wood are prepared to fit tightly together. This is a slightly more complex way of attaching the guitar neck.
A Set Neck increases access to the upper frets, which is an advantage over a bolt-on neck. These are also easier to make than thru neck builds.
Moreover, a set neck can offer improved comfort, without the interruption of bolts or a metal plate found on a bolt-on-neck.
Although if these break, they are nearly impossible to repair cleanly.
Most Acoustic guitars use a Set-neck design.
This is a specialized guitar neck design where the neck wood runs the length of the entire guitar, from the headstock to the bottom of the body.
This piece of wood is given “wings” of wood to make up the rest of the guitar body. The neckpiece can be made from a single piece of wood or a laminate of multiple pieces.
Neck-thru designs are popular for bass guitars thanks to the extra strength provided. The main advantage of the neck-through designs is that it allows luthiers the freedom to contour and style the neck in new ways that don’t work with bolt-ons.
The neck-thru design increases resonance and sustain, as the vibrations don’t have to travel through the bolt mechanism. Some people claim this guitar neck design encourages a warm tone, although it could just be a personal preference.
Neck-Through designs are also the most sturdy, being able to hold a large amount of tension before bending. These are often seen on premium instruments, and custom-made, modern guitars.
Neck Profiles / Neck Shape
The curvature of the rear of a guitar’s neck is called its shape or profile. The term ‘back shape’ is also used to describe this measurement.
This term describes the shape of the back of a guitar’s neck. The letter given is intended to mimic the profile cut of guitar necks.
There isn’t a right or wrong decision when it comes to choosing a guitar neck shape, other than making sure it feels comfortable to play.
Each guitar neck shape has a unique feel. Some are better suited for various hand sizes and playing styles.
Thicker necks are generally preferred by players with larger hands or rhythm guitar playing.
Thin necks are better for people with small hands, or soling and lead players.
Several standard guitar neck shapes appear on the majority of guitars – C, D, and U being the most common. These neck designs have evolved over time, with vintage guitars favoring C, V, and U necks.
Some boutique guitar companies create unique custom guitar neck shapes, made to fit their clients’ needs.
Below is an exploration of each neck shape.
Recommended Read: How often Should Guitar Strings be Changed?
List of Guitar Neck Shapes
Type 1: C-Shape
This is a common guitar neck shape, which is featured on most modern guitars.
C-shaped guitar necks have been popular since the 1980s after Fender chose to use this shape as their standard neck design.
C-Shaped necks have a continuous curve around the back of the neck. Unlike D and U shapes which have flatter sides. The C shape uses a rounded oval curve, which makes it comfortable for most players, apart from those with large hands.
These perfectly balanced profiles are great all-around guitar neck shapes that give a decent amount of playability and comfort.
There are several variations of the C-shaped neck, including Fat, Slim, Extra-Slim, Huge and Nut-Shaped.
Each of these has differing tapers and width. For example, the Huge-C neck has no tapering between the 12th and 1st frets, creating a neck with a consistent width.
- Fender American Standard & Special Series.
- Squire Affinity Stratocasters.
- Ibanez JCM and JEM ranges.
- Gibson SG ’59.
Suitable for: Most guitarists.
This is a standard guitar neck design found on many guitars.
This comfortable neck shape is suitable for most players.
Type 2: Flattened C-Shape (C-Flat)
Details: This is a variation of the C neck shape but with a flatter curve, it could almost be a ( . Sometimes called a flat oval.
These flatter c-shape necks have a thinner depth than a c shape neck and give the fretboard a wider feel. Some guitarists prefer this modification over the basic shape.
Suitable for: These thin necks are ideal for players with small hands. Also great for solos and lead guitarists.
Type 3: C-Chunky
The Chunky variant has a fatter depth than a C shape, with straighter side edges. The Chunky-C shape neck is closer to D neck shapes but still keeping the entire profile curved.
Players with larger hands.
Type 4: U-Shaped
The U-shape neck has a rounder, larger profile than the C models.
They have a deeper neck and broader curve angle which will feel more comfortable for larger-handed players. These thick necks are not as wide or round as Baseball Bat.
These neck shapes have a slightly flatter back than a C but are more curved than a D.
The curvature of a U-shaped neck forms a flush connection with the sides of the fretboard making it easier to hold chords than single notes.
The U shape tends to be favored by rhythm guitarists over leads, as their shape is better for strumming, chords, and heavy playing, rather than the detailed work of a solo.
Rock players, rhythm guitarists, good for playing chords. Not ideal for small hands.
Type 5: BB-Shaped (Baseball Bat)
Details: With a fat, almost horseshoe curvature, BB Bat (baseball bat) style neck profiles are an interesting variation of the U shape.
With a flatter, chunkier design, the rear curve of these necks extends slightly beyond the side of the fretboard. These are broad necks, but not always thick, with an almost rectangular shape.
These are ideal for players with long fingers and hands as it gives more room for them to bend.
This profile was commonly found on Gibson Les Paul ‘50s models, ‘70s Fender Stratocaster, and the Fender ‘52 American Telecaster.
Suitable for: Players with long fingers.
Type 6: D-Shaped
Sometimes called the modern flat oval, the D shape is another popular profile for electric guitars.
These have a flatter edge on the back of the neck, stemming from classical guitar designs.
The flat edge rounds gently to the fretboard, with a fairly shallow feeling. These are much thinner than the U shape neck.
This flatter edge has a fast feeling which lends itself to complex, speedy sections and solos. It’s particularly good for transitioning between strings. The thin depth of this profile will be comfortable for players with bigger hands.
These are also sometimes called a fast neck or ‘modern c’. Many Paul Reed Smith guitars use a guitar neck shape similar to the D. Some Les Paul guitars also use the D shape.
Players with bigger hands, lead guitar players, soloing. Great for fast, complex left-hand action.
Type 7: V-Shaped Necks (Hard / Soft)
The V-Shape is an old-school style of neck profile that suits a thumb-based left-hand playing technique.
V-shaped necks were accidentally discovered by Leo Fender in the ‘50s, and come in two variations: Soft V-Shape, and Hard V-Shape.
The Hard V neck shape is very close to the shape of the letter V, with a pronounced angular ridge.
The hard v shape has a vastly different feel from all the other shapes. The sharp angle allows the thumb to easily fret notes on the lower-pitched guitar strings which opens up new playing methods. It also decreases exertion on the thumb tendon which allows longer playing sessions.
The Soft V shape is a little closer to C necks, but with a sharper angle, somewhere in between a Hard V and a C.
The soft V still works well for thumb techniques like Hard Vs, but with a more familiar feel.
Eric Clapton is known to be a huge fan of this neck profile, with the style being featured on his signature Fender Strat Series, which features single-coil pickups.
Suitable for: Lead and solo, shredding. Using the thumb hanging technique to fret notes.
Type 8: Asymmetrical
D, C, V, and U necks are symmetrical, which is where this design differs.
Not all guitar necks are made symmetrically.
Asymmetrical necks are an uncommon shape only found on a few models.
Asymmetrical necks have one side thicker than the other, usually, the top edge is thick, and the bottom edge is thin.
This wonky design provides the flat back, and curved thumb feeling of U and d necks, with a more C-shaped curve for the fingers. This captures the best elements of thin and thick necks and packages them into a single shape.
In short, asymmetrical necks have excellent playability whilst retaining a thick full feel. This makes them equally as appropriate for chord holding as it does fast soloing.
Guitars made by EVH (Eddie Van Halen’s company) feature this rare neck design.
Suitable for: players looking for a versatile feel. Chords and soloing.