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Acoustic guitars come in all different sizes and shapes – and the necks are no exception. Different acoustic guitar neck sizes and shapes affect the feel of how the guitar is played.
Neck sizes and shapes are more of a playability concern than a tonal one.
These days there are several different neck sizes and shapes.
Introduction to Guitar Neck Shapes
Perhaps one of the most overlooked (or unrecognized) features of a guitar is its neck profile. For many guitarists, the specific shaping of their guitar’s neck isn’t on their list of specifications when describing their needs.
The reason for this is that it’s simply not sold as a critical feature. Also, most guitarists have never actually sat down and had a real-life comparison of the various neck profiles to determine their preference.
The fact of the matter is that, as a player, your guitar neck’s profile can have a profound effect on the way you play. Not the way the guitar functions, not the tone, but the way it feels.
You’re shopping for a guitar and you have an idea in your head of what you want to buy. You’ve thought about what brands and models you like, what colors are your favorite, and what pickups and hardware suit you.
You’ve probably even been watching reviews and demos to hear how it sounds, but have you considered the shape of the neck of your guitar?
|Moderately high shoulders and flatter mid-section
|Oval-shaped with curved shoulders
|Moderately high shoulders and flatter midsection
|Moderately high shoulders and flatter midsection
|Most hand positions, especially those who rest their thumb on the back of the neck
|Very high-shoulders and flat mid-section
|Players who anchor their thumb on the back of the neck
|Pointed mid-section and shallow shoulders
|Players who have their thumb over the top of the neck or anchored on the back of the neck
The most common neck shape you will see on the market today would be the C-shape neck standard on most, if not all, Fender-made models. The C-shape is rounded into an oval profile, making it very comfortable for anyone but those with larger hands while not being cut as deep as the U or V-shaped neck.
This neck shape hit its prime in the 1980s when Fender decided to make this their neck shape of choice and bring it into the modern era with the contemporary C neck, also known as the “flat oval” C neck.
Most Modern Guitars use this neck shape due to the all-around comfort and playability it gives. You might notice when you try a Fender that it might have a flatter C-shape than others, but the basic shape is still there.
Also known as the modern flat oval, the D-shaped neck is a more modern neck for electric guitars. This neck shape got its start on classical string guitars due to the almost flat feel on the back of the neck, making it feel very comfortable in your hands as the neck itself is flatter than the rest of the neck shapes.
The shoulders of these guitars often protrude vertically and then go over the radius of the neck. The shape of this neck is often mistaken for a C-shape. As previously mentioned, it has flatter edges than the C.
This neck is excellent if you love playing fast-moving passages and using techniques that involve rapid movement between strings. The D-shaped neck is the latest neck to be used by guitar companies to this day, and it is prevalent on more modern guitars with brands like Ibanez and Epiphone. The D-shape is definitely one of the most common guitar neck shapes in circulation.
This neck is massive in size and is chunkier and more rounded than the C-shape neck and is a very comfortable neck for those with larger hands. This neck shape is lovingly referred to as the “baseball bat” due to the almost rectangular shape it has. It is a very comfortable design for those with longer fingers to help give a more comfortable reach around the fretboard.
Many older Fender models stuck to this u-shape, such as the 1953 telecaster, and most reissue telecaster guitars today still use this shape neck. In the 50s, Gibson Les Paul’s were known far and wide for the “Baseball Bat” style necks, and they even used these on their reissue models to give them that classic feel and have felt as close to the original as possible, and as the years went on Gibson started to move from these fatter necks.
The V-shape neck is a much older design and runs in two separate variations, the soft V-shape and the hard V-shape. While they are both a similar shape, they both have a very different feel. The soft V-shape was created by a complete accident in the Fender factories back in the 1950s.
As the name implies, the V-shape does come to a hard point. It has a more rounded shape and feels, these are great for players who feel comfortable with their thumb hanging over the fretboard while they play. That brings us to the hard V-shape. This shape has hard curves straight to the V-shape.
The V-shape is very uncommon today and usually only found on reissue models but is regarded as the more comfortable V-shape of the two. This shape neck is still used and loved by Eric Clapton, and Fender even made a replica model based on his Stratocaster that uses this neck shape.
The A-symmetrical neck is a bit of a weird style which gets bulkier on one end of the neck and thinner going to the bottom of the neck.
Imagine starting at the low E side of the neck, getting thinner as it moves to the high E side, positioning the bulk of the neck in the hollow of your hand, and reducing the thickness under your fingers. Having less wood under your fingers gives you a fuller-shaped neck with easy playability which, in a way, gives you the best of multiple worlds from the previously mentioned neck profiles.
This style of necks is used mostly on signature models of guitars such as the Brad Paisley signature Telecaster. The models made by Eddie Van Halen’s Brand EVH models use a slim tapered Asymmetrical design as well as the 2018 Gibson Paul Standard, which also uses a slim tapered Asymmetrical neck.
Early A-symmetrical necks were usually the result of a mistake when the luthiers were building these guitars – little did they know those mistakes would make for a very comfortable guitar.
Neck Depth and Width
Neck depth is independent of neck shape, so you can for example get a U-shape neck which is thinner than a C-shape neck. This is why it’s important to consider both variables.
It’s also important to remember that neck depth and neck width are NOT the same thing. The depth of the neck refers to how thick the back of the neck is. This is often incorrectly referred to as the width. The width of the neck refers to how wide the fretboard is. The most common metric to use here is the nut width.
Fretboard Width and Playability
Fretboard width is also often referred to as neck width. The width of the fretboard increases as you get closer to the body of the guitar, but generally, the width of the guitar’s nut is the metric used to gauge the overall width of the neck.
Having a wider fretboard means that the strings are spaced further apart from each other. This can make things a little trickier if you have smaller fingers but is preferred for styles like shredding because it makes fretting the wrong string less likely when playing very fast.
Fretboard Radius and Its Impact
All fretboards have some degree of curvature. The fingerboard radius is the measurement that indicates how much curvature it has.
- Smaller fingerboard radius = more curved fingerboard
- Larger fingerboard radius = flatter fingerboard
There is no “ideal” fingerboard radius- as with so many other guitar specifications, it’s purely down to personal preference. However, there are some common opinions:
- Smaller fretboard radiuses tend to feel more comfortable when holding chords
- A larger fretboard radius makes string bending and fast playing easier. This is why “shredding” guitars have very large fingerboard radiuses.
Pros and Cons of a Thick Neck Shape
When you look at the different guitar neck shapes there will be some tradeoffs – a lot of it just comes down to personal preference.
- If you have chosen a thinner neck, you may notice that it is much easier to play faster
- Your thumb might not even be touching the neck when speeding through quick passages
- You will have much less wood getting in the way between you and the fretboard.
However, there are some drawbacks to having a thinner neck.
- Thinner necks tend to warp much easier than their thick-necked counterparts, putting much more responsibility on you, the player to take care of your instrument when the seasons change.
- If your neck does end up warping, it can be a miserable experience trying to repair it.
Pros and Cons of a Thick Neck Shape
Thick necks are far less likely to suffer from the mayhem described previously – they are much sturdier and, thus, much less likely to warp, but the real drawback lies with the sheer size of some of these necks.
- If your hands are smaller than average, you will feel some significant discomfort in your hands struggling with one of these.
- The best advice would be never to go too far outside of your natural range of motion.
Thankfully, there are thinner U and V-shaped necks, like the Heritage H-150 for example, that offer a more modern take on these classic necks without the tension on your thumb tendon. That gives you more options if you love these classic neck profiles but your hands are on the smaller side.
How To Choose a Guitar Neck Shape that is Right for You?
After reading about the different types of guitar neck shapes, you may or may not have an idea which shape might be right for you. The truth is there’s no way to really know which neck shape will feel best to you until you try them all out. In theory, you may think that you want a thin neck to help you play fast solos. But you might pick up a guitar with a V-shaped neck and love how it feels.
Thus, the best way to choose a guitar neck shape is to try out a wide range of guitars and feel each type of neck. Play a guitar without looking at what type of neck shape it uses and just feel what it’s like to play, trusting your feelers to do the job.
If you go to a guitar shop thinking that you want a C-shaped guitar neck and you only try out C-shaped necks, you’ll never truly know if any of the other guitar neck shapes suit you better.
Many guitarists buy one type of guitar neck and grow accustomed to it over time. Then when they play a guitar with a different-shaped neck, it feels weird at first. But over time, you may find that you prefer a different guitar neck shape compared to what you normally play.
Keep an open mind with guitar neck shapes and don’t feel you have to stick with one type.
Best Guitar Neck Shape for Small Hands
If you have small hands, you may wonder what the best neck shape is for you.
The best guitar neck shape for small hands tends to be a flat neck that allows your fingers easier access to the fretboard. Fat guitar necks can make it harder to reach your fingers over the fretboard.
Of course, everybody is different and what feels completely comfortable for one person may not feel comfortable for you. Try out a few different guitar neck shapes to find out which feels the most comfortable for you.
Conclusion: Choosing the Right Neck Shape for You
In truth, no one can tell you what to do or which guitar neck to use except yourself. You may well just make do with the one you have or the first thing that you pick up, but you might also like to try them all and get a feel for the lay of the land.
The choice is yours – honor whatever you feel most comfortable doing!
Hopefully, you have found something to take with you today as you go forth into the world. Let us know if you need to know anything else in the comments below!
Acoustic Guitar Necks FAQs
Some common types of acoustic guitar necks are C-shaped necks, V-shaped necks, U-shaped necks, D-shaped necks, and a slim or thick neck profile.
C-shaped necks have a rounded profile that resembles the letter “C” when viewed from the side.
They are often considered more comfortable and ergonomic for most players. The rounded profile allows for a natural grip and tends to fit well in the palm. C-shaped necks provide a balanced feel, accommodating a wide range of playing styles. They are commonly found in many modern acoustic guitars.
U-shaped necks have a chunkier and more pronounced profile that resembles the letter “U” when viewed from the side. They tend to offer a thicker grip and fill the hand more compared to C-shaped necks. U-shaped necks are often associated with vintage-style guitars. The chunkier profile of U-shaped necks can be beneficial for players who prefer a more substantial grip or have larger hands.
Some players find U-shaped necks provide more support and stability for fingerpicking and chord playing.
The choice of acoustic guitar neck comes down to personal preference and what feels most comfortable to you as a player.