The 6 Most Common Guitar Neck Shapes Found on 99% of Guitars

You probably already know that not all guitar necks are exactly the same.

But did you know the guitar neck shapes differ, which directly affects if the guitar is right for you?

The guitar neck shape doesn’t alter the sound of the instrument, but it does drastically affect how you can play.

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences and similarities between the six main shapes found on 99% of guitars. We’ll explain what each option does well, and show you where the downsides lie for some players.

What Factors Affect the Neck Profile?

guitar fretboard close up

The term ‘neck shape’ can refer to the back shape or neck profile of the guitar or the cross-section where the neck meets the back.

However, there are other vital neck measurements to take into consideration.

There are three factors that play a major role in the feel of a guitar neck:

  • depth
  • width
  • fretboard radius

Each factor (and the overall guitar neck shape) will affect how you play the instrument.

Depth

The depth, or thickness of your guitar’s neck, is the distance from front to back.

For example, classic Fenders from the 1950s (such as the Strat) tend to be 0.870 inches thick at the first fret and 0.980 inches at the 12th fret.

In the 1960s, these measurements decreased slightly to 0.820 inches and 0.960 inches. Modern guitar necks are less tapered and sit at 0.820 inches at the first fret and 0.870 inches at the 12th.

Width

Width is the measurement from one side of the neck to the other, and it’s usually measured around the nut.

Classical guitars, for example, are around two inches in width. Vintage Fenders measure at 1,650 inches, while Stratocaster American Standards sit around 1.6875 inches.

Fretboard Radius

The fretboard radius is the curvature of the fingerboard. Tighter radius results in more comfort when playing guitar chords. If you’re bending strings, a flatter radius can allow for lower action.

The radius of Fender custom shop models (such as NOS, Relics, and Closet Classic) have a 7.25-inch fretboard radius, whereas American Classic or Classic Players measure around 9.5 inches. D’Aquisto Series guitars and Robben Ford models sit at 12 inches.

The 6 Most Common Neck Shapes

Most articles you see on the internet only talk about three main neck shapes in guitars: C, V, and U.

According to Fender, this is because the company uses the letters to designate between the variations. The shape of each letter corresponds to the thickness or depth from the front of the neck to the back.

While these are the most common neck profiles, there are actually six shapes in total, shown below.

Most Common Guitar Neck Shapes

Read on to learn the differences between each. We’ll show you which type is best for which players and explain the benefits and downsides to help you decide your guitar neck shape preference.

U-Shape

A u-shape is commonly found on thicker guitar necks and sometimes called a ‘baseball bat’ neck. They’re excellent for guitarists who place their thumbs on the back or side of the neck as they play or for players with large hands. Popular guitar examples with a u-shape include:

  • 1951 Nocaster
  • James Burton Tele
  • Telecaster
  • 1954 Gibson LP GT

The u-shaped neck comes either thicker on one side or perfectly balanced. This feature is excellent for customization because players can choose their thickness preference. People also love thick necks because they feel sturdier and are less prone to warping over time, due to excessive heat or cold.

One of the downsides to a u-shape neck is that players with small hands may struggle. Average and smaller sized guitarists can’t typically play a baseball bat neck guitar without some level of discomfort. Composer and Pianist Robert Schumann actually even permanently damaged his hands in the 19th century just from trying to increase his finger reach, according to WQXR.

There are also many subdivisions and sizes depending on the era or design year, which can be confusing. Subtle differences in each period come with specific variations in the basic neck profile. Alternatively, the differences may help you find a more comfortable fit.

Soft V

The soft v is also known as a compromise v. It offers enough room along the center of the neck for your thumb to play melodies over-the-top. The soft v-shape necks taper almost to no v near the nut, so playing is comfortable. Examples of soft v guitars include:

  • 1960 Stratocaster
  • SRV Stratocaster

Overall, v-shaped necks are considered old school. They’re common on older guitars. The soft type may be the most comfortable for many players, however.

Oval C-Shape

The oval c-shape guitar neck is a comfortable shape for all playing styles unless you have large hands. In fact, the c-shape is the most common type of guitar neck shape. It’s nearly flat and highly comfortable to play.

Modern guitars like Fender Stratocasters have a flat oval c-shape. Examples of an oval c-shape neck include:

  • American Vintage
  • 1962 Stratocaster
  • Ibanez JEM or JCM
  • Wizard Super

You may notice some guitar models, like those made by Fender, come with a flatter c-shape than others. However, the basic shape is the same. Perhaps the best part about this neck shape is that there are plenty of options for all players. Oval c-shape necks come in various versions, such as:

  • Slim
  • Extra-slim
  • Fat
  • Nut-shaped
  • Huge

For example, the huge c-shape neck offer next to no taper between the 12th and first fret.

Because the c shape is often pretty thin, narrow, and rounded, they’re ideal for many players. You may enjoy the feeling of your thumb free-floating rather than touching the wood of your guitar neck. Some people find the thinness helps them play faster because the hand can move more freely.

Thin necks may help increase your speed, but some people complain the thin necks are more prone to warping than thicker necks.

They’re less durable long-term, especially if you’re hard on your instrument. The wood tends to require more frequent maintenance and adjustments with each season change as well.

Hard V

The hard v neck shape is also called an ‘extreme v’ and is ideal for thumbs-over players only. You may see a hard v in custom order guitars. The hard v shape is only available on vintage and re-issued guitar models. It’s infrequently in modern models.

The reason many people choose a bigger, chunkier neck is that they can offer a better tone than thin necks. However, many people on the Ultimate Guitar forum say that’s based on opinion. There’s not much of a difference between a soft and hard v shape overall.

Modern Flat Oval

A modern flat oval beck is a modern and more shallow shape. Some manufacturers call this shape the ‘D-shape’. The radius is typically flatter, and you can find this neck style on custom order HM-style guitars.

Some people also don’t like how flat the shape feels, which is the biggest downside to a modern flat oval guitar neck shape. They claim their thumb has a difficult time finding the neck center intuitively, according to Jazz Guitar. Flat or shallow shapes can fatigue some players’ hands more quickly.

Medium V

Another type of v-shaped guitar neck, the medium v isn’t as rounded as the soft v or as pointed as a hard v shape. The medium v guitar neck is considered a classic. They’re often still found in vintage and re-issued models.

It’s ideal for thumb-over-the-top country and blues guitarists. You’ll see a medium v neck in popular guitars like:

  • 1956 Stratocaster
  • Jerry Donahue Tele

Like other v-shapes, the medium v guitar neck shape is ideal for players who are comfortable hanging their thumb over the edge of the fingerboard. However, use this shape only if you want a bit of twang in your sound.

Summary

The guitar neck shape doesn’t alter the sound of the instrument, but it does drastically affect how you can play.

No single shape is better than another. There are no shapes better for scissor kicks, jazz, licks, or any other playing technique. So how do you choose?

For many people, the choice between shapes comes down to personal preference and comfort. The most important thing is how you feel when you hold and play the instrument.

You want to feel balanced, feel comfortable, and sound your best. Guitar neck shapes even vary by request from players who are looking for a unique preference. Some shapes, however, are still only widely available by request.

The neck shape you choose may also depend on the type of music you like to play as well as your size.

If your hand is too small to grasp a huge guitar neck, you may not be able to create the sound you hope. Keep in mind that there are ways to customize all types of guitar necks through the wood type, thickness, and construction strategies. Alternatively, you could buy a short scale guitar or a travel guitar which both tend to easier to play.

The shape also plays a huge role in your joint health. If you feel discomfort when you play, get a more comfortable guitar neck shape.

Ged Richardson

Ged is the Founder of Zing and guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band 'Django Mango'. When he's not writing or noodling, he's tinkering with his vintage Campervan.


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