Guitar Neck Shape Guide – Shapes Explained

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There are thousands of different guitars to choose from and those axes are paired with dozens of different neck shapes… It’s no wonder why people want little clarification about the shapes before buying a new guitar.

During my 12+ years guitar journey I’ve had the pleasure to test plenty of different neck shapes (well, at least most of them were a pleasure to play). And in this post, we will go through the most common ones and I guide you through the process of choosing the best neck shape for you. You will also get answers to frequently asked neck shape questions.

Let’s get started!

photo reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I also noticed that most guitar websites don’t do a really good job, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website. I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar. I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog(I guess that went the right way…).

Tommy Tompkins Profile Picture 2

Neck Shape Graphic: Tommy Tompkins

Playing guitar since 2004. Primarily an acoustic guitarist who plays and writes traditional American folk music, with a background in melodic metal and a solid foundation as a bassist.


8 Most Common Neck Shapes

Here you can see how different neck shapes compare. Tommy did an amazing job with this Image!

This graph reveals most common guitar neck shapes

Let’s now go through these shapes one by one and see what qualities each possesses.

C (Classic C) – Most Common Neck Shape

image displays Classic C neck shape looks

How Does It Feel?

Round shape that just fits the hand of a human being. You get a firm grip, but the roundness enables your hand to move freely around the neck. Especially classic models with C shape had a quite thick feel. Nowadays C shape neck comes with various different thicknesses. This is “the standard” shape that is usually not really hard to handle for anyone.

Guitars That Use C Shape Nowadays

*Consider all links in this post to be affiliate links. If you purchase, at no additional cost to you, we may earn a small commission. It helps us to keep the lights on, thanks! 🙂

You can find an article with the full master list here: 48 Guitars with C Shaped Necks – Both Acoustic & Electric.

When and How This Shape Started to Gain Popularity?

At the start of the 1950s, the C shape was used on Stratocaster and Telecaster models. And at the end of the 1950’s it really became “a household name”. The upcoming decades made this round neck profile the most common neck shape on guitars.

Old Models Featuring This Shape:


Modern C

image displays Modern C neck shape looks

How Does It Feel?

Round like the original C shape, but slimmer. Really smooth playing and doesn’t hold you back. Shoulders are almost non-existent and you have easy access to the fretboard. My favorite shape for small hands, but it might even be too slim for large hands.

Guitars That Use Modern C Shape Nowadays

You can find an article with the full master list here: 48 Guitars with C Shaped Necks – Both Acoustic & Electric.

When and How This Shape Started to Gain Popularity?

I tracked Modern C back to the 1980s. Fender had already made slimmer versions of Classic C, but they started to produce models with  “Modern C” neck on them. It’s great that we have a way to identify different versions of the C shape, and the difference between C and Modern C is noticeable, even though we are basically talking about the same basic shape.

Old Models Featuring This Shape:

  • Several Fender models from the 80’s to this day

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U (Vintage U)

image displays Vintage U neck shape looks

How Does It Feel?

Chunky and less round than C shapes. Also, shoulders are larger and the straight sides of the neck are longer. This shape is great for correct thumb placement(at the back of the neck) and moving up and down the neck is really smooth. For me and my small hands, C shapes provide better upper fret access. But U gives a firm grip and I especially enjoy playing riffs with this shape. U shape can work great for players with large hands.

Guitars That Use U Shape Nowadays

You can find an article with the full master list here: 24 Guitars With U Shaped Neck – Acoustic & Electric.

When and How This Shape Started to Gain Popularity?

U shape is one of the oldest neck shapes. It started to gain popularity in the 1950s when the electric guitar boom started. Vintage U shape necks were chunky back then. Deep U-shape is also sometimes called “a baseball bat” neck. U shape is also used on some classical guitars, like Cordoba.

Old Models Featuring This Shape:


Thin U

image displays Thin U neck shape looks

How Does It Feel?

Thin version of U shape. Great for correct thumb placement because of its flat back. This neck is in general faster to play than the regular U. For example, most ESP guitars use a Thin U neck shape. With this shape, both moving up and down the neck is smooth and you also have better access to the fretboard than with regular U.

I recently tested this neck shape when reviewing ESP LTD EC-10

Guitars That Use Thin U Shape Nowadays

You can find an article with the full master list here: 24 Guitars With U Shaped Neck – Acoustic & Electric.

When and How This Shape Started to Gain Popularity?

I was not able to track the exact year when Thin U as it is nowadays was first introduced. But thin versions of the U-shaped neck have been used since the 1950s. Thin U name has been used at least for the last 20 years.

Old Models Featuring This Shape:


D (1950’s D)

image displays 1950s D neck shape looks

How Does It Feel?

The deep old-school versions of D shape are the chunkiest neck to me. More round than the U shape, but have larger shoulders than the C shape. The back of the neck is good for your thumb placement, but U and C shapes are more fast playing to me.

Guitars That Use D Shape Nowadays

You can find an article with the full master list here: 30 Guitars with D Shaped Necks – Both Acoustic & Electric.

When and How This Shape Started to Gain Popularity?

Also one of the oldest neck shape. Was featured on the 50’s Les Pauls, and is sometimes called a 1950’s profile, but when we look at the cross-section, the shape itself reminds a D letter. And because Les Pauls were really popular axes back then (as nowadays), the D shape become an iconic chunky neck profile.

Old Models Featuring This Shape:


Slim Taper D

image displays Slimtaper D neck shape looks

How Does It Feel?

Slim version of the D shape. Like an oval cut in half. Doesn’t have large shoulders and has a slim feel. There are tons of different versions of Slim Taper D available, but in general, they offer easy and slim playability.  Provides better fret access than the original D or U shape. Also surprisingly versatile neck shape.

Guitars That Use Slim Taper D Shape Nowadays

You can find an article with the full master list here: 30 Guitars with D Shaped Necks – Both Acoustic & Electric.

When and How This Shape Started to Gain Popularity?

In the 1960s, slimmer versions of the original D shape started to gain traction. Enter: Slim Taper D. Like many players nowadays (me), also some players back then started to prefer this slim version of D neck.

Old Models Featuring This Shape:


Soft V

image displays Soft V neck shape looks

How Does It Feel?

Shape with sharper corners, but noticeable rounder than Hard V shape. Great for funk-style riffs and enables you to hold your thumb at the side of the neck and maybe even hit some notes with it. Not the best for beginners, especially without trying first. To me, Soft V is a fun shape to play and especially those funk and rock riffs are a pleasure to play with this shape.

Guitars That Use Soft V Shape Nowadays

You can find an article with the full master list here: 23 Guitars With V-Shaped Neck – Acoustic & Electric

When and How This Shape Started to Gain Popularity?

Soft V shape was invented in the 1950s, most likely by accident as the variation of the D and U shape. This shape enabled players searching for different playing feel and techniques to get comfortable with electric guitars.

Old Models Featuring This Shape:


Hard V

image displays Hard V neck shape looks

How Does It Feel?

The “edgiest” neck shape with sharp corners. Great for players who like to throw their thumb into the mix when jamming. I highly recommend testing this shape out before buying, it’s not necessarily the easiest to play. But that being said, it can work great if you are searching for vintage playability or if you have large hands.

Guitars That Use Hard V Shape Nowadays

You can find an article with the full master list here: 23 Guitars With V-Shaped Neck – Acoustic & Electric

When and How This Shape Started to Gain Popularity?

As Soft V, Hard V was invented in the 1950s. It made use of your thumb in playing easy and some players fell in love with the Hard V. Not a very popular neck shape nowadays, but definitely deserves a place from this list.

Old Models Featuring This Shape:


3 Neck Shapes That Are Not That Common, But Still Amazing

Jackson’s “Speed” Neck Shape

image displays how Jacksons Speed neck shape looks

To me, a mix of Slim Taper D and Modern C shape. It’s meatier than modern C, but the fretboard is even easier to access than with Slim Taper D. Thickness is pretty much onto the same level as with Slim Taper D’s.

I recently tested this neck shape when reviewing Jackson JS22 Dinky.

Guitars With Speed Neck Shape:


PRS’s Wide Thin Neck Shape

image displays Wide-thin neck shape looks

In simple terms, a wide-thin neck shape is a stretched version of Modern C. It’s wider and meatier in that sense, but it’s really thin. Also, that familiar roundness of C-shape is present. This shape can work great for large hands and fat fingers. And personally, I find PRS guitars featuring this shape really comfortable to play, even tho I have tiny hands.

Guitars With Wide Thin Neck Shape:


Ibanez’s Wizard Neck Shape

image displays how Ibanez wizard neck shape looks

For speedsters looking for a thin neck, Wizard is my go-to option. It’s not for everybody, but it’s super slim, that’s for sure. 

You have really good access to every corner of the fretboard, and shredding and fast playing overall is smooth.

Guitars With Wizard Neck Shape:


How to Choose The Right Neck Shape for You

decision tree that helps to choose the right neck shape for you

Get clear on what kind of neck you are after… But what if you have no idea? Then I recommend going with some popular shape like C or Modern C, but it’s even better to go to the music store and test which neck feels good to you. When you got an idea about what you are after, choosing the right neck shape becomes much easier.

The one big choice you have to make is whether to aim for a slim or chunky neck. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

Pros and Cons of Chunky Neck

Pros

  • Firm grip
  • Great for large hands
  • Chords and riffs closer to the nut feel fun to play. Great firm feel.

Cons

  • For small hands, can feel too meaty and decrease playability
  • Not the fastest playability

Pros and Cons of Slim Neck

Pros

  • Easy acces to fretboard
  • Works well with small hands
  • Great for fast playing
  • Usually works great for beginners

Cons

  • Can feel too slim for some players, especially for people with large hands.

Both, the chunky and slim necks have their places on the guitar field. I have had a ton of fun playing both, but definitely prefer slim necks because of my small hands. So think about which fits you the best and what kind of playstyle you have or are after. Choosing the right shape is no impossible task, and it’s super fun to test different shapes out. All the info I have given above is definitely enough for making a good decision.


Best Guitar Neck Shapes for Small Hands

I have tiny hands that have caused me problems from time to time when playing guitar. And it’s 100% true that some neck shapes are better for small hands than others. I have a separate in-depth article about small hand-friendly neck shapes, I recommend you check it out. But here are my top 3 shapes for small hands:

  • Modern C
  • Wizard
  • Thin and Extra Thin U

Here are 4 shapes that I have not found so easy playing for small hands:

  • Vintage U
  • 1950’s D
  • Hard V
  • Deep C

Best Guitar Neck Shapes for Large Hands

All neck shapes are not created equal for large hands. That’s for sure. I have a separate in-depth article about large hand-friendly neck shapes, I recommend you check it out. But here are my top 3 shapes for large hands:

  • U
  • D
  • Wide-thin and wide fat (PRS guitars)

Here are 2 shapes that are most likely not the best option for large hands:

  • Wizard
  • Modern C

FAQ

Does The Neck Shape Matter?

The neck shape of the guitar has a big impact on the feel and playability. It determines how the neck feels on your hand. Personally, I pay attention to neck shape and it’s always a good idea to test the guitar before buying if possible. But that being said, you can learn to play with any common neck shape. None of them feels terrible and unplayable to me. Also, there are a ton of different factors that affect the playability of the guitar.

What is Asymmetrical Guitar Neck?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Asymmetrical: “having two sides or halves that are not the same : not symmetrical.”

So 2 sides of the neck of the guitar are not symmetrical. Here’s an image that explains what asymmetrical neck means with electric guitars:

image reveals how Asymmetrical Guitar Neck looks like
An asymmetrical neck can look like this. You can see that it’s not symmetrical.

With most common asymmetrical necks, the center line of the neck is raised closer to the upper side of the neck. This goes through the whole neck. An asymmetrical neck can support the thumb placement of some players and make playing more comfortable.

There are different variations of asymmetrical necks, but the rule of thumb is that the backside of the neck is not symmetrical.

Funny thing is that the benefits of asymmetrical necks were most likely found by accident.

What Neck Shape Les Paul’s Have?

Most common neck shapes with Gibson Les Pauls:

  • D
  • Slim taper D
  • Vintage 50s (1950’s D)
  • Authentic ’59 Medium C-Shape
  • U

What Neck Shape Fender Stratocasters Have?

Most common neck shapes with Fender Stratocasters:

  • C
  • Soft V
  • Hard V
  • Modern C

What Neck Shape Fender Telecasters Have?

Most common neck shapes with Fender Stratocasters:

  • C
  • Soft V
  • Hard V
  • Modern C
  • U
  • Thin U

Conclusion

I personally prefer variations of C, Slim Taper D, and Thin U neck shapes. I’m sure that following the info and tips provided in this guide you can easily choose the right shape for you. I recommend that you start testing different necks ASAP, and make a decision!

Hopefully this article helped you out, and if you have any questions, just leave a comment.

I wish you all the best and keep rocking!

Teemu


Here’s Our Favorite Gear Right Now!

Our Favorite Guitars:

Consider all links in this post to be affiliate links. If you purchase, at no additional cost to you, we may earn a small commission. It helps us to keep the lights on, thanks! 🙂

Electric guitars:

For beginners and tight-budget guitarists, Ibanez GRX70QA was the winner after hours of testing. If you are a metalhead, Jackson JS22 Dinky is our favorite.

If you have more room on your budget, Yamaha Pacifica 112V gives you a great bang for your buck, and Fender Player Telecaster HH will serve intermediate Players well.

Our favorite Electric guitar of 2021 was the PRS SE Custom 24-08. It gives so much versatility, comfort, and good tones that it’s impossible to ignore.

Acoustic guitars:

For beginners, Yamaha FG800 is our go-to guitar. It offers more than any other guitar in the same price range.

For intermediate and beginners with bigger wallets, Gretsch G5024E Rancher offers so clear and detailed tones, plus easy playability that I had to include it here.

Seagull S6 Original is the best acoustic around the $500 mark. It has the construction, sound, and feel that many more expensive guitars don’t achieve.

Our Favorite Amps:

For beginners, Fender Mustang LT25 offers the most. It’s versatile, sounds good, and is simple to use.

For most home players, Boss Katana 50MKii is the amp that serves you in any situation. From country to metal.

If you are searching for a tube amp for home use, Blackstar HT-5R MKii is my go-to option because it sounds so good, and you can adjust the wattage(power).

When it comes to acoustic guitar amps, Fender Acoustasonic 40 will serve most people really well. But our favorite is Fishman Loudbox Mini BT. It offers a professional level tone and volume with a price most people can afford.