You’ve probably heard a good deal about tonewoods, pickups, and strings being important to the overall sound of the guitar. The neck? Maybe not so much. Or perhaps you know that although more fragile, a solid neck is better for the overall sound, as are chunkier necks. But what about guitar neck shapes?
While guitar neck shapes don’t impact the sound, they do play a major role in how comfortable your guitar is to play. Moreover, they affect how well you can actually get your hand around the neck and fret the notes properly. The width of the neck also plays a role, to be fair, so it’s not just shape. Naturally, if you have smaller hands, choosing a narrower neck is best. But what about how the neck feels in your hands and accommodates playability.
Let’s get into guitar neck shapes and see which is best for you.
Guitar Neck Shapes- How They Came About
Guitars were originally developed with a U shape. This shape is called the vintage U shape and is still found on some guitars today, particularly those designed to look and sound vintage. This shape was especially popular in the 50s. But people also started to realize that this shape didn’t suit everyone. For people with smaller hands, this shape was difficult to play with.
So it was around the 50s that other neck shapes also started being developed. One of the first being the V shape and then later the D and the C-shape.
In recent decades, these shapes have been modified, becoming slimmer. And you even find a particular shape has different sizes depending on the guitar. It’s not as much of a set thing as you may think. That’s why trying a guitar before you buy it is a good habit to form.
The Main Guitar Neck Shapes
Technically, there are four main guitar neck shapes. C is the most common. U, D, and V are the others. It’s when you include the modifications made in the last few decades that it becomes eight main shapes.
Here they are:
- Vintage U a.k.a Baseball Bat
- Thin U
- D shape
- Slim taper D
- Classic C
- Modern C
- Soft V
- Hard V
You may have come across other shapes that are particular to a brand, for example, Ibanez’s Wizard neck or Strandberg’s EndurNeck. There are a few brands with their own shapes that are some variation of the above. You also get asymmetrical guitar necks that are meant to make it easier to solo on the treble side and easier to barre or play power chords on the bass side.
Guitar Neck Shapes- Which is Best for You?
So now that you’re aware of which shapes there are, let’s get deeper into them and see which is best for you.
I’ve put this one first, because the C-shape has become the most popular. When I say it’s the most popular, I mean the classic C-shape. It’s the shape that is comfortable for most guitarists. Our hands naturally make that shape. It comes in various widths, so whether you have big hands or small hands, you can find a guitar with a C-shape neck that works for you.
The modern C-shape is the slimmer version of the classic. It’s also pretty comfortable, but this shape may be uncomfortable for guitarists with big hands.
- Gives good grip
- Allows for smooth playing
- Easy access to frets
- Allows hands to move up and down the neck easily
- Comes in a variety of widths
Guitars with C-shape necks:
Fender Player Stratocaster- Modern C
Fender is a brand used by professional and amateur musicians alike. So you know you’re getting good quality. The Player Strat comes in a few different configurations. Either:
- 3x Alnico 5 single coil pickups
- 2 x Alnico 5 single coil pickups and an Alnico 2 humbucker pickup
- 2 Alnico 2 humbucker pickups and an Alnico 5 single coil pickup
The Player Stratocaster Floyd Rose has a Floyd Rose Special double locking tremolo bridge. All the other Player Stratocasters have a tremolo bridge with bent saddles. You get a 5-way pickup selector and the usual volume and tone controls. Some configurations have the pau ferro fretboard, others the maple fretboard. All have alder bodies and maple necks. Fender offers a 2-year warranty on their guitars.
Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster- C-Shape
Squier guitars are produced by Fender, and although the quality isn’t quite the same, these are definitely decent guitars. The Affinity Strat comes in a few different configurations too:
- 3 x Ceramic single coil pickups
- 2 x Ceramic humbucker pickups
- 1 x Ceramic humbucker pickup and 2 x Ceramic single coil pickups
The ceramic pickups are geared towards grit, but you can get smooth tones out of them too. You get a 5-way pickup selector and master volume and tone controls. The bridge is a 2-point tremolo bridge. The body is poplar with a maple neck. Depending on the model, you get either a maple or Indian laurel fretboard. Fender provides a 2-year warranty on Squier guitars.
Gibson Custom 1959 ES-335 Reissue VOS- ‘59 Medium C
Gibson guitars are coveted guitars. This semi-hollow guitar is based on their 1958 ES-335. The body is 3-ply maple, poplar, and maple. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard. You get two Custombucker Alnico 3 humbucker pickups, each with a tone and volume knob for ultimate control. There is also a 3-way pickup selector. Perfectly suited to jazz and blues, this guitar also has the chops for rock. Gibson guitars carry a limited lifetime warranty.
Get the Gibson Custom 1959 ES-335 Reissue VOS at Sweetwater.
Epiphone ES-335- Rounded C
If you love the Gibson ES-335, but find it too pricey, the Epiphone ES-335 is a worthy alternative with a warm resonate tone. The body is layered maple with a AAA flamed maple veneer top. The neck is mahogany and the fretboard is Indian laurel. You get two Alnico PRO humbucker pickups with a volume and tone controls for each. You also get a 3-way pickup selector. Epiphone guitars come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Get the Epiphone ES-335 at Sweetwater.
D’Angelico Premier Bowery LS Acoustic-Electric Guitar- C-Shape
This dreadnought guitar comes in a few beautiful finishes, some that are unique. Along with that, you get a full, resonant tone, not only because of the dreadnought shape and tonewood, but the scalloped X bracing too. Play it plugged or unplugged. The preamp has a 3-band EQ, so you can get the tone you want. The body is laminated mahogany, and the neck is mahogany with a torrefied merbau fretboard. D’Angelico provides a limited lifetime warranty on their guitars.
Get the D’Angelico Premier Bowery LS Acoustic-Electric Guitar at Sweetwater.
Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy 24″ Flat Top Acoustic Guitar- C-Shape
For those who prefer to play fingerstyle, this vintage-looking Jim Dandy parlor guitar is a great option. Shorter guitarists and those with smaller hands may prefer the 24” scale length. Despite the smaller body, the guitar neck is joined at the 12th fret as opposed to the 14th fret, which makes this guitar surprisingly loud for its size. The body is basswood, with a nato neck and walnut fretboard. Fender offers a 2-year limited warranty on Gretsch guitars.
Get the Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy guitar from Sweetwater.
The U-shape has a flatter underside and higher shoulders than the C curve. In terms of comfort, the vintage U isn’t the best option for those with smaller hands. The thin U, however, may suit smaller hands okay. The flatter shape at the bottom is more natural for the thumb at the back of the neck.
- Good for thumb placement
- The Vintage U is good for guitarists with big hands
- Allows for a firm grip
- Good for soloing
Guitars with U-Shape necks:
ESP LTD M-1 Custom ’87 Electric Guitar- Extra Thin U
The LTD M-1 Custom ‘87 is based on the original LTD M-1 from 1987. It features a Floyd Rose 1000 tremolo bridge and a Seymour Duncan Distortion TB-6 humbucker pickup. You also get a push-pull split coil control. For even more power behind the distortion, use the EMG PA-2 boost switch. The body is alder, and the neck and fretboard are maple. ESP guitars come with a lifetime warranty.
Guild Starfire VI Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar- Vintage Soft U
If you want a guitar with warm, resonant tones that have a vintage touch, the Starfire VI is a good option. That said, these pickups will also give you a bit of jangle for rock vibes. You get two vintage sounding humbuckers with a 3-way pickup selector. You have a lot of control over your sound with the individual tone and volume controls for each pickup. On top of this, you get a master volume knob and vibrato tailpiece. Guild guitars come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Get the Starfire VI at Sweetwater.
Gretsch G5655TG Electromatic Centerblock Jr.- Thin U
The G5655TG gives you sound you want for jazz, blues, and some genres of rock, and is designed to prevent feedback due to the long spruce centerblock. You get two Black Top Broad’Tron humbucker pickups, a 3-way toggle, and a volume control for each pickup. You also get master tone and volume controls. The Bigsby B70 bridge provides solid intonation with vibrato that’s considered iconic. The body is laminated maple, and the neck is maple with a laurel fretboard.
Get the G655TG at Sweetwater.
ESP LTD TL-6 Acoustic-electric Guitar- Thin U
The LTD TL-6 is geared towards those who generally play electric guitars or acoustic guitarists who want a guitar with a thinner body that still sounds full. The feel of the neck and frets are much like an electric and the Fishman Sonicore pickup reproduces the sound beautifully. You get an onboard tuner, 3-band EQ, and a master volume control. The body and neck are mahogany with a spruce top and roasted jatoba fretboard.
Get the LTD TL-6 at Sweetwater.
Gretsch G5021E Rancher Penguin Parlor Acoustic-electric Guitar- Standard U
Cute name aside The G5021E Rancher Penguin is a solid option if you want a semi-acoustic parlor guitar. The tone can be described as punchy and sounds good whether played fingerstyle or with a pick. The back and sides are laminated maple, the top is solid spruce. The neck is mahogany with rosewood fretboard. The Fishman Presys II pickup and preamp include a built-in tuner.
Get the G5021E Rancher Penguin at Sweetwater.
Slim Taper D:
The original D shape, a.k.a. The 1950s D, is quite a chunky neck. It’s similar to the U-shape, but with lower shoulders. It’s a common shape on classic guitar necks. Guitarists with longer fingers and bigger hands will handle this neck shape well. It’s also beneficial if you like to really anchor your thumb at the back of the neck. The slim taper D is a thinner, flatter neck shape and easier for most guitarists. While not as comfortable as the C-shape, most people should find the slim D a versatile and comfortable guitar neck shape.
- Good for thumb placement
- 1950’s D is good for guitarists with big hands
- Slim taper D is comfortable for most guitarists including those with small hands
Guitars with D-shape necks:
Gibson Les Paul Standard ’50s AAA Top Electric Guitar- Vintage 50’s (D-shape)
Based on the classic Les Paul from the 50s, if you want a vintage guitar with all the advancements of modern technology, here you go. From the chunky neck to the 57’ classic humbucker pickups, vintage deluxe tuning machines, and nitro-finish, this guitar screams vintage. Each of the pickups has its own volume and tone controls, and you get a 3-way pickup selector to modify your tone to your liking. The body is mahogany and the top is AAA flamed maple. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard.
Get the Gibson Les Paul Standard ’50s Guitar at Sweetwater.
Epiphone J-15 EC- Slim Taper D
If you’re a guitarist with large hands that can handle the size of a jumbo with all the sound it brings, here you go. The J-15 is modeled after the Gibson J-45. The cutaway shape allows for easy access to the lower frets. The back and sides are mahogany, and the top is spruce. The neck is mahogany with a pau ferro fretboard. The preamp is designed to minimize noise and pick up the sound authentically.
Get the Epiphone J-15 from Sweetwater.
Fender American Ultra Telecaster- Modern D
The American Ultra Telecaster may look like a vintage telecaster. And sure, the Noiseless Vintage Telecaster single coil pickups do provide a vintage tone, albeit without the hum. But the S-1 switch within the volume knob, allows for a sound similar to humbuckers. What you get is a versatile guitar. The 3-way pickup selector and master tone control allows for the usual options in tweaking your sound. The body is alder and the neck is maple with a rosewood fretboard.
Get the Fender American Ultra Telecaster at Sweetwater.
Epiphone L-00 Studio Acoustic-Electric Guitar- Slim Taper D
The L-00 is a parlor guitar and harks back to the 1930s and 40s L-00. It’s suited well to smaller guitarists and/or those who like to pick as opposed to strum. That said, it holds up well when strumming too. It does blues and jazz well. The body is mahogany, the top is spruce, and the neck is mahogany with an Indian laurel fretboard. The pickup and preamp system is a Fishman Sonicore which includes a 3-band EQ and volume control.
Get the Epiphone L-00 at Sweetwater.
Hagstrom Alvar Compact Elf Warrior Guitar- Slim D
If you’re into the fantasy genre and love a good semi-hollow guitar, here you go. The Hagstrom Alvar Compact Elf Warrior doesn’t look like something you’d find in a mystical forest unless those elves love jazz, blues, and perhaps a bit of rock. It’s a smaller guitar, so well-suited to petite guitarists. You get two humbucker pickups with a volume and tone control each, as well as a 3-way pickup selector. The body and neck are maple and the fretboard is resonator which sounds a lot like ebony.
Get the Hagstrom Alvar Compact Elf Warrior at Guitar Center.
V-shaped guitar necks have a ridge at the back, the neck literally tapers into a V-shape. How pointy the V is depends on whether you get a hard or soft V-shaped neck. This shape is rarer, and it’s likely due to the fact that it’s not the most comfortable neck. That’s not to say that it doesn’t suit anyone.
If you prefer to put your thumb on either side as opposed to the middle of the neck, this neck shape may just be the one you’re looking forward to. It’s a shape geared towards use of the bass strings more. If you like to crank out funk and/or rock riffs, you may enjoy this neck shape. It is one of those shapes that I would recommend you try before you buy, as it’s not for everyone and is the least suitable for guitarists who prefer versatility. It’s also not the most beginner-friendly neck shape.
- Allow for thumb placement on the side of the neck or use your thumb to fret notes
- Best suited for bassier funk and rock riffs
- Not the best for beginners
- Not really geared for versatility
Guitars with V-shape necks:
Recording King RO-328 Acoustic Guitar: Thin V
If you’re in the market for a concert guitar, check out the RO-328. The back and sides are rosewood with an aged Adirondack spruce top. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard. This guitar is designed to project the sound well. So while better suited to fingerstyle guitar and picking, you’ll find it has ample volume. The tortoise shell pickguard sets this guitar apart from the rest visually. Recording King guitars come with a 5-year limited warranty.
Get the Recording King RO-328 at Guitar Center.
Gibson Acoustic ’50s LG-2: Historic V
This LG-2 is a little guitar with big sound. While the tone is mellow and warm, you’ll have volume on your side thanks to the scalloped X-bracing and solid sitka spruce top. You can also plug it in thanks to the LR Baggs VTC acoustic pickup system. The back and sides are mahogany. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard.
Get the Gibson Acoustic ’50s LG-2 at Sweetwater.
Fender Vintera 50s Stratocaster Electric Guitar- Soft V
For the lovers of vintage guitars, here is the Vintera 50s Strat. The three single coil pickups harken back to that era, but with the benefits of updated technology. The 6-point tremolo bridge also offers vintage vibrato, although it also allows for more modern vibrato too. You get a 5-way pickup selector switch, a master volume control, a tone control for the neck and middle pickups, and a tone control for the bridge pickup. The body is alder with a maple neck and fretboard.
Fender Jimmie Vaughan Tex-Mex Stratocaster- Soft V
Stevie Ray may have been the more famous one, but Jimmy Vaughan is a great guitarist in his own right. If you love the hot, biting tone of his guitar, you’ll love the Jimmy Vaughan Tex-Mex Strat. You get three single coil Tex-Mex pickups, a 5-way pickup selector switch, a master volume control, a tone control for the neck and middle pickups, and a tone control for the bridge pickup. The body is alder with a maple neck and fretboard.
Get the Jimmie Vaughan Tex-Mex Stratocaster at Sweetwater.
Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster- Soft V
As with the rest of the Fender Artist Series guitars, the Eric Clapton Strat is just like the one Eric Clapton himself uses. You get three Vintage Noiseless single coil pickups and a 5-way pickup selector switch. To get that authentic Eric Clapton sound, there is also a 25dB boost in the mid-range. The tone controls have TBX circuitry, so you can tweak your tone from clean vintage, to growling, to dark. There is also a master volume control, and a 6-point tremolo bridge.
Get the Eric Clapton Stratocaster at Sweetwater.
Whether you would prefer a big chunky U or D shaped neck, a slim C or thin U, or the very particular V-shaped neck, there is something for you. Naturally, the smaller your hands are, and the faster you like to play, the slimmer the neck, the better. But for those with bigger hands, chunkier necks may be far more comfortable, just like a slim neck would be for those of us with smaller hands. It really is down to preference.
If you have the opportunity to try out guitars, I would do that, just so you can get an idea of what you like. But if in doubt, or you would prefer to get a guitar based off of reviews and the convenience of online purchasing, C-shape profiles or thin U-shaped necks are the safest bet for most people.