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Thin vs. thick electric guitar necks

Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster Natural

I've talked about scale lengths before. Now it's time to talk about neck thickness.

One of the coolest guitars ever is the one pictured above, the Fender '70s Stratocaster in Natural finish. It looks like something Ritchie Blackmore would play. Old-style 21-fret neck, 6-screw bridge, big headstock with big Fender logo and "swoop" STRATOCASTER, and of course the bullet truss rod cover...

...but I'd never own one. Why? The big-ass "U" shape neck.

This is also the reason I'd never want a '59 Les Paul whether it's the real thing or a reproduction. More on that in a moment.

Knowing your letter shapes

In the world of electric guitars, there are 4 types of neck shape designations. C, D, U and V. These are all references to the literal shape of the back of the neck, as in C looks like the shape of a letter C, D looks like the shape of a letter D, and so on.

Which are the thickest?

The two thickest types of electric guitar necks that are chunky in shape where you really notice it are late-1970s-style Fender U and a late-1950s-style Gibson D.

Which are the thinnest?

The thinnest type of electric guitar neck are the kind that are on modern "shredder" guitars (specifically from ESP and Ibanez) which are usually U-shaped, and best described as a very-squashed U where the edges are pronounced and can be seen by the naked eye easily.

Demystifying the Fender shapes

Fender has bounced around a lot over the decades with its neck shapes. While these days the shapes are very consistent from model to model, that wasn't the case for a very long time.

I can't go through all the neck changes because that would take forever to write out, so I'll concentrate on the most-known types.

Most-known Fender thick shapes

The shapes here are V, C and U.

50s-style models will either have a V (pronounced physical centerline on the back of the neck) or a Soft V (centerline is still very pronounced but slightly rounder).

60s-style models will usually have a "Big C", which is a fat neck but significantly rounder than the V is.

70s-style models have the large-and-in-charge U shape. To the best of my knowledge, you can't get any thicker nor chunkier than the 70s U shape on a Fender electric guitar.

Most-known Fender thinner shape

This is fortunately easy to figure out as it's just called the Modern C, which is a flat oval shape. This neck shape as far as I know was standardized in the early 1990s (possibly late 80s), stayed that way for a good long while and is still in use today.

Demystifying the Gibson neck shapes

Gibson shapes are a lot easier to figure out than Fender shapes because there aren't as many - depending on which model you're talking about. I'm going to talk about the Les Paul since that's the most famous Gibson electric.

On Les Pauls you've got basically got 1 neck shape and 3 neck thicknesses. The shape is D. The thicknesses are slim taper, '59, and "early 50s".

The early 50s profile is one seriously chunky piece of wood. The '59 profile is slightly less chunky. The slim taper is the thinner shape that most players today are familiar with.

Modern slim "shredder" U and D

On shredder-style necks made for fast playing, you'll find the slim U shape most of the time. When you play Ibanez or ESP/LTD with the really slim boards, the U is there.

When you want the slim D, which is slightly rounder on the back, very few guitar companies make these. One of these few is Dean and only as a "Dean Custom Run" model.

At the time I write this, a Dean with the slim D is ML Switchblade #8 model. These are available, but will probably sell out quick.

Dean DCR ML Switchblade

The guitar only comes in transparent blue or transparent black and that's it. But it has the slim D neck shape.

Does that slim D really make a difference compared to a slim U? For many players, including myself, yes it does.

I don't shred. But if I were in the market for a super-slim profile neck, I would take the slim D over the slim U. The slim U to me feels way too paper-thin. The slim D on the other hand is really slim, but has just enough roundness so I'm not pinching the back of the neck all the time, saving a lot of wear and tear on my fret hand.

Should Dean make more guitars with slim D neck profiles on them? Yes, they should. They would convert a lot of hardcore Ibanez and ESP shredder players over to the brand once they experience how much better just a little more roundness on the back of the neck can feel.

Most guys who like vintage electrics prefer big-ass chunky necks

Older Fender electrics are either lightweight guitars with chunky C necks (60s) or ridiculously heavy guitars with chunky U necks (70s).

Older Gibson electrics - specifically the Les Pauls of the 1950s - are ridiculously heavy guitars with chunky necks ('59 profile) or ridiculously chunky necks (early 50s profile).

Note on guitar weight: Most modern guitars are between 7.5 to 8.5 pounds. Many Fenders of the 60s were under the 7.5lb mark at around 7.2 to 7.4lbs. Many Gibsons of the 50s were over 10lbs, as were several Fender guitars of the 70s. When you go over 10lbs, that qualifies as "ridiculously heavy", because the weight of the guitar hurts your leg when playing it sitting, and hurts your shoulder when playing strapped on and standing.

Most players who like shredder guitars prefer paper-thin U-shape necks

I don't mean "paper-thin" literally. But you know those necks are ridiculously slim.

When you go into shredder guitar territory, that's dominated by super-slim necks, and that's a huge reason why shredders hate Fender and Gibson guitars so much.

A slim-taper Gibson or a modern C Fender neck feels like a tree trunk to a shredder, as those guys are totally used to the "crab-claw" way of playing where you're almost pinching to play each note on a neck. And you can't exactly play crab-claw style on modern Fender or Gibson necks. Not without buzzing all over the place, anyway.

Players who are all about the shred simply don't do Fender or Gibson and never will. They are dedicated to brands like Ibanez, ESP and Jackson because they have the super-slim neck profiles shredders prefer.

I'll put it another way. Let's say I dumped a set of active EMG hot-output humbuckers in a Stratocaster. The shredder would still hate it because the guitar has a modern C neck, and his response would be "scallop this neck and then I can play it", because that's usually the only way a shredder can shred on a Strat. That's just how they prefer guitar necks, meaning super-thin or scalloped.

Fender modern C and Gibson slim taper D are what most players prefer

Since the 1990s, the majority of Fender electrics were made with a modern C neck and Gibsons with a slim taper D.

How to get these neck shapes cheap?

The Fender modern C is used on nearly all Squier models, with the only thing to know being the nut width is slightly narrower at 1.650-inch instead of American Standard 1.685-inch.

An advantage with Squier is being able to get a specific look without that big-ass chunky neck, such as the Squier '70s Stratocaster. That has the 70's look with modern feel to it.

On the Gibson side of things, you go Epiphone - but not the Les Paul model. The model that has the slim taper D neck is the Epiphone G-400 PRO, an SG model. If you want to go cheaper, the regular G-400 non-PRO model also has the slim taper D.

Does this mean you prefer modern C or slim taper D?

Not necessarily. Maybe you like the big-ass chunky necks, or maybe you prefer the super-slim type instead. You won't know until you try them out first.

My personal preference is Fender modern C mounted on an offset body (meaning Jazzmaster or Jaguar).

Most players, even if they don't know it yet, want a Telecaster. I wrote about that recently for the metal player crowd, but it applies to any music style. Sometimes just having a plain-jane 2-pickup anti-complicated guitar with a comfy neck is all you need. I owned a Telecaster myself at one point, even if just briefly. But that was before I discovered the Jazzmaster. If I weren't playing a Jazzmaster however, I'd be playing a Telecaster.

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