A lot goes into creating the signature feel of an electric guitar or bass – one of them being the instrument’s “neck profile.” This term basically refers to is the shape of the back of a guitar or bass’s neck if you were to look at it through a cross section view. You may have also heard neck profile referred to as the “back shape” or “neck shape.” It is important to not confuse neck profile with other neck measurements such as width, depth and fingerboard radius.
Although the neck profile of an instrument doesn’t affect the way it sounds, it does change the way you play it. And considering how guitar and basses aren’t exactly cheap pieces of gear, it’s important you find one that feels best. This means that there isn’t one neck profile that’s demonstrably better than another when it comes to certain playing styles or techniques – it really is just a question of personal preference and comfort.
Because there are several different types of neck profiles – many so similar that they are hardly indistinguishable from another – we’re going to focus on Fender’s system. They keep things simple and simply use the letters C, V and U, although they do sometimes delve deeper with variations of each. If you haven’t guessed it by now, each letter refers to the rough shape of the neck profile cross section. Because even necks with the same neck profile can have different thicknesses from the front of the neck to the back, you will sometimes see terms such as thick C shape or deep U shape.
C-shaped Neck Profile
The most common modern neck profile. C-shaped necks have a comfortable oval profile that works well for most playing styles. Usually not as deep as most U- and V-shaped neck profiles. Many Fender guitars, especially Stratocasters, now have a “modern C shape” (or “flat oval”) neck profile, a flattened variation of the traditional C shape.
U-shaped Neck Profile
Chunky and rounded, with high shoulders. Especially deep U-shaped necks like those found on some Telecaster guitars are sometimes referred to as “baseball bat” necks. Good for players with large hands and players who are more comfortable with their thumb on the back or side of the neck.
V-shaped Neck Profile
Two versions are popular—a more rounded “soft” V and a more pointed “hard” V often preferred by players more comfortable with their thumb hanging over the edge of the fingerboard. V-shape neck profiles are pretty old school and show up on many reissue instruments.
There are also further subdivisions of each type, usually denoted by a design year or era (i.e., ’50s V shape, ’61 C shape, ’70s C shape), in which subtle period-specific variations in one of the basic neck profiles is recreated precisely.
There is occasional confusion about C, U and V neck profile designations and A, B, C and D neck width designations. From the early ’60s to the early ’70s, Fender referred specifically to the nut width of its instrument necks using the letters A (1 ½”), B (1 5/8″), C (1 ¾”) and D (1 7/8″). These letters were stamped on the butt-end of the necks and had nothing to do with neck profile.