Neck profiles on guitars (and basses) and favourite colours are similar in that they are always based on personal preferences. And as silly as it sounds to say that blue is a far superior colour, the same argument applies to instrument necks, although it’s quite common to hear statements that claim just that. As with many things in life, there are the extremes, which attracts some, but also a vast middle ground where I would say most of would feel comfortable. In fact, the things we ought to have in mind buying a pair of shoes or trying out a guitar neck is the same, comfortability. The only way to find out which neck is for you is to try out as many as possible, but of course one can make some decisions in advance (for example, if one has small hands it’s highly unlikely one would feel comfortable with a “baseball bat” profile). Another detail I’d like to point out is that it’s likely an older neck is thicker and bulkier than a newer one. This can partly be explained by the fact that modern materials (graphite) and technology (superior truss rods) has made it possible to build very slim necks without too much bending, but the way a guitar is played has also changed in the last half of a century.
So, what options are there? To be able to explain the profiles a bit better than just saying round, fat or chunky, a letter system has been in use for quite some time. It should however not be mixed with how Fender used to mark their necks from the early 60’s to the early 70‘s. They used the letters to describe the width of the neck, not the thickness nor the shape. The letters we use are: C, U, V & D and the idea is that they physically resemble the neck profile.
So C is a round shape, about half of an oval and it is also the most common one of them all and would probably fit most players hands. There are of course versions of this profile, like the modern C or the Big C, but I won’t ever finish writing this if I mention all of them.
Similar to the C shape is the U shape, roughly the same radius but with higher shoulders. Bulky specimens are lovingly referred to “baseball bats” for obvious reasons and are generally thought of as a design from the past although it has it’s followers too.
Another “oldie” is the V shape, and if you’re a fan of playing with your thumb hanging over the neck, this one’s for you. Since the centre of the neck is left quite thick, the V can be made very stiff without the weight of a U.
Next up is the D, which has a flatter radius than a C but has the higher shoulders of an U. If you come from a classical background and play with your thumb in the middle of the neck, you might want to try out this one. It is also a shredder´s favourite and it allows you to make bigger stretches than on other profiles. Ibanez has gone as far as making a neck (Wizard II) which is 17mm thick at 1st fret, compare that to a 22,9mm on an early 1950’s Fender U neck, and nearly 6mm of difference is huge in a place like that.
So, what do learn from all this? Perhaps not much, but that there really is no right or wrong in the neck department. It is the one thing one has to get right on a guitar for it to be a joy to play. Of course, all the other parts of a guitar are important as well, but the neck is the one that, if done right, makes it feel like it has been made just for you, and isn’t that what we all want from a guitar?