If you have ever been in the market for a Strat, Tele, or other Fender guitar, you may have been, or may still be confused as to the different neck shapes available to you, and how the fretboard radius is related to these shapes. These factors are important to consider when you are purchasing a Fender instrument as they can be the difference between a comfortable, effortless feel and a cramped, awkward, not so fun playing experience.
Fender necks generally come in 3 different “shapes”. These shapes refer to the carve of the back of the neck, where your palm and thumb rest. The 3 most popular shapes are a “C” shape, a “U” shape, and a “V” shape.
The C-shaped neck, or “oval” profile is the most common shape and is widely used on modern Fender instruments. This neck shape is great for all playing styles and represents the middle ground of the most popular Fender neck shapes. These necks have a slim feel and low shoulders, or edges, so they accommodate medium to small size hands very well. The early C shaped necks were a bit deeper than the current modern C shape necks that are often referred to as “flat ovals”.
The U-shaped neck is also known by many as the “baseball bat” neck. These necks have higher shoulders and are more circular than oval shaped. If you have larger hands or like to grip your chords firmly, this is a shape you should look into. (Great for rhythm players!) The U shape will also suit you well if you like to keep your thumb on the back of the neck for support.
The V-shaped neck is not found too often now-a-days but it of course has its uses and has developed a bit of a cult following. V-shaped necks were generally found on vintage Fender instruments from the 50s and 60s and therefore also found on the vintage reissues. They are a match made in heaven for blues players who like to use their thumb to play bass notes as they offer quick “edge access” to the fretboard. They have a similar “fat” or “deep” feel to the U shaped necks while providing some extra space to move your fingers around.
Commonly misinterpreted or misstated as “neck radius”, the fretboard radius relates to the curvature of the fretboard as it sits on the neck. The most common measurements for fretboard radius are 7.25″, 9.5″ and 12″. The lower, smaller, or tighter the fretboard radius, the fretboard will feel more curved, while a fretboard with a larger radius will feel more flat.
Generally, a more curved radius is much better for chording or rhythm playing, as your hands themselves have a natural curve that needs to be accounted for. But with a curved radius, string can tend to “fret out” when they are bent too far toward the middle of the neck, the highest point of the curve. So the larger, flatter radius was introduced to counteract this annoying phenomenon.
Modern guitar fretboards and new technologies have allowed for what is known as a “compound radius”, which means that the fretboard has different amounts of curvature all the way up the neck. You might see something like a compound 10″ to 16″ radius, starting at 10″ near the bottom and accounting for curvature in the rhythm playing areas, and a giving way to a 16″ radius for a flat feel up higher on the neck where most bends take place.
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