What is the "Neck" of a guitar? (simple answer)
The wooden piece that holds the fretboard, between the body and headstock of the guitar.
A guitar neck starts at the end of the body, with varying methods of attachment, and continues to the nut, which starts the headstock. The neck's purpose is to serve as the foundation for the fretboard, which is a separate piece of wood, placed on top of the neck.
The neck of a guitar is a piece of wood, typically cut in a C-shape with a flat side where the fretboard is attached. A fretboard and neck are typically understood as separate components, but a fretboard might also be considered part of the neck.
While there are other variables with guitar necks, they all start and end at the same spot.
Here's a look at where the neck starts and ends on an electric guitar.
Neck VS Fingerboard
Since the fingerboard is a part of the neck, we'll include references to it since it's typically considered in the same context. Both the neck and fingerboard have an impact on tone and playability.
But just to clarify:
- Fingerboard: Thin layer of wood that holds the frets
- Neck: Thicker supporting piece of wood that holds the fingerboard and the connecting piece between the headstock and body
Guitar neck variables and components
There are actually a lot of different considerations when looking at guitar necks.
Here's a list of specs from a PRS electric guitar on Sweetwater that covers most of them.
Obviously not all of these items are integral to the definition of a guitar neck, but we'll cover the material, shape, and neck joint. We'll also cover a couple variables when it comes to the fingerboard.
Tonewood (neck piece and fingerboard)
- Known for its bright and articulate tone
- Often used in Fender-style guitars
- Warm, rich tones with good sustain
- Commonly found in Gibson-style guitars
- Refers to the material used for the fingerboard, not the entire neck
- Dense and warm
- Used in combination with various neck tonewoods
- Dense and smooth, often used for fingerboards
- Provides a bright tone, lengthy sustain, and is smooth to the touch
- Often chosen for its aesthetics and durability
- Adds brightness and clarity to the guitar's tone
- Popular neck tonewood
- Constructed from multiple pieces of wood
- Used to enhance stability and reduce potential warping
- Can consist of different wood types for various tonal qualities
- A thinner neck with a faster feel for players who prefer speed and agility
- Neck profile resembles the letter "C"
- Offers a comfortable grip and is commonly found in many Fender guitars
- Neck profile is more pointed and not quite as curved as the C
- Provides a unique grip and is often favored by certain players for its feel
- Neck profile resembles the letter "U"
- Offers a substantial and comfortable grip
Compound Radius Neck
- Fingerboard has a gradually changing radius.
- Offers a flatter radius near the higher frets for easier soloing
Pattern Regular Neck
This neck profile is a comfortable, medium-depth shape that balances between thickness and playability. It's often used on PRS guitars and suits a wide range of playing styles.
Pattern Thin Neck
As the name suggests, this is a thinner version of the Pattern neck. It's designed for players who prefer a slimmer profile for faster playability and easier hand movement up and down the neck.
Pattern Vintage Neck
This neck profile is inspired by vintage designs and tends to be slightly chunkier than the Pattern Regular. It provides a more substantial feel while retaining the smooth contours characteristic of PRS necks.
A neck joint is the part where the neck connects to the body of the guitar. Here's what it looks like from the back of a mainline Paul Reed Smith electric:
In the picture above, that joint is called a "set neck", which is glued in but also uses screws to anchor it in place.
Neck joints actually have an impact on the tone of the guitar, albeit subtle.
Here's a rundown of the neck joint types and their characteristics:
Bolt-On Neck Joint
- Neck is attached to the body using bolts or screws
- Easy to manufacture and repair, as the neck can be easily removed
- Generally provides a brighter tone with increased sustain
Set Neck Joint
- Neck is glued or set into a pocket in the body
- Offers better sustain and access to higher frets compared to bolt-on joints
- Usually produces a warmer and smoother tone
- Neck extends through the body, forming the center section of the guitar
- Enhances sustain and provides easy access to upper frets
- Offers a balanced tone with good resonance
- Neck is angled at the headstock joint for better alignment and stability
- Commonly used in acoustic guitars but also some electric guitars
- Provides strength and reduces the risk of headstock breakage
Mortise and Tenon Joint
- Similar to a dovetail joint, the tenon on the neck fits into a mortise in the body
- Offers strong connection and good tonal transfer
- Often found in high-quality acoustic guitars
- Combination of set neck and neck-through designs
- Neck extends into the body, enhancing sustain and upper fret access
- Balances warmth and sustain
Bolt-Thru Neck Joint
- Combination of bolt-on and neck-through designs
- Neck extends through the body, but is also secured with bolts
- Aims to combine the tonal characteristics of bolt-on and neck-through joints
Pocket (Contoured) Heel Joint
- Neck heel is contoured to allow better access to higher frets
- Common in modern electric guitars for improved playability
- Offers a balance of tonal qualities from set neck and bolt-on joints
Tilted Neck Joint
- Neck is angled back slightly to improve hand comfort
- Facilitates easier fretting, especially on the higher frets
- Often seen in ergonomic and shred-oriented designs
Extended Neck Joint
- Neck extends farther into the body, enhancing sustain and resonance
- A variation of the bolt-on joint, designed for better tonal qualities
- Used to achieve more sustain and tonal depth
Simple piece but lots of variables
This is a lot of information for something that seems relatively simple. But, if nothing else, it should give you an idea of how nuanced and intricate the design of a guitar actually is.
Builders truly take a lot of care and thought when designing a guitar that they want to sound a certain way. That's why there can be such a huge difference in quality between cheap and expensive guitars.
You always get what you pay for.
And the neck is just one of many factors (each with their own sub-factors) that builders take into consideration.
If you have questions about guitar necks, feel free to get in touch via the comments section below.
We'll help out as much as possible.