Fig. 1: Standard neck shapes.
Fig. 2: A trapeze neck profile.
Fig. 3: A wave neck profile.
Do you remember how you chose your
first bass? There’s a good chance you
selected it for its body shape, color, or
simply because it fit your budget. Over the
years, we get pickier and pickier about the
details of our prized instruments, starting
with the pickups and controls, and then
considering such details as whether the tuners
are sealed or have open gears. Curiously,
certain other parts that we touch and use all
the time can be taken for granted. One of
these is the neck.
When you ask most players to describe
the neck on a favorite bass, you’re likely to
get a very vague answer. Most players know
the scale length, but once you inquire about
string spacing or neck width, thickness,
and shape, you’re likely to get relative comparisons
but rarely numbers. For neck size,
the answer might be “thin” or “thick” with
perhaps “C-shape” thrown in for good measure.
And before specifying the string spacing,
a bassist typically has to hurry home to
Is this important? Not always. But if
you’re looking for new gear—and let’s be
honest, that’s a very good reason to read
PG—you’ll want to know these details.
Even long-time players can fall for necks
that felt good in the shop, only to later run
into problems like carpal tunnel syndrome
(CTS) or repetitive stress injury (RSI).
Sure, there’s more to it than just the neck
size—an instrument’s balance and overall
ergonomics, for example—but the neck is
where it starts. And that’s especially true for
bass players working those thick strings.
To really know your favorite neck, you’ll
need to nail down some basics. Besides the
pure dimensions, the main thing is the cross
section or shape. In the beginning of the
electric bass, Fender came up with a pretty
fat neck on the ’51 P bass (shape: thick C,
radius: 7.25", nut width: 44.5 mm), while
the ’60s Jazz had a much thinner neck
(shape: C, radius: 10", nut width: 38.1
mm). The shapes changed somewhat over
time, but today’s most popular neck shapes
fall somewhere between these two classics, at
least for 4-stringers.
The most common names for modern
neck shapes are C, D, V, and U. Fig. 1
shows exaggerated views of each of these
shapes, along with popular variations on the
V and C shapes. One neck profile isn’t better
than another and they don’t represent a
specific tone, although neck mass can have
an effect on sound. And at this point in
our discussion, it doesn’t yet matter if we’re
talking about a set-neck, bolt-on, or neck-through
Most instruments sport the C shape,
which is simply half of an oval. The U,
with its higher sidewalls, is often referred
to as a “baseball bat.” The D is essentially
a flatter C with the U’s higher shoulder.
Finally, the V has the smallest radius at the
point where you position your thumb.
Another variation is an asymmetric profile
that’s smaller below the highest strings.
The idea is to have the neck get slimmer as
you shift your left hand thumb to play on
the lower strings. Though this works well
for some players, it’s definitely not today’s
But bass players are adventurous and
this natural tendency to explore has
resulted in a couple of other shapes too,
including a trapeze profile (Fig. 2) and
a wave-like profile (Fig. 3). Shapes like
these result from a builder’s desire to better
guide or orient the thumb, or an attempt
to make the neck feel slimmer. Playing
these squarish trapeze- or wave-shaped
necks isn’t as odd as you might think, nor
are the profiles as earth shattering as a
luthier might imagine.
The fretboard’s radius—the shape on the
other side of the neck—is generally less critical.
Radius dimensions have become larger
(and thus flatter) over the years, especially
once bassists began to add more strings and
therefore require wider fretboards. These
days, many fretboards are virtually flat, and
the question can boil down to whether you
want a radius or none at all. Flat fretboards
work well on classical guitars, so again it’s
not that radical.
Ultimately, neck shape is a matter of
personal taste. But function is not, so let’s
explore that in our next column.
is a German
physicist and long-time bassist, classical
guitarist, and motorcycle enthusiast. His
work on fuel cells for the European orbital
glider Hermes got him deeply into modern
materials and physical acoustics, and
led him to form BassLab (basslab.de)—a
manufacturer of monocoque guitars and basses. You can
reach him at