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What Is a Guitar Neck?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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A guitar neck is the part of the guitar in which chords are created by placing fingers in specific patterns. This part is divided into sections called frets by thin wire devices, also called frets. Typically, the frets are identified by pearl or abalone fret markers, however, some guitars do not use these markers on the neck and the neck is simply finished with a light oil.

There are two types of mounting styles used to attach the neck to the guitar body. The first is the neck through method, which uses an extension of the neck to actually make up part of the guitar body. The second is the bolt-on method. It uses screws or bolts to attach the neck to the body.

While the average guitar neck appears to be a solid piece of wood, it is not. The typical guitar neck is constructed of two or more pieces of wood that are glued together and shaped to fit the hand in a specific design. The actual neck is commonly made from a very hard wood, such as maple, to resist twisting and bowing. Inside the maple wood, a cut is made to allow the placement of a steel rod, called a truss rod, to be placed underneath the fretboard. The fretboard is commonly rosewood or mahogany and is glued to the top of the maple neck, securing the steel truss rod in between.

The truss rod allows the user to adjust the amount of tension and bow in the guitar neck to combat the effects of the tightened strings. Small cuts are placed across the fretboard in a specific measurement called the scale to allow for the proper pitch of the chords when played. The fret wire is slid into these cuts and provide the surface of the strings to press against to produce the chords. Often, and especially on well-used guitars, the fret wires must be replaced to ensure proper tonality and chording when played.

The shape of the backside of the guitar neck is called the profile. This can be a thick D shape, a thin D shape or any variation in between. Particular neck profiles tend to make some vintage models of guitars extremely favored by experienced players. This can often lead to a reissue of some guitar models as manufacturers attempt to duplicate the neck of a vintage model onto a new model.

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Discussion Comments

By TreeMan — On Nov 28, 2011

It is always interesting to play guitars with different neck shapes. After a while you can start to get locked into the shape of your own guitar's neck. I always think it is good to change things up every now and then and experiment with new styles. In my experience, the new shape can even give you an advantage playing different types of music.

The thing I like about the bolt-on necks is that they are easy to change. I have a friend who is very interested in playing with custom guitar necks, so he is always trying to find different designs. I am surprised that when you go to music stores that you don't see more guitar necks for sale. I guess maybe most people are happy with the one that came with their guitar in the first place.

By kentuckycat — On Nov 28, 2011

Does anyone here have any tips on creating your own scalloped guitar neck? I have been reading up a lot on Yngwie Malmsteen, and learned that he carves out part of his fretboard to help with his speed and tone. I have a junker guitar that I plan to practice the technique on and see if I like the feel, but I am curious if anyone has ever done it before and if there is anything I should know.

First off, I am curious what tool I should use. I plan to use an X-acto knife for the main part. I have one of the little precision sanders for the main part. Wondering if anyone else has had success with something else.

The stuff I have read always says to make sure the low E end is deeper (because of the string thickness). Does anyone have any suggestions for measuring this besides just eyeballing it?

By stl156 — On Nov 27, 2011

@jmc88 - Those are all really good questions. The main difference between neck designs is more sound than quality. The type to choose would depend on what type of music your son will be playing. I'm not sure if your son already plays or not, but the bolt-on neck is best for beginners or rock music. The through body is good for more country and blues type playing.

Personally, I like the bolted electric guitar necks because, if the need ever arises, it is easy to find and install a replacement guitar neck.

Like the neck, fretboard material itself doesn't really matter, it's more of the design and what looks best with the rest of the guitar.

By jmc88 — On Nov 27, 2011

I am looking into buying a guitar for my son for his birthday. What are the various benefits to the different types of guitar neck (either the bolt-on or through the neck)? I have seen guitars with both kinds, but I wasn't sure if one was better than the other, or if it was really just up to the player.

Along those same lines, is there any real difference between fretboards and the fret wires? Is one type better than the other, and are different guitars made any differently?

Also, what kind of neck does an acoustic guitar have? I have seen an held a few of them, but I haven't really paid attention. I would say it had a bolt on neck, but I don't ever remember seeing any bolts going into the body before. Does anyone know?

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