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Mine’s Bigger than Yours

An early 59 on the bottom and a fairly late 59 on top. It’s hard to see a .06″ difference but you can sure feel it. Most players can feel a difference of .03″ or even less. That’s 3 hundredths of an inch. That’s the usual difference between a 62 and a 64. The difference between an early 59 and a typical 60 is three times that.

I’m talking about guitar necks, of course. Neck profiles have always been variable and everyone has their preference. When I was a kid back in the 60’s, the word was “fast”. A slim neck profile (both width and depth) was touted by manufacturers as “fast”. All of us rockers wanted to play fast (thanks Alvin Lee) and anything that made us faster (or seemed to do so) was coveted. Gibson necks, way back in the 50’s, were deep and wide. The standard nut width was around 1.65-1.68″ which is approximately 1 11/16″. The depth at the first fret was anywhere from .85 to .95. Fender, at the same time was much slimmer. The nut was generally 1.62″ or 1 5/8″. Neck depths really were all over the place. In the early 50’s they were as deep a any Gibson but by 59, they were moving to as slim as .79″. The buying experience, back then was simple. You go to a music store (it was rare for a music store to sell both Fender and Gibson) and you try out a few guitars and you buy the one that is comfortable…the one you could play best. Tone wasn’t a huge factor like it is now. If the three way got you three different tones on a two pickup, then you were good. Sustain? Nobody even knew the term. Nobody measured he neck. If it felt right, then it was the one.

By the early 60’s, Fender was eating Gibson’s lunch. Their “faster” necks were what everyone wanted. In ’60, Gibson first saw the writing on the wall and slimmed down the depth to as small as .77″ (the “blade” neck) by the end of the year but the nut width remained the same. The result was largely that Gibsons started having breakage and other neck issues so they slowly beefed them back up until ’65. Early 50’s Fender necks were large but by 58, they had slimmed considerably. Fender necks kept that slim profile, with some variation, throughout the 60’s. There are some pretty big 63’s and some pretty big 66-69’s but, in general, they stayed under .82″ and mostly kept the 1 5/8″ nut width. I would note that Fender had optional narrower and wider necks designated by A, B, C and D. I’ve never seen a D neck. The 1 5/8″ B neck was stock. In 65, Gibson made a radical change. The nut width was lowered to 1 5/8″ to equal Fender and soon after was dropped to 1 9/16″ (1.56″). It’s no coincidence that Gibson 335 prices in the vintage market drop like a stone from 64 to 65. Few players want a nut that narrow these days.

So, that’s the history in a very small nutshell. The trends through the 70’s (narrow nut and medium depth) and 80’s (wider and often flat) are interesting as well. The one constant is that the neck profiles were always changing. The vintage market that I deal in covers mostly 1958 to 1964 and encompasses nearly every neck profile you could want. It should come as no surprise that the fat necks of the 58’s and 59’s are the most sought after. The big 64’s are right up there as well. The shallower depth 60-63’s (early) are considered excellent guitars but their popularity has been a fraction of the earlier ones and the prices reflect that. As 58’s and 59’s get more expensive, players are considering the later ones and their popularity and prices have risen. And a funny thing happened in the process. Players started to appreciate the slimmer necks. Faster? Definitely for some players. More comfortable? I have to say yes if you’re an older player with arthritis coming on (which includes me). I play a 59 but I’ve come to understand the attraction of the 62-63 profiles. The blade neck is still a bit slim for me and the narrow nut of the 65-69’s is still a struggle for my short stubby fingers. But the trend has become clear. Fat is no longer where it’s at.

That’s a little bit of an overstatement but the days when folks bragged about the size of the neck on their guitar have all but ended. There are still plenty of folks who prefer that baseball bat but it’s not the big deal it once was. It never made that much sense anyway. Gibson went way overboard with it in 76 (Explorer) and again in the 2000’s with the 335 “fat neck”. Both, to me, are nearly unplayable. Neither lasted that long and Gibson, wisely, has slimmed down the shoulders (a whole other measurement worth a post of its own) on most of the high end electric guitars making them more true to the originals and, more importantly, more playable for more players. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before folks start bragging about how slim theirs is.

The 66 Epiphone Riviera on the left measures 1 and 9/16″ at the nut while the 64 335 on the right is 1 and 11/16. That’s a 1/8″ difference. Seems like a little? It’s not. It’s a huge difference in feel and playability for many.

2 Responses to “Mine’s Bigger than Yours”

  1. Collin says:

    The “Big Neck” trend about 10 years ago was most evident in the reissues. At least the original specs tell a story (which you’ve illustrated here well), but the folks at Gibson in particular heard that people wanted big necks and started making practically all the reissue models with HUGE profiles – bigger than ’58 dimensions. Usually the difference isn’t the depth, it’s felt in the shoulders, and those are harder to measure. I feel like people misinterpreted the idea of a “wide” neck (meaning nut width) with a “big” neck (meaning the profile itself).

    I recently had a really nice 2009 ES-355 Custom Shop reissue in black, which had a massive neck shape that unfortunately ruined the guitar for me. It was quite accurate in many specs, but that neck profile is not something you’d find on any original ES-355 model.

  2. okguitars says:

    You are absolutely correct. The shoulders became way too big for many players (including me). I play a 59 with a big neck but the shoulders are minimal.

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