Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see drawings of our neck profiles.

Guitars are real, physical objects meant to be held, felt, strummed, and touched. The part of the guitar we come into contact with most is the neck, and so it’s crucial for certain areas of the neck to be thoughtfully designed and carefully crafted so as to allow for maximum comfort and ease of playing.

The “perfect” neck should feel like a natural extension of your body, not a foreign object in your grips. It should be a joy to play, not a chore. Setup and string gauges aside, let’s talk about some of the key areas that influence the way our guitar necks “feel” in terms of how they’re crafted.

  1. The Neck Profile: refers to the shape/curvature and thickness of the back of the neck where your thumb is anchored when playing
  2. The Fretboard Radius: refers to the curvature of the front of the neck where your fingers are placed when fretting
  3. The Fret Size: refers to the width and height of the actual fret wire that is installed in the fretboard

In my personal experience, I found the Neck Profile made the biggest impact on how a guitar’s neck felt. Early on, I only knew some necks felt thick and others thin; some felt round and others flat. At the time, I didn’t understand why this was and so I just moved on. Later on, though, I worked as a guitar technician (for about 5 years) repairing and setting up numerous guitars from a wide variety of brands, which included Halo. This was hugely beneficial. I gained a comprehensive and hands-on understanding of the nuances between neck profiles, fretboard radiuses, and fret sizes. It was during this time that I honed in on and discovered what specifications made up the “perfect” neck for me. The “perfect” neck for me is a moderately thin, “C” shaped neck with a 400mm radius and narrow/tall frets. Many of these same specifications ultimately made their way into the standard Halo 6-string guitar neck profile and design:

Halo 6-String Guitar Neck Profile
Halo 6-String Guitar Neck Profile (not drawn to scale)

The Halo neck profile is thin enough that it plays and feels very “fast”, yet thick enough that there is enough wood to grab onto and doesn’t become fatiguing to play. For me, it becomes fatiguing to play on a neck thinner than the Halo, and it becomes “slow” to play on a neck thicker than the Halo. A lot of these things are relative to each person. In my mind, there are three basic groupings in terms of thicknesses:

  1. Super Thin: any neck with a 17-19mm thickness at the nut
  2. Moderately Thin: any neck with a 20-22mm thickness at the nut
  3. Meaty: any neck with a 23mm+ thickness at the nut

It’s helpful to know these kinds of precise measurements when shopping around for a guitar online, or when considering a custom build. The reason is because you can’t just pick up and try out a guitar unless it’s already built and in front of you. You’ve got to have something to go by. Because one man’s “thin” might be another man’s “thick”… yet, one man’s 20.5mm is still another man’s 20.5mm. One last comment about neck profile: I prefer a “C” shape because it feels continuous and predictable, whereas a “D” shape has a noticeable flattening out that I can detect with my thumb. Of course, there are plenty of other neck profile shapes that we offer and have built through the Halo Custom Shop such as Rick Toone’s innovative neck profiles, “V” shapes, “U” shapes, etc…

Now, the front side of the neck also impacts the way the neck feels, but in a more subtle way. First, the fretboard itself is not usually flat (unless we’re talking classical guitars), but has a radius, or curvature. The fretboard radius helps the front of the neck conform to the natural curvature of our fingers (as we close our fists, our fingers curl inward) and should make the guitar more comfortable to play. A smaller radius (like 7.25”) is more curved and a larger radius (like 20”) is more flat. There are benefits and drawbacks to both:

A smaller radius is more comfortable for playing chords, but big string bends get "choked" out. The smaller radius may also reduce legato and tapping speeds.

A larger radius helps increase legato and tapping speeds. It also allows for big string bends without choking out. The only downside is that it might be less comfortable for playing chords.

Most guitars have a single radius that is consistent across the length of the fretboard. On the small end of the spectrum, we have something like a 7.25” radius, which can be found on some vintage Fender instruments. On the large end of the spectrum, we have something like a 30” radius, which can be found on some classical guitars that aim to be nearly flat, but have a very slight curvature. Halo fretboards are typically in the range of 16” to 20”. We use a smaller radius on our relatively narrower necks and a larger radius on our relatively wider necks. For example, our 6-string guitars typically have a 16” radius, whereas our 8-string guitars typically have a 20” radius. We find that a radius between 16” to 20” gets most of the benefits from both worlds: comfortable for chording, great for shredding/tapping and worry-free for big string bends. We also offer compound radius fretboards, which just means the fretboard has more than one radius on it (smaller radius near the nut; larger radius near the last fret).

Lastly, the size of the actual fret wire installed in the fretboard makes a difference in feel. It is very subtle, but noticeable. Fret wire is available in a variety of different widths and heights. To simplify things, I’ll just say that there are three widths:

  1. Narrow
  2. Medium
  3. Wide

And three heights:

  1. Short
  2. Medium
  3. Tall

Narrow fret wire has two main benefits. The first is that it can provide better intonation over the lifetime of the instrument compared to wide fret wire. I would argue, though, that most people couldn’t hear the difference (I know I can’t) and some simple fret maintenance would make this a moot point. I’ll try to explain why intonation can be better with narrow wire. On a new guitar with new frets, the tops of the frets should be round. That means that when we push a string down against the fret, the string comes in to contact with the fret wire at the center of the fret wire. This is good because the center of the fret wire is where the note is supposed to intonate. But, over time, the fret wire becomes worn and instead of having a round top, it has a flat top. This means that when we push a string down against the fret, the string is no longer coming in to contact with the center of the fret wire, but somewhere off-center (nearer to the bridge). This tiny amount of distance can affect the intonation. A second, and probably more noticeable benefit, is that narrow wire takes up less space on the fretboard. There is more than enough space between frets in the lower fret region to where narrow or wide frets don’t really make a difference. But, the spacing gets pretty tight and limited as we approach the upper frets on a 24 fret guitar. This is where narrow wire comes in handy. With narrow wire, it’s easier for our fingertips to cleanly fret those highest frets and to be able to dig in deep for string bends. If this isn’t making sense, just imagine how much easier it is to take a seat on a bus/train between two ballerinas compared to two sumo wrestlers. The ballerinas are the narrow frets, the sumo wrestlers the wide frets, and you are the fingertips.

Wide fret wire has one main benefit and that is it lasts longer. It lasts longer because there is more material there for the string to wear though. Medium fret wire is the happy medium between narrow and wide. In terms of feel, I don’t think fret width makes the most significant impact on feel.

Fret height, though, can make a noticeable difference in the feel of a neck. On one end of the spectrum, we have short wire, which results in the ability of our fingertips to come into contact with the fretboard wood itself. On the other end of the spectrum, we have tall wire, which pushes our fingertips above and away from the fretboard wood itself. This makes it less likely for our fingertips to touch the surface of the fretboard. Here’s a chart to show some benefits and drawbacks I could think of:

Fret Height Benefits and Drawbacks
Fret Height Benefits and Drawbacks Chart

The standard fret wire on Halo instruments is Wide & Tall (Jumbo). Although I personally prefer Narrow & Tall, most of our customers request the big stuff and so that’s what we use!

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of why we design and craft our necks the way we do. In short, we build them this way because we think they play faster, better and longer than if we didn’t.

What kind of neck design do you prefer? Leave us a comment below.

Here are some additional Halo Guitar Neck Profiles:

Halo 6-String Guitar Neck Profile
Halo 6-String Guitar Neck Profile (not drawn to scale)

Halo 7-string Guitar Neck Profile
Halo 7-string Guitar Neck Profile (not drawn to scale)

Halo 8-string Guitar Neck Profile
Halo 8-string Guitar Neck Profile (not drawn to scale)

Halo 9-string Guitar Neck Profile
Halo 9-string Guitar Neck Profile (not drawn to scale)

Halo 10-string Guitar Neck Profile
Halo 10-string Guitar Neck Profile (not drawn to scale)

Halo 4-String Bass Guitar Neck Profiles
Halo 4-String Bass Guitar Neck Profiles (not drawn to scale)

Halo 4-String Bass Guitar Neck Profiles
Halo 4-String Bass Guitar Neck Profiles (not drawn to scale)

Halo 6-String Bass Guitar Neck Profiles
Halo 6-String Bass Guitar Neck Profiles (not drawn to scale)

Comments: 5
Made from Scratch | From Tree to Guitar | Blog 02/09/2015 23:53
[…] Because we’re constantly building one-of-a-kind custom guitars for folks, we need to have the flexibility to change our body designs to suit each customer. It is not uncommon for us to receive requests for a sharper or rounder body bevel, a different cutaway, or various components (bridges, pickups, controls, etc.) located in different positions. If we didn’t work from scratch, then we couldn’t offer a lot of the customization that we do. Then there’s the neck: we need to offer various widths, lengths, thicknesses, contours/profiles, radii, and headstock shapes. Click here to read a bit about our standard neck specifications. […]
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