One is spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a guitar. The range of features, styles, and designs is mind-boggling, but price should not be the only—or even the primary—consideration.
Finding an instrument that you feel comfortable with is far more essential, and when it comes to comfort and feel, the profile of the guitar neck is critical.
The electric guitar with the thinnest neck is likely the Fender American Professional’s Kurt Cobain Jaguar or its slightly cheaper cousin, the Mustang. Several factors influence neck thickness and, ultimately, the thinness of the neck depends on personal comfort and choice.
With this article, we’ll cover why guitar neck thickness is relevant, how it affects playability, and what the top thin-neck guitar brands are.
A Short History
Electric guitars have been around since the early 1930s when, in the era of the big band, guitarists wanted to make sure their fans heard them.
An electromagnetic coil was invented that, when attached to an acoustic guitar body, picked up the vibration of the guitar strings, passed this through an amplifier, and was heard through a loudspeaker.
These coils still form the basis of electric guitar sound magnification and are still called pickups.
The hollow acoustic guitar body produced its own sound magnification, which sometimes interfered with the electronic magnification.
Hence, guitarists like Les Paul experimented with semi-hollow designs until the introduction of the first solid electric guitars in the 1940s.
The neck of a guitar comes in variations of four basic shapes — C, V, D, and U — letters that reflect the shape of the back of the guitar neck. The neck thickness is, to an extent, influenced by these shapes — some are as thick as a baseball bat.
Some guitarists are of the opinion that a thicker neck produces a better sound or tone but, even if this is the case, it must be weighed against the feel and comfort resulting from prolonged stretching.
A neck that is too thick — or too thin, for that matter — can result in significant finger and joint pain.
Electric guitar necks have tended to be thinner than acoustic necks anyway.
This difference in thickness is partly due to the broader fretboards of the classical acoustics at 2 inches wide, compared to the American standard electric guitar nut width of around 1.6875 inches or 1 11/16 inches.
Where do we get these measurements? There are several critical neck measurements when it comes to finding a thinner-necked guitar to suit a smaller hand. The one mentioned above — the nut width — is the most common measurement.
We measure the nut width across the top of the fretboard at the nut-end of the neck, which is the location of the headstock containing the tuning keys.
This distance is crucial because it determines the space between the strings and how much room your fingers have to move in. What feels right for you? Only you can answer this by trying out as many guitars as you can (source).
Depending on what your purpose is, the choice between acoustic or electric guitar, classical or jazz, rhythm or lead, six-string or twelve-string, your decision might be relatively straightforward.
However, since we’re all built differently, there will be a guitar that better suits your physical characteristics.
In particular, the size of your hands is essential when it comes to choosing the right guitar for you. Hand size determines your ability to comfortably stretch those fingers around the neck of the guitar to place them where they need to go on the fretboard.
How Neck Thickness Effects Playability
The shape and radius of the back of the neck itself — the neck profile — will influence the feel of the neck.
How much wood do you have to grip? The depth or height of the neck, and the extent it tapers from the body of the guitar to the nut, may also vary and will provide a different feel (source).
The extent of any neck tapering is why neck width is commonly measured at the nut and the twelfth fret, closer to the guitar’s body.
The width and radius of the neck are most important when considering neck thickness, but these are not the only measures to consider.
The scale length is the distance from the nut to the twelfth fret multiplied by two and is another important measure for small-handed/shorter-armed folks. A longer neck scale length means you have to stretch more.
A shorter scale length also means that the frets are closer together, which assists smaller-handed players.
The average-sized guitar has a scale length of around 25 ½ inches, meaning a smaller-handed person might feel more comfortable with a scale length of 22 to 24½ inches.
Some guitar manufacturers, known as luthiers, make a smaller ¾-sized guitar with a scale length of around 22 inches.
These scaled-down ¾-sized guitars are not just for kids and girls, although they certainly provide a more comfortable feel for those with smaller hands and shorter arm-length.
Still, girls and pre-teens are usually quite capable of handling most of the full-sized guitars. The smaller guitars are also sometimes referred to as travel guitars, being more easily transportable.
Two other factors to consider when choosing a comfortable neck are the action and relief of the guitar strings.
In this context, action refers to the height of the strings from the fretboard, and relief is the amount of forward bow in the neck due to string tension.
Both action and relief have an impact on the playability of the guitar. A lower action, within limits, makes it easier to play.
These two factors are less critical for electric guitars, which tend to have flatter and thinner necks than acoustics.
There is also less variation in the neck width of electric guitars. Overall, this means that finger pads are less likely to touch adjacent strings and mute them unintentionally.
Does the size of your hands really matter when choosing an electric guitar, restricting you to a limited range of guitars from which to choose? Not really.
There have been many famous guitarists with small hands — AC/DC’s Angus Young, Andy Summers of The Police, and Heart’s Nancy Wilson, to name a few.
Most adults will be able to play a full-sized guitar. It’s all a matter of what feels comfortable.
Remember, too, that finger stretching and placement is always going to feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. There are finger exercises that will help, but practice and repetition are what is most needed.
Style of play and musical genre may also be a factor in choosing the best instrument for you.
If you’re a rock lead guitarist doing a lot of “shredding” — very fast flurries of notes with extreme distortion (think Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen) — you’ll look for a slim neck profile with a flat neck.
With fingers flying over the fretboard, it’s likely that your thumb will hardly grip the back of the neck at all.
Top Thin-Necked Electric Guitars
Choosing the thinnest guitar neck seems to be as much a matter of opinion as of fact.
Yes, there are key dimensions that count — nut width and neck radius being critical — but the shape and feel of the neck are equally important for the playability of the instrument.
Additionally, neck width is far less significant for the electric guitar player than for an acoustic instrument where there is more variability of neck shape and size.
Some of the best electric guitars for small hands, i.e., with the thinnest necks include Fender’s Kurt Cobain Mustang, Jaguar, and Vibe Stratocaster.
Other excellent options include The Gibson or Epiphone Les Paul Special VE, the Daisy Rock Venus, Ibanez GRGM21 Mikro ¾, or Stagg S300 ¾ (source).
Other sources will make a general claim that the modern shredder guitars from manufacturers ESP and Ibanez, especially the Ibanez Wizard, are the thinnest, with their typically very-squashed U-shaped necks.
An added minor complication is that the sources don’t always use the same name for these guitars, probably because — like car models — there are minor iterations of the same basic guitar design, making the differences insignificant in terms of performance (source).
Ultimately, it boils down to personal choice and affordability. You could pay anything from $1225 for the Fender Kurt Cobain down to $185 for the Belgian-made Stagg S300.
A Fender Stratocaster look- and sound-alike could cost a little over a tenth of the price.
The neck of most electric guitars is significantly thinner than that of an acoustic. Nevertheless, comfort and playability contribute to the ability to stretch your fingers around the neck of the guitar.
When making a purchase decision, therefore, you would be well-advised to try out as many different models as possible until you find the one that satisfies you.