I think most guitar players look for a particular “feel” about the neck when trying to choose a guitar. Gibson guitar necks are generally categorized into two types. The 50’s style and the 60’s style necks. I will focus on Gibson electric guitars in this article because I have limited experience with playing Gibson acoustic guitars.
Each have a strong following and some players won’t use one or the other. I personally like both.
Another term used to describe Gibson necks is “Baseball Bat”. This term is generically thrown around to describe a very fat neck and is often associated with the 50’s style neck. As you can see from the graphic above the thickness of the neck from the fretboard to the bottom of the neck is pretty marginal. In my opinion what makes the neck “feel” thick is shoulder of the neck (the area directly below the fretboard, on the neck itself, measured from the ends of the frets). In other words the area where the greatest difference in thickness between the 50’s and 60’s neck profile.
In my opinion one of the great misconceptions about the neck profiles of 50’s era Gibson electric guitars begins with the 1959 Les Pauls. Les Paul necks from 1952-1958 are the true “Baseball Bat” necks. Necks from this era were typically fat with smaller frets. Gibson’s specifications during that time period were notorious for being inconsistent. Beginning with the 1959 models Gibson began improving specification consistency and started shipping neck profiles with a smaller “profile”. In my opinion the 1959 model necks are somewhat transitional as they are neither “Baseball Bat” in thickness or as slim as the profiles shipped with 1960 and newer models. Obviously one can get a Les Paul today with either neck profile however the modern 50’s are not “Baseball Bat” thick. I’ll try to illustrate the difference between the “Baseball Bat”, 1959, and modern Gibson neck profiles with the graphic below.
From left to right is the neck profile of a modern reissue 1958 Les Paul (R8), a modern reissue 1959 Les Paul (R9), and a 2011 Les Paul Traditional (Trad). I think this pretty accurately illustrates the size and shape difference between a 50’s “Baseball Bat” neck (the R8), a transitional 1959 50’s neck profile (the R9), and a modern style neck profile from a 2011 Les Paul Traditional which represents what Gibson now calls a 50’s style “D” profile neck. As one can clearly see the newer 50’s style would more accurately be described as a 60’s neck profile.
Some measurements taken from Gibson forums.
Neck Thickness – (measurements taken at nut end of 1st fret)
R8 —————————– .925″
R7 —————————– .920″
R9 —————————– .910″
50s Early ——————— .900″ (from Gibson Custom Shop)
50s Rounded —————- .870″ (from a 2008 SG)
50s Rounded —————- .818″ (from Gibson Custom Shop)
* Asymmetrical ————– N/A (see below)
** 30/60 ———————- .800″ (see below)
60s Slim taper ————— .765″
50s Early 1st fret ———— .900” 12th fret – 1.00”
50s Rounded 1st fret ——- .818” 12th fret – .963”
* The asymmetrical neck’s center line is moved .005″ toward the bass side. The back is tapered toward the high strings, more closely matching the natural curve of your hand making it easier to reach the fretboard. The neck is thicker toward the bass strings resulting in the asymmetrical shape.
** 30/60 is .030 of an inch thicker from front to back then the 60s slim, all the way up the neck.
I think it is most important to note that Gibson’s tend to vary widely with respect to model and era manufactured. There are Custom Shop models, VOS, Artist, Gibson USA, Historics, Reissues, and I’m sure some that I’m forgetting. Nothing I’ve written here is intended to be authorative on the subject because someone, somewhere out there has an example that will totally contradict what is meant to be a general guide. Anyway I hope you enjoyed this and if you have anything to add please feel free to do so by leaving your comments below. I’ll post another article on Fender Neck profiles later.