Nowhere is the intimate connection between player and guitar more direct than in our grip of the neck, and particularly in the way the back of that neck feels in the palm of our left hand (or right hand, of course, for you lefties). New guitars on the market today are available with a broad range of neck profiles—also called “shapes” or “carves”—and this spec is often a key factor in any player’s preference for one model over another. Few profiles are as universally appealing, however, as Gibson’s asymmetrical shape. It is widely acknowledged as one of the most natural and ergonomic neck shapes around which you can wrap the human hand, yet it is often misunderstood, or sometimes not fully appreciated.

Asy-What Now?

Put simply, an asymmetrical neck profile is one that doesn’t follow precisely the same curve from the center point of the back to either edge. If, for example, a symmetrical neck displays a cross section that looks roughly like a “D,” that rounded “belly” would be a little bit squashed and flattened-in on the treble-side (the lower half) of the cross-section of an asymmetrical neck. There’s a lot to be said for this shape, but first let’s explore a little profile history.

2018 Les Paul Standard


2018 Les Paul Standard HP


The Golden Age: One Size Fits All

In the early days of the electric guitar, most makers offered little variation in neck profiles, and the shape to which the back of the neck was carved, as well as the depth (thickness) of the neck shape, often followed wholesale trends in the industry. This was a somewhat universal phenomenon, and for many years Gibson was no different. By and large, if you were shopping for a new guitar, you were pretty much stuck with the profiles of the day as found on whatever was hanging on the wall.

Acoustics of the 1920s and early electrics of the mid to late ’30s often had a very deep neck with a slight “V” to their profile, extremes of which are referred to today as “boat necks,” given the way their cross-section resembles that of a boat’s hull. By the early ’50s, Gibson necks—alongside those of many other manufacturers—were evolving toward a full, rounded “C” or “D” shape. This trend resulted in some big, chunky necks that players now refer to as a “club” or “baseball bat.” In truth, however, the neck on an original Les Paul Goldtop, for example, isn’t always an enormous thing; many are far from club-like, and fit in the hand extremely comfortably.

As the decade wore on, the trend was toward gradually slimmer necks. Many players today revere the necks of the ’59 Les Pauls, and other models of the era, as having some of the most appealing necks in history, with profiles that were comfortably rounded and still fairly thick, but in no way offputtingly. As ’59 rolled into ’60 and ’61, however, a craze for speed took over, and Gibson introduced far thinner necks to suit the trend, shapes that many players still enjoy today, but which can be remarkably slim when compared to an average ’59 neck shape.

Through it all, though, many observant guitarists noticed that not all necks were symmetrical, and that those that had a slightly thinner back shape from the center to the treble-side edge of the fretboard and a more rounded shape from the center to the bass side… often felt sublime!

2018 Les Paul Standard


2018 Les Paul Standard HP


The Asymmetrical Profile: Accident or Intention?

Back in the day, Gibson’s luthiers worked to certain approximate “standard” neck profiles for any particular model, but necks were all hand shaped from roughing-out to final sanding, so several Les Pauls coming off the line in 1959, for example, could all have slightly different feeling necks. A very few of those—as well as other models, and guitars from other manufacturers too—displayed a slightly asymmetrical back shape when examined closely. The funny thing is, rather than being rejected or returned, these were often the best feeling necks of the bunch.

Early examples of asymmetrical neck profiles were very likely accidental, but in some cases that “happy accident” might have had an element of intention to it: the shape felt good to the luthier who was sanding it, however you might define the profile, so he or she persisted with the “lopsided” carve.

On other occasions, necks that started out as symmetrical were either play-worn or intentionally re-sanded into slightly asymmetrical profiles by players who were following their instincts in shaping a neck that felt natural in the hand.

The Comfort Zone

Why is the asymmetrical profile so comfortable? Hold your hand in position as if grasping an imaginary guitar neck (with the thumb hooked slightly over the top of the neck rather than positioned behind as in the classical style), and note that there’s a deeper and more rounded arch where the inside base of the thumb curves into the lower edge of the palm, but a flatter, more subtle arch where the upper edge of the palm curves toward the base of the forefinger.

That’s an asymmetrical curve, and the neck that follows that shape is likely to feel most comfortable in your hand.

Gibson has used the more rounded asymmetrical profile adapted from the classic ’59 “C” and “D” shapes on several guitars in the recent past, but a successful new rendition of this involves applying an asymmetrical carve to our popular SlimTaper profile. The result yields a neck that’s extremely fast and pliable in the hand, yet still superbly comfortable, totally eliminating the strain and cramping that sometimes come with neck shapes that are too flat or thin.

This sublime new shape can be found on both renditions of our newest Standards. The 2018 Les Paul Standard marries an asymmetrical SlimTaper profile with otherwise traditional neck dimensions, yielding a guitar that looks and sounds traditional when you want it to, but which can bust out with unbridled versatility when coil-splitting and out-of-phase tones are called for. The 2018 Les Paul Standard HP adds the myriad modernized upgrades of the High Performance series, with a comfortable asymmetrical SlimTaper profile on a neck that also boasts our wider “Soloist’s Width,” allowing the optimum room to roam when you’re really reaching for it.

Whatever style of Gibson guitar you prefer, if you haven’t yet, it really behooves you to try out our asymmetrical profiles, to feel what your hand has been missing.