What is a Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitar?
A semi-hollow body refers to a guitar that has been gutted of a portion of its body wood from the inside. This technique provides more sustain and a certain warmth and airiness to the tone that you wouldn’t get from a solid body instrument.
Removing large amounts of the body wood alters the base tone. Most touring guitarists have a semi-hollow body guitar in their arsenal because it provides a unique sound. In the same way you’d have a guitar with single coil pickups and a guitar with humbuckers for different tones, you’d have both a solid body and semi-hollow guitar.
These guitars take many shapes and forms. They implement a variety of different woods, pickup types (single coil, humbucker and P90s) and body shapes and sizes that’ll influence tone.
Semi-Hollow Body vs F-Hole guitars
There is a bit of crossover when it comes to semi-hollow guitars. The term usually refers to a simple F-hole guitar, which is a solid body instrument with a small portion of the body wood routed out. A good example of this is a Thinline Telecaster, as featured below.
It can also refer to a guitar that utilises a centre block running through the middle in order to mount the pickups and prevent some of the feedback you’d get from a fully hollow instrument when amplified.
A staple example of a semi-hollow body guitar would be something like a Gibson ES-335 or an Epiphone Dot. This is where the whole body is hollowed out in a similar way to an acoustic, but in a thinner electric guitar format.
What does the F-hole do on an electric guitar?
The F-hole works in a similar way to the soundhole on an acoustic guitar, except it’s not the only exit point for the sound. It helps project the guitar’s natural sound and creates a different tonal response from the instrument.
This design is derived from old violins, mandolins and other classical stringed instruments. The f-holes appear on either side of the strings to provide structural integrity to the instrument under the string tension.
An acoustic guitar is slightly different because the top is braced with struts to protect the thin wooden top from collapsing under string tension.
It’s is also why you might see a hollow body with a floating trapeze bridge piece, as you can’t mount a bridge onto the thin hollow body top. If the semi-hollow guitar has a centre block of wood, it’ll be strong enough to hold a fixed bridge. That way you can top-mount the strings in a similar way to a tune-o-matic bridge - a two-point bridge and saddle often found on Gibson guitars.
Semi-hollow Body vs Hollow Body guitar
A hollow body guitar is more akin to an acoustic guitar with a larger hollow body and a projected open sound. They are, however, prone to feedback when plugged into too much distortion.
The term ‘Jazz Box guitar’ refers to a hollow body, as these were popularised by jazz players in the 40s and the 50s. Developing from primarily acoustic guitars to electric guitars, the hollow body was the next step up.
Semi-hollow body guitars were the next step of the evolution. It was introduced in 1958 with the Gibson ES-335. ES stands for Electric Spanish and was essentially the middle point between a solid body electric and an acoustic guitar.
A semi-hollow body guitar is the perfect blend of acoustic and electric properties, as it delivers that airy, warm tone but can handle a bit more gain without producing disruptive levels of feedback.
What are the best Semi-Hollow Body guitars?
The vast majority of the big brands feature some semi-hollow guitars in their respective line-ups. The likes of Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, PRS and their offshoot Squier and Epiphone builders all cater to the market, as well as smaller companies such as G&L and Reverend with their unique takes on the classic design. Here are a few of our favourite guitars at Andertons.
Originating in NYC’s Little Italy, D’Angelico made a name for themselves pioneering the archtop style guitar. A few decades later and their setup has undergone serious changes, adding solid body and and semi-hollow guitars alike to the range. The latter are super versatile beasts, serving up hard rock tones and carefully crafted jazz smoothness in equal measure.
The DC series is their double cut design, allowing plenty of access to the upper frets in an art deco styling. There’s plenty to love about the sound – dial in snarling rock aggression from the dual humbucker configuration or roll off for big sounding cleans. Combine the retro looks with contemporary tone and you’re surely onto a winner.
The big boys in the semi-hollow game. Gibson are renowned for their original Memphis guitars, widely known as the pinnacle of guitar construction. Although they’re now being built at the main Nashville factory, Gibson have continued the traditional line of incredible build quality and premium specs.
There are three standard body shapes Gibson make in the Core Collection: the ES-235, ES-335 and E-339. The ES-335 is the most popular and original design. These have large Maple bodies, two alnico humbuckers and are a common choice for indie and blues guitarists. The ES-339 is simply as streamlines smaller body version for players after something more compact. Last but not least is the ES-235, an aggressive looking singlecut and Gibson’s newest semi-hollow guitar.
One of the classiest guitar manufacturers around, Gretsch are experts in hollow body guitars. You’ve probably seen their famous Bigsby-equipped guitars in the hands of famous players around the world. Not only are they stylish instruments, they also hold up extremely well on the road, too, thanks to their incredible build quality and attention-to-detail.
The Streamliner series is their most affordable line-up. But that isn’t to say these don’t meet the high standard set by Gretsch, by any means. These are unique in design, embedded with either solid or humb block inlays, their in-house made classic bridges and that iconic tortoiseshell pickguard. Even the Broad’Tron pickups are one of a kind, offering a plethora of growl and sophisticated tones.
Gibson offshoot company Epiphone are masters of the hollow body guitar. Their original Uptown Kat, ES-339 and Casino creations are ever-so-elegant to play and look the part too.
Gibson first pioneered the ES-339 shape and it’s been handed down into the reliable hands of Epiphone. This is a streamlined semi-hollow for the modern player. It captures the juicy sounds of a vintage guitar with contemporary playability thanks to a glued-in neck joint and Slim Taper ‘D’ neck.
Epiphone Original Designs
The Uptown Kat is a relatively new Epiphone original design, drenched in style from the art deco headstock to the trapeze tailpiece. It uses the same FB720 mini humbuckers as the Firebird, so you’re getting searing output with the dynamism of a semi-hollow construction.
Epiphone’s Casino and Sheraton guitars are staples of their catalogue. The Sheraton has a firm foot in the blues and heavy rock camp similar to a 339 but with a deeper body. Meanwhile, the Casino is your classic jazz choice for a warm, fulfilling P-90 tone.
Duesenberg are a German company making major waves in the guitar industry. Their unique guitar body shapes set them far apart from the regular crowd of classic cutaways and soft, rounded curves. Instead they opt for some outlandish concepts you genuinely won’t find anywhere else. You’ll no doubt stand out from the crowd with a Duesenberg.
The Starplayer is their flagship range, encompassing a number of semi-hollow body models utilising one and two F-hole configurations. There’s plenty to check out, as some guitars are equipped with two silky smooth humbuckers, others three and some even with ‘Phonic’ pickups, which produce a vintage tone. They also utilise hefty Bigsby-style tremolos to spice up those licks. Overall, a true premium package.