If you’re looking to add some variety to your guitar arsenal, chances are you’ve stumbled upon hollow-body and semi-hollow body guitars. These models are obviously different than solid-body guitars such as the Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster, but they have a few core differences in their construction and sound between them.
In this Hollow Body vs Semi Hollow Body Guitars, I will guide you through all the essential features that set these two apart so you can decide which of them would be the best addition to your ever-growing axe collection!
Bottom Line Up Front:
The key difference between hollow-body and semi-hollow-body guitars is the fact that the first is completely hollow inside, and the latter has a center wood block that goes from the bottom of the body up to the guitar’s neck.
This simple change makes semi-hollow guitars less prone to feedback, which is why players who like to play with more overdrive and distortion tend to favor them over their fully hollow counterparts.
Hollow-body guitars are usually favored by jazz players because of their round and full clean tone, but this does not mean that you can’t use them for other music genres, but you will have to be more careful if you want to avoid feedback.
My best advice is to play as many different models as you can with your amp and pedals to see which one feels and sounds better to you.
Main Differences Between Hollow-Body and Semi-Hollow Body Guitars
At first sight, it is difficult to tell these two types of guitars apart. However, they have different characteristics that should be taken into account when you’re browsing for your next guitar. Let’s break it down and see what are the main differences between semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars.
Please take into account that some of these details might not be true for every single guitar there is, but it is what’s most common with these two types.
- Semi-hollow guitars feature a wooden block in the center of the body, which helps control feedback.
- Hollow-body guitars frequently have a floating bridge, whereas semi-hollows tend to have a fixed bridge design.
- Semi-hollow body guitars usually have more sustain than their hollow counterparts, mostly due to the center block.
- Hollow-body guitars are usually larger and wider, but this does not apply to every guitar.
- Semi-hollow guitars can handle overdrive, distortion, and fuzz significantly better than hollow guitars.
- Both tend to feature F-holes, but there are exceptions, such as the Gibson BB King signature model, which is semi-hollow and does not have any F-holes.
- Hollow-body guitars generally have more bass than semi-hollow guitars.
- Because of their larger body and wider cavities, hollow-body guitars are usually louder than semi-hollow guitars when played acoustically
The history of hollow-body guitars dates back to the early 1920s when the Gibson L-5 was released. This guitar featured a curved top and back, as well as f-holes which contributed to a louder volume, which was quickly adopted by jazz musicians as it allowed them to be heard more easily when playing with big bands.
In 1937, the Gibson ES-150 was released, their first electric archtop guitar. Now, players could amplify their instruments and play both rhythm and lead roles more comfortably without being drowned by the other band members.
Amid so many advantages, the biggest downside was the fact that they would go into feedback easily, which was the main driving force for the invention of semi-hollow and solid-body electric guitars.
Players Who Use Hollow-Body Guitars
Many famous players have used hollow-body guitars for most of their careers. I would advise you to listen to the sounds that they’ve gotten from them to better understand their profile. They generally sound warm and closer to an acoustic guitar than to a more modern take like the Fender Telecaster.
However, this does not mean that you will never be able to get a cutting, sharp sound – just listen to Brian Setzer and you’ll see what I mean.
Here is a short list of guitar players who are known for using hollow-body guitars:
- Brian Setzer
- Kenny Burrell
- Wes Montgomery
- Joe Pass
- Chet Atkins
- Grant Green
- John Lennon
- Johnny Marr
- Barney Kessel
- Dave Grohl
- Ted Nugent
Pros and Cons of Hollow-Body Guitars
- Round, full-bodied tone, which works perfectly for jazz, blues, and several other genres.
- Louder volume when played acoustically, making it a better choice for certain contexts.
- More prone to feedback, especially when played through an overdriven amplifier or an overdrive pedal.
- They usually have larger bodies, which require a specific case/gigbag to accommodate them.
Semi-Hollow Body Guitars
Semi-hollow guitars sit somewhere between a solid-body model (Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster) and a hollow-body instrument (Gibson ES-175, Epiphone Casino).
The bouts of the body are hollow and feature f-holes, but they have a wood block running along the center of the body, which adds sustain and prevents the guitar from going into feedback as easily as their hollow-body counterparts.
In some occasions, the two hollow sides are connected by a channel in the center wood block, but this does not always happen.
These guitars are appealing to players who want to have the best of both worlds – a tighter, more aggressive sound from a solid body, paired with the roundness and body of a hollow guitar’s tone.
Players Who Use Semi-Hollow Body Guitars
You will notice that although many jazz players use semi-hollow body guitars, it can also be found in the hands of countless rockers who push their limits with stacked overdrives, distortion, and fuzz pedals. My Hagström Viking (semi-hollow) is one of my favorite guitars and it handles all of these pedals brilliantly, even when using a significant amount of gain. On the other hand, it can also deliver gorgeous clean tones that are round and warm with a full body.
Here is a list of some of my favorite musicians who typically use semi-hollow guitars:
- Alvin Lee
- Chuck Berry
- Stefan Koglek (Colour Haze)
- Larry Carlton
- John Scofield
- Jack White
- Gary Clark Jr.
- Eric Johnson
- Josh Homme
- Johnny Guitar Watson
Pros and Cons of Semi-Hollow Body Guitars
- The center block dramatically reduces feedback, making it an excellent choice for players who are into using overdrive, distortion, and fuzz.
- They represent a combination of advantages found in hollow-body and solid-body guitars, which grants them immense versatility and potential.
- Classic models like the ES-335 are a bit larger than most solid-body guitars, which may be slightly uncomfortable for some players.
My Top Hollow/Semi-Hollow Body Guitar Suggestions
Nowadays, when you walk into a good guitar shop, you can see a wide array of options, whether you’re looking for a hollow-body or a semi-hollow body guitar. Thankfully, the prices can also accommodate very different budgets, so don’t panic, I’m sure there is a guitar out there that is just perfect for you.
Check below for a small list of suggestions to get your investigation started.
Gretsch has been a popular name in the guitar industry for decades, and the G2410TG Streamliner is guaranteed to grant you its classic sound at an affordable price point.
Even though it features a fully-hollow body, I wouldn’t be afraid to use it in a classic rock, blues, or rockabilly context (think Brian Setzer!).
Other interesting features include a pair of Broad’Tron humbuckers, a thin “U” neck profile for added comfort, and a Bigsby B60 vibrato system that can’t be ignored.
If you’re a fan of The Beatles, you have most certainly seen them using the Epiphone Casino, an ES-339-sized hollow-body guitar equipped with P90 pickups.
Even though it will not handle overdrive like a semi-hollow or a solid-body guitar, the P90 pickups will give you a bit of extra grit and edge to your sound, which might be very appealing if you don’t want the typical jazz box.
The Artcore Expressionist AF95 is reminiscent of other famous hollow-body models such as the Gibson L-5, but with a much more pleasant price tag.
This hollow-body guitar features a pair of Ibanez Super 58 humbuckers, a walnut bridge, an ebony fingerboard, and a 3-piece AF Expressionist nyatoh/maple neck for maximum comfort.
The Epiphone Broadway combines classic looks with quality construction techniques and materials. It has a spruce top, layered maple back and sides, and other interesting features such as a SlimTaper ’60s “C” profile neck with an Indian laurel fingerboard, perfect for playing for hours on end, whether you’re playing lead lines or complex chord melodies.
I would recommend this guitar to anyone looking for warm, round tones, especially if you like to play flatwound strings, which already sound darker out of the box.
Paul Reed Smith is the mind responsible for PRS guitars, a brand known for manufacturing quality instruments within several price ranges. The Hollowbody II comes equipped with a maple top and back, mahogany sides, a mahogany set neck, and an ebony fingerboard, making it an extremely interesting tonewood combination.
Other interesting features found on this guitar include the 58/15 S humbuckers that can cover a wide variety of sounds, as well as the bird inlays for which PRS is widely known for.
I’d recommend this guitar to players who want the hollow-body feel and flavor without having to play a significantly larger guitar like the Gibson ES-175.
Semi-Hollow Body Models
The Epiphone ES-335 is the perfect option for players who want to get something like the Gibson ES-335 but at a significantly lower price point.
Many legendary players have used an ES-335, such as Alvin Lee and Chuck Berry, among others. This one comes with a pair of Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers, guaranteed to satisfy your ears whenever you need a great sound for blues, jazz, rock, funk, soul, and much more.
Just like its older cousin, this guitar comes with a maple body, a solid maple center block, and a mahogany neck. The fingerboard is made from Indian laurel, and its 12″ radius will grant you the comfort you want for consecutive hours of jamming out.
D’Angelico makes some of my favorite semi-hollow body guitars. Their price/quality ratio is very enticing and I urge you to try them out at your local guitar store whenever you can, because you won’t regret it.
The Premier DC XT is not one of their most expensive models, but I’d easily pick it over many guitars that are worth more money.
Some of the features I’d highlight are the “C” shaped maple neck, which is fast and comfortable, its pair of Seymour Duncan Psyclone humbuckers, and the gorgeous D’Angelico headstock with Grover Super Rotomatic tuners, which remind me of my Hagstrom Viking.
The Guild Starfire I DC is my ultimate recommendation for players who are looking for a semi-hollow body guitar with a vibrato tailpiece at an affordable price. I tend to steer away from cheaper guitars with tremolos because they can sometimes be a pain to keep in tune, even if you use the tremolo lightly.
Fortunately, that is not the case with the Starfire I DC. A decent setup and you’re good to go. Just don’t go playing any dive bombs! The pickups in this guitar are modeled after Guild’s HB-1 humbuckers, and they’re voiced in such a way that allows you to cover a lot of ground with only one guitar.
It also features coil-splitting, further enhancing the tonal palette present on this beautiful instrument.
This option is somewhat similar to the Gretsch I’ve suggested in the hollow-body section, but more suited to players who crave that center wooden block to prevent feedback.
This guitar also features Gretsch’s Broad’Tron humbuckers, suitable for a myriad of genres, and it even comes with a Bigsby-licensed B70 vibrato tailpiece for maximum expression potential.
While it does not sound like a typical “jazz box”, you can use it for jazz and other styles in which clean guitar is predominant, but don’t sleep on its rock & roll capabilities!
The Fender JA-90 is not your average Telecaster with a single coil and a lipstick tube pickup. A semi-hollow ash body makes it stand out from the crowd, giving it additional resonance. Its Seymour Duncan soapbar pickups also give it a different kind of voice, similar to P90 pickups.
It also features 2 volume and 2 tone controls, contrary to what you see on most Telecasters, except the Deluxe models. Some other interesting things to take into account on this guitar include its Adjusto-Matic bridge and anchored tailpiece, which also contrast with the typical Telecaster design that we all know and love.
Question: Should I get a semi-hollow or a hollow-body guitar for jazz and blues?
Answer: Both can be excellent choices for jazz and blues. The biggest question in my opinion is how much overdrive you use when playing these styles. If you only use clean and lightly-overdriven tones, a hollow-body will work. For dirtier sounds, I’d go with a semi-hollow because it handles feedback much better.
Question: Are hollow-body guitars more prone to feedback than semi-hollow guitars?
Answer: Yes, this means that if you are planning on playing with overdrive or distortion, a hollow-body guitar will hardly be an appropriate choice. Semi-hollow guitars such as the Gibson ES-335 or the Hagström Viking can handle drive significantly better before starting to feedback.
Question: Are hollow-body guitars louder than semi-hollow guitars when they’re not plugged in?
Answer: Yes, a hollow-body guitar is generally capable of being acoustically louder than a semi-hollow guitar due to its larger resonance box. It is more comparable to an acoustic guitar with a pickup, although the tone is obviously different due to other construction methods and electronics.
Hollow Body vs Semi Hollow Body Guitars: Final Thoughts
Semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars are some of the most interesting options in the midst of an endless array of 6-string companions.
Semi-hollow bodies tread the line between acoustics and solid-body electric guitars, giving you a bit of both worlds. They can handle overdrive and distortion decently, and you get the best of both sides – a tight, punchy responsiveness as you’d find on a solid-body guitar, paired with the roundness of a hollow one.
Hollow-body guitars tend to be found in contexts that feature cleaner guitar sounds such as jazz, but that does not mean you can’t use them with a little overdrive, you just have to be a bit more careful with feedback, as it might get out of control pretty quickly!
The main idea to retain is that the body construction is not the only thing that defines a guitar, and to discover which one is right for you, you should try as many guitars as you can to see what feels right to you.