From the sweet sounds of Bebop to the wild rebellion of Ted Nugent, hollow body guitars have always held a special place in Western music. This type of guitar is also making a comeback with the recent jazz and Americana revivals that have been sweeping the nation, which in turn has ballooned demand for hollow body guitars to previously unknown heights.
There’s never been a better time to buy a semi-hollow or hollow bodied guitar, but with all of the choices available choosing the right one for your needs can be more than a bit overwhelming. If you’re not sure where to start you’ve come to the right place! This article will give you all the information that you need to make an informed purchase, as well as giving you ten great recommendations to help aid you in your search for the best hollow body guitar or the best semi-hollow guitar for your needs.
- What Is A Hollow or Semi-Hollow Body Guitar?
- Why Would I Need A Hollow Body Guitar?
- How Did We Select Our Recommendations?
- Top 10 Semi and Hollow Body Guitars
What Is A Hollow or Semi-Hollow Body Guitar?
When most players refer to a hollow body guitar they’re referring to an electric guitar with dimensions similar to that of an acoustic archtop (but with a pickup), though technically there are ES-335 (a thinner guitar played by Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, and B.B. King to name a few) type guitars that are also hollow bodied instruments.
The confusion comes from whether or not the speaker views the term “hollow body” as a classification for a type of instrument or as a literal specification. This tends to vary from musician to musician.
Hollow bodied electric guitars came about as a gradual shift from acoustic archtops to electric instruments. Professional musicians began attaching pickups to acoustic archtops once the technology became widely available. Companies then started selling guitars with factory installed pickups to meet the demands of gigging musicians. They also began attaching pickups in the way commonly seen today to increase the stability of the electronics in the instrument as well as help prevent feedback issues. This design caught on with musicians all over the world, but it was especially popular in jazz. Because this design was so popular in jazz the hollow body guitar gradually became the go-to instrument for those who wished to play the genre, which is why it’s still in use today.
Semi-hollow body guitars are similar to hollow body guitars, but typically have a solid block of wood running through the center of the guitar, with hollow wings. Semi-hollows do not typically have the feedback issues that pure hollow body guitars have, and have a bit more sustain due to the solid part of the body connecting with the neck of the guitar in a flow through construction.
Why Would I Need A Hollow Body or Semi-Hollow Guitar?
While these days you can play jazz on just about anything, many professional jazz and other musicians play hollow body guitars from tradition and stylistic choices. Hollow body guitars generally use lower output pickups with a warmer sound, which is ideal for the majority of jazz sub-genres.
For proof, look at Danny Gatton and Ted Nugent. Danny Gatton is one of the most highly regarded jazz musicians to ever touch a guitar, and Ted Nugent has a well earned reputation as “The Motor City Mad Man”. Danny Gatton played a Telecaster throughout the majority of his career, and Ted Nugent played a Gibson Byrdland (a hollow body guitar). Both musicians were at the top of their field, and they’re a great example of how most guitars are very versatile.
How Did We Select Our Recommendations?
At Equipboard, we think about what we play ourselves and our personal opinions and preferences. We also research what gear professionals are using and what our community is using to recommending and discuss the pros and cons of each guitar we highlight. As always, our recommendations are meant to give everyone reading this article a viable choice. We know that a $10,000 Custom Shop Gibson is generally going to sound better than a $200 Ibanez, but the vast majority of players just can’t justify that expense per the cost difference. When we recommend a piece of equipment in a certain category, we recognize the fact that everyone has a different financial situation and we definitely consider value as a big part of the equation. In short, the best option for you may not be the best option for your fellow musicians, but we showcase some of the best hollow body guitars out there so you can consider which one is best for you.
The Top 10 Semi-Hollow and Hollow Body Guitars
If you’re still unsure where to start on your hunt for your dream guitar, check out our recommendations below! And as always, if there’s anything you feel should be included let us know in the comments section below. Enjoy!
This recommendation won't come as any surprise to anyone that has been playing for guitar for a period of time, but that speaks to the quality of the Casino. Since its introduction in 1961, this guitar has been one of the most popular guitars on the market.
The top and sides of the Casino are a 5-ply laminate that allow the guitar to have a thinline profile while still being a true hollowbody. The neck, which is a SlimTaper D profile, is made from Mahogany and glued in to the body at the 16th fret. The fretboard is rosewood and has 22 medium-jumbo frets with parallelogram inlays. The fingerboard radius is 12" and 24.75" scale.
“I pretty much knew from day one that I needed a few things for my arsenal and the Epiphone Casino is the one guitar that always stood out,” said Gary Clark Jr. “Getting my first Casino changed my life.”
The Casino comes with P-90 pickups and is available in four color finishes from Epiphone; Vintage Sunburst, Natural, Cherry, and Metallic Goldtop. The LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge and trapeze tailpiece are premium components that keep this guitar in tune, even with aggressive playing.
One thing to keep in mind is this guitar is completely hollow. And while that is great while playing unplugged and helps contribute to it's sound when amplified, it also increased the guitars feedback, which could be something that isn't worth the tradeoff depending on what sound you're going after. If you like the Casino's sound but want less feedback, look to the Gibson ES-335 (or Epiphone Dot), which are similar models but semi-hollow to reduce feedback and increase sustain.
Ibanez Artcore AS73
Though as a company Ibanez is generally considered to cater more towards rock and metal enthusiasts, the brand has actually always put out some really solid hollow and semi-hollow body guitars. The brand has even been endorsed by some of the most talented jazz musicians to ever pick up a guitar,
While the Ibanez Artcore AS73 is a bit more budget conscience than the instruments played by the musicians who have endorsed the brand, it’s just as high quality of an instrument as anything produced by Epiphone, Gretsch, or Rondo Music at this price point. In fact, depending on your personal preferences you may actually find this instrument to be superior to other models that retail for a similar amount.
Right out of the gate, the most impressive thing about the Artcore AS73 is how lively the pickups are for a guitar at this price point. The pickups found in many budget guitars are dull and uninspiring, but the pickups found in the Artcore AS73 (Classic Elite in both the bridge and neck positions) are both remarkably articulate and surprisingly well balanced considering that this guitar retails for under $500 new.
Though it’s debatable how much this it effects the overall tone on a electric guitar, the AS73 is built with maple top, back, and sides. Some people claim that maple helps enhance high end frequencies in an instrument, though the effects of tonewood in an electric guitar have never truly been verified.
The scale length of the AS73 comes in at 24.7”, which will make it feel a bit easier to play when compared to a guitar that utilizes the more commonly found scale length of 25.5”. While it may not be a huge difference, an increase in scale length does correlate directly with an increase in tension. A guitar with a longer scale length will also have frets that are placed farther apart, which may make it a bit difficult for beginners to stretch their fingers to different frets for some chords. While this isn’t much of an issue for a musician who has been playing for awhile, it does make the Ibanez Artcore AS73 a bit more approachable for the beginner guitarist.
Surprisingly, the Ibanez Artcore AS73 comes with a set neck. The term set neck refers to the neck being glued into position, rather than bolted on. It’s a feature that up until now has largely been exclusive to much more expensive guitars. Though you won’t notice a night and day difference, a set neck definitely boosts the sustain when compared to a bolt on.
The AS73 comes in three distinct finishes, Antique Amber, Tobacco Brown, and Transparent Cherry. Unfortunately, unless you want to change out all of the hardware yourself (which is easy to do, but can get really expensive really fast) you will be limited to the factory standard chrome as the AS73 only comes with one hardware finish available.
As far as sound is concerned, when reviewed on its own merits the AS73 is competent but not extraordinary. The pickups are definitely serviceable, but they won’t have the clarity or tonal response of the pickups that you’d find in a higher quality instrument. However, swapping out pickups is a fairly easy job all things considered. That’s not to say the pickups are bad by any stretch of the imagination, there’s just a noticeable difference between the sounds the AS73 is capable of achieving and the sounds that something like a genuine Gibson ES-335 (the inspiration for the AS73) is capable of. However a Gibson ES-335 can run you upwards of $2000 at time of writing, so while it may sound better overall it doesn’t sound so much better that it justifies a $1500 price difference.
As far as overall quality is concerned, the Ibanez AS73 is on par with every other guitar in it’s tier. It’s just as rugged as an Epiphone, and it’s just as well assembled as any Fender. Obviously there will be guitars that have structural issues, that’s just life. There’s too many variables in the guitar making process to ensure that every guitar turns out perfect, and even if you could turn out a perfect instrument 100% of the time they can still be damaged by improper storage on the part of distributors or store owners. However, there is nothing inherent to the model that would suggest that the AS73 is inherently flawed. Just be sure to inspect the guitar at the time of purchase (or when you receive it should you buy it online) to double check that there aren’t any issues.
While it may not be on the level of an expensive custom instrument, the Ibanez Artcore AS73 will serve the vast majority of musicians very well. It’s undoubtedly a great buy for what it is, and in the hands of the right guitarist it really does have the potential to sound phenomenal.
Gretsch White Falcon
Considered the cream of the crop by Gretsch enthusiasts the world over, the Gretsch White Falcon is built to impress. Everything about Gretsch’s Professional Collection (Gretsch’s cream of the crop line) screams quality, and the White Falcon is no exception.
Based off the famous design unveiled at NAMM 1954 by Gretsch’s former marketing strategist Jimmie Webster, the Gretsch White Falcon was originally intended to exist solely as show piece as a way to raise interest for the brand. However, as soon as sale representatives at the 1954 NAMM show demonstrated interest in the guitar Gretsch quickly rushed it into production. And the world is lucky they did.
As of time of of writing, there are three or four variations on the Gretsch White Falcon currently in production. This review is concerning the Gretsch G6136T White Falcon, which generally comes equipped with a Bigsby vibrato tail piece. The different White Falcon models are pretty similar, but if you end up deciding to go with a different version of the guitar make sure to double check that the features you want to see are also present in your model of choice.
As previously stated, the Gretsch G6136T White Falcon comes equipped with a Bigsby vibrato tail piece. Bigsby tail pieces are really great at providing subtle vibrato, but they’re not capable of the more advanced vibrato techniques the something like a Floyd Rose is capable of. So if you’re looking for something that can pull off dive bombs or super intense vibrato you’re going to want to look elsewhere.
As far as materials are concerned, the Gretsch White Falcon is built just as well as a comparable Gibson hollow body guitar. The back and sides are both laminated maple, which while not ideal in acoustic guitars is actually preferable in instruments that are made to be amplified. In addition to being more resistant to changes in temperature or humidity, laminate wood construction also helps solve feedback issues. Solid wood is more resonant, which makes feedback issues more likely to occur when the guitar is played at high volumes. The top of the guitar is solid spruce however, so you’ll most likely still have to contend with feedback, though it will be less problematic than a guitar made solely from solid wood.
The Gretsch White Falcon features a scale length of 25.5 inches, which is the scale length generally found on most Fender and Ibanez electric guitars. The guitar also features a a 1.6875” nut width, which is within the standard range for most currently produced electric guitars.
While the Gretsch White Falcon is definitely a high quality instrument, it’s still a Gretsch. All Gretsch instruments are a bit twangy and bright. They stay really crisp and articulate at higher levels of gain, but you will have to enjoy the signature Gretsch sound to really bond with this guitar. That’s not to say that Gretsch doesn’t make versatile instruments, because they do. Gretsch guitars have been used by artists as diverse as Jack White and Chet Atkins. However, a Gretsch is always going to sound like a Gretsch. These guitars are not like a Les Paul or a Strat, both of which can cover wildly different extremes in the hands of the right player.
The Gretsch White Falcon features quite a few aesthetic touches that musicians with an eye for beauty will appreciate. The guitar comes equipped with an ebony fretboard and a fully bound maple neck. The body of the instrument is also bound, which though largely unnecessary with modern construction techniques is a nice touch regardless. The bound oversized f-holes are also pretty pleasing to the eye, and work well with the overall dimensions of the body.
As far as quality is concerned, the Gretsch White Falcon really does knock it out of the park. Which it should, considering that the instrument retails for upwards of $3000. Though it may not be within the price range of most hobbyist musicians, the Gretsch White Falcon is built with a attention to detail that will impress any professional or gigging musician.
Though it’s price point puts it out of reach for some musicians, the Gretsch White Falcon is undoubtedly a high quality instrument. It’s the sort of guitar that you buy when you’re tired of accepting anything but perfection. And though the guitar may display the characteristics commonly found in most Gretsch models, that’s really not a bad thing. It may not be quite as versatile of an instrument as a comparable Gibson or Fender, but it’s undoubtedly just as well made.
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