EQUIPBOARD GEAR REVIEWS

10 Best Hollow Body Guitars & Semi-Hollow Body Guitars

Best Semi-Hollow and Hollow Body Guitars
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Updated October 2020

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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?

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!


Epiphone Casino

Epiphone Casino

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.

Available new on

SWEETWATER

Available new on

AMAZON

Available used on

REVERB

Ibanez Artcore AS73

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.

Available new on

SWEETWATER

Available new on

AMAZON

Available used on

REVERB

Gretsch White Falcon

Gretsch White Falcon Electric Guitar

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.

Available new on

SWEETWATER

Available new on

AMAZON

Available used on

REVERB

Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin

Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin

A modern archtop that oozes vintage appeal, the Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin archtop presents a unique value to the musician on the hunt for a traditional archtop that won’t break the bank. Benefiting from Godin’s decades worth of experience (the Canadian based company was founded in 1972 by Robert Godin), the Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin is one of the few modern archtops capable of reproducing vintage tones without sacrificing quality or affordability.

To preface this review, it should be made clear that there are three main variations to the 5trh Avenue line. There is the Fifth Avenue, the Fifth Avenue Kingpin, and the Fifth Avenue Kingpin II (which comes with either two P90 pickups or two humbuckers). The models are very similar in terms of specifications so most of the following review will apply to the different models. The main difference is just the available pickup configurations.

The most important feature of the Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin is that it’s essentially an acoustic guitar with a P90 screwed into the top. The P90 damps the resonance and tone of the guitar unplugged, but the acoustic properties that instrument still retains does have an impact on its amplified tone. The guitar is also capable of being played as an acoustic instrument, but if you’re looking for a true acoustic archtop sound we would recommend considering either the Loar LH-600 or the Godin 5th Avenue (the Kingpin moniker denotes that the guitar comes with a pickup).

Interestingly, the Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin is one of the few guitars made with Canadian Wild Cherry. As a tonewood, cherry is analogous to maple, though some describe it as being a bit brighter. However, though it’s less common than other tonewoods that doesn’t mean that it’s any less suited to producing a quality instrument. In fact, due to the shortage of quality tonewoods (try buying Brazillian rosewood sometime) cherry is actually a very ecologically friendly and sustainable choice for the environmentally conscious musician.

Considering that the guitar comes with a 1.72” nut width some musicians may find the Fifth Avenue Kingpin’s neck to be a bit on the hefty side. While this may be an inconvenience to those of you with smaller hands, it actually is a plus for playing the complicated chords you generally find in Jazz and the its subgenres. The Godin Fifth Avenue Kinpin is available in three different finishes, cognac burst, natural, and black. The Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin II is available in Burgundy.

While the amplified sound of the Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin isn’t lacking in any way, some may find that the P90 is a bit too thin to easily get a good jazz sound. That doesn’t mean that the guitar isn’t capable of being a great jazz instrument, it’ll just be a bit harder to achieve. If you’re looking to play jazz exclusively you may find that the Kingpin II with humbuckers will be a better fit for your needs.

While the 5th Avenue Kingpin does sound good unplugged, it’s never going to compete with a true acoustic archtop. If that’s what you’re looking for, you will want to look elsewhere. While the guitar is pleasing to the ear and has enough volume to make unplugged practicing a realistic option, it doesn’t have the mid-range honk that’s exclusive to a good acoustic archtop. However, it definitely does have more viability as an acoustic instrument than most other pickup equipped archtops in its price range.

Structurally, the Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin is just as durable as any of its competitors. And though the brand may not be as widespread as Epiphone or Gretsch, Godin has always had a great track record for producing high quality instruments. The fit and finish of this model is generally superb, and there hasn’t been any widespread reports of issues like improper neck angles or a higher than average susceptibility to damage caused by changes in temperature or humidity. Of course be sure to check the instrument before you purchase it. Every company is capable of turning out a lemon, and though Godin has a great track record they’re no exception

The Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin is a great fit for the musician who’s looking for a great guitar with a unique vintage vibe. Short of buying an old Kay or Harmony archtop (both of which will generally require expensive repairs before they’re brought up to an acceptable level of playability) and slapping a pickup on it there’s no guitar being produce today that offers the features found in the Kingpin at a price that most musicians can afford.

Available new on

SWEETWATER

Available new on

AMAZON

Available used on

REVERB

PRS Hollowbody II

PRS Hollowbody II

First debuted at the 1985 NAMM show, PRS has been one of the premier guitar manufacturers for decades. A true rags to riches story, Paul Reed Smith (the master luthier who first conceptualized the brand) began building his own guitars in the mid-70s. The superior quality of his instruments was quickly noted by musical luminaries such as Derek St. Homes, Stanley Whitaker, and Carlos Santana.

The PRS Hollowbody II is a newer addition to PRS’s lineup, and comes equipped with a wide variety of features that makes it incredibly attractive to modern musicians.

The PRS Hollowbody II is definitely a feature packed guitar. In addition to sporting two humbuckers (both of which are wound and manufactured at the PRS factory) the PRS Hollowbody II sports a LR Baggs/PRS Piezo Pickup system. The piezo pickup offers musicians acoustic tones, and though a piezo in an electric guitar won’t sound quite as realistic as an acoustic instrument it provides a close enough approximation to a genuine acoustic tone that it will sound relatively realistic to the uninitiated As an added bonus, the guitar also features two output jacks which will allow musician to run the piezo through a DI box or a soundboard. The piezo pickup can also be blended into main output jack, allowing musician to blend both acoustic and electric tones.

Interestingly, the PRS Hollowbody II features carved figured maple back and sides. As a general rule, most hollow and semi-hollow body electric guitars utilize laminated woods. While this does add to the end cost of the instrument, it definitely does enhance its resonance and sustain. The carved back and sides may lead to more feedback issues than you’d run into with a laminate instrument, though the difference is less severe because the guitar is a thinline (a thinner type of electric archtop) model.

With the exception of its lower quality models (generally those manufactured over seas) every PRS guitar features proprietary hardware. Every piece of a PRS guitar is undoubtedly well made, though should you have to replace anything on the guitar it will most likely be more expensive and harder to find than the equivalent part on a Fender or Gibson.

The PRS Hollowbody II is available in 18 distinct finishes. There is also a single cutaway version of the guitar. The PRS Singlecut Hollowbody II is essentially the same guitar except it doesn’t have a cutaway on the upper bout. The dimensions, hardware, and pickups are all the same.

PRS really does get a bad rap for producing metal or hard rock guitars exclusively, when in reality PRS arguably makes some of the most versatile instruments you’re likely to find. While no guitar is going to be able to cover every genre comfortably the PRS Hollowbody II is definitely capable of producing a wider variety of sounds than just about any hollowbody guitar out there. Everything from clean jazz to spiky hard rock is achievable with this instrument. Musicians as diverse as Jack Fowler and John Mayer have been seen sporting a PRS, and Carlos Santana has been using one as his main guitar for decades. In fact, Paul Reed Smith actually owes the majority of his success to Carlos Santana, as the brand was relatively unknown until it was adopted by the artist.

In regards to the PRS Hollowbody II in particular, the guitar is geared a bit more towards vintage sounds than some of the other instruments the brand produces. The 58/15 pickups have received rave reviews since their inception, and are meant to approximate the tone of Gibson PAF (what some consider the holy grail of Les Paul pickups) humbuckers.

As far as quality is concerned, PRS is on par with any independent luthier. Much like Bob Taylor, Paul Reed Smith started off as an independent luthier. Unlike some companies, Paul never compromised his ideals when he hit it big. Every American made PRS guitar is built to the same standards as his original instruments, which ensures a higher level of quality than a comparatively priced instrument from Gibson or Fender.

Though it may not be the most affordable instrument around, the PRS Hollowbody II has the potential to become the secret weapon of any guitarist. The instrument is just as well suited to gigging as it is to recording, and though it’s less capable of harder genres of music than some other guitars made by PRS at the end of the day it is an incredibly versatile instrument.

Available new on

SWEETWATER

Available used on

REVERB

Fender ’72 Telecaster Thinline

Fender Classic Series '72 Telecaster Thinline

A reproduction of an American classic, the Fender Classic Series ‘72 Telecaster Thinline is a faithful homage to a guitar with a legacy unrivaled by almost any other instrument. Wielded by everyone from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones to Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, the Fender Classic Series ‘72 Thinline Telecaster presents an unparallelled value to the musician on the hunt for a versatile instrument.

If you’re considering buying this instrument, the most important thing you need to know is that it’s a very unique sounding guitar. In some ways, it’s a bit like a Gretsch. They’re still very versatile instruments, but some guitarists find them off putting because they don’t sound like a traditional Fender or Gibson.

The Telecaster Thinline series has generally come equipped with Fender Wide Range Humbuckers, designed by Seth Lover for Fender in the 1970s. These pickups have the character and output of a normal humbucker, but they’re geared towards high-end frequencies and retain clarity when used with distortion in a way similar to a single coil pickup. If you don’t dial in your amp correctly these pickups have a tendency to sound shrill, However, when paired with a good setup these pickups are capable of covering a very diverse amount of genres.

As far as construction is concerned, the Fender Classic Series ‘72 Thinline Telecaster is pretty similar to the majority of Fender guitars in terms of dimensions. The standout feature is the chambered ash body, which while it has a negligible effect on the tone it definitely does make the guitar feel significantly lighter. The neck is made from maple and features a “U” profile, which is a bit thicker than the more standard “C” neck profile. Though once you adapt the majority of players really aren’t going to notice much of a difference between the two different styles. The Fender Classic Series ‘72 Thinline Telecaster comes in two finishes, natural and 3-color sunburst.

The vintage-style string through body is also a huge plus. For those not aware, Telecasters generally come in two different configurations in regards to the bridge. Hard tail and string through. A hard tail bridge lies flush with the body and the strings are strung parallel to the neck. In a string through configuration the strings are fed through holes in the back side of the body. This enhances sustain and resonance, though a string through bridge is a bit more difficult to restring than a hard tail bridge.

While it’s a bit hard to describe the sound of this guitar, it can be thought of as the middle ground between a Fender and a Gibson. It’s clear and piercing but it still capable of moderate amounts of gain. It doesn’t have the warmth or breadth of tone that you’d find in something like a Les Paul, but it’s capable of approximating something similar.

The build quality on this instrument is representative of every other Mexican made Fender produced within the last 15 years or so. Though Mexican made instruments haven’t always been very high quality, factories all over the world have really stepped up their game in the last decade. The quality of current Mexican made instruments is almost on par with American made guitars. America is not the only country turning out high quality instruments anymore, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with playing a non-domestic guitar. In fact, though they might not be quite on the level of a good American guitar, a foreign made instrument is better suited to being a workhorse guitar because it’s generally more replaceable.

The Fender Classic Series ‘72 Thinline Telecaster is just as well made as any other guitar in its price range. You’ll never have to worry about this guitar letting you down when you need it the most so long as you perform proper maintenance and upkeep. As always, be sure to either play the guitar in person before you purchase it or purchase it from an online retailer with a fair return policy. While there aren’t any flaws inherent to this model, there’s always the possibility that you’ll run into a lemon.

While no guitar is capable of playing everything, the Fender Classic Series ‘72 Thinline Telecaster is among one of the most versatile instruments produced today. The build quality is great, and most importantly it plays incredibly well so long as it’s properly set up. While it may not be the most traditional instrument around, in the hands of the right musician it truly is capable of extraordinary things.

Available new on

AMAZON

Available used on

REVERB

Gibson ES-335 Studio

Gibson ES-335 Memphis Studio

The world’s first commercial thinline archtop guitar, the Gibson ES-335 has a well deserved place in music’s modern history. Since its inception in 1958 the 335 has been used by some of the most notable guitarists the world has ever seen, including but not limited to Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Warren Haynes, Dave Grohl, Eric Johnson, Chuck Berry, and Alvin Lee.

Though the guitar may be seen as a blues machine first and foremost, in the right hands it’s an incredibly versatile instrument. Everything from sweet modern jazz to crunchy garage rock can be achieved with this guitar, and though it may not be the most affordable option out there it’s undoubtedly a very high quality instrument.

This review is centered around the Gibson ES-335 Studio model, which is the most affordable ES-335 model that Gibson is currently producing. The Studio line has always been directed at working musicians, so while these guitars don’t have the bling you’d find on a Custom Shop or Memphis line instrument you won’t find it lacking in tone or playability.

With that out of the way, the definitive feature of the 2016 ES-335 Studio is that it comes with either 57 Classic or Super 57 humbuckers while the other ES-335 models come equipped with Burstbuckers. While the difference between 57 humbuckers (both the Classic and Super variations) and Burstbuckers are up to personal interpretation, the former is generally considered to emphasize high-end frequencies while the latter are generally thought to be a bit warmer and more well rounded.

The Gibson ES-335 studio features maple top, back, and sides as well as a maple center block. The effect the wood has on the tone is debatable, but maple is generally considered to enhance clarity and treble frequencies in a guitar. That’s why you see it commonly used on archtops and jumbo guitars.

While Gibson’s approach to building a semi-hollow archtop has been copied countless times, it does bear mentioning that this is not a fully hollow instrument. The guitar uses a maple block that runs down the center of the instrument. A center block performs a similar function to that of a soundpost in a violin. Both of these construction techniques make the top and back of an instrument resonate as one piece, which isn’t ideal in an acoustic instrument (this is part of the reason the Loar LH-400 never took off) it helps prevent feedback issues in a guitar that’s going to be amplified.

As far as construction is concerned, the ES-335 is a great combination of elegance and form. The one piece set maple neck helps provide stability and lessens the chance that the neck will deform or snap under strain, and the 17 degree headstock angle helps to increase resonance and sustain. The 2016 Gibson ES-335 Studio is available in two finishes, wine red (red, but a darker shade than Chuck Berry’s guitar) and Ginger Burst.

The Gibson ES-335 Studio is a vintage voiced guitar. While the Classic and Super 57 humbuckers are capable of achieving moderate amounts of gain, like other vinage voiced pickups they lose clarity at higher levels of distortion. Of course this can be compensated for based on your amp and pedal EQ settings, but it’s going to be a consistent problem. However, it does nail old school rock and blues tones perfectly.

As far as quality is concerned, the Gibson ES-335 Studio is comparable to any other mass produced American made instrument. In fact, Gibson’s Studio line is arguably one of the best values on the market in terms of quality control. The line is comparable in quality to any Gibson instrument, and because they’re more stripped down they cost significantly less.

However, you do have to be much more careful with a Gibson instrument than you do with other brands. Though the headstock angle does have a very positive effect on the tone of the instrument it does also make it more fragile. So be sure not to leave any Gibson instrument with a “paddle” headstock sitting out on the stand if you have pets or small children running around.

Though the Gibson ES-335 Studio isn’t the most affordable instrument around, it does present a great value to the musician who is looking for a professional quality instrument. There’s nothing about this guitar that’s lacking in any way, shape or form. While it may not be the perfect fit for everyone, if it’s good enough for some of the most famous musicians the world has ever known odds are that the majority of you will find that the Gibson ES-335 studio is a great fit for your rig.

Available new on

AMAZON

Available used on

REVERB

Rickenbacker 360

Rickenbacker 360

The trademark instrument of the British invasion, the Rickenbacker 360 (as well as its 12 string version the Rickenbacker 360/12) has been used extensively by some of the most famous musicians the world has ever seen.

The Rickenbacker 360 is well suited to musicians looking for a unique chiming tone (think Tom Petty and George Harrison) though the guitar is definitely no one trick pony, as evidenced by it’s use in Against Me! by guitarist Laura Jane Grace.

The signature Rickenbacker look, feel, and sound are completely exclusive to the instruments made by the brand. The company is a lot like Gretsch in that they fill a very specific niche. They’re not a guitar that’s ever going to be mistaken for something else.

As far as features are concerned, the first thing most players notice when they see a Rickenbacker is the distinctive shape and appearance. The guitar is definitely an eye catcher, and though it may look a bit awkward at first glance most guitarists actually find the body shape to be pretty comfortable. The guitar is made with Rickenbacker’s “crecent moon” cutaway shape, and features rounded edges and a bound body. The neck of the guitar is also bound, which will help prevent fret ends from poking out of the wood in the event of rapid changes in humidity. The tailpiece is also a classy touch, though it’s a matter of debate as to how much it will effect the tone.

Interestingly, both the body and neck of the Rickenbacker 360 are made from maple. Tonewood doesn’t have a very noticeable impact on the tone of an electric instrument, though using quality wood is always a plus when it comes to overall feel and durability. The fretboard is made from rosewood, and features Rickenbacker’s unique triangle inlays.

The neck on the Rickenbacker 360 is a bit thinner than the industry standard of 1 and 11/16ths, though the difference is so small that it’d be relatively imperceptible to all but the most astute. Finally, the Rickenbacker 360 features a set in neck. A set in neck prevents enhances sustain and resonance, which comes in handy for musicians that find themselves playing with low to moderate levels of distortion.

It would be a disservice to Rickenbacker’s legacy to compare the 360 to another instrument. The guitar is so unique sounding that it truly is in a class of its own. However, there are a few elements that you should be aware of before you purchase this guitar.

The key thing to keep in mind about Rickenbacker is that at the end of the day their very “chimy” instruments. They have an almost bell-like quality, and that always shines through regardless of the situation. While this makes them a great fit for a lot of genres (everything from old school rock to Americana music in the style of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) it does mean that the instrument really is not an ideal fit for genres that require high amounts of gain. It’s not that the guitar can’t handle it, it’s just that it’s not the ideal sound of the genre. Which of course shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying it, but if you’re trying to emulate musicians who play heavier genres of music you may find that you never really end up bonding with the guitar. This is especially problematic when you consider that a guitar (much like a car) loses about 30% of its value as soon as it leaves the store. As far as quality is concerned, the Rickenbacker 360 is on par with other American made guitars, which it should be considering that it carries a suggested retail price of $2499 (the source for this is the Rickenbacker U.S.A. retail price list, which you can find by searching “Rickenbacker 360 price” on Google. The result is a PDF file with retail prices effective as of February 18th, 2016).

The Rickenbacker 360 is a premium quality instrument, and while it may have a limited appeal for musicians looking for a more standard sound (there is absolutely nothing wrong with that) it does have a unique feel and sound that you just can’t get with any other instrument. The quality is superb, and though they may not be very easy to track down in the right situations you would be hard pressed to find a better guitar. Sure, it may not be the most affordable instrument around, but if you can justify the price you may find that the Rickenbacker 360 is the last guitar that you’ll ever need.

Available used on

REVERB

Epiphone Wildkat

Epiphone WildKat

A unique and visually stunning instrument, the Epiphone Wildkat holds all the charm of a vintage semi-hollow archtop with the reliability and playability exclusive to modern guitars. Taking advantage of more than a century’s worth of experience, the Epiphone Wildkat present a unique value for the musician on the hunt for a great electric guitar that won’t break the bank.

Before we get too far into the review, it should be mentioned that this review will only cover the features and specifications of the Epiphone Wildkat. There have been a few different versions of the guitar produced over the years (the model made its debut all the way back in 1999) and as of writing there are two main variations; the Epiphone Wildkat and the Epiphone Wildkat Royale. The two guitars are pretty similar, though the Royale is a bit different aesthetically and comes in a wider variety of colors.

The main appeal of the Wildkat is that it’s a semi-hollow guitar with smaller dimensions than the standard ES-335 shape (think the Epiphone Dot, a guitar at a similar price point). Players who are smaller in stature than the average musician may find that the guitar is a really good fit for them in terms of feel. The nut width is 1.68”, which is the standard nut width for most electric guitars. If you feel like most necks are too wide for your hands you may not really bond with this guitar. However, if you feel comfortable with most guitar necks but have a hard time finding a guitar that fits well against your body you may find that the Epiphone Wildkat is more comfortable than other guitars in a similar style. The Wildkat’s neck is described as a slim taper “D” profile, which will be wider and thinner than the standard “C” profile.

The Wildkat comes equipped with P-90 Classics, which are vintage voiced P90 pickups (more on these in the next section). The guitar also comes with a Bigsby B70 vibrato, It’s definitely a plus that Epiphone decided to equip the guitar with a genuine Bigsby, as most after market copies aren’t quite on the same level of quality. This particular model of Bigsby tremolo has also been as highly received as any other on the market, so while there are occasional tuning problems caused by this type of vibrato unit (though this is generally caused by improper use as opposed to a structural flaw) the guitar should stay in tune provided that it receives a proper set up.

Structurally, the Epiphone Wildkat is pretty interesting. The guitar features a set neck, increasing the sustain and resonance in the instrument. The guitar’s body is made from mahogany and features a maple “cap”. This doesn’t really effect the tone, but the flamed maple top is pretty pleasing to the eye. The guitar also comes with 18:1 ratio Grover machine tuners, which feature exceptional tuning stability.

To understand the sound of the Epiphone Wildkat, you first have to be aware of the tonal characteristics of P90 style pickups. These types of pickups are one of the least common on the market (second only to floating archtop and Gretsch pickups) so a lot of players don’t really know what they’re getting themselves into.

Essentially, a P90 is the middle ground between a humbucker and a single-coil pickup. It has a higher output than what you’d generally find in a single coil pickup, but it still doesn’t have the output of most humbuckers. Tonally, it’s warmer than the standard single coil pickup but thinner than most humbuckers.

The best part of a P90 is that it’s perfect for moderate levels of gain, and the pickups in the Wildkat are no exception. These pickups are perfect for the “crunch” type tone common in Americana and blues music, though some may find that the guitar doesn’t perform very well for heavier genres of music. Of course your results will vary, but so long as you don’t use too much distortion (you can get probably get levels similar to garage blues rock a la The Black Keys but not much more) you should be in good shape.

As far as quality is concerned, the Epiphone Wildkat is just as good as any other Epiphone. The brand has been known to have the occasional quality control issues (poor fretwork mostly), but when you find a good one it will hold up for decades. Epiphone makes some of the most durable instruments you’re likely to come across, which is great if you’re looking to perform live or travel with your guitar.

The most attractive part of the Epiphone Wildkat is that it’s not afraid to be unique. It’s wildly different to its competition in sound, dimensions, and visual design. This is a guitar for the musician who’s not afraid of breaking convention. Provided you take care of it, this guitar has the potential to sound exceptional and look great doing it.

Available new on

SWEETWATER

Available used on

REVERB

Fender Coronado II Semi-Hollowbody Electric Guitar

Fender Coronado II Semi-Hollowbody Electric Guitar

A modern take on a vintage oddity, the Fender Coronado II presents a unique value to the musician who’s on the hunt for something unique. Based on the short lived Coronado II (which though it had a small span of time in the spotlight following its use by Elvis Presley in Speedway was plagued by a number of issues that made it unappealing to musicians of the time) the modern reimagining of the instrument features a wide variety of modern appointments that make it a much more attractive instrument to both professional and hobbyist musicians.

The Coronado II is a semi-hollow guitar, utilizing an alder block in the center of the guitar to help prevent troublesome feedback issues at higher levels of volume and/or gain. This is a great plus for gigging musicians because feedback is an incredibly difficult issue to eliminate or control during a live performance.

Like most Fender instruments, the Coronado II utilizes a bolt on neck system as opposed to the set neck configuration more common to hollow and semi-hollow body instruments. While this is most likely a compromise on the part of Fender to keep costs low it really isn’t too detrimental to the final tone of the instrument. While it does limit sustain and resonance this can be compensated for by either using an active EQ or a higher level of gain. The neck of the Coronado II is made from maple and the fretboard is rosewood. The only real downside to the Coronado II’s neck is that it doesn’t use a bone nut. Synthetic bone does negatively impact the tone of an instrument, but thankfully it’s pretty cheap to get a luthier to cut out a bone nut for you instrument. However, this upgrade is an extra cost that musicians shouldn’t have to make with a new instrument. The nut width of the Fender Coronado II comes in at 1.650”, which is a bit thinner than the industry standard of 1.68”.

As far as hardware is concerned, the Coronado II is adequate for a guitar in this price range. You shouldn’t have to worry about intonation or playability beyond what you would with any instrument. The laminate maple body is also a nice touch, and though it doesn’t impact the tone in a verifiable way it definitely does make for an attractive instrument. The Fender Coronado II is available in four different finishes, 3-color sunburst, black, black cherry burst, and candy apple red.

At its heart, the Coronado II is a Gretsch made to Fender’s specs (though Fender does own Gretsch it has kept the two brands differentiated from each other relatively well). The guitar features Fideli’Tron pickups. The pickups on the original Coronado II were made by DeArmond. DeArmond was known for producing very unique sounding pickups, highly regarded for both their chime and high end bite. Fender’s use of Fideli’Tron pickups in this model is likely an attempt to approximate the sound of pickups found in the original, though they’re not entirely faithful to the tone of the originals.

However, that’s not to say that the Fender Coronado isn’t a great sounding instrument in its own right. It’s definitely capable of twangy country and blues tones, and in the right situations it really is a very versatile instrument. It’s never going to be a jazz or hard rock machine, but it can deliver a great approximation of blues or garage rock. In fact, Jack White even used an original Coronado from time to time when the White Stripes were still together.

As far as quality is concerned, the Coronado II is just as well built as any other instrument in its price range. Guitars made overseas are generally subject to less stringent levels of quality control, but by all accounts the Fender Coronado II generally comes fairly well set up from the factory. Unlike other manufacturers at this price tier Fender usually does perform pretty good fret work on their instruments, which is a plus for musicians who aren’t comfortable performing their own repairs or can’t justify the expense of taking a guitar to a luthier.

Though the Fender Coronado may not be quite as interesting as its inspiration, at the end of the day it is a quality instrument with a unique vintage appeal. It’s a great way for musicians to get a guitar with a unique old school feel without having to shell out a ton of cash to get something like an old Harmony or Kay up to a playable condition.

Available new on

AMAZON

Available used on

REVERB

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About the authors
Mason Hoberg

Mason is a freelance music gear writer that contributes to Equipboard, Reverb, TuneCore, Music Aficionado, and more. He plays the guitar and mandolin and resides in Wyoming. Read more


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