The semi-acoustic guitar, sometimes called a semi-acoustic electric or hollow-body electric, is a six string electric guitar with a hollow or semi-hollow body. It was first invented in the 1930s.
In most cases, the body of the guitar is completely hollow, which gives the guitar a very warm sound when compared to a solid body electric guitar.
The unique tone of a semi-acoustic guitar is desired by many Blues, Jazz and even rock artists.
One of Lennon’s favorite guitars was the Epiphone Casino. Unlike some semi-hollow body guitars that have a center-block to promote sustain and reduce feedback, this guitar is a true hollow-body that sounds loud even without an amplifier.
B.B King, on the other hand, preferred the semi-hollow body of the Gibson ES-335 for its bluesy sound and high sustain. Interestingly, B.B King named all his guitars “Lucille”.
The guitars that these musicians and many others played back then were the first of their kind.
Now we have a huge selection of semi-acoustic electric guitars to choose from in every price range from many different manufacturers.
You may be wondering the specific differences in tone between a semi-acoustic guitar and a solid body electric.
The truth is there are many – it is a different beast to tame and has a different growl.
There are some particulars that someone who is interested in getting a hollow body should know.
Feedback on a Semi-acoustic guitar is much stronger than on a solid body. It takes some getting used to, but with practice you can learn to control this feedback and wield its power in your rocking tunes.
Sometimes it is necessary to kill some of the feedback because it gets too much. One way to do this is to mute all the strings you’re not playing with either your right palm or left index finger.
If you can’t do this or it is not working for you in your music, then another workable yet ugly solution is it close up the holes or stuff the guitar with cottonwood.
A Semi-acoustic guitar is not like a solid body electric. You can’t just switch it to the bridge pick-up at full volume and expect it to sound its best.
You need to experiment with the 5-way pickup toggle to find your sound.
A good place to start is to switch the pickup selector to the middle and turn the bridge pickup volume down to about 7 while leaving the neck pickup on 10.
This will give you a sound reminiscent of good ol’ Clapton and Cream.
Recording and Live
If you are tracking a project and are trying to get some warmth and thickness out of your solid-body guitar part, then try to record over it with your hollow-body.
You should notice a really big difference in the density of your tone. The same concept can be applied to live shows.
One guitarist can use a solid body while the other uses a hollow body. The guitars will complement each other much more and not compete for space in the mix.
Arch-tops were designed to use much heavier strings then we commonly use on our solid bodies today.
The extra thickness really drives the sound and gives the guitar even more tone.
Since resonance is so important with hollow body guitars, you should use strings that are heavy enough to really vibrate the guitar.
This is an important part in getting the tone that you crave, so prepare your fingers for the times ahead.
Get a case
This seems obvious but if your guitar does not come with a hard case then you should purchase one as a priority.
Unlike a solid body, a hollow body guitar will not take a dent very well. There is a chance that a good knock will completely destroy the body so rather be safe than sorry.
So how do you choose the best semi-acoustic electric guitar?
Price is always a concern when choosing a guitar. Most players are on a budget, yet some will accept nothing less than the best.
Gibson ES-335 and ES-339
Starting at the top, the best Semi-acoustic electric guitars are still the ones created by Gibson. Over 50 years later, Gibson is still releasing new models of the ES-335.
They also have newer models such as the ES-339 with a smaller body more akin to the size of a Les Paul.
Gibson created the first semi-acoustic guitar so you can bet that they know how to make an amazing sounding arch-top.
You will not go wrong if you pick this guitar.
Epiphone ES-335 “Dot”
Epiphone has their own version of the ES-335, which they have dubbed “The Dot”.
This guitar is a much more affordable arch-top than the Gibson model and it still has a great sound.
It is a standard semi-acoustic in many respects and doesn’t have any notable features to speak of, but it has proven itself to be a worthy guitar.
If you are looking for the tone of a hollow-body, then this guitar will give it to you in an impressive manner and at a good price point.
The Corsair is different from most other ES-335 arch-top models in that it has a full length solid mahogany center-block.
The guitar has a very woody warmth to the tone because of this and it really stands out.
Although this guitar is slightly pricey, it balances this with a really quality build and good sound.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this guitar and it would be a good choice for any musician as their primary hollow-body.
The Gretsch company has been making musical instruments since 1883. They began producing guitars in the 1930s.
In the 1950s, they began making hollow-body semi-acoustic guitars and since then Gretsch guitars have gained popularity and been highly sought after.
There are many different Gretsch semi-acoustic electric hollow body guitars available to suit all guitarists needs.
If you do decide on a Gretsch, then the Gretsch G5120 and Gretsch 6120 are great options.
Peavey is recognized as a high quality music equipment manufacturer. I always stick to Peavey accessories because I find they last five times longer than other brands.
Peavey has had a slightly spotted history with their instruments but it seems they are trying to change that with the JF-1.
This guitar truly is priced great for what you are getting. Many swear that they will choose this guitar over an Epiphone Dot every time.
This is due to some seriously good construction on the guitar. You can tell that even though the guitar is cheap, it is not made from rubbish parts.
Sound is of course great as well. This guitar is a really good choice for a musician’s first semi-acoustic electric arch-top.
If you are just getting into guitar or you have just never played a semi-acoustic before then you are in for a treat if you decide to make one of these guitars a permanent feature in your music.
The Jazzy and bluesy influences really come out and you may find yourself playing along to B.B King and Eric Clapton a little bit more often than you would have otherwise.
This is a sign that you are really enjoying your arch-top and you shouldn’t stop. Peace and happy jamming 🙂