Semi-hollow body guitars get their name from the process of removing a section of the wood from the inside of the body. This provides a unique, warm sound which is rich in sustain and has certain airiness to it.
Many guitarists use a semi-hollow body because it creates tones which a traditional guitar can’t replicate. When this unique design is coupled with different pickups, wood types and shapes, the result is a diverse array of tonality.
Table of Contents
- Best Under $3000
- Best Under $2000
- Best Under $1000
- Best Under $500
- Best Under $300
- The Function of the F-Hole on A Semi-Hollow Body Guitar
- Semi-Hollow Body Guitars – What to Look For
Best Under $3000
The Gibson ES-335 is a true piece of art. First produced in 1958, the ES-335 has retained its place as a premium semi-hollow body guitar ever since. In homage to the original model, this satin version has a pearloid dot inlay rosewood fingerboard. The mahogany neck is hand-rolled in a rounded “C” design.
The modern addition to this classic guitar is the new MHS II humbucking pickups which have been combined with a hand-wired control assembly.
The result is a versatile tone that ranges from warm and melancholy to punchy. The built in tuners, lightweight aluminum ABR-1 bridge and stop bar tailpiece ensure that the intonation of the guitar is precise and it stays in tune effectively.
The Alinco V magnets are extremely versatile and lend themselves to many genres of guitar playing. It’s difficult to find a guitar which has as many capabilities as the ES-335. You can create jangly country tones, or aggressive heavy rock tones. The MTC Plus tone circuit and Orange Drop capacitors give you the ability to shape the tone in any way you may wish.
The JSM100 was introduced by Ibanez at the turn of the millennium. Made in Japan, it is a signature model for the jazz guitarist John Scofield. The original production of the guitar was based in detail on Scofield’s trusted 1981 AS200.
The JSM100 features a double-cutaway, semi-hollow body design. The headstock is shaped like a castle, and the block inlays are made from pearl and abalone. The gold hardware adds more class to the guitars sleek appearance. A durable deluxe hardshell case is included to provide protection when transporting.
The aesthetics of this guitar are undoubtedly attractive, but what really stands out is its tone and power. Most semi-hollow bodied guitars struggle to suppress unwanted noise when the volume is cranked, but Ibanez have found a way to combat this issue by installing a thick soundblock and rigid top to provide feedback-resistance.
The overall tone is sharp in the high ends, with warm mid-lows thanks to the use of two Super 58 humbuckers.
Best Under $2000
The Starfire VI is an elegant looking semi-hollow body guitar which features the iconic Guild double-cutaway body shape. The top, back and sides are made from AAA flamed maple which is reinforced with a solid centre block.
The fingerboard is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and abalone V-blocks which make transitioning up and down the frets a joy to behold. The neck is made from a combination of walnut and maple, and gold hardware adds the finishing touch.
Guild has utilized dual LB-1 Little Bucker pickups for the Starfire VI, which produces a wide range of tones. Naturally, the sound is light and jangly, but it retains clarity and articulation when cranked up.
The three-way pickup selector allows you to sharpen or warm up the tone with the flick of a switch. A Grover Sta-Tite tuner is built into the guitar and it comes equipped with a hardshell case.
The second semi-hollow body guitar under $2000 is the Excel SS by D’Angelico. After losing popularity for a few years, this model was upgraded in 2019 and has since re-emerged as one of the most playable semi-hollow body guitars on the market.
One thing which separates the Excel SS from a lot of other semi-hollow body guitars is its mobility and lightweight construction. It doesn’t feel or look bulky at all, which is a rarity for these types of guitars. Its slim C-shape neck profile provides lots of playing comfort, and the maple top back and sides add some stability.
There are two volume and two tones knobs installed on the front of the guitar. A pair of perfectly balanced Seymour Duncan 59 Humbuckers produces a classic vintage tone which combines clarity and warmth. There is also a full centre block installed in order to fight feedback issues.
Best Under $1000
The SE Zach Myers is an affordable guitar which plays like one with a much heftier price tag. Tonally, it has a natural resonance which is perfectly suited to rhythm playing and run-out chords. It has a pair of 245 “S” pickups which also promote this warm, smooth output.
Overall, this is a fairly bulky guitar. It has a chambered mahogany body with a maple cap and single F-hole. The 22-fret, wide neck is satin finished making it smooth and comfortable to hold. The SE Zach Myers has the general feel of a worn-in, vintage guitar but with a unique and fresh perspective.
A versatile, top quality guitar, the PRS SE Zach Myers model can rival guitars which are much more expensive. For this reason, it’s a great option for guitarists of all abilities and skill levels.
The Sheraton-II PRO is a continuation of Epiphone’s most popular semi-hollow body guitar. The Sheraton is played by some exceptional guitarists and songwriters including Noel Gallagher, The Edge, John Lee Hooker and Emily Wolfe.
The body is made from layered maple, which makes it look bulky but isn’t too heavy. The custom block and triangle mother-of-pearl inlays make the guitar easy to play.
Perhaps the main selling point of the Sheraton-II PRO is the distinctive tone it produces. The use of ProBucker humbucker pickups are made with 18% nickel silver unit bases which is identical to the original humbuckers that Gibson invented. Nickel silver works to combat the currents produced due to low conductivity, making the overall output clearer.
It’s easy to see why so many great guitarists choose the Epiphone Sheraton. The II PRO model continues their legacy of great sounding guitars.
The Ibanez Artstar AS153 was first introduced back in 2013. It features a semi-hollow, double cutaway body design which is reinforced by a flamed maple top with cream binding and f holes.
The 20 fret fingerboard has acrylic/pearl and abalone splitter markers. The overall look of the AS153 is reminiscent of an old country guitar with a modern twist.
The pickups used by Ibanez on this model are a pair of their own Super 58 humbuckers, equipped with gold covers, volume and tone controls and a tri-switch for the neck pickups.
The sound of the guitar is slightly more edgy than you would expect from a semi-hollow body, with a decent amount of bite in the mid-tones.
Best Under $500
The ES-399 PRO is another addition to this list from Epiphone, but this time it is a more affordable model. Stylistically, this guitar is based on the classic ES-style arch top design. It has the look of a classic rock n’ roll guitar from the late 50’s, but its tonal versatility means it lends itself to many other styles too.
The body of the ES-339 PRO is made from laminated maple and has been reduced in size to make the guitar more mobile and comfortable to play. The solid centre block brings the most out of the guitars tone. It also produces ample sustain for ringing out long notes and chords.
Two Alnico Classic Pro humbucking pickups are installed to create a unique tonal mixture. The push-pull coil tapping allows you to switch between bright and sparkly single-coil sounds and thicker humbucking tones by adjusting the volume knobs. This versatility makes the ES-339 great value for the price.
When it comes to affordable guitars, Squier are one of the most popular choices. Their affiliation with Fender gives guitarists an opportunity to play a Telecaster style guitar without breaking the bank. The Classic Vibe 70’s Telecaster pays homage to the original Fender Tele, mainly through the Fender-designed Wide Range humbucker pickups.
The tone of this guitar is sharp and punchy. It has a three-position blade so you can flick between the pickup settings. The neck and fingerboard are both made from smooth maple which makes playing effortless. The fingerboard has 21 frets which are narrow and tall in design, as this aids lead runs and makes chords easier to play.
The Telecaster Thinline also has a vintage styled bridge which is highly responsive and playable. Its durable design means that you shouldn’t have any issues regarding intonation with this guitar.
One thing that might be worth considering is adding a feeback suppression pedal to your pedal board. This model doesn’t have built in noise suppression, but with the use of a pedal you could enjoy the great tones without having to worry about unwanted noise.
Best Under $300
Another Squier addition to this list, the Starcaster caused a revolution among semi-hollow guitars back in the 70’s when it was first introduced.
Due to the dual Squier humbucking pickups, the Affinity Starcaster produces a wide range of tones. Combined with the unique, adventurous styling, you can see why this model became so popular.
The “C” shaped neck profile makes it easy to transition from low to higher registers of the fretboard, and the unique contoured headstock further improves the playability of the Starcaster. Tuning stability has been enhanced by the adjustable bridge coupled with a stop tailpiece.
The sustain levels and sharp attack of this guitar make it a great choice for lead guitar playing, but it is equally adept at lighter, melodic rhythm styles. The master volume and tone controls along with the 3-way switch allow you to explore the full tonal capabilities of this guitar instantaneously.
Finally, we have another Ibanez model to complete our list of the best semi-hollow body guitars. The AS53 is part of the Artcore series. It was originally produced in China, but since 2016 has been made in Indonesia.
The design of the AS53 is that of double-cutaway guitar, with an arched laminated sapele top. Two symmetrical F-holes are on the front, which is bound the back by ivory binding. The 22-fret rosewood fingerboard is really easy to play, so much so that you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a much more expensive guitar.
The AS53 ACH-ST humbucker pickups were designed by Ibanez, and produce a balanced, warm tone. For jazzy chord playing, or melodic blues, this guitar is a great option. The small, compact design makes the AS53 much easier to play than some bulkier semi-hollow bodied guitars. The mahogany neck and walnut fingerboard provide stability to the tuning.
The AS53 is a great introductory guitar which sounds and feels like it is underpriced. If you are looking for a good quality semi-hollow body guitar at an affordable price, it is a definitely worth your consideration.
The Function of the F-Hole on A Semi-Hollow Body Guitar
You might see the term “F-Hole” popping up regularly when looking at the various semi-hollow body guitars options. This feature is easy to spot on the front of the guitar’s body, but what does it actually do? Let’s look at some of the functions an F-Hole provides on a semi-hollow body guitar.
F-Holes originated on old classical string instruments such as violins and mandolins. They appear symmetrically on either side of the strings, in order to reinforce the structure so that the instrument doesn’t break due to the tension changes of the strings.
The F-Hole works in a similar way to the sound hole you would find on a traditional acoustic guitar. The difference is that an F-Hole isn’t the only point of exit for the sound of a semi-hollow body guitar.
They do project the guitar’s natural tone, but also creates differing tones from the instrument for an overall richer resonance.
One common issue which arose from the use of F-holes was that they would cause a number of feedback issues, due in part to the fact that older guitars were not equipped to deal with amplification.
Thankfully, modern manufacturers have figured out ways to suppress feedback and so the F-hole is still an important part of semi-hollow body guitars, producing improved sustain and richer tones.
Semi-Hollow Body Guitars – What to Look For
Semi-hollow body guitars are starkly different to solidbody models in numerous ways. The design of these instruments focuses on promoting resonance, and a specific kind of tone. Here are some key aspects to be aware of when looking for a semi-hollow body axe.
Compared to solidbody guitars, semi-hollow body models have a large portion of the body removed. This adds sustain and warmth to the tone, but it also impacts the effectiveness of the tonewoods which are used to construct the instrument.
The gold-standard body material for semi-hollow body guitars is maple. This tonewood extracts every ounce of resonance and sustain from the guitar’s unique body design, and maintains a full sound throughout the frequency range.
Affordable semi-hollow body guitars are likely to feature basswood or alder as their body material. Although these woods don’t quite live up to the sweet tone produced by maple, they still inject warmth and character into the guitar’s output.
By far the most common pickup formation used in semi-hollow body guitars is a pair of humbuckers. Alnico’s are popularly used, as they produce a thick and powerful tone without any electronic hum or buzzing sounds.
It’s quite rare to find a semi-hollow body model with single-coil pickups installed, although some guitarists have experimented by customizing them in this way. This does produce an interesting tone, which sounds thinner than the conventional dual-humbucker assembly.
Weight & Dimensions
When you compare a semi-hollow body electric guitar with a solidbody guitar, first impressions would indicate the former would be significantly heavier and bulkier than the latter.
However, because a large portion of the body has been removed, the semi-hollow body design is deceptively lightweight. The bodies and neck are larger than most solidbody guitars, but this doesn’t translate into their weight, surprisingly.
Tremolo arms, or ‘whammy bars’ as they are sometimes called, are a staple feature on most semi-hollow body guitars. These devices allow you to bend notes by applying pressure to a metal arm, which increases and reduces the string tension.
Plug In & Play
I hope this extensive list of the semi-hollow body guitars has presented you with the right option for your needs. Although price can indicate quality, it’s really about identifying what sound and features you need to get your desired results.
Semi-hollow body guitars are great because you can practice on them unplugged and still enjoy their resonance.
It’s always a good idea to try and get your hands on as many guitars as possible to figure out what feels right to you, and what features enhance your playing style.
All of the guitars on this list feel and sound great, so I’m sure you will find the right one for you.