Too many Strats and Les Pauls in your collection? Perhaps it’s time to go for a semi or hollowbody instead. Contrary to what tradition may have you believe, these instruments aren’t only for jazz, old-school blues or stereotypically more sedate music – Josh Homme favours the midrange bite of semi-hollow guitars, while Jack White makes a lot of noise with the combination of a hollowbody guitar and healthy servings of fuzz and feedback.
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Semi-hollow vs fully hollow electric guitars: what’s the difference?
A semi-hollow has a solid or chambered block of wood running up the centre of the body, to which the pickups are mounted or against which the pickups are braced.
A hollowbody guitar doesn’t have this centre-block; pickups are instead secured to the top of the body. In a sense, hollowbody guitars are a little closer to acoustic guitars in construction, while semi-hollow guitars are closer to solidbody electric guitars.
The main purpose of the centre-block is to suppress feedback: when playing at high volume and/or gain levels with a hollowbody design, the body will vibrate sympathetically with your amplified sound and you’ll find it hard to control feedback.
A semi-hollow design’s centre-block mitigates these sympathetic vibrations so, in practice, a semi is better suited to the player who wants to play with heavy overdrive, distortion or fuzz without struggling to mute their instrument every time they take a hand off the fretboard.
The 12 best hollow and semi-hollow electric guitars to buy in 2021 at a glance
- Eastman Romeo LA
- Guild Starfire I Jet90
- D’Angelico Excel SS
- PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo
- Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-335
- Harmony Comet
- Gretsch G5622 Electromatic Center Block Double-Cut
- Novo Mirus J
- Jennings Voyager Deluxe
- Collings I-30 LC
- B&G Little Sister Crossroads
- Eastman T486
Eastman Romeo LA
+ Punchy P-90 tones
+ Les Trem unit is stylish and stable
– No neck pickup tone control
Aesthetics aren’t everything, but it would be doing the Romeo LA a disservice not to mention it. One of the most striking design elements, the vibrato system, actually came out of necessity: the carved top wasn’t flat enough for a traditional Bigsby, and so Eastman instead opted for a Göldo Les Trem. Its swooping arm goes well with the Radiator covers on the Seymour Duncan pickups, too, evoking the same retro-futuristic style as the asymmetrical cutaways.
- READ MORE: Review: Eastman DM2/v
As for the guitar’s sound, the radiators disguise the fact that these pickups are actually Seymour Duncan Phat Cats, which are humbucker-sized P-90s that bring a nice amount of clarity and punch to an already acoustically resonant hollowbody. The tone control also only works on the bridge pickup, meaning the warm neck pickup sound is a little more full-bodied.
Price: £1,499 Build: Fully hollow, spruce laminate top, mahogany laminate back and sides, set maple neck with 12” radius ebony fingerboard, pearl dot inlays, single-acting truss rod, 22x Jescar 47104 frets, bone nut Hardware: Göldo 3-Point Vario tune-o-matic bridge, Les Trem vibrato tailpiece and locking tuners Electronics: 2x Seymour Duncan Radiator Phat Cat P-90 pickups, 2x volume, 1x tone (bridge pickup only), 3-way toggle pickup selector switch Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm
Read the full review of the Eastman Romeo LA here.
Guild Starfire I Jet90
+ Tons of tones available
+ Very affordable
– Six-way switch may be confusing initially
Three P-90s may be viewed by some as overkill, but for others it’s just right. The dynamic range and clarity inherent in a P-90 is a perfect match for a guitar with some air inside, and despite the semi-hollow construction, there is a lot of air inside the Guild Starfire I Jet90.
While its design is distinctly old-school, the sharp cutaway does lend a sense of rockabilly flair to everything, and the Bigsby-style vibrato is a great inclusion for some retro rock ‘n’ roll sounds. The myriad pickup options let you pick your level of aggression easily, too, without having to venture to your amp’s gain knob.
For $599, you get bags of guitar for the money – figuratively, as there are six pickup positions accessed by a rotary switch, and literally, as it’s among the largest guitars on this list.
Price: $649/£599 Build: Semi-hollow, laminated maple body with chambered mahogany centre-block, set mahogany neck with bound 12.5” radius Indian rosewood fingerboard. 20 narrow-tall frets, dual-action truss-rod, composite nut Hardware: 3x Guild Franz P-90 Soapbar pickups, master volume, master tone, six-position rotary pickup selector switch Electronics: 3x Guild Franz P-90 Soapbar pickups, master volume, master tone, six-position rotary pickup selector switch Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm
Read our full review of the Guilt Starfire I Jet90 here.
D’Angelico Excel SS
+ Versatile switching
+ Classy aesthetics
– High-end look not for everyone
If you’re quick to judge, you might write this off as a guitar made purely for jazz. But if you look past its Art Deco aesthetics, you’ll notice that the two Seymour Duncan ’59s can be coil-split, for both full-on humbucker chunk and sparkling single-coil tones. The inverse is an option, too, with the neck humbucker excelling at warm yet articulate jazz voicings and the bridge pickup bringing the bite when split. The semi-hollow construction also makes this gain-friendly than you might think, and the shallow C neck carve will happily be sped across by the more aggressive player.
That’s not to say the guitar is a rejection of the old-school semi-hollow, however – far from it. D’Angelico’s signature design language is present here in spades, with gold hardware joining a flame maple top, back and sides to dial up the luxury even further.
Price: $1,999/£1,569 Build: Semi-hollow thinline, flame maple back, sides and top, ‘set-thru’ maple neck, 22 medium-jumbo frets, 16″ radius pau ferro fretboard with mother of pearl/abalone fretboard inlays, bone nut, ebony knobs, 5-ply body binding Hardware: Grover Super Rotomatic locking tuners, tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece Electronics: 2x Seymour Duncan 59 Humbuckers, 2x volume, 2x tone (pull for coil split), 3-way toggle pickup selector switch Scale Length: 24.75″/629mm
Read our full review of the D’Angelico Excel SS here.
PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo
+ Versatile piezo tones as well as electric tones
+ Signature PRS build quality for an affordable price
– Some might prefer a dedicated instrument for acoustic tones
PRS Guitars brings its Hollowbody II design to its relatively more affordable SE series – inevitably making a few sacrifices along the way. The core tones from the PRS 58/15 ‘S’ bridge and neck humbuckers are what you would expect, but the benefit of this specific model is the presence of a piezo pickup in the bridge, which offers fairly convincing acoustic tones.
Handily, you can either plug into the mix/piezo socket and use the individual volumes to either blend between electric and ‘acoustic’ sounds or plug into both jacks separately. The latter means your signal will run from the magnetic pickups into a standard electric guitar amp, while the piezo signal goes into a dedicated acoustic amp or into the PA.
Price: $1,549/£1,399 Build: Hollowbody, laminated maple top and back with flame veneers, laminated mahogany sides, Wide Fat mahogany set neck with 10”/254mm radius ebony fingerboard, 22 medium frets, bone nut Hardware: PRS Adjustable Stoptail Piezo, PRS-designed nickel tuners Electronics: PRS 58/15 ‘S’ bridge and neck humbuckers, 3-way toggle pickup selector, volume and tone. LR Baggs/PRS piezo system with dedicated volume control. Dual outputs (mix/piezo and magnetic) Scale Length: 25″/635mm
Read our full review of the PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo here.
Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-335
+ Looks and sounds the part
– Discerning players might want to hold out for a Gibson
The Inspired By Gibson range is Epiphone’s rather successful approach to striking a balance between authenticity and affordability: guitars in the range sit comfortably at around half a grand each, but they still sport hand-wired CTS control pots, quality pickups and an impressive fit and finish.
While it may not exhibit the finesse of higher-end ES-style guitars, nor as impressive an acoustic character, the Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-335 certainly looks and feels the part. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a guitar for a beginner or an affordable way of adding a semi-hollow to your collection.
Price: $599/£549 Build: Semi-hollow, bound maple-ply body with AAA flame veneers, maple centre-block, mahogany set neck, bound Indian laurel fretboard with small block inlays, 22 medium-jumbo frets, Graph Tech NuBone nut Hardware: Epiphone nickel-plated LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece, Epiphone Deluxe tuners Electronics: 2x Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers, 2x volume and tone controls, 3-way pickup selector switch Scale Length: 24.7”/628mm
Read our full review of the Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-335 here.
+ Ergonomic compact body
+ Great-sounding pickups
– Six-a-side headstock might be an aesthetic bugbear for some
The Comet is a revamped Harmony’s take on a double-cut semi-hollow. At first glance you might think it matches the large body style of something like a Gibson ES-335. But it really is a lot smaller than that, with the hardtail tune-o-matic-style bridge and tailpiece set quite far back in the body, and with a relatively minimalistic control set. A nice hidden trick is the ability to flip the custom gold foil humbuckers out of phase with a push-pull volume pot, getting a quacky Peter Green-style sound.
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The pickups themselves are dynamic and airy, too, perfectly matched with the semi-hollow construction. While their core sound has the sort of midrange bite that cries out for overdrive, the tone control will help you smooth off the top end for some more traditional jazz tones.
Price: $/£1,499 Build: Thinline semi-hollow, bound mahogany top and back, mahogany centre-block, set mahogany neck, 12” radius ebony fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo frets and bone nut Hardware: Locking tuners, tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece Electronics: 2x custom gold foil humbuckers, master volume and tone, three-way switch, push/pull phase switch in volume control, orange drop capacitor Scale Length: 25”/635mm
Read our full review of the Harmony Comet here.
Gretsch G5622 Electromatic Center Block Double-Cut
+ Retro Gretsch aesthetics
+ Punchy Broad’Tron humbucker sounds
– More modern take on the Gretsch tone may alienate purists
Gretsch guitars have bags of character, and the G5622 is no exception. Large metal knobs, Broad’Tron humbuckers and a V-shaped hardtail all add to its Gretsch-y charm.
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The guitar’s sound isn’t exactly what you’d hear from a vintage Gretsch. There’s little more output from its pickups than true vintage Filter’Trons, but not so much as to muddy any clean tones. The lack of an exact match isn’t so heinous when considering the reasonable price tag, but for more deliberately old-school tones, it’ll still do the job.
That said, the G5622’s semi-hollow construction and articulate humbuckers make it a prime candidate for more distorted playing, and the ergonomics of a ‘Thin U’ neck profile don’t hurt in that regard either.
Price: $699/£729 Build: Semi-hollow, laminated maple body with chambered spruce centre-block, set maple neck with laurel fingerboard, aged white plastic binding, Graph Tech NuBone nut, pearloid Neo-Classic thumbnail inlays, 12” fingerboard radius
Hardware: Anchored Adjusto-Matic Bridge, Gretsch V-Stoptail tailpiece, die-cast sealed tuners Electronics: 2x Black Top Broad’Tron humbuckers, 3-position toggle switch, master volume, master tone, individual volume knobs for each pickup Scale Length: 24.6”/625mm
+ High spec for the price
+ Versatile sounds thanks to the Seymour Duncan pickups
– More derivative than some of the competition
Although it’s a stretch to call this guitar affordable, it’s certainly reasonably priced given the features on display: Seymour Duncan ’59 in the bridge and Jazz in the neck join a Gotoh bridge and tailpiece, and, notably, a gloss nitrocellulose finish. While its aesthetic inspiration is clear, the T486 departs sonically from ES-335 models with a snappier sound that’s due in part to its maple neck and ebony fretboard, plus a more modern electronics set.
Good hardware can make a lot of difference to tone and tuning stability, and you can’t go wrong with a gloss nitro finish that’s yours to wear in as you please.
Price: $1,499/£1,239 Build: Maple laminate top, back and sides with mahogany/maple centre-block and ivoroid binding. 3-piece maple neck with additional ‘wings’, bound ebony headstock veneer and ebony fingerboard with 12” radius, pearl inlays, 22 Jescar 47104 frets, bone nut, single-action truss rod Hardware: Tune-o-matic bridge, Gotoh stop tailpiece, Ping vintage-style tuners Electronics: Seymour Duncan Jazz (neck) and ’59 (bridge) humbucking pickups, 2x volume, 2x tone, 3-way toggle pickup selector switch Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm
Read our full review of the Eastman T486 here.
Novo Miris J
+ Beautiful and unique offset design as per Novo tradition
+ Extensive custom options available
– Expensive, long wait time
Essentially a semi-hollow version of the solidbody Novo Serus, this vibey offset has the immediate familiarity of a vintage favourite. Two Lollar mini-humbuckers offer plenty of upper-harmonic interest without excessive microphony, and they combine beautifully with the Miris J’s acoustic air and resonance.
You can explore lush, sparkling clean voices by playing softly with fingers, dig a little harder for gritty blues or attack the strings down near the bridge with a pick for nasal lead tones evocative of the early Stones singles – and that’s just the neck pickup. In contrast, the bridge pickup is tight, punchy and wiry, perfect for power-pop rhythms and muscular country twang. Simply one of the best guitars on the planet right now.
Price: Starts at $3,699 Build: Semi-hollow, tempered pine body, bolt-on tempered maple neck with medium-C profile, 9.5-inch radius East Indian rosewood fingerboard with unbleached bone nut, clay dots and 22 Jescar 6125 frets Hardware: Depends on custom options Electronics: Depends on custom options Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm
Read our full review of the Novo Miris J here.
Jennings Voyager Deluxe
+ Unique, high-end pickups
+ Mastery vibrato and bridge are a huge bonus
– Boutique pricing
It’s Voyager by name, Voyager by nature – the vibrato-equipped Jennings offers a thrilling ride. Providing the thrust are two McNelly pickups: a P-90-inspired Stagger Swagger at the neck and a SparkleTron at the bridge. Clarity is the overriding theme in the neck position, but down at the bridge, the SparkleTron growls, chimes and inspires in equal measure. It’s impossible to resist cranking up the spring reverb and reaching for that Mastery Vibrato arm.
Price: $4,200/£2,999 Build: Semi-hollow, alder body, maple neck, 12” radius maple slab fingerboard with 21 frets Hardware: Mastery Bridge and Vibrato, Kluson Contemporary Diecast tuners, custom-made tortoiseshell Decoboom pickguard Electronics: McNelly Stagger Swagger (neck) and Sparkletron (bridge) pickups, volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector switch Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm
Read our full review of the Jennings Voyager Deluxe here.
Collings I-30 LC
+ Ultra-premium appointments and electronics
+ Stellar build quality
– Expensive even by boutique standards
Put simply, the Collings I-30 is to the Gibson ES-330 what the I-35 is to the ES-335. The I-30’s construction translates into an acoustic voice that’s loud, woody and pushes single notes forward like a cannon. It feels like a smooth soloist’s instrument that, owing to the pair of Lollar Dogear P-90s, delivers raunchy tones that are as thick as molasses – certainly more Grant Green than Paul Weller, more Texas than Abbey Road Studio Two.
Price: $5,825/£5,099 Build: Hollowbody, maple laminate body with non-grained ivoroid binding and parallel trestle braces, set Honduran mahogany neck, 12” radius rosewood fingerboard with non-grained ivoroid binding and mother-of-pearl 5mm dot inlays, 22 medium-jumbo 18% nickel-silver frets, ebony headstock veneer, bone nut Hardware: Kluson ABR-1 bridge (nickel-plated zinc w/ retaining wire), Collings trapeze tailpiece, nickel Gotoh tuners w/ ivoroid buttons Electronics: 2x Lollar Dogear p-90 pickups w/ custom phenolic covers, 3-way toggle pickup selector switch, 50s-style wiring with 2x volume, 2x tone controls (DiMarzio 500K) and Jupiter Vintage Yellow capacitors Scale Length: 24.8”/631.8mm
Read our full review of the Collings I-30 LC here.
B&G Little Sister Crossroads
+ Extremely resonant acoustic sounds
+ Gorgeous P-90 tones
– Aesthetics not for everyone
Despite its made-in-China tag, this B&G Guitars Crossroads model maintains the level of quality found in the Tel Aviv-based company’s in-house instruments. In simple terms, the brand sees the relationship between its Crossroads and Private Build lines the same way that Fender, respectively, regards its American Professional and Custom Shop models.
The Little Sister Crossroads feels like the easiest playing and best sustaining parlour imaginable. The unplugged tone is reminiscent of a really good ES-335, but with more jangly sparkle and bass definition at the expense of some low midrange woodiness. And the two potted P-90s take those acoustic qualities and run them into raunchy and powerful overdrive with ample harmonic bloom, impressive definition and plenty of tonal contrast between the three positions.
It’s also worth mentioning the existence of the B&G Goldfinger, a more premium model that has a larger body but a similar semi-solid design.
Price: £1,550 Build: Semi-solid chambered African mahogany body with bookmatched flame maple cap, one-piece African mahogany set neck with soft ‘V’ profile, 12” radius Indian rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays and 20 frets Hardware: Solid brass tailpiece, tune-o-matic bridge, Stewart MacDonald Golden Age Restoration tuners Electronics: Potted P-90-style single-coil pickups, master volume and tone, 3-way selector switch Scale Length: 24.75”/628mm
Read our full review of the B&G Little Sister Crossroads here.
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