Every guitar player, at some point in their life, has put serious thought into owning a hollow or semi-hollow electric guitar. It’s a perfectly understandable inclination; visually, there’s a lot going on, thanks to their oversized bodies, ample curves and eye-catching f-holes.
Then, of course, there are the tonal differences to solidbody electrics, which are often considered thicker and more direct, though less open, airy and dynamic. And while semi-acoustics – a term that, confusingly, includes semi-hollow and hollowbody guitars – have often been regarded as jazz or blues instruments, these guitars have been wielded by players in just about every genre.
Mastodon’s Brent Hinds has been spotted playing a Gibson B.B. King Lucille, while Nirvana/Foo Fighters legend Dave Grohl and much-missed Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell went so far as releasing their own Gibson ES-335 signatures.
As we know, guitars built this way are more prone to feedback – which, depending on the player, can be a blessing or a curse – though newer models aimed at metal players, such as the Squier Contemporary Active Starcaster, feature ceramic pickups on a sealed body to avoid unwanted noises. So there really is no reason such an instrument can’t be harnessed and applied to almost any musical situation.
As a result, these kinds of guitars are now ubiquitous, with numerous options to suit every kind of player. Here’s our roundup of our favorites, including five models (with four priced at $500 or less) for players on a budget.
1. PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo
Last year’s announcement of PRS adding a Hollowbody II Piezo to their affordable SE line was met with wild-eyed wonder – with good reason. It’s the kind of instrument many had been calling for but few expected, given its status as one of the more lusted-over instruments found in the company’s Core and Private Stock catalogs.
More importantly, though – could they really deliver that same boutique craft and tone for players on a budget? As it turns out, yes — very much so. The PAF-style 58/15S humbuckers can get very close to the pickups found on the Core original, while the LR Baggs/PRS Piezo system packs some truly breathtaking acoustic tones.
The SE Hollowbody II Piezo might not be made in the company’s Maryland factory – instead being produced in the same Chinese location responsible for their SE acoustic range – but there can be no doubt it’s an instrument worthy of the heritage behind it.
CONTACT: PRS Guitars
2. Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-339
The Gibson ES-335 is undoubtedly the most quintessential semi-hollow of them all, though its slightly smaller and lighter cousin (the ES-339) is certainly worthy of consideration.
This new addition to Epiphone’s Inspired By Gibson range offers a lot of those famous tones and looks for a fraction of the cost, equipped with Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers, a Graph Tech NuBone nut, Grover Rotomatic tuners and a Locktone bridge and tailpiece for added sustain.
Available in some classic gloss finishes like Cherry, Pelham Blue, Vintage Sunburst and Natural, these guitars are a great option for players looking for warm and open 335 sounds without compromising on comfort and playability. To be honest, at this price, it’s difficult to see where you can go wrong.
3. Squier Classic Vibe '70s Telecaster Thinline
Of course, not all semi-hollows need to appear oversized or larger-than-life in design. Fender’s Thinline Telecasters, for example, have exactly the same cut as the solidbody models – with a single f-hole on the upper wing – and they’re a happy medium between solidbody and semi-hollow tones.
Naturally, the Classic Vibe '70s model was a welcome addition to the Squier lineup in 2019, with two Wide Range humbucking pickups as per the Seventies instruments instead of the single-coils found on the late-Sixties originals.
And while the original '70s six-strings were typically built out of natural swamp ash, the Squier models come with a soft maple body and maple neck, and also feature a four-ply Aged White Pearloid pickguard – paying tribute to the guitars famously used by Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield and Keith Richards at an entry-level price point.
4. Gibson Modern Collection ES-335 Satin
If budget isn’t an issue, the Nashville-made satin 335 models in Gibson’s 2021 Modern Collection series are certainly an enticing proposition, bringing the vintage aesthetics of the past into the present, thanks to the all-new Gibson Calibrate T-Type humbuckers, controlled by two volume and two tone controls, and a three-way selector as per the 335s of yesteryear.
As well as being found in the hands of blues and jazz greats like Chuck Berry, Larry Carlton and Grant Green, this kind of semi-hollow also has been at the heart and center of many a great rock recording.
“Every album we have ever made, from the first to the latest, was recorded with my red 1967 Trini Lopez ES-335 signature,” once revealed Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl. “It is the sound of our band – and my most prized possession from the day I bought it in 1992.”
5. Squier Classic Vibe Starcaster
The Starcaster was (and still is) one of the unsung heroes in the Fender family tree – its production having been halted only six years after its launch in the mid Seventies. A few decades later, however, it made a surprising comeback, thanks to the indie-rock jangle of bands like Radiohead, the Killers and Arctic Monkeys, which ultimately led to its latest re-launch in their Squier range not long ago.
To say we were impressed would be an understatement – the Classic Vibe makes no compromises on tone, playability or looks and still manages to undercut pretty much every other semi-hollow out there.
If you’re looking for powerful acoustic resonance, glorious sustain and well-balanced tones to cover everything from jazz to rock – courtesy of the Fender-designed Wide Ranging pickups – this could very well be the guitar for you.
6. Gretsch G6136T White Falcon Players Edition Bigsby
Though it has obvious ties to rockabilly and country, plenty of hard-rock guitar players have also wielded a White Falcon, including the Cult’s Billy Duffy and Guns N’ Roses’ Richard Fortus. And while this hollowbody might feel a bit bulky for some, and not best suited to those on a budget, it’s the kind of guitar that’s always guaranteed to make a statement – visually and sonically.
With a laminate maple body, maple neck and ebony fingerboard complimented by two High Sensitive Filter’Tron dual-coils, it’s an enduring classic that remains popular.
“To play a White Falcon, you really have to mean it, be aggressive and control it,” Billy Duffy told this writer in 2019. “These guitars get wild and crazy at full-pelt in bigger rooms… there’s really nothing like them.”
7. Ibanez GB10EM
Until last year, George Benson’s signature hollowbody instruments were typically found in the mid and upper tiers of the Japanese company’s catalog. The introduction of the GB10EM, however, changed that – following the jazz legend’s request for them to produce an instrument that was accessible to all his fans, offering a whole lot of guitar for very little money indeed.
Available in Antique Amber or Jet Blue Burst, fitted with passive Alnico Magic Touch-Mini pickups and built out of a Spruce top with Linden back and sides, it’s the perfect guitar for your best Breezin’ licks – if you’re able to keep up with maestro himself, that is!
8. PRS Special Semi-Hollow
As we’ve learned over the years, PRS isn’t the kind of company to do anything half-assed, so it’s little surprise that this year’s Special Semi-Hollow is the kind of guitar that would sit among the very top in just about anyone’s collection.
The new addition to the Core line features a 58/15 LT humbucker in the bridge, a 58/15 in the neck and a PRS Narrowfield mini-humbucker in the middle, designed to deliver single-coil tones without any of the hum issues.
And while it may not be able to compete with the other guitars in this list in terms of value for money, it truly excels in tone and appearance – in a way that’s guaranteed to turn heads wherever you go… if you’re brave enough to leave the house with it, that is.
CONTACT: PRS Guitars
9. Gretsch G6128T-89VS Vintage Select ’89 Duo Jet with Bigsby
It may look like a pure solidbody, but the Duo Jet's chambered construction still lends it the airy resonance of a semi-hollow.
Eagle-eyed Soundgarden fans were quick to spot an ’89 Duo Jet in this year’s Vintage Select series update – which was one of of the main guitars used by Chris Cornell on the band’s 1994 landmark Superunknown and, according to producer Michael Beinhorn, the only guitar used by the sadly departed singer/guitarist on their biggest hit, Black Hole Sun.
The reissue models come in Gold Sparkle, Silver Sparkle or Black, with period-correct specs that include a chambered mahogany construction, a maple set neck, Gotoh tuners, G-arrow knobs, a Bigsby vibrato as well as an Adjusto-Matic bridge.
Fitted with TV Jones pickups – namely the Classic Plus in the bridge and Classic in the neck – the tones are able to replicate the Filter’Tron sound of that era with minimal fuss.
10. Cort Yorktown $489
If there’s anything Cort is synonymous with, it’s value for money – which is why the company’s Yorktown hollowbodies successfully capture the spirit and vintage class of old Gibsons for those on a budget.
Built using what they call “old-world construction methods,” the guitars feature a spruce top that’s complemented by the maple back and sides, as well as a Canadian hard rock maple neck and ovangkol fingerboard.
There’s also a floating tune-o-matic bridge for optimum intonation and VTH-59 pickups that are overwound for a slightly hotter output than your typical PAF. Finished in a rather fetching Tobacco Burst that fades from black into amber – we’re sure you’ll be inclined to agree – it’s an instrument that oozes class.