First commercialized in the late 1950s, semi-hollow guitars have been played by some of the greatest musicians of all time, including BB King, Barney Kessel, John Lennon, Larry Carlton, Johnny Marr, John Scofield, Freddie King, George Harrison and Cream-era Eric Clapton. And the legacy has been continued by modern arena rockers such as Dave Grohl and Noel Gallagher. Not only do the best semi-hollow guitars offer a superb acoustic response, they can deliver great tones when plugged into a guitar amp, too.
As the name suggests, semi-hollow guitars sit somewhere between the hollow-body archtops favored by the likes of trailblazing electric jazz player Charlie Christian, and solid-body guitars. Able to deliver articulate and expressive tones across jazz, blues and rock, semi-hollows offer a warmer, resonant alternative to their solid-body counterparts. They usually feature a wooden center block that the pickups are mounted to, and this mass helps to reduce the risk of feedback that fully hollow-body guitars are so susceptible to – especially with gain and gig volumes.
Best semi-hollow guitars: Product guide
A guitar to fall in love with
Launch price: $2,744/£1,999 | Body: Solid spruce carved top with F-holes; laminate mahogany back and sides | Neck: Lightly figured maple; traditional even ‘C’ profile | Scale: 24.75” | Fingerboard: Ebony; 12” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2 x Lollar Imperial humbuckers | Controls: 2 x volume; 2 x tone; 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Gotoh GE104B bridge; Gotoh GE101A tailpiece (both Nickel); Gotoh 510 H.A.P. tuners (X-Nickel) | Left-handed?: No | Finish: Gold Burst
A few years back, Eastman’s head of design, Otto D’Ambrosio, posed the question: “What would the Telecaster of the archtop guitar world look and sound like? And how do we create a unique electric guitar that honors Eastman’s carved-body archtop roots?”
The manifestation of those musings came in 2019 with the launch of the Eastman Romeo: a gorgeous, 1950s-inspired thinline electric guitar that boasted a cutaway archtop body complete with a solid spruce top, F-holes and a striking Gold Burst finish.
And this semi-hollow stunner was as versatile as it was handsome, thanks to a pair of custom-wound Lollar Imperial humbuckers, along with a bridge, tailpiece and tuners that came courtesy of Gotoh.
Earlier this year, Eastman followed up the Romeo with a new-look model, the Romeo LA. According to the manufacturer, the guitar’s Celestine Blue finish “evokes Los Angeles’ classic skyline”. But for us, the 2019 original is the one that really takes the breath away.
Read the full Eastman Romeo review
More than a thinline
Launch price: $3,065/£2,249 | Body: Ash | Neck: Maple; deep ‘C’ profile | Scale: 25½” | Fingerboard: Rosewood; 9½” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Custom Shop vintage-style single-coil Tele (bridge); Custom Shop hand-wound Texas Special single-coil Tele (neck) | Controls: Master volume (S-1 switch); master tone; 3-way selector switch | Hardware: 6-saddle string-through-body bridge; Fender ClassicGear tuners | Left-handed?: No | Finish: Amarillo Gold
The Spoon and Divine Fits musician’s signature model is one of the finest thinline launches from Fender in recent years. Its blueprints were two late-’60s thinlines that Daniel favored, but it adds some distinct mods to the vintage influence.
The 6-saddle bridge allows for individual string intonation, while the Fender ClassicGear tuners offer an accurate 18:1 ratio. Two hand-wound Custom Shop pickups were selected by Daniel, with S-1 switching allowing both to be run in series in addition to the more traditional parallel. The result is a thinline with exceptional versatility.
Thanks to the deeper ‘C’ profile and the fingerboard’s 9½” radius, bending and chord work are a pleasure. And the pickups are also hugely satisfying – the bridge’s mid-range punch combining with the neck’s Texas Special openness to fantastic effect. The S-1 switching is a massive boon for rhythm work, too.
Read the full Fender Britt Daniel Tele Thinline review
Special by name…
Launch price: From $5,490/£3,999 | Body: Mahogany with flame-maple top | Neck: Mahogany; pattern shape | Scale: 25” | Fingerboard: Rosewood; 10” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2 x PRS 58/15 LT humbuckers; 1 x PRS Narrowfield single-coil | Controls: 1 x volume; 1 x tone; 5-way selector switch; toggles for coil-splitting the humbuckers | Hardware: PRS Phase III locking tuners; PRS Gen III patented tremolo | Left-handed?: No | Finish: 18 different color options
The first thing that catches your eye when picking up this guitar is its distinctive three-pickup configuration – a PRS Narrowfield single-coil being sandwiched by a pair of PRS 58/15 LT humbuckers. These come with independent taps to provide a total of 12 pickup combinations.
There’s a huge array of tones at your disposal, enabling you to perform anything from Texas blues to jazzy cleans with articulate distinction. Having the expressive and nuanced PRS Gen III patented tremolo on board only adds to the wonderful playability.
As for how it looks and feels, the guitar’s lightweight build and fuller, pattern-neck profile make it a pleasure to wield. The latter – an update of PRS’s wide fat design – is based on the guitars Paul Reed Smith built for Carlos Santana and Peter Frampton. If it’s good enough for them...
4. Guild Starfire V
A semi with classic styling
Launch price: $1,710/£1,299 | Body: Laminated mahogany | Neck: 3-piece (mahogany/maple/mahogany) | Scale: 24.75” | Fingerboard: Rosewood; 9½” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2 x Guild LB-1 humbuckers | Controls: Bridge volume; bridge tone; neck volume; neck tone; 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Guild tune-o-matic bridge with rosewood base (also available with a Bigsby); Guild vibrato; Grover Sta-Tite open-gear 14:1 tuners | Left-handed?: No | Finish: Cherry Red, White, Black
The Starfire V’s style is undoubtedly Guild, but its classic vibes could well be aimed at tempting players away from the ES-335s out there. How could anyone resist those generous cutaways and the wooden, tune-o-matic bridge? The guitar’s Gibson-style four-knob control layout is augmented by a Gretsch-style master volume control on the treble horn, giving the player an additional choice for on-the-fly tweaks.
The LB-1 pickups replicate Guild’s early-’60s Anti-Hum models, offering low-end articulation and a bright bridge pickup with impressive sustain – it’ll shine when playing indie, mod or Americana. The Guild vibrato tailpiece allows for chord expression as well as the usual pitch fun for lead lines.
The full-length maple center block means the Starfire V is in the upper end of the weight scale for a semi, but this is an impressive guitar for those with a penchant for vintage aesthetics.
5. Gibson ES-339
A diminutive dark horse
Launch price: $2,299/£1,999 | Body: 3-ply (maple/poplar/maple) | Neck: Mahogany; rounded ‘C’ profile | Scale: 24.75” | Fingerboard: Rosewood; 12” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: ’57 Classic (neck); ’57 Classic Plus (bridge) | Controls: Bridge volume; neck volume; bridge tone; neck tone; 3-way selector switch | Hardware: ABR-1 tune-o-matic bridge; aluminum stopbar; Grover Rotomatic tuners | Left-handed?: No | Finish: Cherry, Trans Ebony, Figured Blueberry Burst, Figured Sixties Cherry (the latter two cost extra)
Introduced in 2007, the Gibson ES-339 is a smaller version of the ES-335, intended for those who are more comfortable wielding a guitar with Les Paul-esque dimensions.
Smaller certainly doesn’t mean inferior, though, and the ES-339’s maple center block and quarter-sawn spruce bracing make it a genuine downsized take on its bigger, older brother.
If the ES-339 feels like an ES-335 / Les Paul mix, then the ’57 Classic / Classic Plus humbuckers suit the platform with thick bridge position tones, open-neck character and an added twang to the mid position that enables more scope for chord jangle than you’d find on an LP. It’s a very inviting halfway house.
6. PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo
A semi-hollow with acoustic ambitions
Launch price: $1,899/£1,349 | Body: Laminated mahogany sides with beveled maple top and back, both with a flame-maple veneer | Neck: Mahogany; glued-in; wide fat shape | Scale: 25” | Fingerboard: Rosewood; 10” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2 x PRS 58/15 ‘S’ humbuckers; LR Baggs/PRS piezo system | Controls: Magnetic volume; piezo volume; tone; 3-way selector switch | Hardware: PRS adjustable stoptail piezo | Left-handed?: No | Finish: Black Gold Burst, Peacock Blue
The PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo is different to the other models in our best semi-hollow guitars list, since it can be played both acoustically and plugged-in. This is thanks to the piezo-equipped stoptail bridge, which enables electro-acoustic sounds via the six saddles, as well as magnetic. PRS keeps this added technology low key; the biggest giveaway is the dual output jacks that give you the option of splitting the piezo sound to a PA or separate acoustic combo.
Superb playability is now a given with PRS, and it’s very much in evidence here. The gloss finish with exposed maple binding looks premium. The wide fat mahogany neck is also cleverly designed, segueing from a slight ‘V’ to a rounder profile the further you move up the neck.
The PAF character of the humbuckers is great for playing classic rock and blues guitar, while dialing the piezo into the mix with them offers a wide and rich quality to the sound. SE may stand for Student Edition, but this is certainly a pro-standard semi.
Read the full PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo review
7. G&L ASAT Classic Bluesboy Semi-Hollow
Leo’s other T-style
Launch price: $599/£449 | Body: Swamp ash | Neck: Hard rock maple; medium ‘C’ profile | Scale: 25.5” | Fingerboard: Maple; 9½” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: G&L AS4255C alnico neck humbucker; Leo Fender-designed G&L MFD single-coil bridge | Controls: Volume; tone; 3-way selector | Hardware: Traditional boxed-steel bridge with individual brass saddles | Left-handed?: Yes | Finish: Red Burst; Blonde (both with Brazilian cherry fingerboard); Natural Gloss; Clear Orange
Here’s a modded take on Leo Fender’s final single-cut bolt-on electric guitar design. The G&L ASAT Classic Bluesboy Semi-Hollow offers great value for money, with a swamp ash body and a versatile tonal palette that comes courtesy of a G&L alnico humbucker and Leo’s Fullerton-made high-output single-coil MFD (Magnetic Field Design) bridge pickup.
The emphasis of low end over high-end twang and snap works to the humbucker’s advantage, while the single-coil delivers significant poke in the mid-range.
Elsewhere, six individual brass saddles deliver precise intonation, while 18:1-ratio tuners offer impeccable stability.
8. Gibson ES-335 Figured
A premium version of an iconic semi-hollow guitar
Launch price: $4,199/£3,499 | Body: 3-piece AAA-figured maple/poplar/maple with figured maple top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75” | Fingerboard: Rosewood; 12” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2 x calibrated T-Type humbuckers | Controls: 2 x volume; 2 x tone; 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Aluminum ABR-1 tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece | Left-handed?: Yes | Finish: Sixties Cherry, Antique Natural, Iced Tea
The most famed semi-hollow of them all deserves special treatment, and it gets it here. The AAA-figured maple finish offers stunning depth, and this model’s maple center block and Adirondack spruce bracing make it acoustically louder, which transfers to a more open plugged-in experience.
The premium treatment extends to a lightweight aluminum ABR-1 bridge and stopbar tailpiece that are anchored with steel thumb-wheels and studs.
Instead of ’57s, it comes with medium-output-calibrated T-Type humbucking pickups, but they provide a perfect showcase for an ES-335 and reveal the expression on tap here: warm without a hint of muddiness, but touch-sensitive with bite when overdriven.
9. Gretsch G2655-P90 Streamliner Center Block Jr Double-Cut P90
Semi-hollow but packed with value
Launch price: $499/£499 | Body: Laminate mahogany with chambered spruce center block | Neck: Nato; thin ‘U’ profile | Scale: 24.75” | Fingerboard: Indian laurel; 12” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2 x FideliSonic | Controls: Volume; master tone; master volume; 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Nickel adjust-o-matic bridge with ‘V’ stoptail; sealed die-cast tuner (Bigsby version available for $599/£440) | Left-handed?: No | Finish: Brownstone, Claret Burst
In terms of accessible price points, Gretsch offers one of the most impressive electric guitar ranges out there – and this new addition to its value-packed Streamliner collection widens that further.
A convincing school of thought suggests that P-90s are the ultimate pickup, and Gretsch’s FideliSonic spin on the single-coil offers clarity and treble bite without overpowering the mid thump in the bridge. While the format feels great for rock, the neck pickup will handle a jazz set and will love some raucous fuzz even more.
Which is handy because the chambered spruce block that runs through the centre of the Gretsch G2655-P90 from bridge to neck should keep unwelcome feedback at bay in high-gain scenarios.
10. Epiphone Emily Wolfe Sheraton Stealth
The right kind of Wolfe notes
Launch price: $799/£699 | Body: Maple | Neck: Mahogany; ’60s slim taper ‘C’ profile | Scale: 24.72” | Fingerboard: Indian laurel; 12” radius | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2 x Epiphone Alnico Pro Humbuckers | Controls: 2 x volume; 1 x tone | Hardware: Lightly aged gold-plated Epiphone LockTone tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar; Grover Rotomatic tuners | Left-handed?: No | Finish: Black Aged Gloss
A firm Sheraton fan, Emily Wolfe had clear ideas of the kind of guitar she wanted her name on (her signature is embossed on the back of the headstock in a suitably stealth-like manner that’s visible only at certain angles), and it’s resulted in a superb semi-hollow.
While the Sheraton is long-established in the Epiphone line, Wolfe’s model features some diversions to the design. The diamond holes doff their cap to the Gibson Trini Lopez model that Dave Grohl loves, while the thinner Black Aged Gloss finish (a first for the brand) lands somewhere between satin and a gloss guitar that’s been played for years. It looks great, and the pairing with gold hardware adds a classy contrast.
At 9lbs, the model we tried is comparable to a Les Paul, but it’s a comfortable, balanced experience on the strap, and the ’60s thin taper neck with low action on our test model felt a breeze for lead runs and bends. Much like Wolfe’s songs, the Epiphone Alnico Pro humbuckers confidently bridge the worlds of blues and fuzzier modern rock, with the neck showcasing the singing sustain on offer. A great guitar for those who want something with a different aesthetic that feels premium for its price.
Best semi-hollow guitars: Buying advice
Though they all share a similar aesthetic – boasting at least one F-hole – semi-hollow guitars vary greatly in terms of pickups, bridge and shape. Fender uses the word ‘Thinline’ as a name for its own semi-hollow models, but the term predates that in the guitar world. It refers to the slimmer body that semi-hollow guitar design introduced, making these electric guitars easier to gig with than the semi-acoustics that jazz musicians had been using. Semi-hollow electric guitar bodies remain generally thinner than their hollow-body counterparts to this day.
Humbuckers, P-90s and traditional single-coil pickups can all be found on semi-hollow guitars, and as a result it’s virtually impossible to define a semi-hollow sound. But it’s fair to say that the hollowed area of the body instils more tonal warmth over the brightness that some solid-body electrics can offer.
While it’s understandable to assume that a hollow body area would equate to a lighter weight, many semi-hollows are larger in body width than their solid counterparts, and can still weigh around 8 or 9lbs. However, in the case of Telecasters, thinline models can weigh up to 1.5lbs less than their solid siblings. PRS Hollowbody models offer a similar weight reduction compared to the solid models with the same double-cut body shape.
Rob is the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before that he worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar, and is a regular contributor to Guitar Player and Guitar World.
Get the latest news, reviews and product advice straight to your inbox.
Thank you for signing up to The Pick. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.