Semi-hollow body guitars are among the most versatile 6-string instruments available today. Whether you want to play hard rock, country, jazz, or blues, you can tweak your tone to match your needs.
We’ve tested tons to bring you this review of the top semi hollow body guitars on the market.
My favorite of them all was the Gretsch G2622 Streamliner, its tone and solid construction speaking to Gretsch’s mastery of the hollow and semi hollow body guitar trade.
Choosing last place is always tough when every guitar in the list is a winner, but I’ll have to hand that to the Epiphone ES-339, as Epiphone’s hastily soldered electronics are worrisomely inconsistent when I think about hitting the stage with one.
Turn on some rockabilly and hear what these axes can do as you read our review of the top 4 best semi-hollow body guitars for the money.
Top 4 Best Semi-Hollow Body Guitars for the Money – Overview
|Epiphone ES-339 Pro
|Fender Modern Player Starcaster
|Gretsch G2622T Streamliner
|Ibanez Artcore AS73
Epiphone ES-339 Pro
- Top: Layered Maple
- Body: Layered Maple
- Back: Layered Maple
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Indian Laurel
- Vintage sound with coil-tapping feature for a wide range of tonal variance
- Comfortable-to-play Les Paul body design
- Reduced-size center block for a lightweight build
- Pau ferro fretboard not as smooth to play as rosewood
Epiphone was a brand I mocked in my earliest days of guitar playing, but over the years I’ve really come to appreciate their ability for bringing vintage guitar designs into the modern era. The ES-339 Pro mimics some of the very first Gibson semi-hollow bodies ever created, both in construction and in tone.
This guitar’s Gibson-signature SlimTaper ‘D’ neck profile gives you the grip you need to chunk through some power chords while being thin enough to let you shred like Steve Vai. Its body features a reduced-size center block that makes it a good deal lighter than the average semi-hollow guitar, alleviating neck and shoulder pain and player fatigue that can plague you after long hours of practice.
The ES-339 Pro’s pickups are modeled after Gibson humbuckers pioneered in the late 1950s, with similar coil wrappings and genuine vintage magnet configurations that give your playing an authentically classic sound.
It’s a midrange guitar, but can hold its own for small-time shows, and definitely carries enough tone and punch to make your practice sessions get your blood pumping.
Ibanez Artcore AS73
- Body: Maple
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Maple Wood
- A really beautiful guitar available in three finish options
- Modeled after the Gibson ES335
- Great tone for jazz and blues
- Pickups become muddy at high volumes
Man, I love the way this guitar looks in the Tobacco Brown finish. I’ve hardly seen a more beautiful instrument.
Looks aside, the Ibanez Artcore AS73 is a great affordable-range instrument in both tone and playability. Its build is pretty nonstandard, with a nyatoh neck and linden body, woods I’ve only seen in a couple other models, but it manages to sound pretty good despite this.
It has a C-shape neck profile, a bit on the flat end as far as neck shapes go, but still fits my hands comfortably and won’t hold you back from ripping out some complex riffage.
While I’ll rave about the versatility of semi-hollow body guitars, the Artcore AS773 has its limits. This all boils down to the pickups, which are budget models specifically designed by Ibanez for their Artcore series guitars. They sound really good with low gain and moderate volume, delivering a tone that is resonant and warm, full-bodied and deeply harmonic. This is great for softer musical styles like jazz and blues, but becomes a problem when you want to crank up the volume to play distorted genres. For hard rock and especially palm-mutey metal, this guitar is going to lose a lot of its clarity and come up short.
Nonetheless, the Ibanez AS73 is a fine semi hollow body for any beginner or intermediate players looking to branch out to this style of guitar.
Fender Modern Player Starcaster
- Top: Maple Wood
- Body: Maple
- Back: Laminated Maple
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Maple Wood
- Bright, crisp tone
- Re-introduction of a popular 1970s model
- Tune-O-Matic Bridge with stop tailpiece for added tuning stability
- Unusual body design uncomfortable for some player
- No master volume control
In most cases, its hard to go wrong with a good Fender. They’ve made a name for themselves and have kept that known quality standard by consistently developing instruments whose performance is worth every penny you spend and more.
The Modern Player Starcaster is a resissue of Fender’s original 1970s Starcaster, which was its first and successful attempt to counter Gibson’s domination of the semi-hollow body market. The modern version is alike in many ways but features a new tune-o-matic bridge and updated humbucker pickups.
You’ll get a bright, crisp tone from this all-maple guitar which works well in most genres you’ll want to play with a semi hollow body. It might seem unconventional to turn up the gain and play metal with a Fender, but the Wide Range humbuckers in the Starcaster seem to handle it pretty well without losing the definition of individual notes.
It’s one of the more expensive guitars on this list, but comparing its tone to the cheaper models you can really hear that you get what you pay for.
Gretsch G2622T Streamliner
- Body: Maple
- Neck: Nato Wood
- Fretboard: Laurel
- Great Gretsch build at an affordable price
- Bigsby vibrato tailpiece for whammy fun
- Tone good for everything from smooth jazz to hard rock
- High-end notes lack bite
Taking the #1 spot on our list is a fantastic model by Gretsch, the G2622T Streamliner. When it comes to hollow body or semi hollow body guitars Gretsch is always going to be a good call. They do well with solid body electrics, but really specialize in these former designs, and the focus makes itself known as soon as you plug one in.
You’ll see right off that this is the only guitar in our list that features a vibrato/whammy bar, a feature enough on its own to set this as one of the higher ranked models, but there’s much more going for this guitar than just the Bigsby tailpiece.
Although not one of the biggest names in guitar manufacturing, Gretsch does what they do well, and their Broad’Tron humbucking pickups give you a huge voice with enough variance to play anything from jazzy standards to modern hard rock hits. With controls for master tone, master volume, and volume for each pickup, plus a three-way pickup selector switch, you can tweak your tone to your precise desires.
It’s a strong guitar with a lot of oomph everywhere except the very highest notes, where it tends to fizzle out just a bit. Considering all its good qualities this treble deficit can be easily overlooked, and there’s really nothing that should keep you from hopping on stage with the Gretsch G2622T Streamliner. Sold on Gretsch but not this model? Check out our review of the Gretsch G5420T.
Semi-Hollow Body Guitar Buyer’s Guide: Filling the Gaps in Your Knowledge
What is a Semi-Hollow Body Guitar?
To understand a semi hollow body guitar, we need to look back to the history of electric guitar construction.
First, of course, was the acoustic guitar. Next, someone had the bright idea to slap a pickup in there, giving us the first rudimentary electric guitar. These were the Gibson semi-acoustics, first hitting the market in the 1930s. You can read their whole history here. Their main problem was that when played at high volumes, the resonance of the hollow acoustic body resounded through the pickup, creating a lot of feedback, especially when played at high volumes.
An innovation or two later and Gibson developed the first semi-hollow body guitar, essentially setting a piece of solid wood in the middle of an acoustic body. This eliminated a lot of the feedback issues and the general design theory has been varied and improved on over time.
Nowadays, semi-hollow body guitars are made in a variety of ways. Some start as a solid piece of wood which is then carved out at the wings while retaining the solid center. Others are three separate pieces: two hollow wings fitted onto a solid center block. Some have F-holes, while others, like the Gibson Lucille, have no soundhole at all.
However they are constructed, semi-hollow body guitars are intended to be played electrically as they don’t have enough internal resonance to provide an adequate acoustic sound. Hollow body electrics, on the other hand, have a pretty decent acoustic tone, and you can read our review of the best hollow body guitars under $500 to find the one for you.
What to look for in a Semi Hollow Body Guitar?
You’ll want to check every guitar you try for the basic elements of good guitar construction: a straight neck with no problematic curving or bending, a dependable construction in which every piece is attached like it’s supposed to be, an absence of scratches, chips, and dents, and dependable, functioning tuning machines.
Once you’ve covered this list, most other components of a semi hollow body guitar are up to your personal taste. Depending on the type of wood they’re made from, you can get a tone that’s warm with an abundance of overtones, or bright and crisp where each note speaks to its fundamental pitch.
One of the main deciders of guitar quality in semi hollow bodies is the electronic system. Generally speaking, the more you pay the better the pickups will be. You can still get a good sounding guitar without spending your life savings, but the cheapest models on the market are going to be pretty flat and falter into feedback-filled messiness when you turn the volume up past a certain point. For the money, you want to look for a guitar that sounds good in the low, middle, and high ranges, with pickups that don’t crackle and pop when you twist the controls, and that holds a steady voice without undue squealing when you pump up the volume.
What is a Semi-Hollow Body Guitar Best For?
I’ll say first that semi-hollow body guitars are totally designed to be played electrically, that is, through an amplifier. They might be called semi-acoustics from time to time, but don’t be led by this misnomer into thinking that you can play unplugged with any satisfaction.
So you hook up to an amp, now what can you do?
For the most part, semi hollow body guitars have more overtones and harmonic resonance than solid body electric guitars, setting their tone up to be great for music that uses a pretty open guitar sound. This makes them great for all styles of blues and its related genres from rockabilly to modern rock and most things in between. You can add a little distortion to them and retain enough clarity to pull off speedy licks and whining solos, but with too much gain they’re going to become really murky. This means that for super distorted genres like heavy metal, you’ll be better off getting a solid body guitar. Looking for a great solid body guitar for blues? We’ve got you covered in this review.
Semi hollow body guitars have a great clean tone and have been used extensively in jazz. Their tonal variance capabilities make them excellent for both rhythm and lead when played clean, and you can really tweak your EQ to get a beautiful tone with a natural kind of chorus effect.
Likewise, they’re great for country music, and even though I’ve never seen one in a bluegrass band, I’m sure a semi-hollow could hold its own in the getdown.
Here you can find out more about the uses and history of semi hollow guitars.
What Makes These the Best Semi Hollow Body Guitars?
Don’t get me wrong, you can pay a lot more for a semi-hollow body guitar and get an instrument that will blow you away. Are these the best semi hollow body guitars in existence? Surely not. There are high end Gibsons, Guilds, and Gretsches that the guitars in this review can’t hold a match to.
My belief is, for what the average musician is able and willing to spend, these are the best semi hollow body guitars for the money. They’re all below $1000, and as far as I’ve played shows I’d be willing to get on stage with any one of these four. They’re well-built with no rattling parts, their tones are versatile for any genre common to semi hollows, and as far as playability goes, a blind test would have you hard-pressed to tell them apart from top-of-the-line models.
The Final Word
As primarily a folk acoustic guitarist, I don’t get a lot of chances to talk about semi hollow body guitars. When that opportunity arises, I love exploring the different models out there and reporting back with my favorites. They’re fun instruments to play and can switch so easily from sweet-sounding jazz to really crunchy, mean-feeling rock’n’roll.
It was a close call for me between the Fender Modern Player Starcaster and the Gretsch G2622T Streamliner, but in the end the Gretsch pulls ahead, mostly because of its awesome vibrato bar. Epiphone, generally one of my favorite affordable manufacturers, has to take last place with the ES-339 due to its slightly untrustworthy wiring, but it’s by no means a bad guitar.
Once you’ve decided it’s time to try out this unique type of instrument, any of these choices is sure to be one of the best semi hollow body guitars for the money.