If you’re looking to buy a new electric guitar then one of the first things you’ll need to figure out is if you want a solid, semi-hollow or hollow body.
Solid and semi-hollow electric guitars are the most common so I’ll be comparing the tones and the pros and cons of each body type in this article.
The Quick Answer
Solid body electric guitars have more sustain and sound brighter compared to semi-hollow body guitars. Solid body guitars also suffer less from feedback issues so are more suitable for high-gain than semi-hollow guitars. Semi-hollow guitars typically weigh less and are mostly used for blues and jazz.
|Solid Body Guitar||Semi-Hollow Guitar|
|More sustain||Less sustain|
|Sound brighter||Sound warmer|
|Less susceptible to feedback||More susceptible to feedback|
|Quieter when unplugged||Louder when unplugged|
|Versatile – used for many styles||Mostly used for blues, jazz and some rock|
|Typically are heavier||Typically have a larger body|
Guitar Body Types 101
There are three main types of electric guitar bodies:
Solid body electric guitars are the most common and consist of a solid piece of wood, typically mahogany, alder, basswood or ash. Some solid body guitars have a “cap” or “veneer” on the top of the body for aesthetic purposes and to alter the tonal characteristics. The cap is usually made from maple.
Semi-hollow body electric guitars have a mostly hollow body but have a centre-block inside the body which is used to mount the bridge and pickups and helps to reduce feedback. The top, back and sides of the body are often made from layered wood.
Hollow body electric guitars also have f-holes on the front of the body. The pickups are often mounted onto the pickguard since there isn’t usually enough wood underneath to mount the pickguard. Hollow body guitars are usually thicker than semi-hollow guitars.
Let’s start off the comparison by assessing the most important distinction between these two body types. I’ll break down the tone into two aspects:
- EQ balance
Firstly, solid body electric guitars have more sustain than semi-hollow electric guitars. This is because solid body guitars have more mass. Semi-hollow guitars have less sustain because they are less capable of retaining resonance.
It’s important to note though that sustain is also affected by other factors such as the woods used and the pickups. You can also adjust the amplifier settings or use a compressor pedal to help increase the sustain. Just keep in mind that solid body guitars always have more potential for increased sustain.
Now onto the EQ balance. By this, I mean the balance between the bass, mids and treble frequencies that the guitar produces. This impacts how warm or bright the guitar sounds.
Solid body electric guitars sound brighter compared to semi-hollow body electric guitars.
This is because solid body guitars favour the treble frequencies more, whilst semi-hollow guitars favour bass frequencies more. Here is a YouTube video that does a great job at demonstrating the difference.
Remember though, there are many other factors that affect the tone of an electric guitar. It is possible to get a semi-hollow guitar that sounds brighter than a solid body guitar if different tone woods and pickups are used.
One of the main drawbacks of a semi-hollow electric guitar is that it is more susceptible to feedback compared to a solid body guitar. The reason for this feedback is because the sound waves bounce around inside the body of a semi-hollow guitar.
The feedback is most noticeable when using high gain and high volume. Also, if the guitar has single coil pickups (instead of humbuckers), then the feedback will be more prominent. This means you get some annoying buzzing and hissing with a semi-hollow guitar when it is plugged in.
Semi-hollow guitars are not as susceptible to feedback compared to hollow guitars, but it can still be an issue.
There are a few ways you can help to reduce this:
- Use a noise gate pedal
- Move the guitar further away from the amplifier
- Decrease the volume on your guitar
Music Style Suitability
Solid body guitars are often considered more versatile than semi-hollow body guitars because they suffer less from feedback issues. This means that solid body guitars are generally more suitable for high-gain genres like heavy rock and metal.
Semi-hollow body electric guitars are most associated with jazz and blues as these styles suit the warmer tones very well. Plenty of guitarists still use semi-hollow guitars for rock though. Dave Grohl and Noel Gallagher for example both have used Gibson’s semi-hollow ES-335 which has humbucker pickups.
You can also get semi-hollow guitars with single coil pickups which tend to suit cleaner tones such as the Telecaster Thinline.
It’s very easy to spot a hollow or semi-hollow guitar apart from a solid body. Semi-hollow guitars have either one or two “f-holes” located on the front of the body. Solid body guitars on the other hand do not have any gaps.
You can get a range of different shapes of both semi-hollow and solid body electric guitars which all look very different from one another so there will most likely be guitars of each type that appeal visually to you!
Weight and Dimensions
Semi-hollow electric guitars tend to be slightly lighter than solid body guitars. For example, the solid body Telecaster typically weighs between 7.0 and 8.0 lbs, whereas Thinline Telecaster usually only weighs between 6.0-7.5 lbs.
Some semi-hollow electric guitars are quite large so although they may be lighter, they may not actually be more comfortable to play with if you have a smaller frame.
For example, the Gibson ES-335 is a semi-hollow electric guitar which typically only weighs around 4.6 lbs. This is much lighter than the solid body Gibson Les Paul which can weigh up to 12 lbs (depending on the model). However, the body is much smaller on the Les Paul:
Gibson Les Paul Body:
- Maximum Width: 13″
- Thickness: 2.25″
- Length: 17.25″
Gibson ES-335 Body:
- Maximum Width: 16.25″
- Thickness: 1.75″
- Length: 19″
Check out my article comparing semi-hollow and hollow body electric guitars.