The hollow body guitar and its semi-hollow successor are classic designs, still as popular as ever for blues, jazz and rock guitarists. They are highly versatile guitars with a unique style and sound – but what separates the two? Here’s a very brief overview:
- Hollow body guitars are primarily used in jazz and blues music
- They produce clear, rounded tones
- Semi-hollow body guitars utilise a centre block of wood
- They are able to deal with increased gain
- Semi-hollow guitars are great for rock and other modern genres
These retro styles certainly have their place in amongst contemporary music, and they’re not about to move on any time soon. Of course, most of the attraction to hollow guitars is down to the retro aesthetic, but they do also produce specific sounds you’ll want in your tonal arsenal, too.
Hollow Body Guitars
Hollow body electric guitars were first created in the 1930s in an attempt to compete for loudness in large jazz bands and orchestras. The archtop shape and iconic F-hole design are instantly recognisable features of a hollow body. You might say this style of guitar is very much “of its time”. It utilises a large open body, a higher string action than your modern solid body guitar low output pickups.
What makes the hollow body so great as a jazz instrument is its clean, smooth tones. It’s also possible to add a little grit when played through a loud valve amp. A hollow body’s dynamics resemble those of an electro-acoustic in many ways, but they sound rounded in the midrange – akin to a regular electric guitar – in contrast to an acoustic’s janglier characteristics.
The hollow body can suffer when you play at much higher volumes or turn up the gain. They are highly susceptible to feedback; although many guitarists have learned to use it in their favour. Take Gary Clark Jr, for example. He often uses hollow bodied Epiphone Casinos when playing live to get a gritty blues rock tone, using his guitar volume to delicately control the feedback from the amp.
Legendary players such as George Benson and Chet Atkins favoured the hollow body’s warmth, which sounds brilliant when using slide techniques. Renowned alternative guitarists Geordie Walker of Killing Joke and Steve Howe from Yes use hollow body guitars to sustain notes and breath life into ambient sections.