Best Semi-Hollow Body Guitar Under 500 – 5 Reasons You Should Really Want One
Semi-hollow body electric guitars have been used in Jazz, Blues, Rock, Country and just about every sub-category of each of these genres. Wherever there's a disadvantage in one of its brethren electric guitar styles, the semi-hollow steps in to fix the problem. Need less feedback or more warmth to your tone? A semi-hollow does that. By the time you finish reading this, I think you're going to be wanting one in your hands - and that's why I'm going to discuss how to find the best semi-hollow body guitar under $500. Whether it's your first, third or tenth guitar, it's one you're not going to regret.
Electric Guitars - A VERY Brief History
To truly understand the advantages of a semi-hollow body electric guitar, it is necessary to delve a little into the history of the electric guitar and the reason that it was created in the first place.
The short version:
The classic acoustic guitar has a soft sound that is not exactly suited to standing out in a big band setting, or orchestra, which were both popular in the 1930's. There was a clear need to amplify the sound of the guitar, but how to do this was still a little uncertain. An electric coil was invented to "pick up" the vibration of the string, convert into a signal which can be amplified by speakers. Today these coils are still called pickups.
These pickups were placed on a guitar with f-holes in the body, or soundbox, which actually reduced the sound emitted from the guitar itself. Reducing the sound from the soundbox further became the main focus of creating a truly electric guitar and the progression was therefore made from hollow to semi-hollow and then to solid bodied (invented by the infamous Les Paul).
The first electric guitar model was therefore hollow bodied. The semi-hollow guitar, with a solid block placed in the soundbox, was next in line. The solid-body electric guitar came last.
Of course there are many differences to the sound, tone, types of music as well as the way these different guitars are played. Of the three, the semi-hollow body guitars provide a little of the best of both worlds.
Let's take a look at some of the factors that make this type of guitar so exceptional and advantageous over its electric siblings.
The body of an acoustic guitar is where the sound resonates or is amplified. A hollow electric guitar therefore produces a sound that is very similar to an acoustic. The solid-body electric on the other hand produces none of its own resonance and therefore requires an external speaker to amplify the vibration (sound) of the strings.
A semi-hollow guitar provides its own resonance, at a level that is ideal to be amplified by an external speaker.
The sustain of a guitar refers to the length of time that a string vibrates and the sound reverberates from the body. A solid-body electric has the longest sustain as it does not rely on the body to resonate the sound.
The hollow electric on the other hand still relies on resonance from the body and therefore has a much shorter sustain making it less ideal to hold those long notes that are representative of the modern electric guitar.
A semi-hollow has great sustain, thus beating out a strict hollow body - although still not quite as much as the solid-body electric.
As mentioned above, a hollow-body electric sounds very much like a true acoustic guitar even though the sound is being amplified electronically. This does, however affect, the volume to which the sound can be amplified.
The solid-body electric on the other hand can be amplified to very high volumes to fully sustain a wider range of notes. This is why the sound is so well suited to metal, hard rock, punk, etc.
The semi-hollow produces complex, textured notes with warm tones that are exceptionally rich and harmonious.
This sound quality is what draws many guitarists to the semi-hollow guitar.
The tones of a semi-hollow body are nicely suited to blues riffs, smooth jazz licks, early rock and roll and both modern and vintage country music, as well as some pop music styles. It is also ideal for rhythm guitarists and Big Band music.
A semi-hollow body guitar is very versatile and quite accommodating to many performance situations. Also, it's fully capable of handling effects pedals, whether for reverb, distortion or volume.
Shape and Construction
Where the solid-body electric guitar is suitable to be made in just about any body size or shape as it does not require the body to resonate any sound. Hollow-bodies, on the other hand, require a specific shape in order for the sound to resonate within the sound box.
The semi-hollow body style is sometimes shaped similar to acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar with the addition of an archtop.
The signature f-holes on the face of the semi-hollow body electric are not necessary and if they do appear, are often for aesthetic reasons, rather than to affect the sound quality.
Though there is some debate as to how much f-holes may contribute to feedback (see below).
The major difference is that luthiers build the semi-hollow bodied guitar with a solid block that runs the length of the guitar as well as the depth at the center, forming a solid core and leaving the 'wings' hollow and resonant. This block of wood helps stabilize the structure and reduces the feedback issues that full hollow body guitars experience.
All three types of guitars have some issues with unwanted feedback. With the solid-body electric, this feedback is mainly electrical, or due to the inexperience of the player. Simply stepping back from the amp and speakers can resolve the problem.
With hollow and semi-hollow guitars, the feedback is acoustic and more difficult to resolve. Basically, the feedback is a result of the resonance in the body of the guitar being amplified. A little experience with the instrument can help resolve this issue.
Semi-hollow guitars experience fewer acoustic feedback problems than their hollow counterparts.
However, there are some guitar gurus that believe that feedback can be integrated into the music, much like distortion or overdrive, to add to the overall effect rather than to detract from it.
These experts do seem to be in the minority and it does seem best to try and eliminate as much feedback as possible whether electrical, acoustic or due to lack of experience. On stage, you'll see some performers stuff the f-holes with rags to reduce feedback during live performances. (See the Special Feature below.)
The semi-hollow body electric guitar is a little bit of a Goldilocks guitar – not too much of this, not too much of that – but just right.
You get more warmth and complexity than a solid body, but not as much volume. You get higher volume capabilities than a hollow body, but with a lot less feedback. And the sustain and resonance fall right in the middle as well.
The semi-hollow body guitar does a lot of things well with very few headaches. It's a good choice for players at any stage. There are some really good semi-hollow guitars out there for reasonable prices, from manufacturers like Gretsch, Ibanez, Hagstrom, Epiphone, Oscar Schmidt and Fender. This is definitely a guitar-type worth considering.For the best value semi-hollow body guitar under $500, taking into consideration price vs quality, I'd be looking hard at Ibanez and Gretsch.
Of course, the top semi-hollow body guitar ever comes from Gibson. Let me fill you in on the legend. The one and only…Lucille.
B.B. King and Lucille
The story about how B.B. King's guitar got her name goes like this – in his own words:
"I used to play a place in Twist, Arkansas ... It used to get quite cold in Twist. And they used to take something that looked like a big garbage pail and set it in the middle of the floor, half-fill it with kerosene. They'd light that fuel and that's what we'd use for heat
... But this particular night, two guys started to fighting and one of them knocked the other one over onto this container. When they did it spilled on the floor. Now, it was already burning so when it spilled it looked like a river of fire. Everybody ran for the front door including yours truly.
But when I got on the outside then I realized that I'd left the guitar inside. I went back for it. The building was a wooden building and it was burning so fast that when I got my guitar it started to collapse around me. I almost lost my life trying to save the guitar. But the next morning we found that these two guys who were fighting, were fighting about a lady. I never did meet the lady, but I learned that her name was Lucille.
So I named my guitar Lucille to remind me not to do a thing like that again."
— Blank on Blank, from an interview with Joe Smith in 1986.
The truth is, the original Lucille was an inexpensive Gibson L-30 archtop. Over the years, as B.B. grew more successful, he obtained a series of upgraded guitars as part of his gear, focusing especially on a vintage Gibson ES-335 in the mid-1960's, and then later, the top of the line Gibson ES-355.
Each one was subsequently named, Lucille.
Legend in the Making
In the early 1980's, King worked with Gibson's custom shop to design a guitar to his specs. As he had been stuffing rags in the f-holes of his ES-355 during performances to prevent feedback, when they made his custom, he had them install some sweet humbuckers and leave the f-holes off entirely.
Over more than 50 years, and more than 50 albums, B.B. King's style became synonymous with the Blues the world over. It's been called an economical style, using few notes and making everyone on of them count toward his vision of a song's musical phrasing. He leaves the chords to everyone else. King pioneered his vivacious string bends and left hand vibrato so successfully that they're now standards in any rock or blues guitarist's repertoire.
While at one time B.B. was known to play a Fender Stratocaster, it's obvious that the sharp, single coil pickup twang and edgy sound were never truly conducive to his style. It's the warm, rolling, resonant tones of the semi-hollow body electric guitar, of Lucille, and the way the notes have space to interact with each other in that economical style, that define the solo sound of the King of the Blues.