Choosing the right guitar for your ideal tone, playing style, and typical genre is difficult.
Not so with semi-hollow body guitars. These hollowed versions are super versatile, but how versatile?
In this post, I will walk you through the best genres ideal for semi-hollow guitars. In terms of how well the guitar suits the usual sounds of the musical genre.
Sound good? Let’s get to it…
Semi-hollow guitars are highly versatile in many guitar tones and great for a spectrum of genres. These guitars are excellent for rock, jazz, blues, pop, funk, Indie, and country. However, they are not ideal for metal as they are highly prone to feedback and noise issues.
What Are Semi-Hollow Body Guitars Good For?
Intricate and technical in nature, Jazz branched out from its soulful blues counterpart in the late 19th century, with a distinct open, airy, and mellow sound.
No doubt, hollow and semi-hollow body guitars cemented their legacy within this genre. The reason is Jazz’s musical sound, the instrument’s tone combined with playing style is a match made in heaven.
Due to the hollow sound, these guitars sound smooth, warm, and silky when dialing in mellow clean tones. Which, after all, is the classic sound of Jazz.
In addition, hollow and semi hollow-body guitars typically come with humbucker pickups installed. These pickups offer a warm, bassy, and rounder tone compared to various pickups. So why is this helpful?
Well, the sound of these instruments is naturally geared towards the typical tones of Jazz. Being… warm, mellow, and silky smooth.
Hence why these guitars to this day are the usual choice for any classic or modern jazz musician. Not to mention, the added nature means they are super versatile, meaning you dial any type of jazz tone you desire.
Furthermore, the openness of the semi-hollow guitars is essentially ‘borrowed’ from their hollow-bodied counterparts.
Larry Carlton, arguably one of the biggest names in the jazz and jazz fusion world, famously used Gibson ES 335 for most of his studio recordings, as well as live gigs.
Many other jazz legends would pick up a Gibson semi-hollow and record, gig, and tour, such as Kurt Rosenwinkel (ES 335), Emily Remler (ES 330), and Grant Green (also ES 330).
Although we could call him an icon of bebop, funk, soul, and even rock, John Scofield, is one of the few exceptions in that he would also use Ibanez’s AS 200 and the same Gibson ES 335 model Larry used.
A veteran blues guitarist would be able to locate their authentic sound on almost any gear. With that said, players who have used hollow and semi-hollow guitars rarely struggle as much as solid-body guitar players.
Again, the versatility of semi-hollows is the main reason why blues folks hold them in such high regard. The soulful, heartfelt messages blues guitarists want to convey requires an instrument that can gently weep and scream like a caged beast when need be.
The main reason semi-hollow body guitars are favored among blues players is the tones on offer.
Crunchy rhythm tones and warm overdriven blues licks are why these instruments are popular. Furthermore, semi-hollow guitars are versatile enough to allow clean tones to flourish.
Although distortion pedals are not as dominant as crunch and overdrives in blues, semi-hollow guitars can easily handle a bit of extra gain. Blues guitarists frequently jump from almost ‘background’ rhythm to solos.
Players like B.B. King, Geroge Benson, Wes Montgomery, and even The Beatles’ John Lennon and Geroge Harrison have used semi-hollow guitars to create some of the most brilliant sonic masterpieces.
Whether it’s classic or ‘post’ rock, rockabilly, or a fusion with another genre. Rock music has been one of the most consistent sonic universes ever since guitars went electric.
Rock was basically invented on overdrive and distortion, which semi-hollow body guitars project remarkably well. Additionally, semi-hollow guitars have a robust low end and bring a solid sustain to the table.
These two elements make them perfect for rock, both in terms of lead and solo roles. However, semi-hollow guitars are more receptive to feedback than their solid body counterparts.
High-gain distortion pedals, more often than not, tend to interfere with the tone of rock guitarists. That’s why most rely on crunch and overdrive pedals or simply use the gain from amps directly.
The semi-hollow’s ability to tackle low end and feedback complemented with its decently formidable sustain. These are the main reasons why this type of guitar has been trendy among rock guitar players, both rhythm and lead.
From the legendary Chuck Berry, over the world-famous Erics (Clapton and Johnson.) Also, Nirvana’s ex-drummer and Foo Fighter’s frontman Dave Grohl.
These god-tier musicians have had their hands in rock while drifting on the seas of other genres with a Gibson ES 335. You guessed it – one of the world’s most infamous semi-hollow axes.
When it comes to Indie, this genre of music is that the lead guitars are usually a bit sharper and ‘jangly.’
Rhythm indie guitarists keep the tempo and add beautiful colors to the multi-dimensional atmospheres lead players create.
To be sure that they can transport their musical ideas to the audible realm, indie guitarists need an instrument that can do pretty much anything and everything.
Semi-hollow guitars tend to work well for the indie genre. As they are in the golden middle between airy, open, almost acoustic-esque hollow bodies and their robust, firm solid-bodied counterparts.
They can perform the thin jangly lead tones not as well as single-coil guitars but a different contrast. Likewise, they are excellent rhythm guitars with solid crunch tones and nice responses with distortion.
Furthermore, these guitars can handle the distortion levels of most indie genres. That being not overly distorted may cause feedback.
Most indie players are experimenting with older model guitars combined with new effects and amps to blend the two together. Offering something new and unique sound altogether.
From Albert Hammond Junior, over Nick Valensi, Isaac Brock, and Graham Coxon, to St. Vincent, Ty Segall, and Ira Kaplan, all of these guitar geniuses have relied on a semi-hollow to either locate or establish their guitar tone.
A myriad of up-and-coming indie players is walking in the footsteps of their influences. And can experiment with different sounds with a semi-hollow laying the foundation of their sonic palette.
The ‘twang’ of a funk guitar has almost entirely defined this genre.
This type of music emerged from the era when progressive genres slowly set up a wall between themselves and sonic venues that relied more on feel and expression.
Funk is fairly percussive in nature, which is the reason most players rely on solid-body guitars.
The snappy attack backed by innate brightness and high treble elements of solid-bodied guitars appeared as perfect for funk, although as the decades progressed and technology advanced, more and more funk guitarists started picking up semi-hollow axes.
Essentially, semi-hollows are much more open and warmer, which basically translates to ‘a rounder twang.’ These guitars can undoubtedly offer a warmer and bassier funk tone instead of the thin piercing sound of solid-body guitars with single coils.
Furthermore, semi-hollows offer a nice blend of warmness and attack, offering something different for any funk player.
Not wanting to be defined by the genre, ground-breaking acts and performs such as Prince, Steve Cropper, Larry Graham, Ernie Isley, and James Brown would eventually turn to semi-hollow guitars.
Newer bands and groups are also slowly realizing that the extra versatility of semi-hollow guitars could help them create ‘funkier’ music.
As opposed to relying on a plethora of stompboxes and effects, having the Jack of all Trades in the guitar world means that funk players could seamlessly jump from percussive rhythms to snappy single tones; from background noise to leads.
From acoustic, lap steel, and classical guitars, the country eventually delved into the world of electric guitars, and lo and behold, the majority of players were favoring solid-bodied Fenders, completely reshaping the sonic landscape of the genre.
While country is mainly famous for bright tones, rapid ‘chicken picking’ techniques, and more importantly melodies.
Most people would assume that a hollow-body guitar would be perfect for the genre as they were essentially electrified acoustic guitars.
However, a bit of trial and error, but time as well have shown country players that hollow bodies don’t exactly behave great when feedback and gain enter the stage; so, they would take a complete U-turn and shift over to solid-bodied guitars instead.
Ted Nugent, Brent Manson, Glen Cambell, Steve Wariner, as well as Jerry Douglas and Hunter Hayes have at least a few semi-hollow guitars in their back pocket.
Although given the fact that they’ve released numerous albums, they would use pretty much all guitar types in the studio.
Although solid guitars are largely responsible for the classic country sound, hollow-bodied guitars are starting to gain traction among newer bands and performers, again simply because they’re more versatile.
With a decently rounded soundstage, dynamics, and timbre, hollow-bodied guitars can achieve similar results to solid-bodied axes; this is the main reason why both are incredibly popular among country acts.
Punk is an offspring of rebellious folk who’ve grown up listening to rock music.
Although many people try to punch it into a political context, punk musicians are typically enjoying life and couldn’t care less about what happens after a show.
However, punk guitar players do care about their tone and actually know much more about how frequencies behave on different rigs.
Punk is close to rock when it comes to in-your-face drums and fast-paced tempos, but punk is also a bit more aggressive and usually a bit stronger in terms of overdrive/distortion/fuzz.
While solid bodies seemed like an obvious choice for most punk players throughout the decades, these guitars would make them sound like metal bands more often than they would not.
Hollow-bodied guitars simply aren’t cut for this genre, as they’re simply too open. Again, semi-hollow-bodied guitars, the best-rounded ones out there, helped punk icons find their tone.
The legendary Ramones brothers, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Mick Jones, Brian James, and James Williamson all sport at least a handful of semi-hollow axes while keeping a few solid ones for special occasions.
Genres to Avoid With Semi-Hollow Body Guitars
Now to the other end of the spectrum. Semi-hollow body guitars are not suitable for metal genre mainly because this style of music relies on drenched distortion, solid-low end, and a silent guitar that tames feedback.
Namely, the tone of a semi-hollow guitar will fall apart when heavy distortion is introduced to the mix.
As opposed to rock, funk, and punk genres, metal guitarists almost exclusively apply a signal drenched in distortion. And because of this, a semi-hollow body in this setting would feedback like crazy.
Furthermore, semi-hollow body guitars sound open in nature, whereas a metal player required a guitar with a tight-low end for heavy detuned notes and chugging.
Aside from tonal characteristics, the innate inability of semi-hollow guitars to handle feedback hinders metal artists. Solid-body guitars are typically preferred as they stop excessive vibrations, which is the main culprit of feedback.
The robust, warm, and concrete tone of solid body guitars is what most metal musicians strive for; the tone of semi-hollow guitars is far too brittle in comparison.
In essence, the versatility of semi-hollow guitars isn’t as useful for the narrowly-focused metal genre that demands a strong low-end and concretely defined tone.