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Semi-Hollow Guitar Review Page

Semi-Hollow Guitar Resource Page

Semi hollow guitars are a passion - you might say obsession of mine. Here are reviews of some that I've liked:

  • Sadowsky Semi-Hollow - In many ways it's in a category by itself. It has the best jazz sound out of any of the true semi-hollow guitars but it also gets a beautifully singing BB King type of tone as well as a great fusion sound. It's by far the most open, hollow and airy sounding of any of the semi-hollow guitars. It's pershaps the ONLY one which doesn't sound like a chambered solid-body. It sounds more like a hollow-body but with some sustain and no feedback. Does not have the sustain of a 335 at low volumes but when cranked a bit, yields a very sweet harmonic sustain that you'd have to be playing extremely loudly with to get out of a 335. It's also very well balanced unlike the PRS.

    Gibson ES-339 11 - The 339 is a 3/4 size 335 style guitar with a laminated top and back, full maple block, mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard. The guitar is alledged by gibson to be a cross between a Les Paul and a 335. It's not quite that but it sounds damn fine and is one of the best bargains in their line, particularly coming out of the custom shop. It doesn't have the airyness of the sadowsky but if you lean more towards the rock/blues side that may be fine. It balances well at the expense of a little extra heft. Gorgeous and bloomy lead tones out of the bridge pickup and acceptable jazzy tones out of the neck. The Classic '57 pickups sound great too. I recently had the chance to compare one of these directly to a 335 and therefore i'm downgrading it 1/2 a star. The 339 sounds much smaller and less full by comparison. The note bloom is not nearly as prominant and it just sounds thinner. Great light semi-hollow but not a 335 killer.

  • Gibson ES-335 1 - This perennial favorite is still a 5 star guitar. It's possibly a bit dated in that it doesn't get any so called modern tones but with a set of .011 strings on it gets a fabulous jazz tone and a great robben ford blues tone. The only thing keeping it from being a 5 star guitar is that it's a tad heavy. The do occasionally sound tubby so it's important to adjust your amp to reduce the bass frequencies. It'd be cool if they put series parallel switch in too...

  • Eastman 185 1 - This guitar is a real winner. A hand carved 335 style guitar with all solid woods. No plywood. 3pc mahogany neck, mahogany back and sides, flamed maple top, lacquer finish. Armstrong pickups. Instead of a full-body-length block, it sports a small spruce block under the bridge and tailpiece only. It comfortably straddles the difference between a 335 and a fully hollow guitar. Gets a gutsier and jazzier blues tone than you get out of a 335 but it still retains the ability to play loud without feedback and to get great rock, blues and fusion tones. It has a nice flutey lead tone that sings and I'm going to rate it a point or two higher than the Hamer Newport which is brighter and thinner. I'd probably replace the pickups with Dimarzio PAF Classics or something with a bit more oomph to them but otherwise, this is a real winner and a fantastic value.

  • Eastman El-Rey 1 and El-Rey 2. 1 - These are made in china but designed by RI Luthier, Otto D’Ambrosio. I've owned each of these guitars. The El Rey 1 is a single pickup, spruce top, mahogany back and sides, hollow with a block under the bridge and the El Rey 2 is a 2 pickup, spruce top, curly maple back and sides. Both guitars sport a 3pc maple neck and ebony fingerboard. ER1 guitar has a slightly better jazz tone and is more mellow while the ER2 has a more Bensony tone.  Brighter with a quicker attack. Both are very nice guitars but the finish is very thin. This is the only reason it loses a star. I ended up putting a pickguard on mine to keep from having my fingers rub through the finish though I understand they now include a pickguard.

  • Eastman 14511 - After playing it for a couple hours this morning, I think it is roughly
    comparable to the PRS Archtop Spruce. That is, thinner sounding than a big hollowbody but not horrible, all things considered. The problem that you deal with on the smaller body guitars is that there is not very much top to vibrate and I think on this instrument it actually hurts the guitar to not have a block under the bridge. I think the block would give it more sustain and some punch. I think if it were restrung with flats, it'd be a good guitar for some Bruno or Metheny type sounds.  One issue this guitar had was that the bridge pickup mounting ring was too narrow so that even when adjusted as high as it could go, it was still to far away from the strings to properly balance with the neck pickup.

  • Hamer Monaco Superpro 11 - The instrument I reviewed was a custom shop instrument. 25.5" scale, spruce top, chambered body, set-neck. I was pleasantly surprised that the protruding treble-side shelf in the cutaway was a non-issue. I had been worrying about that when I first saw those instruments. The tone of this instrument was very nice for jazz but the instrument as a whole was VERY bright. The combination of long scale, high neck-body joint and spruce top no doubt contribute to this. (Surprisingly, spruce sounds brighter than maple on a top. I know this from previous trials of the same guitar with two different tops) This instrument also had WCR Goodwoods pickups in it which I found to be a bit too thick in the mids and they did not have the sweet lilt of a good classic humbucker.

  • Gadow Custom Hollow. 111 -  This is a cool axe. A semi-hollow mahogany body, maple top with a pair of Duncan Humbuckers, coil taps, 25.5" bolt on maple/rosewood fingerboard. Because of the bolt-on neck, maple/rosewood construction and 25.5" scale, these guitars get a much better strat sound than most semi-hollows. Unlike the gibson 335, this is not muddy at all. Very snappy and robben-ford like tone. Very nice construction and great action. I believe it has graphite rods in the neck. The neck pickup is further away from the neck than what I consider the normal position. This is due to the truss rod adjustment wheel. This serves to make the neck pickup a bit on the bright side for my tastes. The bridge pickup is further away from the bridge than on most guitars. On a 25.5" scale guitar, this makes the pickup a little more mellow. I think the position of the pickups may be to optimize the coil tap positions. I'd rather have normal pickup placement. When playing fingerstyle, it feels cramped. Additionally, the volume control is too far towards the neck, making it too easy to accidentally hit while playing. It's also neck heavy. This could be cured by moving the strap button to the back of the neck heel. 

  • Suhr Semi-hollow - cat's eye. The one I owned had an alder body, maple top, cat's eye f-hole, maple neck, rosewood board and has an HSH configuration with a 5 way switch and strat type sounds in positions 2,3 & 4. It's extremely versatile getting very reasonable jazzy tones on the neck pickup and decent strat sounds in position 2 & 4. Position 3 (middle single coil) is a bit bright due to the maple top and I'd recommend to folks considering one of these to opt for a solid Alder body if strat tone is more important than sizzling lead tone. This is probably the least hollow of any of the other guitars in the comparison so it doesn't have a big hollowbody sound but it does have some characteristics of a hollowbody including getting some vibrating feedback when playing hi-gain at a lower volume than would be required with a solid body. Great go-to guitar. Not muddy like some hollowbodies and great sustain - nicer than many set-neck instruments.

  • PRS Archtop 11- The archtop differs from the hollowbody in that it's 4" thick instead of 2". The maple version with the adjustable bridge is about 1lb heavier than the thinner hollowbody with the lighter bridge and balances very well. No neck dive here. Additionally, it has more of a hollowbody tone than most of the semis. This makes it a great "loud-jazz" guitar or blues guitar. Like the hollowbody version, it has plenty of sustain but does not have the bloom of the Sadowsky. I would say it's got a better jazz tone than the sadowsky though. Due to the wraparound tailpiece, it has very low string tension which makes it easy to play fast on! Unfortunately, I believe it's been discontinued.

  • PRS Hollowbody 11 - It has good sustain and a nice hollowbody quality to it. Great blues guitar, probably not enough note bloom for robben ford stuff. The spruce version gets a great jazz sound with no feedback. They play great and due to the wraparound tailpiece, they seem to have very low string tension which makes it easy to play fast on! Unfortunately, it's neck heavy which is a deal breaker for me.

  • PRS Hollowbody Spruce Piezo 11 - This is one of my favorite of all the semihollowbodies. It has the hollowbody thumb that is characteristic of a sprucetop guitar but additionally, the piezo makes it extremely versatile and really suits fingerstyle playing ar funk. It sounds amazing for slapping and popping. Additionally, the piezo electronics give it just enough weight that it balances on a strap and is not neck heavy like it's brothers. I'm giving this one 4.5 stars. I'm taking off 1/2 a star for the lack of a pickguard which I had to add to mine.

  • Hamer Newport 11 - Sound is great. Very close to the PRS. Maybe not quite as hollow sounding but the spruce version cops a great Robben Ford vibe. It's well balanced which is surprising since many of the hamers are neck heavy. The only negative is that it doesn't quite have the sustain of the PRS or the 335 style guitars. If you're playing with a Robben type of tone it doesn't seem to matter that much because the hollow body seems to vibrate enough to cause notes to sustain into feedback but at low volumes it's noticeable.

  • Heritage 535 11 - Great guitar but somewhat inconsistent. The good ones rank up with the hamer but I've seen as many bad ones. They are notorious for bad necks and plekking only helps if the neck is straight. They have more of a hollow tone than the 335. I'm not sure why but I have the feeling the block isn't as wide as a true 335 or perhaps it's completely open in the middle for the pickups. This also effects the sustain as they don't sustain like a real 335. They also changed the body shape and thickness in recent years to make it more 335-like and got rid of the mickey-mouse ears. However, upper fret access is still a little uncomfortable for me.

  • Yamaha SA-2200111 - Very beautiful guitar but I've owned two japanese ones and neither of them sounded very good. The most recent one's bridge pickup was misaligned and the Low E String didn't have any volume because it was almost completely off the pole piece.

  • Yamaha SA-2100 111 - Interestingly, the 2 I've owned were great and they can be found cheaply ($700ish) on occasion. Unfortunately, the manufacturing origin was changed recently and the last couple I tried did not play or sound good so make sure you get an older, japanese one.

  • Ibanez AS-200 / Scofield 11 - Even though these have a few differences, they are fundamentally the same instrument. 335ish guitar with a 3pc maple neck, ebony board is the main difference along with slightly brighter pickups. My experience is that the guitar is extremely well made but just too bright. Maybe with darker pickups it'd work better. All the high end Ibanez guitars have amazing setups though so these are worth checking out. Also gets a pretty nice jazz tone.

  • Ibanez AM-200, AM-50 111 - Smaller version of the AS-200. Sort of comparable to the Gibson 336. These are very cute guitars and attractive because of the smaller size. I've owned 2. One of them had a burled mahogany top, the other had a maple top. Neither did much for me. They both sounded a bit dead.

  • Godin Flat 5 111 - I've owned two of these, one maple top, one spruce top. They are great all around instruments. String tension is high for a 24.75" guitar because of the through body design of the ferules instead of a tailpiece. It has a lot of good sounds to it including pseudo-jazz and pseudo-funk tones. Neck pickup was harsh sounding (probably due to the 24 frets). The spruce one sounded a bit better for jazz but was thin sounding for blues/fusion while the maple one sounded better for fusion/funk. I was working with Godin's Artist relation group at the time and tried to talk them into a 22 fret version. They finally did one (the montreal) but it was an all mahogany which I didn't really like. Two other issues were 1) Strings dug into the body after coming out of the ferules onto the guitar top; 2) Neck heavy

  • Godin Jazz111 - Haven't owned one but have played several. Very dark sounding pickup.

  • Gibson ES-137 Classic 11 - Surprisingly nice guitar. Has a nice bright attack, similar to the Howard Roberts Fusion but has a bit more sustain due to the stop tailpiece and harder center block (not sure if it's maple or mahogany). I'll go on record here saying the 12th fret inlay is stupid. This guitar is kind of a hybrid between a 335 and a Howard Roberts Fusion.

  •  Howard Roberts Fusion 11 - One of the best semis out there - For JAZZ! I don't much like it's sound for other stuff but with flatwounds, it's a killer jazz guitar that hangs with a 175 and does not feed back due to its balsa (I kid you not) centerblock. I owned an original as well as 3 of the reissues with the finger tailpiece. The Finger tailpiece version has a balsa wood block and I think it's why it has a good jazzy tone. It's also got fairly bright pickups and reminds me of a better executed GB-10. A buddy of mine plays one for jazz which you can hear at: http://www.sheetsofsound.net/danwilson.htm . I don't care for the tailpiece (it rattles) and didn't like the guitar much for fusion but they're killer axes for the money.

  • Ibanez GB-10 11 - I've owned at least 10 of these. I have a love/hate relationship with them. Not a good blues or fusion guitar due to lack of sustain and feedback problems. It has a block of wood glued to the top but not extended through the body to the back like a traditional semi. These have a bright and clear jazz tone and the impeccable Ibanez setups and are very easy to play but IMO never quite make it unless Benson is playing it. A couple additional points. The pickups are EXTREMELY hot. They are much hotter than the Gibson mini humbuckers. Also, the neck pickup is mounted to the end of the fingerboard and cannot be height adjusted and it's too close to the strings so your pick will "click" alot on it since it's microphonic. The bridge pickup is mounted to the pickguard in a weird arrangement where you have to adjust the pickguard height in order to adjust the bridge pickup height. Due to this, you can never get a fully balanced mix unless your pickguard is raised really high and at that point, the pickguard is almost higher than the strings.

  • Ibanez PM-100/PM-120 1 - Pat Metheny model - Another guitar with a block glued to the top. Both are extremely dark guitars. I never tried changing pickups but it would seem that an all-maple guitar would be really bright but it's not. Extremely dark sounding instruments. I called Ibanez to see if they had put special pickups in them and was told that maple is just a dark sounding wood. Due to the high end rolloff, it doesn't sound good for anything other than jazz stuff IMO and even for that, I didn't care for it's tone in the long run. It just didn't cut through without the tri-amp system that PM uses. [edit 01/08/2010 - I have owned this guitar longer than any other guitar in my history so I have upgraded it's status. I guess it must be doing something right]

  • Hofner verythin 111 - These are the reissues of the original "verathin" series guitars from the '60s. It's a 335 shaped instrument but thinner with a spruce body block,mini humbuckers and an archtop tailpiece. Extremely neck heavy. Gets a great pseudo GB-10 tone. Not very good for rock or fusion (not enough sustain). They do make a version with a stop tailpiece though. One problem with the hofners is that the pickup mounting consists of a couple screws going through the mounting rings on each side and friction fitting against the pickup cover. This design doesn't seem to work too well. The pickup covers get bent and the pickup slips or the pickup ring cracks.

  • Godin ACS 111 - Semi-hollow nylon string. Mahogany neck, ebony board, chambered maple body. Comes in a 1.75" and 2" nutwidth. Nice sounding instrument. A little brittle and neckheavy. Does not feedback.

  • Godin Multiac Duet 111 - Similar to ACS but with a spruce top. Sounds better but is a bit woofy and feeds back at louder volumes.

  • Rich Turner RN-6 electric nylon string 1 - THE BEST nylon-electric I have played. No feedback and tone to die for. What's with those round bridge-piece "balls" though? Mine broke off the first time it was in a gig bag. It also had horrendous intonation (bridge placed incorrectly) and I had to send it back to Turner for repair. When I got it back, it kicked @ss. Why did I ever sell it?!? Would have gotten 5 stars but the bass string doesn't balance properly. (Too quiet)

  • Epiphone Elitist Sheraton / John Lee Hooker11 - Yeah, I know. The JLH is supposed to be better cuz it's made in the USA but guess what?!? I didn't find it any better. These Elitist versions are head and shoulders above the cheaper epi guitars and they rival and in some ways surpass the Gibson guitars. I've owned one of each and they were about the same. Great instruments, beautifully made, on par with the Ibanez stuff in terms of finish quality and fit and the mini humbuckers are to die for. Great fusion tones too though a little brighter than a full sized bucker. The mini humbuckers also help these guitars avoid the tubby sound 335s can sometimes get. I wish I had my Sheraton back.

  • Epiphone Elitist Dot Neck 11 - Great sounding guitar. Better than the last few Gibson 335s I've had. Unfortunately, the one I bought had a neck twist and the neck was really soft so I returned it.

  • Gibson Pat Martino 1111 (Review by Joe Jewell) In all fairness, this is a well-made guitar that, no doubt will appeal to many players, but it just didn’t work for me. The things that I liked least were qualities that perhaps make it the perfect guitar for Pat Martino and those are lack of sustain and an extremely dark sound. Another problem was that I absolutely could not get this guitar to play well. I tried every set-up trick I know and I could not get this guitar to feel good. I am going to attribute this to the compound-radius fingerboard. If I got it to feel good in the upper registers, the low frets buzzed. If it felt good down low, the action was too high above the 10th fret.

    This is a very rigid guitar. The tone has an extremely strong fundamental with almost no overtone content. Again, this might be perfect for PM. Chords lacked complexity and single lines just sound barren. The top seems extraordinarily thick and stiff. I feel that this guitar could benefit from a spruce top, much like the more successful effort at making a chambered solid body, the Benedetto Benny.

    This guitar is in serious need of an identity. I tried 10’s, 11’s and 12’s on it and couldn’t get a sound I like. The darkness seems artificial, produced by some type of capacitor or something, because the guitar is not dark at all acoustically. But the sound out of the neck pickup is muddy. In all fairness, I did find the Gibson PM to function pretty well in overdrive mode. With 10’s and the lead channel of a Fuchs amp it did sing fairly well and with both pickups on it did get into the Robben arena, but not nearly well enough to replace a 335 or Les Paul.

    At this point, I have not been satisfied with chambered mahogany/maple top guitars. I’m sure they are much easier to make than guitars with sides, back and top. They can be CNC-ed in minutes. But every one I have tried lacks the great singing qualities of a nice Les Paul and they do not even approach the airy sound of a 335, much less of an archtop.

    Sorry, I cannot recommend this guitar. - Joe Jewell

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