Semi-acoustic guitar

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Gibson ES-150.png
Fully hollow-body electric guitar Gibson ES-150, with a pair of f-holes visible.
Gibson ES-335 sunburst.jpg
Semi hollow-body electric guitar Gibson ES-335 has a "solid center block" inside a body.

A semi-acoustic guitar,hollow-body electric, or thinline is a type of electric guitar that was first created in the 1930s. It has a sound box and at least one electric pickup. [1] The semi-acoustic guitar is different to an acoustic-electric guitar, which is an acoustic guitar with the addition of pickups or other means of amplification, added by either the manufacturer or the player.



In the 1930s, guitar manufacturers aimed at increasing the sound level produced by the instrument, to compete with louder instruments such as the drums. [2] [3] Companies such as Gibson, Rickenbacker and Gretsch focused on amplifying a guitar through a loudspeaker. In 1936, Gibson introduced their first manufactured semi-acoustic guitars, the ES-150s (Electric Spanish Series). [4]

Gibson based them on a standard production archtop, with f holes on the face of the guitar's soundbox. This model resembled traditional jazz guitars that were popular at the time. The soundbox on the guitar let limited sound emit from the hollow body of the guitar. The ES-150s could be electrically amplified via a Charlie Christian pickup, a magnetic single-coil pickup that converted the energy of the vibrating strings into an electrical signal. [4] The clear sound of the pickups made the ES series popular with jazz musicians. [2] The first semi-acoustic guitars were an evolutionary step in the progression from acoustic guitars to full electric models.

The ES-150 was made several years after Rickenbacker made the first solid-body electric guitar. The ES series was designed as an experiment for Gibson to test the potential success of electric guitars. Due to its financial success, the ES series is often referred to as the first successful electric guitar. The ES-150 was followed by the ES-250 a year later, in what became a long line of semi acoustics for the Gibson company. [5]

In 1949 Gibson released two new models: the ES-175 and ES-5. The ES-175 and ES-5 models were the first to come with built-in electric pickups and are widely considered the first fully electric semi-acoustic guitars. [6] Several models, including the ES-350T by Gibson, were made in the 1950s to accommodate a demand for a comfortable and modern version of the original archtop model. [4]

In 1958, Gibson first manufactured a 'semi-hollow body guitar' that featured a block of solid wood between the front and back sections of the guitars' cutaway. The guitar had a smaller resonant cavity inside, which makes less sound emit from the f holes. [4]

Rickenbacker also began making semi-acoustic guitars in 1958. German guitar crafter, Roger Rossmiesl developed the 300 series for Rickenbacker. The series was a wide semi-acoustic that used a sleeker dash hole on one side of the guitar, with a pick guard on the other side, rather than a traditional f hole. This model became one of Rickenbacker's most popular series and became a strong competitor to Gibson's models. [7]

In addition to the main model variants of the guitar, Gibson made several small changes to the guitar, including a laminated top for the ES-175 model and mounted top pickups for general use on all their models. [2] While Gibson provided many of the innovations in semi-acoustic guitars from the 1930s to the 1950s, there were also various makes by other companies including a hollow archtop by Gretsch. The 6120 model by Gretsch became very popular as a rockabilly model despite having almost no technical differences from Gibson models. [8] Rickenbacker was also a prominent maker of the semi-hollow body guitar. Gibson, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, and other companies still make semi-acoustic and semi-hollow body guitars, making slight variations on their yearly designs.


The semi-acoustic and semi-hollow body guitars were used widely throughout the jazz communities in the 1930s. [3] The guitars began to make their way into popular music as new models and sleeker designs emerged. The guitar became used in pop, folk, and blues. The guitars sometimes produced feedback when played through an amplifier at a loud level so they were unpopular for bands that had to play loud enough to perform in large venues. As rock became more experimental in the late 60s and 70s, the guitar became more popular because players learned to use its feedback issues creatively; One example is Ted Nugent, who primarily plays the semi-acoustic Gibson Byrdland.

Semi-hollow guitars share some of the tonal characteristics of hollow guitars, such as their praised warmth and clean tone. However, the addition of the central block helps to manage feedback and allows the guitar to be played normally at higher gain and higher volume. Semi-hollow guitars with a central block are also more durable than fully hollow guitars, whose sound is particularly popular with jazz, blues, rockabilly and psychobilly guitarists.

Today, semi-acoustic and semi-hollow body guitars are still popular among many artists across various genres. Examples include Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, renowned jazz guitarist George Benson, John Scofield, multi-instrumentalist Paul McCartney and former Guns N' Roses member Izzy Stradlin. Famous guitarists of the past who have used semi acoustic guitars include John Lennon of the Beatles and B.B. King, both of whom have had signature semi-acoustic models released. Semi-acoustic guitars have also been valued as practice guitars because, when played "unplugged," they are quieter than full acoustic guitars, but more audible than solid-body electric guitars because of their open cavity. They are also popular because the cavities reduce the weight of the guitar. [9]

With most solid-body guitars, the electronics are accessed, repaired, or replaced by removing either the pick guard or an access panel on the back of the guitar's body. In a semi-acoustic guitar, where there is no solid body to create a chamber to house the electronics, these components are pushed or pulled through the lower f-hole of the guitar's body. [10]


Other semi-acoustic instruments include basses and mandolins. These are similarly constructed to semi-acoustic guitars, and are used in the same ways and with the same limitations.

Some semi-acoustic models have a fully hollow body (for instance the Gibson ES-175 and Epiphone Casino), others may have a solid center block running the length and depth of the body, called semi hollow body (for instance the Gibson ES-335). [11] [12]

Other guitars are borderline between semi-acoustic and solid body. For example, some guitars have chambers built into an otherwise solid body to enrich the sound. This type of instrument can be referred to as a semi-hollow or a chambered body guitar. [9] [13] Players disagree on exactly where to draw the line between a constructed sound box and a solid wooden body (whose construction also affects the sound according to many players). Any of the following can be called semi-acoustic:

Sound Hole Variations:

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Electric guitar Electrical string instrument

An electric guitar is a guitar that requires external amplification in order to be heard at typical performance volumes, unlike a standard acoustic guitar. It uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound can be shaped or electronically altered to achieve different timbres or tonal qualities, making it quite different from an acoustic guitar. Often, this is done through the use of effects such as reverb, distortion and "overdrive"; the latter is considered to be a key element of electric blues guitar music and rock guitar playing.

Gibson L-5

The Gibson L-5 guitar was first produced in 1922 by the Gibson Guitar Corporation, then of Kalamazoo, Michigan, under the direction of acoustical engineer and designer Lloyd Loar, and has been in production ever since. It was considered the premier guitar of the company during the big band era. It was originally offered as an acoustic instrument, with electric models not made available until the 1940s.

Single coil guitar pickup

A single coil pickup is a type of magnetic transducer, or pickup, for the electric guitar and the electric bass. It electromagnetically converts the vibration of the strings to an electric signal. Single coil pickups are one of the two most popular designs, along with dual-coil or "humbucking" pickups.

Epiphone American musical instrument company

Epiphone is an American musical instrument brand. It traces its roots to a musical instrument manufacturing business founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos in Smyrna, Ottoman Empire and moved to New York City in 1908. After taking over his father's business, Epaminondas Stathopoulos named the company "Epiphone" as a combination of his own nickname "Epi" and the suffix "-phone" in 1928, the same year it began making guitars. In 1957, Epiphone, Inc. was purchased by Gibson, its main rival in the archtop guitar market at the time. Gibson relocated Epiphone's manufacturing operation from its original Queens, New York factory to Gibson's Kalamazoo, Michigan factory. Over time, as Gibson moved its own manufacturing operations to other facilities, Epiphone followed suit; Gibson has also subcontracted the construction of Epiphone products to various facilities in the US and internationally. Today, Epiphone is still used as a brand for the Gibson company, both for budget models of other Gibson-branded products and for several Epiphone-exclusive models. Aside from guitars, Epiphone has also made double basses, banjos, and other string instruments, as well as amplifiers.

Gibson ES-335

The Gibson ES-335 is the world's first commercial semi-hollowbody electric guitar, sometimes known as semi-acoustic. Released by the Gibson Guitar Corporation as part of its ES series in 1958, it is neither fully hollow nor fully solid; instead, a solid maple wood block runs through the center of its body. The side "wings" formed by the two "cutaways" into its upper bouts are hollow, and the top has two violin-style f-holes over the hollow chambers. Since its release, Gibson has released numerous variations of and other models based on the design of the ES-335.

Archtop guitar Type of steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar

An archtop guitar is a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semiacoustic guitar with a full body and a distinctive arched top, whose sound is particularly popular with jazz, blues, and rockabilly players.

Variax is the name of a line of guitars developed and marketed by Line 6. They differ from typical electric and acoustic guitars in that internal electronics process the sound from individual strings to model (replicate) the sound of specific guitars and other instruments. The maker claims it is the first guitar family that can emulate the tones of other notable electric and acoustic guitars. It also provides a banjo and a sitar tone. The Variax is currently available as an electric guitar, but modeling acoustic guitars and modeling electric bass guitars have been available in the past.

A sound hole is an opening in the body of a stringed musical instrument, usually the upper sound board. Sound holes have different shapes:

Electric mandolin

The electric mandolin is an instrument tuned and played as the mandolin and amplified in similar fashion to an electric guitar. As with electric guitars, electric mandolins take many forms. Most common is a carved-top eight-string instrument fitted with an electric pickup in similar fashion to many archtop semi-acoustic guitars. Solid body mandolins are common in 4-, 5-, and 8-string forms. Acoustic electric mandolins also exist in many forms.

Gibson ES-175

The Gibson ES-175 is an electric guitar manufactured by the Gibson Guitar Corporation. It was dropped from the Gibson lineup for 2019 after 68 years in continuous production. It is a 24​34" scale full hollow-body guitar with a trapeze tailpiece and Tune-O-Matic bridge. It is one of the most famous jazz guitars in history.

Outline of guitars Overview of and topical guide to guitars

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:

Gibson ES-330

The Gibson ES-330 is a thinline hollow-body electric guitar model produced by the Gibson Guitar Corporation. It was first introduced in 1959.

A solid-body musical instrument is a string instrument such as a guitar, bass or violin built without its normal sound box and relying on an electromagnetic pickup system to directly detect the vibrations of the strings; these instruments are usually plugged into an instrument amplifier and loudspeaker to be heard. Solid-body instruments are preferred in situations where acoustic feedback may otherwise be a problem and are inherently both less expensive to build and more rugged than acoustic electric instruments.

Epiphone Casino Electric guitar

The Epiphone Casino is a thinline hollow body electric guitar manufactured by Epiphone, a branch of Gibson. The guitar debuted in 1961 and has been associated with such guitarists as Howlin' Wolf, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Dave Davies, Paul Weller, The Edge, Josh Homme, Daniel Kessler, Noel Gallagher, Brendon Urie, Gary Clark, Jr., Glenn Frey, John Illsley, Peter Green and Dave Grohl.

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The Gibson ES series of semi-acoustic guitars are manufactured by the Gibson Guitar Corporation.

The Epiphone Sheraton is a thinline semi-hollow body electric guitar. Though the Sheraton and all its variations were introduced under the ownership of the Gibson Guitar Corporation, Epiphone is the exclusive manufacturer.

Epiphone Dot

The Epiphone Dot is a semi-hollow archtop electric guitar manufactured by Epiphone, a subsidiary of Gibson. It was introduced in 1997 as a more affordable version of the Gibson ES-335, at the high end of entry-level pricing. Reviews describe it as a robustly-constructed, versatile guitar with a smooth, powerful sound, suitable for jazz, blues and some rock styles, but lacking the high output required for heavy metal.

Gibson ES-325

The Gibson ES-325 is a thinline hollowbody electric guitar model produced by the Gibson Guitar Corporation from 1972 to 1979.

Gibson ES-137

The Gibson ES-137 is a semi-hollow-body guitar which was manufactured in Gibson's Custom Shop Memphis factory as a limited production run from 2002 - 2013. It was a relatively new design in Gibson's ES line which was not based on a vintage instrument, as many of Gibson's instruments are. The ES-137 is available in two models, Custom and Classic.


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