An electric guitar with air in it is by no means a new concept. After all, attaching pickups to an archtop was how this whole Electric Spanish escapade - that’s non-Hawaiian electric guitars to you and me - kicked off in the first place.
As the 1950s rolled around solid guitars were the new innovation, but by 1958, and with traditionalist players still wanting a taste of the old, Gibson came up with the design that would define the electric-meets-acoustic guitar until this day: the ES-335. The result was a traditional-looking guitar that, crucially, proved more stable and resistant to feedback in the brave new electric world.
The industry standard
Gibson’s ES-335 is still the industry standard in the contemporary semi-hollow arena with its hollow wings and solid centre-block. It has an arched top and back (pressed laminates, not hand-carved from solid wood) and separate sides joined, like a traditional acoustic, with small linings. The centre-block firms up the design, giving a solid platform for the pickups and bridge, but also restricting the movement of the top and back, reducing that pesky feedback.
On the other hand, Fender’s semi-solid Telecaster Thinline, for example, was introduced a little further down the evolutionary line and played an integral role in the development of the ‘semi’ guitar concept: a design born out of necessity for weight reduction. Here the solid Telecaster body was routed out from the rear leaving a wide solid centre section; an f-hole was then added on the bass-side and the body was sealed with an additional back.
It reduced the weight of the solidbody Telecaster by nearly a half and, as ever, created a different tonality.
These two contrasting construction methods are still apparent today. PRS’s Hollowbody, for example, starts with a solid lump of mahogany that’s routed out to leave sides, back and a small block under the bridge. It’s then capped with either a solid spruce or maple top.
Taylor’s T3 takes a similar path. Collings’ City Limits is also constructed in a similar way from solid woods - it may look like an ES-335-style guitar, but it’s made in a very different way. All of which are mega money, of course, so over the next few pages we’re looking at four affordable guitars, each with its own take on the semi theme.