Semi-hollow guitars have always had a niche following, but their popularity has substantially increased in recent years thanks to high-profile use by the likes of the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl. Because of this celebrity endorsement, there’s been a boom in new models appearing from various manufacturers, supplementing the classic guitars that have been in continuous production for decades.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ve reviewed 7 of the best semi-hollow guitars on the market today (if you’re looking for fully hollow body guitars, check out this list). We’ve selected models from a number of manufacturers, at prices to suit all budgets. As we reviewed these guitars, our primary focus was playability, tone, build quality, and features.
If you’ve been curious about semi-hollow body guitars and you’re thinking about buying one for yourself, you won’t want to miss this review.
Features: Nitro finish, T Type humbuckers, PLEK'd frets
Benefits: Incredible playability, Exceptional resonance, Amazing tonal versatility
Squier Affinity Starcaster
Features: All maple construction, Humbucking pickups, Offset body
Benefits: Great ergonomics, Thick tones, Super comfortable
- Gibson ES-335
- Squier Affinity Starcaster
- Our Top 3
- Individual Reviews
- How to Choose The Right Guitar for You
- Final Thoughts
Our Top 3
Our top pick went to the Epiphone Emily Wolfe Sheraton Stealth. It’s a contemporary take on a classic model and, in our opinion, it’s one of the best looking semi-hollow guitars on the market. It offers effortless playability and is a great option for working musicians looking for a pro-level guitar at a fair price.
Those looking for a semi-hollow guitar on a shoestring budget will love the Squier Affinity Starcaster. It has a handsome offset design that stands out from the crowd and, considering the low price, it sounds fantastic.
If budget isn’t a concern and you’re looking for the very best semi-hollow guitar, they don’t get much better than the Gibson ES-335 – our Editor’s Choice. This is the semi-hollow by which all others are judged. It offers immaculate build quality with a gorgeous nitro finish that really allows the guitar to sing.
Epiphone Emily Wolfe Sheraton Stealth
A modern rendition of one of the most iconic semi hollow designs around.
This guitar is a serious blues rock machine, with a slick matte finish, top quality appointments, including real mother of pearl and abalone, and unique F holes. It brings hard hitting tones, and offers pro level performance at an attainable price for players who want vintage flair with modern reliability.
The Epiphone Emily Wolfe Sheraton Stealth is one of the latest releases from Epiphone. It’s a fresh take on the classic Sheraton design and has quickly become one of our favorites.
It had a maple body and was finished in a fantastic matte black color, unique to the Emily Wolfe signature model. The matte finish wasn’t the only modern touch. Rather than the typical F holes, it actually had Trini Lopez style diamond-shaped holes. They didn’t have any impact on tone, but they added a whole new facet to the aesthetics.
The neck was made from mahogany and had a ‘60s SlimTaper C profile, which we found to be lightning fast and incredibly comfortable. It had a laurel fretboard which felt great and it looked exceptional, although this was mostly due to the lightning bolt inlay on the fret markers. The inlay itself shows just how much has gone into this design, with the blocks being made from mother of pearl, and the lightning bolts from abalone.
We really loved the Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers that Emily Wolfe selected for her signature model. They had a vintage flavor, but still hit hard when pushing high gain. It did cleans well, but this guitar really shone with dirty, crunchy overdrive. It had high-end CTS pots, with 2 volume controls and a single tone knob that delivered seamless sweeps. This let us create some great swelling and subsiding tones.
It had some fantastic hardware, all of which was finished in a lightly aged gold, which paired perfectly with the matte finish on the body. The tuners were Grover Rotomatics and they performed brilliantly, holding steady with no slip and giving us excellent tuning stability.
Verdict: The Epiphone Emily Wolfe Sheraton Stealth is shaking up the notion that semi-hollow bodies somehow have to have vintage aesthetics. It was a thoroughly modern guitar in every sense, from the contemporary diamond F holes and matte finish to the lightning bolt inlay. We loved the range of tones and we’re definitely hoping to spend more time with this guitar in the near future.
Squier Affinity Starcaster
An affordable semi hollow guitar with tons of character.
With this superb semi hollow body you’re getting an all maple guitar that stands out amongst the usual suspects from the other brands. It’s an affordable model with big tones, that also happens to be well made, and good looking to boot.
The Squier Affinity Starcaster (full review here) is a great way to get started with a semi hollow body if you’re not 100% sure on the style and you want something affordable. It’s based on the Fender Starcaster of the 1970s and features the same offset styling.
We received an Olympic White model to test for this roundup. The body was made with all laminated maple, and we found the overall finish quality to be really good, considering the price.
The neck had a medium thickness C profile. We found it to be quite comfortable and easy-playing. This guitar is primarily aimed at newer players and we think beginners should have no issues with the Starcaster’s neck. The fretboard was also maple, which is definitely an unusual look for a semi-hollow guitar, but it worked well in this case.
Unlike the other guitars in this roundup, the maple neck was a bolt-on, while the others were all set. Ultimately, this won’t affect performance too much, especially at the beginner to early intermediate level.
It had pretty basic electronics, but they were great quality and worked very well. The pickups were Standard Squier Humbuckers. They had ceramic magnets, resulting in a hot output we absolutely loved. We got some incredible rock tones with a thick mid range when paired with a high-gain amp setting. Clean tones were well-defined and never sounded shrill.
This Starcaster had the standard Affinity series sealed-gear tuning machines, which worked really well. We had no issues with fine tuning when making adjustments and they held firm without slipping, providing excellent stability and reliability.
Verdict: The Squier Affinity Starcaster was so much fun to play. It was an easygoing model that gave us a great range of tones and we loved the unique looks with the asymmetrical body. It’s the most affordable semi-hollow guitar on the market (from a major brand), but at no point did it feel cheap.
The genre defining semi hollow body guitar.
Players looking for a high end, iconic semi hollow body guitar should make sure that this Gibson is on their list. It’s a guitar that has inspired countless copies and homages, but with its impeccable craftsmanship and incredible tones, there is no doubt that this version will always be the one to go for.
It simply can’t be overstated that the Gibson ES-335 is the most iconic of all the semi-hollow guitars on the market today. It has been in continuous production since its initial release in 1958, and we’ve no doubt it’s a model Gibson will continue to make (and Epiphone’s isn’t bad either!).
Our test guitar came to us in one of the most recognizable colors for the ES-335 – Sixties Cherry. It had a gloss nitro finish that looked absolutely incredible from every angle and will age gracefully with time and use. The body was made with a 3-ply construction using a maple – poplar – maple sandwich, which is a fantastic combination of woods for a semi-hollow.
The all mahogany neck had a fantastic rounded C profile. It felt a little more modern than we’d anticipated, but we found it to be extremely playable, so there were no complaints. Despite the neck having a gloss finish, it was still extremely quick. And because it uses a nitro lacquer, the sheen will wear off over time into a perfect satin.
It had a fantastic hand-rolled rosewood fretboard. It was extremely comfortable and a real joy to play on. The frets were PLEKd, too, which resulted in incredible consistency from top to bottom, and a zero-resistance feel from the crown when playing bends and vibratos. This is a premium feature you don’t find on any of the more popular ES-335 alternatives.
The pickups were simply outstanding and we found them to be incredibly versatile. It had T Type humbuckers that delivered brilliant cleans, warm blues, crunchy rock, and even metal tones. It had incredible sustain, with notes ringing for what felt like days. And the center block really helped nullify unwanted feedback.
Of course, the hardware was all fantastic, too. It used aluminum for bridge and stop bar to keep the weight down, and the deluxe vintage tuners worked perfectly, with smooth operation and easy fine-tuning. It had a GraphTech nut, which helped greatly with sustain, resonance, and tuning stability.
Verdict: The Gibson ES-335 was everything it was promised to be – beautifully made and easy to play with incredible tones and huge sustain. It’s an expensive guitar for sure, but it’s much more of an investment than anything else on the list. It will hold most of its original value as long as it’s properly looked after. For pros and gigging musicians looking for the best semi-hollow, it doesn’t get much better.
G&L Tribute ASAT Classic Bluesboy
A hot rodded version of the classic semi hollow T style guitar.
If you’re looking for a guitar that looks more like a traditional solid body model, but one with the benefits of a semi hollow, including lighter weight and more pronounced tones, then this Telecaster style G&L could be a winner. It offers tons of tonal versatility, and it looks fantastic.
The G&L Tribute ASAT Bluesboy is a factory upgraded take on G&Ls popular ASAT Classic Semi-Hollow. It’s a great option for everyone from brand new players to working musicians on a budget looking for a compact semi-hollow that can deliver on a wide range of tones.
We tested a Clear Orange example, which had a really attractive grain pattern showing clearly through the finish. The body was made from sassafras wood, which is quite a rare material in guitar lutherie.
The neck was made with maple and had a medium C profile, which was extremely similar to the Modern C profile on Fender models that we love so much. It was comfortable and easy playing, and it promoted good form in the fretting hand. The fretboard was hard maple and while it wasn’t particularly exciting, it was comfortable enough and there were no sharp edges or fret sprout to worry about.
It was equipped with a Cort neck humbucker and a single-coil bridge pickup that was originally designed by Leo Fender himself. The neck humbucker gave us thick vintage tones reminiscent of a Gibson PAF model. It was great for fat, clean blues-style playing, but it did get a little muddy when driven hard. The bridge pickup was full of Telecaster-style twang, with spanky cleans and surprisingly clear performance when pushing our amp into overdrive.
One of the coolest features on this G&L is the bridge. It had barrel-style saddles, which offered fantastic performance when it came to tone and sustain. And unlike the traditional Fender 3 saddle-style which are almost impossible to intonate properly, this has 6 individual saddles for easy adjustment. It had sealed gear die-cast tuners, which held tune well, but had a bit more play than we usually like to see in a guitar at this price point.
Verdict: We enjoyed our time with the G&L Tribute ASAT Bluesboy. Having a single-coil pickup in a semi-hollow body gave some interesting results and it definitely resulted in unique tones we couldn’t achieve on any of the other models in the roundup. It was well made and offered excellent playability for players of all levels.
PRS SE Zach Meyers Semi Hollow
Stunning looks, extraordinary lightness, and exceptional playability.
This PRS delivers everything the brand is famous for, from the incredible flamed top, to the player focused ergonomics, and awe inspiring clarity from the PRS designed pickups. The low weight makes it comfortable to hold and play for extended periods, and the best part? It’s ready to gig or record right out of the box.
The PRS SE Zach Meyers Semi-Hollow is based on the incredibly popular single-cut PRS design, but obviously features hollow sides and a center block rather than being a full solid body. It’s attainably priced for amateurs and intermediate players, but it offers the kind of quality and tones working that musicians demand.
It had a mahogany body, with a beautifully figured maple top – a combo normally seen on solid-body models. It worked well in this case. The mahogany was left with a natural finish, which contrasted well with the flamed maple top and matching headstock finished in Meyers Blue.
As with most PRS guitars, the neck was a treat to play. It had the wide fat profile, which we loved. We do however think it may cause issues with comfort and playability for less experienced players, especially those who unaccustomed to thicker necks. It had a rosewood fretboard, topped with the iconic PRS Birds in Flight inlay. It looked and felt sensational.
We also really enjoyed the pickups. They had a vintage flavor, but still delivered superb clarity and tons of midrange punch. They contributed in a big way to the fantastic sustain and beautiful harmonics provided by the body construction, and we were particularly impressed with the note separation. Even with high-gain overdrive and screaming distortion, they never sounded muddy or lost composure in any way.
The biggest letdown for us from this PRS was the hardware, specifically the tuning keys. We’d commented previously on the SE Silver Sky and the use of plastic tuning keys when a simple chrome would have looked much better. It was the same with the Zach Myers signature. It had black plastic keystone buttons that really cheapened what otherwise looks like a high-end guitar. Despite the looks, the tuners did perform well.
Verdict: If it wasn’t for the tuning keys, the PRS SE Zach Meyers Semi-Hollow would have been a contender for top pick. While Epiphone put Grover Rotomatics in their similarly priced Sheraton, PRS opted for a cheaper plastic tuner. Aside from that, it was a fantastic player, with a great neck for those who like them thick and huge tones from the humbucking pickups.
Ibanez Artcore AS53
A premium feeling semi hollow guitar at a fantastic price.
If you’ve been looking for an affordable semi hollow guitar that delivers big on rich, creamy tones with fantastic sustain, and epic overdriven performance, you’ll definitely want to take a look at this Ibanez.
The Ibanez Artcore AS53 is a great guitar at a fantastic price, and we think it’s a really appealing option for those on a tight budget or those just getting started and would prefer a semi-hollow model.
The guitar we received to test in this roundup came in a Tobacco Flat finish. In our opinion, it’s the best looking of the 3 available colors. The design was simple, with no pickguard and standard F holes cut out of the all sapele body. It was lightweight and super slim, making it a very comfortable guitar to hold.
It had a nyatoh (sometimes known as nato) neck, which performed similarly to mahogany. The neck profile was very slim, which is consistent with this being a beginner-focused instrument. The finish on the back of the neck wasn’t our favorite however, and felt a little sticky. This shouldn’t be too big of a challenge for beginners, but for more advanced players, trying to get up and down the neck quickly was a little challenging.
We really liked the pickups on this guitar. It had a dual humbucker setup, which gave us a great range of tones, with bright cleans, rich blues tones, and they even did a good job with lightly distorted metal tones.
Being a budget guitar, we weren’t expecting a lot from the hardware, as this is where many manufacturers find savings for their more affordable models, but we genuinely found it to be pretty decent. Of course, it didn’t exactly compare to the Gibson ES-335, but for the price of this Ibanez, it did everything we needed it to. Tuning stability was good and there were no intonation issues that we noted.
Verdict: The Ibanez AS53 is a great alternative to the Squier Affinity Starcaster if you’re on a tighter budget, but you’d prefer a more traditional looking semi-hollow guitar. It had a great range of tones and we found that it offered excellent playability.
Gretsch G2622 P90 Streamliner Center Block
A handsome guitar with unique tones and high end build quality.
If you’ve been looking for a great semi hollow guitar at a fair price that offers something a little different from the rest of the bunch, this could be the one for you. It makes use of P90 pickups, which deliver a raspy, snarling tone not often found in this category of guitar.
The Gretsch G2622 P90 Streamliner is easily one of the best looking semi-hollow guitars on the market. It offers a great range of tones and costs way less than you’d think, making it a solid option for a wide array of players.
Our test guitar was finished in Claret Burst, which we found to be much more appealing in person than in the pictures. The design was classic Gretsch, not just another ES clone. This is something we really love about this guitar.
The top, back, and sides were all made from mahogany, which provided a nice balance to the bright pickups. The center block was made from spruce, which again countered the darkness of the mahogany, giving it a nice, resonant sound.
We did like the thin U neck profile, which played fast and had all-day comfort. The fretboard was the only real challenge we had with this guitar. It was made with laurel and was a little lifeless. This is easily fixed of course, but we’d hoped for better.
The P90 pickups were a lot of fun to experiment with. They were Gretsch FideliSonic 90s, which gave us some fantastic bright cleans and remained crystal clear even when playing with heavy overdrive. The neck position was warm and rich, with a real vintage feel, while the bridge pickup served up some fantastic modern high gain tones.
It had good quality hardware, including Grover-style tuning machines, which held firm when set and did a great job with fine tuning. The V shape stoptail bridge was another great touch. It’s a uniquely Gretsch feature and it really finished off the look.
Verdict: The Gretsch G2622 P90 Streamliner Center Block was a joy to play. It’s quite affordable, and really stands out from the crowd. It does everything from vintage tones to searing modern rock, and looks fantastic in the process. We were impressed by its playability and the only flaws we found would be easily remedied.
How to Choose The Right Guitar for You
If you’re somebody who has grown up with solid-body instruments, you might find yourself wondering what exactly separates a good semi-hollow guitar from a great one. Keep on reading to learn what it is you should be looking for when shopping.
As with most guitars, the wood chosen for the top, back, sides, and in this case the center block, can have a significant impact on the guitar’s tone.
The majority of semi-hollow guitars are made with layered or laminated maple. Maple is known for a bright, snappy, and responsive tone. It’s a very strong, very hard wood that stands up well to the additional stress that semi-hollow guitars are under due to the gaps in the body.
When mahogany is used on semi-hollow guitars, it’s mostly on the back and sides, in a similar fashion to standard acoustic guitars. It offers dark, rich undertones to balance the brightness a guitar with a maple top might experience.
Sassafras is a less common wood, but it certainly has its place in guitar construction. It offers similar aesthetics to swamp ash, which is a particularly attractive wood that is seeing far less use due to conservation efforts. It’s mostly known for its strong lower-mid range and a bright and punchy tone.
The vast majority of semi-hollow guitars have holes over the hollow portion of the instrument. Regardless of their shape, these are typically referred to as F holes, named for the cursive F shape of the hole on more traditional examples.
The purpose of these F holes, much like the sound hole on an acoustic guitar, are to help direct and project the sound produced by the guitar. Ultimately a guitar with F holes has improved volume and tone when played acoustically. Also at low volumes when amplified, as more of the natural acoustic properties can be heard. F holes also allow access to the inner part of the body should you want to make electronics modifications down the line.
Some semi-hollow guitars, such as BB King’s Lucille, have a sealed top with no F holes. The benefit of having no holes is improved feedback resistance at higher volume. Additionally, they have a sleeker, more modern aesthetic, which some find more appealing.
Semi-hollow guitars offer incredible versatility and fantastic aesthetics. Despite their largely retro styling, they are often able to handle practically any genre of music, making them a great choice for those looking for a one-guitar-does-all solution.
To recap our favorites from this roundup…
We loved the balance of price and performance from our Top Pick, the Epiphone Emily Wolfe Sheraton Stealth. It looked amazing, and delivered fantastic performance worthy of amateur and professional musicians alike. For budget-conscious players, our Best Budget option, the Squier Affinity Starcaster offers great tones, and was a really comfortable player. Our Editor’s choice, the Gibson ES-335, is the final word in semi-hollow guitars. This model was the very first semi-hollow guitar to be mass produced and has been the one to beat ever since, offering superb construction and incredible tone.