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Electric Guitars: Which is Right for You?

For any guitarist, and perhaps especially for an aspiring player, an array of factors come into play when choosing an electric guitar. Electric guitars are made with a myriad of options, with various pickups, bridges, fret sizes, tone woods, tuners and such all having an impact on how an instrument plays and sounds. But stripping things down to the absolute basics, there are three types of electric guitars to chose from: hollow body, solid body, and semi-hollow body.

Although there is no difference in playability between the three different body types, the weight, size, and sound of each is vastly different. For instance, a solid body is generally heavier than semi-acoustic guitars (hollow and semi-hollow bodies) due to the amount of wood that is used in the construction of the guitar's body. For this same reason, a solid body guitar has a much longer sustain than its more hollow counterparts in almost all cases. The more wood there is, the longer the sustain. Hollow and semi-hollow bodies are usually a bit larger than solid body models and generally have a much richer, deeper, and warmer tone than the solid body, which gives them a more acoustic sound. Feedback, however, is less of a problem with solid bodies, although the wooden block running down the center of semi-hollow guitars helps to reduce feedback and makes it less of a problem than straight up hollow bodies.

The following is a basic introduction to the three types of electric guitars and what you might expect sound-wise from each.


Epiphone Casino Cherry Red

The electric guitar was an instrument born of necessity. Back in the early 20th century, the acoustic guitar was a staple of American music, particularly in jazz and blues. But the instrument's limitations to project over the rhythm and horn sections of the big bands of the day made it hard to be heard.

The first semi-acoustic guitars were produced in the 1930s in response to the demand for more volume among players in jazz bands and large orchestras. The hollow body electric transformed the guitar and its place in popular music, and ultimately revolutionized popular music itself.

As you might expect, hollow body guitars have bodies that are hollow, much like an acoustic guitar. These electric guitars are larger than solid bodies and usually feature an arched top with f-holes and one or more pickups. They are lighter than both the semi-hollow and solid bodies and louder than those guitars when played without amplification, but they are much more prone to feedback than either of the other two models.

Hollow bodies are known for their full, rich, round tones and deep bass response. Although their mellow sound is perfect for jazz, vintage country and other styles that require warmth and clarity, they can also snarl. Check out John Lennon performing with a hollow body on "Revolution."

The hollow body guitar has been used by such legendary guitarists as Charlie Christian, B.B. King, Chet Atkins, Carl Wilson, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Ryan Ross, Noel Gallagher, The Edge, Dave Grohl, and Gary Clark, Jr.

To hear what a hollow body sounds like, give Andy Gurley's Blues Tone and Equipment: Hollow Body Guitar a listen.


Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster

The first commercially successful solid body electric guitar was the Fender Broadcaster in 1950. (Fender changed the name to Telecaster in 1951 after a trademark dispute with the Gretsch Corporation, who marketed a line of Broadcaster drums.) Fender began producing the Stratocaster in 1954. Along with the Telecaster and the guitars Les Paul was designing for Gibson, they set the standard for solid body guitars.

The solid body electric is the most common guitar body type. It is made from a solid slab of wood. Solid body guitars can range from a simple, single-pickup model to an ornately figured and decorated, multi-pickup instrument with a slew of electronic options.

Solid bodies have a bright, crisp tone. They offer greater sustain than the semi-acoustic guitars and can be amplified at high volume with few concerns about feedback issues. Cosmetically, since body resonance plays less of a role in its sound, solid bodies are available in a near infinite variety of shapes and designs. Also, because they have no resonating chambers, but instead depend almost wholly on amplification, solid bodies are more responsive to the use of effects. For hard rock, metal, punk and other classic rock genres, solid bodies are the guitar of choice.

Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayer, Eddie Van Halen, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robin Trower, Rory Gallagher, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton are just a few of the many guitarists who have used the solid body guitar.

To hear what the solid body sounds like, check out Andy Gurley's Blues Tone and Equipment: Strat Style Electric Guitar.


Gibson ES-335

In 1958, Gibson introduced the legendary ES-335, the first semi-hollow body guitar. It was invented as an attempt to find a middle ground between hollow and solid bodies. The semi-hollow model had double cutaways, a thinner body and, most importantly, a solid block of wood running through the center of the body, which allowed for greater sustain and less feedback at high volumes than hollow bodies, while the winged sides and f-holes over the hollow chambers provided for a mellow tone thanks to their acoustic resonance.

Similar to the hollow body, the semi-hollow body has more resonance than a solid body. The gorgeous warm, mellow, woody tones make it perfect for a wide variety of music, from blues and jazz to punk rock. With proper amp adjustments, however, they can also produce a good approximation of the bright, punchy sound of a solid body. Concerns with unwanted feedback remain an issue, but the use of humbuckers has mitigated those troubles to a large degree. Semi-hollow bodies are lighter in weight than solid bodies, and some players claim they offer greater versatility of sound.

Eric Clapton used a cherry red ES-335 when he was in Cream back in 1967. Other guitarists who have played a semi-hollow body guitar include Chuck Berry, Alvin Lee, Dave Grohl, Chris Cornell, and Andy Summers, among others.

To hear what the semi-hollow body sounds like, check out Andy Gurley's Blues Tone and Equipment: Semi-Hollow Body Guitar.

In choosing an electric guitar, it is imperative that you first decide the type of music you predominantly want to play, be it hard rock, jazz, pop rock, blues or country. Hollow bodies, solid bodies, and semi-hollow bodies possess distinctive characteristics that make them well-suited to each of those styles. You should buy an electric guitar based on your musical bent and not on the instrument that your favorite guitarist plays, unless, of course, you're interested in playing the same genre of music as your guitar hero. In the end, your choice of guitar always comes down to what feels and sounds right to you. Happy hunting!

Image Credit from top to bottom: All WikiCommons.[top]Author Visitor7, date 22 September 2012, 12:40:51, source Own work, English: An electric guitar store [hollow body] Description=Epiphone Casino Cherry |Source=Own work |Date=06 april 2003 |Author=User:Maxo [semi-hollow] Description=Gibson ES-335 guitar, sunburst finish|Author=Federico.Gallerani |Date=28 May 2008

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