Playing semi acoustic electric guitars is a fine option for the guitarist who plays in a wide variety of styles, with the instruments able to handle folk, jazz or rock with equal capability. The tone of such instruments usually has a depth to it, and a warmth that can be hard to replicate on a conventional, solid-body electric model.
Guitarists as diverse as BB King, Johnny Marr and Roger McGuinn are all identified with using a semi-acoustic, whether it be one of the iconic instruments made by Rickenbacker, Gibson or Gretsch. The sound a great player gets from a semi-acoustic instrument can often sound just a little sweeter than a solid-bodied, not as sustained perhaps, but often with a pleading, pleasing tone to it.
The kind of ‘jangle’ associated with The Byrds and later British indie bands like The Smiths is a direct result of using this kind of instrument. The semi-solid body of the instruments helps with the warmth of the tone, while also making the guitar loud enough for practice without an amplifier.
The classic design for these instruments, with f-holes and a violin-shaped body, developed from ‘jazzbox’ hollow guitars which were manufactured during the 1930s. Thinner models later followed in the 1950s, and it is these instruments which are usually most readily associated with the term semi-acoustic. These later examples were generally known as ‘thinline’ models.
The hollow sound box of the instrument gives it that natural sound, but it also makes it vulnerable to feedback when playing it through an amplifier. This can often be a disadvantage for musicians who want to play at loud levels, but feedback can be useful in itself as an effect, if manipulated skilfully. Examples with a hollow body and no sound holes are less susceptible to disruptive levels of feedback.
Most examples of this kind of instrument have a solid block running through the centre of the body of the instrument, though, some, like the Gibson L-5, are entirely hollow. Other varieties, such as Fender’s Telecaster Thinline, are almost entirely solid, but with cavities in the body which help to generate a more ringing, warmer sound.
Famous ‘semis’ include the Gibson ES-355 and the Gretsch White Falcon, iconic instruments. Using semi acoustic electric guitars is a great choice for the musician who plays a variety of styles, but also for the skilled player who can rely on tone and sound rather than screech and volume for maximum effect. With the versatility to play chiming arpeggios or chunky power chords, they are a great choice for anyone who is serious about music.