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I think my next guitar is likely going to be a self-built Warmoth Thinline Telecaster. My question is for those of you who own or have played hollow body guitars a lot is this: do they really sound more mellow than their solid body counterparts? If so then why?

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Wish I could take all three great answers: @abstractdissonance @Alex @the tin man. –  Jduv Mar 13 '11 at 14:12

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I have an Epiphone 335 copy (they call it a "Sheraton") and a Warmoth-parts solid-body with "tone chambers" in it. I wouldn't describe either as having a "mellow" sound, per se.

The Epiphone does have a sound I'd describe as "open" and "woody", though not as much so as my all-hollow archtop. You've heard 335's a thousand times, I'm sure, and you know how versatile they are. With the neck-pickup only and a little tone rolloff, and you can make it sound as mellow as you like, but with the bridge pickup only, it'll pierce through pretty much anything.

The Warmoth also has a different tone than my all-solid Strat, but I'm not sure I'd describe it as mellow. In fact it's quite bright. A little more complex and distinctive, maybe, and I do like it. And the weight reduction is great as well.

Btw, two thumbs up to Warmoth, their parts, their customer service, and their entire guitar-building experience.

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The ES-335 is great example (though technically it's semi-hollow) of a hollow body guitar that can do bright and crisp in the bridge position. Also: check out a Rickenbacker. Far from mellow sounding, they're generally a bright and chimey guitar. –  Ian C. Feb 12 '11 at 15:15

You are comparing apples with oranges. A hollow body has much more acoustic amplification. When using pickups they will be very similar because a pickup amplifies the string vibration. The body type can, of course, effect the mode that the string are allowed to vibrate in but for the most part are going to have very similar frequency responses to any other guitar.

In fact I built a "guitar" using a 2x4 and some screws and it sounded just like my strat. I did use strat pickups though so no wonder ;)

What is most important is going to be the pickups and EQ. Most of the jazz mellow sound comes from EQ, the pickups, and where they are located relative to the bridge.

The main point is that if you are going to compare hollow with solid make sure you are not comparing one using it's acoustical sound and the other using it's pickups. Since solid body's don't really have acoustical amplification this means your only real choice is by using pickups. In that case you have to use the same type of pickups and you'll find that they the body type won't matter all that much.

The most important thing when comparing two guitar's sounds using pickups is going to be the electrical amplification aspect and very little with the acoustical amplification. With hollow bodies you will have a slight frequency difference because of resonance. This tends to give hollow bodies a more mid range(since air has a lower speed of sound than wood) while solid bodies have a peak higher in frequency.

Again, all that can be pretty much taken care of with proper EQ(so close that chances are you won't know the difference).

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BTW, I do not mean to imply that the difference cannot be great. If you take a 2x4 and at both ends put two screws and tie a string between them you will get a different frequency response than if those screws are replaced with rubber. A hollow body guitar is much more flexible which reduces the higher frequency response. The point is that you can get pretty close by simply using proper EQ and pickups so it's not a huge deal. –  Anonymous Feb 12 '11 at 1:44

I've had several Les Pauls, a handful of Strats, and an ES-335 and a ES-345.

Those two ES bodies are technically semi-hollow bodies, but definitely have a softer, mellow, more acoustic sound, somewhere between a Strat and a Les Paul.

The ES guitars I had have dual-humbuckers, and a solid maple block that the humbucker's mounting rings are attached to, very much like a Les Paul. The hollow "wings" (upper and lower bouts) are not directly under the pickups so it seems like they wouldn't affect the sound much, but when playing them I'd feel the body shake as it resonated from the amp. I'd feel it start to sustain from feedback too, a lot sooner than the Les Pauls would, and used to play with that.

I never could put my finger on the difference completely, but, yes, mellower was one of the characteristics. I always grabbed them for jazzier, softer songs because they felt right for it.

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You do generally get lower quality/less sustain from a hollow body than a solid body; especially if comparing with a solid body made of a single piece of wood. –  DRL Feb 12 '11 at 16:10
On a true hollow-body, especially like a big jazz box or electrified arch-top, that's true. They're designed to be mellow and "woody" sounding. A semi-hollow, like an ES-335, can out-sustain a lot of solid bodies if you catch the sound waves coming from the amp right. They're a bit more susceptible to feedback than a solid-body normally, so in the right conditions they'll latch onto the notes and hold them. In the wrong conditions it can howl constantly and you run around looking for a spot where it stops. ES-330 and true hollow bodies can be real hard to control that way. –  Anonymous Feb 12 '11 at 16:25

No, hollow body guitars aren't necessarily more mellow than solid body guitars. The majority of the tone you hear from an electric guitar is influenced by the pickups, the amp and the age and gauge of your strings. Other factors are the method and type of picking and the actual thickness of the plectrum. The nut, saddle height and neck relief also affect string response. The guitar in this video sounds pretty bright to me:

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I had 335's, an Ibanez L-5 big box, Yamaha Sa-2200 and some other hollow bodys but the best tone comes from my Telecaster, especially with flatwounds. The other ones had a nasty trebley hard thing going on and maybe because of the humbuckers..? I am not fan of humbuckers and think there is much more tone and life in single coils. Some hollow bodys have that nice cigarbox quality to them, but thats only seldom, in my experience.

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