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 lotis this: do they really sound more mellow than their solid body counterparts? If so then why?
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 say.
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.
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).
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.