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I'm wondering if the sound of a semi-hollowbody electric guitar (i.e. one that looks hollow but in fact has a solid central block) really differs that much from an equivalent solid-body guitar with the same pickups and hardware. I'll illustrate with a couple of examples.

At first glance, the Epiphone Sheraton II looks like a blues/jazz style of guitar, with its archtop shape and F-holes:

Epiphone Sheraton II

And the Epiphone Les Paul is a classic blues/rock/metal kind of instrument with its legendary solid-body sustain:

Epiphone Les Paul Standard

But on inspection I can't see what's really acoustically that different between the two guitars. The Sheraton's body isn't completely hollow: it has a solid block of mahogany in the centre (beneath the strings and bridge). The Les Paul has a completely solid mahogany body. Both have the same LockTone Stopbar/Tune-o-matic bridge, and both feature alnico Classic Humbucker pickups - all of which will have a significant influence on the guitar's sound.

The only obvious difference is the larger body on the Sheraton and the hollow wings with the F-holes. So my question is: do the hollow wings and F-holes on a semi-hollowbody guitar really make a noticeable difference to the sound, or are they mostly/only aesthetic?

Footnotes:

I understand there are many different Epiphone Les Paul models - some with Gibson rather than Epiphone pickups, for example - but if we keep the spec as similar as possible to the Sheraton (e.g. the Les Paul Standard model linked to above), would you really be able to distinguish the sound of the two guitars?

Please let's keep it objective! I'm not asking for opinions on which is better, or why you should really buy a Gibson/get a Mac/whatever. Just whether the two sound noticeably different.

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Good question, just wondering if it's possible to generalize this a little. Would you be open to tweaking it a little towards asking whether partial hollow/solid bodies in general affect sound, away from comparing only the two guitars? Hopefully that would make it more broadly useful. –  Matthew Read Jan 27 '12 at 23:34
    
That's an excellent suggestion - I've edited the question to generalise it but kept the guitars as an example. Hope that works better! –  Mark Jan 28 '12 at 14:09
    
Check out this closely-related question: music.stackexchange.com/q/2501/36 –  Alex Basson Jan 28 '12 at 16:25
    
Awesome, thanks! –  Matthew Read Jan 28 '12 at 20:35
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A few reasons. 1) It's not too easy for me to get to a music shop. 2) Because then only I learn the answer, whereas this way many people do. 3) Because one person's judgment in one venue on one amp is likely to be subjective, whereas here we can (hopefully) crowdsource a more objective consensus. 4) Because StackExchange is all about asking interesting questions - what's the problem exactly? :) –  Mark Feb 1 '12 at 23:38
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6 Answers 6

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I don't have experience of the Sheraton, but in comparing a Les Paul with some semi-hollow body / semiacoustics I have played I would say the key features for me are:

  • The semiacoustics give a bigger 'ring' - and by that I mean a combination of long sustain and a sensitivity to feedback, so you get a much bigger feel to chords in a loud environment. That said, it can be too much - I tend to use no distortion, just a little overdrive when using one as it gets too muddy otherwise, where a Les Paul can cope quite happily with shedloads of distortion and stay clear.

  • For a nice round jazzy tone I would always go with the semiacoustic - for similar reasons to the previous one; a Les Paul can sound a bit thin with a clean amp but a semiacoustic through a clean Marshall can give a warm round tone with some lovely mids.

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Theoretically there should be a difference because acoustic volume (surface contact of the wave) of a guitar is inversely proportional to the sustain (dissipation of energy); also the frequency damping of different guitar must be different. Keeping both unplugged, if the semi-body produce a stronger acoustic that the solid body, it will in theory, gives proportionally weaker sustain.

You may tell the difference better between hollow and solid-body. Or, if you try Gibson instead of cheap Epiphone.

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How predictable. Clearly you didn't read the last paragraph of the question. :( –  Mark Feb 4 '12 at 23:57
    
huh? the hollow wings lowers the mass, give more surface area for the acoustic to be released through the F-holes. If you cover the F-hole or stuff up the hollow of course you will find a noticeable difference. the reverse is also true. –  KMC Feb 6 '12 at 0:18
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Any guitar tone is going to be affected by the materials that the guitar is constructed from and this will contribute to things like "sustain" and resonance. I can't give you a direct answer between the two guitars you are showing but I do know that one of the features of a Les Paul is a solid mahogany body and a fixed (not bolt on) neck. Due to the heavy weight of the mahogany recent models have appeared that have been hollowed out to reduce weight. Purists stick with the solid models. Some basses and guitars have the neck going all the way through the guitar so that the string vibration will span the same piece of wood.

I am guessing here, but would venture to say that part of the tone of a hollow body is due to the internal acoustics and the way bridge is attached. Many jazz musicians play hollow bodies and arch tops for the smoother tone it provides.

That said, a significant portion of the sound is from the guitar electronics (pickups and tone circuit) and much R&D has gone into the correct matching of these parts in various guitar models - Les Paul - Humbucking Pickups, 500K pots with specific capacitors (film, oil in paper, foil, etc...). You can actually make an electric guitar from a 2x4 some tuners and pickup.

You could probably get more info from www.mylespaul.com in the Luthier forum.

Max

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Since electric-acoustic guitars are really susceptible to nasty howling feedback, I suspect that hollowbodies have different feedback characteristics to solidbodies when played with loud amps and lots of gain. But I don't know enough to write an answer of my own. Care to add something on this topic? –  slim Jan 29 at 14:13
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There is a difference in sound. This comes down to vibrational characteristics. The semi-hollow body has a slight acoustic factor which creates more vibration for a slightly longer duration. This will give one a "cleaner " sound quality as opposed to a solid body. A semi hollow will become "muddy" under heavy distortion as opposed to a solid body. Another factor is "natural harmonics" and "pinch harmonics". Semi acoustics give longer, brighter natural harmonics whereas solid bodies are better for pinch harmonics. Which is better comes down to ones playing style and taste. Truck vs car. Hopes this helps.

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I have owned an Epiphone Dot which I traded for a Grestch Electromatic and I own a Les Paul. If you play them acoustically, you will hear the difference between the hollowbody and solid body. Hollow has that wider sound which is very neat.

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Acoustically they will sound different. I have a thinline Telecaster semihollow which is hollow on only one side. If I strum a chord and then cover and uncover the f hole I can hear the sound of the ringing chord change. Does this affect the sound of the guitar when it is plugged into an amp? Hard to say, but it probably does have some effect.

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