Parent article: Best Cheap Electric Guitars
This is our roundup and review of some of the most popular and best-selling mainline and custom hollow body electric guitars. Both semi and full hollow body designs are included.
In keeping with our buying guide format, guitars make the list based on the following criteria:
- Price (affordability)
- Construction Quality (parts)
- Community Consensus (reputation)
Keep in mind, this is not a ranked list.
It would be possible to rank a smaller number of guitars, but once you gather a larger number of them together, things get a little too muddy and subjective for a true ranking.
Best Mainline & Custom Hollow Body Electric Guitars
Epiphone Dart Archtop
Squier '72 Thinline Telecaster
Guild M-75 Aristocrat
D'Angelico Premier DC
Epiphone ES-333 Tom Delonge
Gretsch Guitars G5420T
Hagstrom Viking Deluxe
Epiphone Casino Coupe
Fender '72 Thinline Telecaster
Gibson ES-335 Studio
PRS S2 Custom 22
PRS SE Custom 22
We will be providing a review for each of the above nineteen guitars.
In keeping with the purpose of our buying guides, we’ll provide a snapshot of each guitar so you can narrow down your options and make an informed decision about what guitar could work best for you.
These listings embody the following:
- Our personal recommendation
- A contextual product snapshot
- A brief review
Nothing more and nothing less.
Take your time browsing and make sure to check the Amazon and Guitar Center links for Used options, if and when you decide to buy.
Before jumping into the list, let’s look at some quality indicators.
Hollow Body Electric Guitars: Quality Indicators
Hollow body electric guitars (semi or otherwise) will have significant differences from solid body guitars in terms of tone and stylistic leanings.
However, the quality indicators are, more or less, the same.
They would include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Pickup Types (stock, brand, etc.)
- Brand Standards (PRS, Gibson, etc.)
Almost all quality indicators are shared by both types of guitar.
What you might want to do first is create a quick checklist of your “priority” features.
It’ll help you concentrate your efforts on guitars that fit your particular needs.
Once that happens, you can narrow down your purchase.
What about the super-expensive options?
In a majority of our guitar buying guides, we avoid guitars that are priced on the higher-end.
On this list however, I’ve left a lot of them in, since some people are looking for the nicer, high-priced guitars. Now, that doesn’t mean I believe that a high-price tag automatically equals a high-value.
Value is a combination of what you can get with what you can afford. So yes, the $4000 guitar is nicer than the $400 guitar, but the $400 might have more value to you because of your budget and what you get in return for the amount of money you spend.
In this post, we’re simply making some room for bigger budgets.
Ready to jump in?
1. Ibanez Artcore AF55
By some accounts, the stock ACH pickups in this guitar aren’t too bad.
Treat internet forum testimonies with a grain of salt. However, it is still encouraging to see people giving the Ibanez stock pickups some enthusiastic support.
The body is entirely maple, which is good. However, I can’t find specifics anywhere on whether you’re dealing with solid wood or laminate.
In a guitar, solid wood is always better while laminate is the cheap-out option.
At this price, laminate is almost a certainty.
That said, positive reviews are plentiful and the thick, jazzy tones are a pleasant surprise in this price range.
- All-maple body
- ACH humbuckers
2. Epiphone ES-339 P90 Pro
The P90s on this guitar are said to be Epiphone’s re-creation of the original P90 pickups Gibson produced in the late 1940s.
Now, that still means that these are stock from Epiphone and I vastly prefer that a guitar come with a brand pickup, like a set of Seymour Duncans or EMGs.
By most accounts and reviews, these P90 replicas still sound quite good.
An ideal scenario would be to couple this guitar with the P90s from Seymour Duncan.
But, even if you don’t go that route, you’re still getting a lot of guitar for the money.
The body is laminate (layers of wood instead of a solid piece) and entirely maple.
In most cases, you’ve got to get past the $500 mark before you start seeing non-laminate construction. Thus, if an economy option is on your radar we like the ES-339, even if you keep the stock P90s.
Read more: Best Epiphone Les Pauls
- Dual tone and volume control
- P90 Replica Epiphone Pickups
- All-maple body
3. Epiphone Dot Archtop
The Epiphone Dot is similar to the ES-339 with a set of stock Alnico magnet pickups.
Once again you have a laminate maple body, two volume/tone knobs, and the same shape we see in the other two hollow body electric guitars.
The Dot’s tonal spectrum leans to the low end with a lot of sustain and little bit of edge to it.
Typically, it retails just slightly lower than the ES-339, which means it’ll come down to a pickup preference. If you like the P90s, go with the ES-339.
- Dual tone and volume control
- All-maple body
4. Squier Vintage Modified ’72 Thinline Telecaster
Fender’s website lists this guitar as having a “Semi-Hollow Ash” body and doesn’t specify whether it’s laminate or solid wood.
Ambiguity in this area generally means you’re dealing with laminate.
Plus, Ash isn’t a particularly desirable type of tonewood unless you’re dealing with Swamp Ash.
Even still, there are a few features we like about this offering, which is one of the best from Squier.
The pearloid pickguard and HH pickup design makes for an aesthetically rewarding instrument. The pickups are stock, but still capture a fair amount of the twangy Telecaster vibe.
It’s “budget-friendly,” for sure.
And please don’t get sucked into the idea that Squier guitars are competitive with Fenders in terms of quality.
This guitar is less than $300 for a reason and can’t hold a candle to the American Telecasters.
Does that mean they’re terrible guitars?
Of course not.
Just don’t say they’re the same as the nicer models. It’s simply not true.
Read more: Best Fender Stratocasters
- Natural Finish
- Maple Neck
5. Guild M-75 Aristocrat
The SB-1F pickups are a standalone design from Guild that they sell on their website.
In other words, it’s not just a stock part that they’re throwing in to get the rest of the guitar out the door.
These P90-style pickups are decent and shouldn’t need to be replaced outside of a tonal or stylistic preference.
The tone is distinctly jazz and thick, with plenty of weight on the lower notes and a little bit of growl, particularly with heavy picking.
It’s a classy sound, capable of bleeding into the edgier tones of blues and rock as well.
Per the product homepage, the M-75 uses a disappointingly large amount of laminate, covering the top and sides of the guitar. The back is solid mahogany, though for a guitar that eclipses four figures, you’d hope to see more solid wood.
|Body Construction||Chambered with Braced Top|
|Body Top||Arched Laminated Spruce|
|Body Back||Solid Mahogany|
|Body Sides||Laminated Mahogany|
If you like the style and feel of the guitar, don’t let the laminate scare you away.
Just note that there are better deals out there.
A few things that help sweeten the deal include dual volume/tone knobs, a hardshell case, and Grover tuners.
So, I’d give high marks for pickups, tone, and hardware while docking points for tonewood and what I might call a slightly high price tag.
- Solid Back
- Hard Case Included
- Grover Tuners
6. D’Angelico Premier DC
This model from D’Angelico is similar to the M-75 from Guild, but with a few pricier upgrades.
D'Angelico's Gibson-style silver pickups and almost universal usage of Maple tonewood are two of this guitar’s most attractive features. It’s also just aesthetically classy with silver hardware, a stairstep tailpiece and a distinctly cut headstock.
Like the M-75 you’ve got a laminate top and solid back, two volume/tone controls and a hardshell case.
Per the D’Angelico website, notable brand fans include Brad Whitford and Bob Weir.
Keep in mind that some discrepancies in price can simply be due to one company using a different pricing model than another. Every guitar manufacturer pays for material to make guitars and then marks them up for profit.
Guild is a larger, more popular company, which often means they’ll be able to charge less.
So, it’s not necessarily an issue of quality.
From a tone perspective, I find the DC to be far more satisfying, which might simply be due to the maple tonewood and the profile of the humbuckers. It’s a little brighter and more defined than the M-75, which I think does a better job taking advantage of the hollow body design.
Outside of comparison talk, the DC is a beautiful instrument that sounds the part and, thus far, has been one of my favorites on this list.
- Kent Armstrong Pickups
- Hard Case Included
- Grover Tuners
7. Epiphone Limited Edition Wildkat
What you’ll find with less expensive guitars is that manufacturers (even the good ones, like Epiphone) will come up with a template, a system that works, and repeat it across multiple guitars with only minor stylistic differences between them.
The ES-339, the Dot, and the Wildkat are all good examples of this as they share many basic features.
Laminate construction, Maple or Mahogany tonewood and the “a little better than stock” pickups, like the P90 replicas, are all used in these guitars.
One thing I really like about this model is the fact that it comes with a real Bigsby tremolo system, the B70 to be precise.
The Bigsby B70 tremolo system. Image courtesy of Bigsby
Bigsby systems are a fairly typical feature for custom hollow body electric guitars, since they’re designed for the thinner construction, where tremolo solutions like the Floyd Rose system are too impractical to implement.
Bigsy tremolos are more commonly seen on pricier models, which makes sense considering the B70 itself costs around $120.
It’s rare to see them on guitars this low in price.
Blueprints for the Bigsby B70 vibrato base. Image via Bigsby Guitars
A lot of people don’t care about a tremolo system on their guitar, so if this feature doesn’t get you excited, there isn’t a lot more I can point out about the Wildkat that will.
Grover tuning heads, a maple top, and a master volume knob along with two volumes for each pickup and a master tone pot are all moderately attractive (though not unusual) features.
Once again, it comes down to an issue of preference and what features you’d like to prioritize.
As Dave Matthews once said, “I dunno…you decide.”
At the same time, I find it hard to argue with such a good track record of customer reviews.
Well…except for one:
Captain America chiming in.
- Bigsby B70 Tremolo System
- Pickup Volume
- Grover tuning heads
8. Epiphone ES-333 Tom Delonge Signature
The Epiphone version of the Tom Delonge signature retains the Gibson USA Dirty Fingers pickup, which retails on its own for $165.
Luckily for Epiphone, Delonge is a one pickup kinda guy, meaning they can keep the price of his signature model down pretty low.
Other features are fairly basic.
Grover tuners are worth mentioning along with a laminated birch/maple combination.
Those who aren’t enthralled with Blink-182’s guitar work, would likely be better served elsewhere.
- Gibson USA Dirty Fingers Pickup
- Grover tuning heads
- Maple and Birch Tonewood
9. Gretsch Guitars G5420T
The Filter Tron pickup has been around for a long time, the 1950s to be precise (one of the first of the humbucking pickups).
However, the Black Top version of this pickup (there have been several versions of Filter Trons through the years) is a little younger, having waited until the 1970s to make an appearance.
Today’s version is distinctively twangy, almost like an expensive Telecaster.
Then you have the added sustain and resonance of the hollow body design, making for a unique, yet muddled result.
It’s honestly hard for me to say how I feel about the tone you get out of this guitar. In some instances, it just sounds cheap and messy. In others, the extra twang and growl is a welcome additive.
Overall, the tone is a little more grungy and less pristine than what you’d expect from a Gretsch, so I’d strongly advise checking out some of the demo videos before pulling the trigger.
Other notable features include the Bigsby tremolo system, maple tonewood (laminate), and a master volume knob covering two individual volume knobs for each pickup.
The G5420T is meant to be a more affordable version of the more expensive Gretsch models.
It’s kind of like the PRS SE line.
In other words, it looks the part while cutting enough corners to get the price in three-figure territory.
However, this particular model gives you enough quality and features to make it a valuable purchase.
- Bigsby tremolo system
- Maple tonewood
- Filter Tron pickups
10. Hagstrom Viking Deluxe
Hagstrom, a Swedish-based company, is not a well-known manufacturer.
The Viking doesn’t really make any splashes in terms of features.
In fact, everything is about what you would expect for the price tag.
Pickups are some kind of Hagstrom stock humbucker, tonewood is almost all maple, and the guitar’s aesthetics are deceptively good.
Dual tone and volume knobs also make an appearance.
A shot from Robert Renman's demo video of the Hagstrom Viking. Image via YouTube
While good, the guitar’s tone is not likely to blow your mind.
It sounds clean, smooth, and even. Although, it can lack thickness on softer licks and chords.
While it might make for an ideal jazz sound, in some cases, and according to some tastes, the tone could be a little too subdued.
So, while you might get a little flair from the headstock, tuners, and fancy tailpiece, it’s not my favorite on this list.
Great guitar, but little that sets it apart from the other 18 models.
- Dual volume and tone knobs
- Custom headstock
- Maple tonewood
11. Epiphone Casino Coupe
Epiphone’s take on the P90 pickups make a reappearance on this guitar with the dog ear style humbuckers.
Coupled with an entirely hollow, laminate maple body, the result is a tone that can sound a bit thin on the bridge pickup, but certainly not cheap. You’d like to see it push out some thicker, fuller tones, but that’s not really what the guitar was designed for.
We couldn’t, in good conscience, call it versatile.
The guitar adds some nice “pop” to muted string picks and plenty of resonance to lower notes and full chords.
Like the Viking, it’s setup to be a decent economy option and not necessarily the end-all of hollow body electric guitars.
That means the price tag is undoubtedly the main attraction.
This is not a guitar I would recommend to modern or hard rock-leaning players. Think jazz, light blues, and easy listening.
- Imitation P90 pickups
- Dual tone and volume knobs
- Maple tonewood
12. Fender Classic ’72 Thinline Telecaster
Fender’s ’72 Thinline sounds a lot like what you’d expect out of a traditional telecaster, even with the dual HH pickup configuration.
The resonance and sustain from the semi-hollow body design is an addicting additive.
So it’s country-fried, but it’s also got punch and warmth to it.
This tonal combination is unique and a major selling point of the guitar.
Other features are fairly basic.
The familiar “Wide Range” pickups are used here and seem to play nicely with the solid ash tonewood that makes up the body of the guitar.
In this instance, you’re paying mostly for the solid wood and pickup configuration.
And while there’s plenty of versatility in this instrument, country artists, light rock, and heavy blues guitar players are likely to be the most satisfied with it.
- Solid Ash tonewood
- Wide Range HH pickup configuration
13. Gibson ES-335 Studio
With this guitar, I’ve noticed some conflicting information when it comes to the specs.
If you look on the Guitar Center page, it clearly states that this guitar uses ’57 Classic and Super ’57 Classic pickups.
The info on both of these pickups is a bit cloudy.
In some instances, folks are saying that Gibson is cutting costs here, per the Gibson forum:
So, I’m assuming that the ’57 Classic (without the “Super”) is a step down from the Super ’57 Classic, while both are a bit of a cost-cutting effort from Gibson to begin with.
For example, they’re probably not as nice as the Burstbucker pickups, which retails around $200.
Now, be aware that the “Studio Memphis” version of the ES-335 is different than the just “Memphis” version of the ES-335, as evidenced by the nicer pickups listed on the product’s home page:
The ES-335 Memphis is big money, so be careful not to get the specs of the two mixed up.
As for the ’57 pickups, they’re not a bad deal at all.
One thing that I found uniquely disappointing was the combination of a chambered body and laminate construction.
It’s easier to have solid wood with a chambered or “semi-hollow” body guitar than an entirely hollow body. Then again, we need to consider that part of the appeal you get out of the Gibson Studio models is that they give you the Gibson name without the high price tag.
Gibson has intentionally cut some corners with this version of the ES-335 in order to make it more affordable, but it’s far from “economy.”
What’s more, you won’t be worrying about much else once you hear the tone produced by the ES-335.
It’s incredibly crisp and bright without being too shrill or piercing, especially pleasing with the pickup selector in the middle position.
If you want to check it out, I’d recommend this demo video by Dawson’s Music.
- Gibson '57 Classic pickups
- Dual tone and volume
- Carved contour
14. PRS S2 Custom 22
The body of this guitar is made out of solid wood and is a mixture of maple on top with mahogany for the rest of the body.
Otherwise it’s a fairly basic, mid-range PRS model.
It’s not as cheap as the SEs, but also not up to the same standards of the McCarty or Custom 24.
One of the most noticeable differences is the carving of the S2’s body.
Compare the shot of the S2 with a shot of the Custom 24.
First the S2:
Then, the Custom 24:
Both guitars are beautifully made, but it’s easy to see that the Custom 24 has been given more attention when it comes to the contour of the body.
It’s essentially a “beveled” top as opposed to the deep carve of the nicer models.
These are some of the differences you can expect when going from a $3500 guitar to a $1500 guitar.
Pickups are listed as “PRS #7 Bridge and Neck,” which are obviously some form of PRS stock. However, if you check out the demo of this guitar at NAMM 2014, the pickups actually sound really nice, especially with the coil-tapping feature.
There’s some snap and twang to each note and plenty of thick, warm bass on the lower distorted runs.
The chambered body and solid mahogany are often a reliable combination without regard to brand. It’s also hard to argue with a PRS that’s made in Maryland.
Crabcakes, football and now guitars. Maryland does it all. Image via Ben Kauffman
Most of the hardware is PRS stock, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The tremolo, bridge, and tuners are all in-house PRS parts, which all have varying degrees of quality.
For example, what you get on a $3500 McCarty will be a few steps above the parts used for the S2. The pickups for the McCarty are listed here:
|Treble Pickup||PRS 58/15 Treble|
|Bass Pickup||PRS 58/15 Bass|
So, there is obviously a bit of a “class system” when it comes to PRS parts.
This makes it a little harder to speak objectively about the quality of the hardware you’re getting. In this case, you’ve simply got to trust the PRS name and brand.
For what it’s worth, I do.
- Solid Mahogany and Maple tonewood
- Beveled body
- PRS #7 humbuckers
15. PRS SE Custom 22 Semi-Hollow
The SE models are the default economy line for PRS, many of which fall at or under the $700 price tag.
There are a number of ways that PRS cuts cost to get this guitar’s price down.
First, there’s no real definition to the top of the guitar, no carving or bevel, it’s just a flat surface.
While some of the photos are a bit deceptive, this shot shows it clearly:
Minimal bevel and no carving.
Other cost-cutting measures seem to be basic downgrades in hardware, namely with the pickups and stoptail bridge.
When you compare the tone of this guitar to the S2 and the more expensive PRS models, you can really start to hear the drop in quality.
The rich definition and sharpness of the more expensive guitars just doesn’t show up in the SE models, as you’ll be dealing with a more flat tone and softened response. Now, if you compare the tone of the PRS SE models to other guitars that are priced similarly, the SEs do quite well. In fact, they’re one of my preferred economy guitar lines.
For buyers in this price range, it’s an excellent option either as a starter guitar or a permanent fixture.
- Chambered Mahogany body
- Maple top
- PRS stock pickups
Prioritizing Quality Indicators
Identifying the best mainline and custom hollow body electric guitars is as much subjective as it is scientific.
Therefore, you can’t divorce your own unique preferences and situation from the objective nature of quality indicators.
Because getting quality doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting value if you end up paying for something you don’t want or need. This is especially true when it comes to something as personal and artistic as a guitar.
So you’ve got to look at the quality indicators and features listed, then decide what you want to pay for.
Choose your budget ahead of time and then use this guide to figure out where your money is going and how it can best be spent.
The wood used in hollow body electric guitars is a significant quality indicator and price-point determinant.
However, it’s often difficult for buyers to assess even when they know the type of wood used.
Here are a few resources I’d recommend for getting to know tonewood beyond the specs list:
- All About Tonewood | Guitar Player Article
- Types of Guitar Wood | Udemy Blog Article
- Taylor Acoustic Guitar Woods | From the Taylor Guitar Website
You can use these articles to identify tonewoods that you might see mentioned in spec lists and then do more research on whichever one you might be thinking about purchasing, if need be.
As we’ve mentioned in this article, you always want to look for as much solid wood as possible.
Laminate is passable, but is undoubtedly the less-desirable option.
Questions and Concerns
We provide a lot of gear resources as part of our regular publication.
If you have questions about these guitars or the products included in other guides, feel free to reach out to me directly.
You can also get in touch via Twitter and the comments section below.