The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Top Budget Semi-Hollow Electric Guitars
If you are looking for the best new semi-hollow body electric guitar for your $500 budget you probably have more options than you realize. There are some great semi-hollow guitars out there. The Gibson ES-335 is at the top of the heap, not to mention a trailblazer as far as design goes.
Back in 1958, the ES-335 presented jazz, blues, country and rock players with a new kind of sound. Solid-body electric guitars were still a fresh idea at the time, and guitarists were enamored with this new thing called a Stratocaster.
But many players grew up playing the boomy, full-body acoustic and acoustic-electric jazz guitars of the ‘30s and ‘40s. The ES-335 was something in between.
Semi-acoustic electric guitars like the ES-335 are built with a solid center block with a hollow “wing” on each side. They lack the full acoustic projection of a true hollow-body, and therefore are less subject to feedback. But they retain some of that acoustic tone, and sound great clean or with a bit of smooth overdrive. They also tend to be thinner than hollow-body guitars, making them easier to play.
Gibson’s concept for the ES-335 went on to spawn numerous offshoots from Gibson and other guitar companies. It’s become a legendary instrument, and for good reason. But as you probably already know, the Gibson ES-335 is well out of your price range if you plan on sticking to a $500 budget. That’s okay. You still have options and some really good ones!
This article takes a look at three of the best semi-hollow body guitars for under $500. If you’ve read any of my other articles, you know my goal is to help you to find the right gear without dropping too much cash. These instruments are made by some of the top guitars companies, and they will get the job done.
On to the gear!
Epiphone is the most serious contender for a direct ES-335 replacement for less than half a grand. The Dot is a mid-level guitar, but many veteran players have great things to say about it.
The Dot itself has taken on somewhat of a mythical status among guitar fans. It’s not surprising, considering Epiphone was once Gibson’s biggest competitor in the archtop guitar market before Gibson purchased the company outright. When it comes to hollow and semi-hollow body guitars, Epiphone is still pretty darn good.
The Dot features a laminated maple body and top with a mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard. The pickups are Epiphone’s Alnico Classic humbuckers, controlled via two volume and two tone controls and a three-way switch. A tune-o-matic bridge with stop bar tailpiece and Grover tuners rounds out the hardware complement.
While the Dot certainly isn’t up to the same epic quality and sound standards as the ES-335, it’s still a great guitar for thousands less than the real deal. The Dot routinely gets high marks for its sound, looks and playability.
- Also Consider: If you dig the Dot but think you want something a little more serious you may want to think about the Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 PRO. It's a step up from the Dot, and about as close as you are going to get to a Gibson ES-335 without spending a ton of cash. It will set you a bit over your $500 budget, but you may find the upgrades work it. On the other hand, if you’re a beginner, and can’t justify the cost of the Dot, think about the Dot Studio, a more affordable version of the Epiphone Dot.
The Epiphone ES-335 PRO
Ibanez Artcore AS73
Ibanez might be a surprising choice when we’re talking about semi-hollow body guitars. After all, this is the guitar brand that’s known for shred machines like the RG and S series, not to mention the original 7-string designs. But Ibanez first made a name for itself with some very classy guitars back in the ‘70s, and that tradition continues with their Artcore lineup. Ibanez Artcore guitars span the range from classic solid-body guitars to hollow bodies and semi-hollows like the AS73.
The Ibanez AS73 has a maple top, back and sides with a set mahogany neck with a bound rosewood fingerboard. Dual Ibanez ACH pickups and three-way switch, plus the bridge setup, make this guitar quite similar in design to the Dot. This is a testament to the impact the ES-335 had on guitar design for sure. But the Ibanez has a slightly different look and vibe for those who prefer to trod off the beaten path.
While Epiphone seems to have the market cornered when it comes to affordable semi-hollow body guitars under $500, know there are other options, and Ibanez is a good one. Ibanez makes some of the best guitars for jazz as well as rock!
- Also Consider: The Ibanez Artcore Expressionist AS93 is a notch above the AS73 and features upgrades like a flame maple top, block inlays, and Custom 58 pickups. It will put you over your budget, but it’s still an amazing guitar for a reasonable amount of coin. For beginners, the bare-bones and super affordable AS53 might be the best option.
More on the Ibanez AS73
Squier by Fender Classic Vibe Telecaster Thinline
The Gibson ES-335 design is definitely a classic, but maybe you’re thinking of something else altogether. The Telecaster Thinline is an interesting alternative to the typical semi-hollow design. Instead of a center block with hollow wings, here we have a guitar body carved with hollow cavities. It looks like a Tele, plays like a Tele, but it’s going to sound a little different from the Teles you are probably used to.
Unfortunately, the Fender USA version of the Thinline is out of our budget here. But Fender does have the Squier Classic Vibe series, a more affordable lineup of guitars aimed at up-and-coming musicians.
The Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster Thinline features a semi-hollow soft maple body with a one-piece maple neck and maple fingerboard. As for the electronics, the standard Telecaster pickups are instead replaced with a pair of Fender Wide Range Humbuckers. One volume and one tone control plus a three-way switch manage the sound.
In the Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster Thinline we see a guitar enough like the classic Telecaster to look and feel familiar, but with a unique vibe that makes it stand out on stage or in the studio. If you are looking for a great guitar for country music, or a truly unique semi-hollow body guitar, consider this one as an option.
- Also Consider: The Fender Classic Series Thinline Tele is a bit pricey, but you’ll still save some cash compared to the American Deluxe version. If you are serious about the Thinline Tele, give the Classic Series some thought. One the other hand, if you aren’t sure about the idea altogether and don’t want to drop too much cash, look to the Squier Classic Vibe Thinline Tele. The Squier Classic Vibe series gets high marks even from veteran players for its performance and value.
Which Semi-Hollow Body Guitar to Choose?
If you wanted to push your budget you can find a lot of great choices from some major brands out there. But if you’re looking for the best semi-hollow body guitar under $500 it’s tough to beat Epiphone, Ibanez, and Fender. In fact, no matter what style of music you play you'll find these brands built some of the best electric guitars under $500.
The Dot is a classic, but given the choice I'd spend the few extra bucks on the ES-335 PRO. That's probably the first place I would start. People have different opinions of Epiphone, but I’ve always thought if you can grab a good one they are among the best values out there in the guitar world. They also have a strong reputation when it comes to archtop guitars, and while the Dot is certainly based on Gibson designs, Epi has the right pedigree here as well.
Ibanez is a great brand too, and personally I’ve had good experiences with them as far as quality goes. The Artcore series is somewhat of a dark horse compared to the guitars in the Epiphone lineup, but if you dig Ibanez, or just want something different from Epiphone, you can’t go wrong here.
The Thinline Telecaster is something else altogether. You either like the idea or you don’t, and there probably isn’t anything I can say to change your mind either way. However, if you are into the Thinline thing, I would suggest giving the Squier Classic Vibe version strong consideration. You might be surprised by the quality you hear in a Squier guitar.
Good luck in choosing the right semi-hollow body electric guitar!
chuckamok on November 02, 2019:
I have the ibanez and I have to say: I love it. It's amazingly comfortable, has that "like buttah" playability that makes me want to pick it up and play each time I walk in the room. It's hard to put down.