Best Archtop and Semi-Hollow Guitars for Getting Into Jazz

Best Archtop and Semi-Hollow Guitars for Getting Into Jazz

Here's our list of the best jazz guitar models for beginners and those curious about jazz, in no particular order:

  • Ibanez AF95
  • Epiphone ES-335
  • Epiphone Casino
  • Squier Thinline Telecaster
  • Washburn HB

Pssst... want to find out why we chose those? Read on, see below!

It's no secret that most of the guitars found in jazz music fall into one of these two categories: archtop and semi-hollow. That's not to say, of course, that you can't play jazz guitar on a solid body guitar.

First, let's discuss what I mean by solid body, hollow, and semi-hollow.

Types of Guitars

solid-semi-hollow

Solid Body - Solid body guitars, which we will not be discussing here, are guitars where the body isn't chambered or hollow anywhere. It's one solid block of wood or combination of woods. 

fender-telecaster

These guitars lend themselves to being able to play at volume higher volumes with lots of gain without running into feedback issues. They also typically have better sustain. Think Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, etc.

Hollow Body - These guitars have completely hollow bodies and are known for having a fatter more acoustic sound. They are quite fun to play, but they're not without their drawbacks. Particularly, these guitars can cause feedback rather quickly, so you'll have to adjust your settings and amplification accordingly.

Have a look at Wes Montgomery's guitar or just about any of the old jazzers for examples of these.

Semi-Hollow - These guitars seem to offer a little bit of both worlds if you find yourself somewhere in the middle. They are mostly hollow but usually have a block of wood down the middle of the guitar to help curb the feedback issues. 

Most famously, think Gibson ES 335 like the ones BB King and John Scofield played. 

jazz-guitar-1The fact remains, however, that these two types seem to take precedence over anything else. They are known for being able to provide a nice fat sound that's often desired in this style of music.

As a beginner, you probably don't want to fork over $5000 for something to which you aren't yet fully committed. Today, we'll discuss some of the more affordable models that are a good fit for beginners.

Before moving on, make sure you check out our other gear pages:

Jazz Guitar Gear - Top of the line jazz guitar equipment used by many pros today.

Marc's Gear - Check this page out if you're interested in knowing what Marc is using in his lesson videos.

Budget

While I would discourage paying a ridiculous sum for a top of the line guitar when you're starting out, you will need some budget considerations here.

Pink piggy bank broken with money

In general, the guitars we're discussing here will range from $300 to about $700. Add to that the price of a little starter amp at about $100-400 and a few cables, picks, etc.

I know that's kind of a broad price range for a starter amp, but it depends on what you're looking for! ;)

In total, you're looking at $700-1000 of an initial investment on NEW gear. If you're good at shopping around and getting deals on used gear, you can probably get started for much, much lower. ;)

Popular Brands + Models

There are many ways you can go in trying to achieve this sound on a budget. Different companies such as Ibanez, Fender, Epiphone, and others have made it a point to fill the need for affordable jazz guitars.

Ibanez

  • Playability: 4.5/5
  • Tone: 4/5
  • Price: 5/5

Right away, Ibanez comes to mind. Their Artcore series has been quite popular for a very long time now among beginning jazz guitarists.

My favorite model is the Ibanez AF95. It's a lovely guitar that is very playable and offers great tone.

Ibanez-AF95

These guitars run about $700 new but I've seen them go for as low as $250 used. It's a really great bargain for such a beautiful guitar! As a truly hollow body, these guitars can give you a remarkably fat sound.

Epiphone

  • Playability: 5/5
  • Tone: 4/5
  • Price: 4.5/5

Next on the list we have Epiphone guitars. I have personally played a few different models from them in the hollow and semi-hollow varieties that I absolutely loved.

First up, of course, is their version of the ES335.

epiphone-es-335

Wonderful playability and great tone. This guitar and the following one really have fast necks which I love. I've seen these go between $300-500 in most places. You can really get some deals on used ones.

Since the 335 is semi-hollow, it can also handle a bit of gain as well without causing a lot of feedback. 

Next, we have the Epiphone Casino!

Another beautiful guitar with incredible playability and even better tone for a great price.

epiphone-casino-1

I believe these guitars go for roughly $650 new and, of course, are much cheaper used.

The Casino is a "thin-line" hollow body and it can give a nice fat sound as well as handle a bit of gain. 

Squier

  • Playability: 5/5
  • Tone: 3.5/5
  • Price: 5/5

Now, for those of you that don't like big bulky bodies like these, Squier makes a great affordable version of the Fender Thinline. This is basically a semi-hollow Telecaster with most of the qualities you enjoy about them in an affordable model.

squier-thinline
These guitars are surprisingly good quality. Squier has stepped up the game as the cheaper alternative to Fender guitars.
The Squier Thinline usually goes for $300-500. You can find them used for under $300 easily. 
 
Washburn

  • Playability: 4/5 
  • Tone: 4.5/5
  • Price: 5/5
Washburn's "HB" series, which I presume standards for hollow body, is another great affordable alternative.
 
The only funny thing about this is that these guitars are actually all semi-hollow from what I can tell, so it's a bit of a misnomer. 
 
washburn-hb15
 
Since they all have a center block, they can handle a good bit of volume/gain without feedback while maintaining that nice hollow body tone. 
 
These are really great guitars and I'd recommend any model in the series. I've seen them used for about $300 and new for roughly $700.

Conclusion

Most of the guitars covered here are budget guitars. If you've already been playing for some time or just have some money to play with, I would recommend checking out our Jazz Guitar Gear Page for some suggestions on some of the more expensive models available.

Still, however, even if you have money to throw around, I would suggest starting out with something cheaper. If you can make a cheap guitar sound good, you can make the good ones sound great.

Tone is in your fingers first and foremost. :)