Exotic hybrids aside, there are three main kinds of bodies when you’re talking about electric guitars: hollow body, semi-hollow body and solid body. Among the biggest factors associated with the body’s inherent tone has to do with how they handle resonance (which in simple terms means how they handle the sound bouncing around inside of the body). Here are their general qualities along with some of their inherent pros and cons:
Full Hollow Body – These tend to sound very thin and hollow with an acoustic type of vibe. Think of electrified country music with plenty of twang and you’ll get to see the picture. But because of the hollow nature of the body, sound tends to bounce around a lot. When played in a loud volume along with high gain distortion, the sound coming from the amplifier can reach the inside of the guitar, especially if the amp is facing the player. The result is a bunch of trapped sound bouncing inside of the body which is repeatedly picked up by the pickups in a sort of perpetual loop, resulting in that very unpleasant feedback sound. Unlike the kind of feedback that are caused by electric disturbances messing with the pickups, this type is directly a result of sound waves which is why it’s sometimes known as acoustic feedback. If you’re looking to play with clean settings, not overtly loud along with a little bit of gain, this guitar body might be the right one for you. Hard rockers, distortion freaks, metal heads and punk rock guitarists should probably look elsewhere.
Solid Body – If clean, semi-acoustic, bright, thin tones aren’t your cup of tea, a solid body might be more of your thing. Unlike hollows and semi-hollows, solids are the best body types as far as handling high gain resonance is concerned which is why they are among the most popular choices for hard rock and metal. As far as tone goes, these bodies offer a thicker, warm, fatter tone that goes well with distortion and loud volume levels. Combine one of these babies with some humbuckers and you can crank that amp to 11 with all of the high gain distortion you desire with little risk of acoustic feedback! Among the most popular guitars in this category are the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul.
Semi-Hollow Body – If the thin, brittle sound of a hollow body is a bit tame but the thick, fat tone of a solid body isn’t exactly your thing, maybe a semi can give you the best of both worlds. Think of this type as somewhere in the middle but a bit closer to hollow bodies. Although they can also suffer from acoustic feedback, they are not as prone as the full hollows and can actually handle a good amount of gain that might not fit metal, but can do wonders for rockabilly, roots rock and even some brighter forms of punk. It’s also a very popular body style for a lot of indie rock as well. A perfect example of a band that is well known for this type of semi-hollow body guitar tone is the Kings of Leon – specifically frontman Caleb Followill’s 1972 Gibson ES-325 which combines the thin, bright twang of a country guitar with the high gain crispness of a solid.
Remember that a player’s overall tone is made of up all of the pieces in your ax, not just one aspect of it, so while a solid body tends to give a warmer, thicker sound, combining that with light gauge strings and single coil pickups might result in something much thinner than you might have expected, but more on that a little later. A good example of this is the Fender Telecaster. While the body of your standard Tele is solid, the pickups give the guitar a very bright, thin and jangly feel that has found plenty of love with country guitarists who traditionally tend to go for semi and full hollow body guitars.