Journey to the Lost World of Semi-Acoustics

The semi-acoustic guitar is not a thing of the past. Many musicians prefer vintage-style guitars. The first electric guitar was made by attaching an electromagnetic pickup to an ordinary acoustic guitar. It's just that the guitar was not heard in the big band, and even in the combo it was lost against the background of drums and piano. Having solved the problem of insufficient volume of the guitar, humanity gave a powerful impetus to the evolutionary process of guitar building.

From the beginning of the 20th century (Paleozoic electric guitar - an acoustic guitar with a single pickup) to the 90s - the Cenozoic era, in which the electric guitar acquired such familiar outlines - two humbuckers, a floyd rose machine, a clamp strings behind the 1st fret, and a turretless body shape. By the way, be more careful with this, otherwise you can gouge out your eye or a colleague's eye with such a guitar. We are currently interested in the Mesozoic era of the electric guitar. The very time when she began to move away from the usual shape of the body of an acoustic guitar, but has not yet come to a body made of a single piece of wood (solidbody). Unlike dinosaurs, the semi-acoustic guitar did not disappear into the past, it survived and occupied its "ecological niche". Why? The answer is simple - this type of guitar has its own "target audience", musicians who prefer vintage-style guitars to all modern achievements.

Who are these people? First, of course, jazz guitarists. Jazz has become a rather orthodox style, but it still uses the achievements of the time when it was considered completely innovative. I do not take into account fusion and jazz-rock. We will consider that these are other styles that have spun off from traditional jazz under the influence of rock or other musical trends. So, all jazz guitar heroes played semi-acoustic instruments. Many of them have now become signature models and occupy a special place in the range of manufacturers.

The second type of musician who prefers semi-acoustic guitars is rockabilly style artists. It's no secret that guitarists who draw inspiration from a certain musical era choose the instruments of the idols of that era. If a guitarist is "killed" by Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page, he will seek to purchase a Gibson Les Paul or Epiphone Les Paul as a last resort. So, rockabilly players want to play those instruments, the prototypes of which were once in the hands of Eddi Cochrane, Scotty Moore, Brian Setzer, et cetera. In addition, the listed guitarists have created a kind of rockabilly industry sound standard. Let's call it "fiftis sound" (from the English. fifties - "fifties") Speaking of "fiftis sound" we should also mention the blues. Of course, blues fans aren't as addicted to semi-acoustic guitars as their rockabilly or jazz counterparts, but the attraction is strong nonetheless.

Why did I single out three different types of musicians who traditionally prefer semi-acoustic instruments? According to these types, a certain conditional classification of the guitars themselves can be applied. So let's start with traditional jazz. Conventionally, the jazz guitar (as we call this type of semi-acoustic instruments) is very similar to its mother, the acoustic guitar. The same hefty body, rather wide and thick neck, large scale, natural colors, with visible wood texture. Although, of course, guitars with a body painted solid red, or with painted aunts, dragons and chainsaws, may exist somewhere, at least I have never seen such a thing. A classic example of such an instrument is Gibson ES175. If you want something simpler, cheaper, then you have plenty to choose from. Now almost all major guitar manufacturers have a traditional jazz instrument in their lineup. Washburn has J3 and J5 models, Yamaha has AEX1500, Epiphone same ES175 and Emperor, y Ibanez - AF75BS, GB series (signature model George Benson ), y J&D - SA20, much more. What I want to draw your attention to is a characteristic stand, usually made of ebony, and a tailpiece. In someone's review article, I happened to read the following phrase - "... this tailpiece dampens the sustain, which, of course, is very suitable for us - jazz guitarists." Here are those times! Raised in rock traditions, we are accustomed to chasing sustain as an unconditional value, and here it is! The fact is that this style implies a completely clear articulation, jazz guitar solos have their own special language with a completely different expressiveness, often incomprehensible to musicians of other styles (I'm not talking about ordinary people). “... How he poured peas!..” the rock guitarist will say about the solo of his jazz colleague. Another important point - when you see a jazz semi-acoustic guitar in the window, you will notice that the 3rd string is braided. To achieve the "signature" jazz sound, it is customary to put large-gauge strings on these guitars. This is most likely one of the reasons why these guitars have such a thick neck. Another worth mentioning are the brilliant pickups. I used the word "brilliant" in the most literal sense. Pay attention to the metal casings on the pickups. It is noticed that such a casing blurs the clarity of the sound. Instead of a distinctly read each string, we get a more or less uniform tonal hum. Please note that signature models of rock musicians usually have pickups without shrouds. That is, the casing is the prerogative of a jazz player, who often needs to give an even filling lining (pad) with the help of one guitar, without resorting to distorting processing, such as distortion.

Gibson ES 335

I'd classify the conventional blues guitars as shaped like Gibson ES 335 - not particularly deep body, two neck cutouts, stop-tail machine. But their most important difference from the previous type is inside. Strictly speaking, these instruments belong to a special type of guitar - semi-hollow body, in contrast to jazz hollow body. The difference is that inside their body there is a solid piece of wood, on the sides of which, under the cut-outs, there is a relatively small empty space. This body design is a kind of compromise, an attempt to take the best that solid-body and semi-acoustic instruments have. Solid body guitars have a smooth, "cold" tone, and are more predictable when overdriven. Hollow guitars give out a warmer sound, but they give out resonances very unevenly with overdrive, in addition, there is a serious problem - feedback. In the case of conventional blues guitars, we have many examples of players using a fairly strong level of overdrive without too much difficulty. These are Tom Delonge (Blink 182), Ritchie Blackmore, Eric Clapton. All of the listed musicians use Gibson ES335, however I guess you can't afford it (approx. $5000). Let's see what our East Asian brothers will offer us. For example: Washburn HB30, HB35, HB32; Yamaha SA500, SA2200; J&D SH10, SH20, SH30, SH40; Ibanez AS73, AS83; Epiphone Sheraton Riviera. Noticed? The range of guitars of this type is much wider than the range of the previous type. The notorious versatility has an effect, and the names of the artists whose name many models are signed are much more famous than the names of jazz heroes of the past. Here is Gallagher from Oasis, and Clapton, and John Lennon, and John Lee Hooker, and Tom DeLonge, and who just isn't there.

Of course, these guitars are not suitable for high-speed sparkling soloing (the so-called shred), but for viscous solos and weighty rhythm parts - that's it. On the other hand, it cannot be said that solid-body guitars are inapplicable for these purposes. Here we are dealing with a completely different reason for loving these guitars - people simply fall under the fascination of these instruments. For those to whom such guitars seem incomprehensible archaic, it is impossible to explain why many are simply in love with the prototypes of the 335th model. “She is beautiful and sounds great” - you start arguing, you will get in the eye. This seems to me the main difference from jazz guitars. A jazz guitarist can easily explain why he needs just such a guitar - “... firstly, less sustain, secondly, a large resonating body, thirdly, a solid sound, and fourthly, a thick grippy neck, on which you can put sets of strings of a very serious caliber ". (Surely there is also “…fifth,…tenth…”, but I, to be honest, do not consider myself a major specialist in jazz guitars). If you ask a guitarist - “why are you buying a 335?”, then most likely he will answer: “I have dreamed of such a guitar all my life.” The same applies to the "conditionally rockabilly" guitars we called.

This market is very small and very conservative. Rockabilly fans themselves often demonstrate the desire not only to "sound like in the fifties", but also to live there. Vintage cars, semolina shoes, nashville pompadour hairstyles, the shift from digital to vinyl. Innovative moves in this style are rare. The iconic guitar maker for this music is GRETSCH. We can say that the company has survived to this day thanks to a narrow circle of fans of rockabilly style guitar heroes. The most important rocker on the planet at the moment is Brian Setzer (Stray Cats, Brian Setzer Orchestra). Naturally, he is an endorser of the company Gretsch (from the English - endorsement - a contract when a well-known musician uses only guitars of one particular manufacturer for advertising purposes, which are given to him for free). The model signed with his name is called 6120. This is a classic of the genre. It has a 24.6” scale, one cutout for access to the upper frets, an ebony fretboard, and pickups that are completely unlike anything else in sound or appearance. Another very characteristic detail is the Bigsby tremolo system. What else can be said here?

It's hard to convince anyone that this instrument is something outrageously cool if they haven't fallen under the spell of this guitar. I myself can name some shortcomings of Gretsch guitars, but this in no way changes my excellent attitude towards them. In order not to be unfounded, I will name some shortcomings. All the Gretsch I've seen have a piece of wood under the tailpiece that sits squarely between the top and bottom. Obviously, this is done to reduce the risk of breaking the thin top soundboard under the pressure of the strings. However, such a bar strongly dampens the body resonance. String holder crackers, even for quite expensive models, are made in the form of knives. Because of this, the strings are prone to "rwakle". The tuning pegs also do not always withstand intense “rocking” by the machine - we get “guitar disorder”. But, in spite of everything, the quality of performance and the sound of these guitars are such that they have a steady demand and an army of their loyal fans. One person said to me: "Guitars Gretsch are disgusting, however, nothing better has yet been invented." Do not think that semi-acoustic models Gretsch are intended only for stubborn rockers. Yes, this is the main “contingent”, but we can also hear the sound of Gretsch from artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers (you can admire it in the “Californication” video), Roxette, U2, George Harrison, Malcolm Young - AC / DC and many, many others. From my point of view, the absolutely right move of the Russian distributors of Gretsch is to conclude an endorsement agreement with Shura Bi-2 (or Left Bi-2, I never distinguished them). Guitar rock and rock pop are very promising areas for introducing these instruments to the market. But you don’t need to lure the rock-billers - they will buy it anyway, if there is money. Now we come to an incredibly sad question - what if there is no money? (for reference: Gretsch 6120 Brian Setzer costs $2968) Well, let's turn to our yellow-faced brothers again.

Perhaps the market for this type of instrument is very narrow. The most experienced manufacturers decide to release a maximum of one “pseudo-Gretsch” guitar. Washburn has J9VG, Yamaha AES1500 and AES1500B, Ibanez has AFS75, y AriaFA80. Cunning for inventions, the goal buys an inexpensive jazz guitar, puts Bigsby on it, and does not even always change the pickups. Choose according to your taste and pocket. I, in turn, dare to give a couple of tips.

Yamaha AES1500, Ibanez – AFS75, J&D SA-20

installation of frets. Look at the deflection of the neck and look for cracks in the body - if you “lonk” - the cost of bringing the instrument into a divine form will many times exceed the cost of the instrument itself. The main thing in a guitar is that you can't change it. Pegs, frets, sensors, potentiometers - all this must be replaced. The neck is almost impossible to change, the material of the body is impossible. Before you make a choice - go shopping, you should look at all the possible options.

Since some words have been said about a tree, I will allow myself to develop this topic a little. The main material for semi-acoustic instruments is maple. There is an option - spruce (spruce). Sometimes they make maple bottom and sides, spruce top. Rarely come across exotic materials such as mahogany. 90% of semi-acoustic guitars are made entirely of maple, plus a fretboard of something else. But, I must tell you, maple-maple is different. The quality of the wood may vary, depending on the degree of drying, the arrangement of the fibers, etc. The quality of the tool depends on the method of gluing, the location of the springs, etc. In short, you will choose - do not forget the ears at home. And, first of all, listen to the instrument in an unconnected state - we are interested in the acoustic properties of the "can".

A few words about specific models. All the J&D, instruments that I have ever held in my hands are made of very good wood, the quality of the pickups is average, the frets leave much to be desired. With such a quality of wood and the method of gluing the cases, the sound turned out to be quite satisfactory, but when buying this instrument, you must immediately add the cost of going to the master in your mind to its price. However, at this price, it still won't be a huge waste. As for my personal preferences, I liked the SA-20 the most. Pure water "taste", I just like guitars with a deep body. And so it is quite difficult to single out any “especially successful” guitar from the entire model range.

Washburn J9VG, Epiphone Emperor II, Aria FA80

motors to just about anything. There is an easily explainable trend - the more expensive the instrument, the better it sounds. Model AE500 was subjected to a particularly diligent inspection. The case sounds very good, despite the support under the stand. The frets are not fitted in the best way, but "without crime" - this does not affect the sound in any way, only the convenience of the game. The body wood is maple. Sensors without metal casings. In general, the impression of the tool is good.

Washburn has a number of "conventional jazz" instruments in its lineup, one "rockabilly" and quite a few "conventional blues" instruments. However, such a set is a general trend. In the set of "conditional blues" I would like to highlight HB32DM - the instrument is made entirely of mahogany, the very rare case. The sound is not quite familiar - it's worth a try. In general, although the quality is not perfect (the Chinese let us down), semi-acoustics Washburn are a serious competitor to all other low- and medium-budget instruments. Listen for yourself - it's a subjective matter, it may well be that you will have a different (uninteresting) opinion.

The surprise was tools from Ibanez. I used to consider this manufacturer the leader in the production of the so-called. shred-guitars, that is, designed for high-speed virtuoso playing with an overloaded sound. It is quite natural that very expensive instruments are made very carefully, just "licked". At the same time, the quality of budget-priced guitars is also maintained at a very decent level. With a little thought, I purchased AFS75T. The guitar deserves separate lines. First, the frets fit perfectly. Secondly, the case is carefully processed. There are no lacquer streaks, no roughness and burrs in places not covered with lacquer (in some other guitars it was possible to see how curly shavings grow right in the cut-offs). Stand - just a feast for the eyes! The height adjustment gears can be rotated with your fingers, albeit with difficulty. On another tool, I put a similar stand from Schaller, where the wheels spin only under the pressure of the pliers. The strings bend over the rollers, the Bigsby type machine works flawlessly, the volume and tone controls do not rustle at all.

After comparing with all competitors from other manufacturers in this price category, it seems that the cost of AFS75T is underestimated by 2 - 2.5 times. I'll be honest, I'll say that I still replaced the sensors. I (probably already noticed) have a strong prejudice against pickups with metal covers. A more scrupulous buyer would attribute the location of the volume knob and the sensor switch to the disadvantages - they are located below, next to the machine and the socket, on the “left thigh”. This arrangement is typical for jazz guitars without a “rocker”, the “ Gretcsh ” uses a more ergonomic arrangement - the pickup switch is located on the “right shoulder”, the volume control is on the “left shoulder”. I am ready to forgive the workers from the Aybaniz design bureau for this shortcoming. They wanted to make a budget guitar, and they saved as much as they could. But their conscience did not allow them to skimp on the quality of the fretboard, frets and cans, for which our sincere and heartfelt thanks to them?.

One more detail is funny - usually, on semi-acoustic guitars they put a rather thick neck, this is typical for "mastodons". But, since Ibanez specializes in cutting-edge guitars, a "old" stick like the AFS75T, was given a neck that was more typical in its thickness for guitars intended for "high-speed cuts". This adds some personality to the instrument, now it is not just a "cheap copy of the famous Gretsch".

In conclusion, I would like to thank those who read this essay to the end, or at least to the middle. Interest in semi-acoustic instruments shows that the music created and played at one time on such instruments has not sunk into oblivion, but still has its admirers and followers.

You and I are of the same blood, my semi-acoustic brother!