Elements That Contribute to Your Guitar Sound - Part 3: Body Types

What difference does it make if it's a Les Paul body or a Strat body...

Ultimate Guitar
Continuing the discussion on all the elements that contribute to your guitar's sound, we've reached the third and final part of the story.

This time around, the chit-chat will be focused on how different body types affect your toanz. The goods await below.

Hollow Body Guitars

Not including some early lap steel electrics, the first electric "Spanish," or round-neck guitar, was produced by Gibson in 1936.

Gibson ES-150

The Gibson ES-150 was an archtop hollow-body equipped with a pickup and volume and tone controls. Charlie Christian defined the sound of electric jazz guitar on his recordings with Benny Goodman with an ES-150. Electrified hollow-body archtops historically have been, and continue to be, the instrument of choice of mainstream jazz guitarists.

Gibson ES-175

The Gibson ES-175 was introduced in 1949 and is a very popular choice for jazz. It's used by Herb Ellis, Jim Hall, Steve Howe, Pat Metheny, and Joe Pass.

Semi-Hollow Body Guitars

Semi-hollow body guitars are usually constructed from laminates and have elements of both the hollow and solid body inherent in their design. A solid block of maple runs down the center of the hollowed body, providing sustain and reducing feedback potential.

Gibson ES-335

Introduced by Gibson in 1958, the ES-335 is the original semi-hollow body guitar. It's used by Larry Carlton, Steve Howe, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Chuck Berry, Alvin Lee, and others.

Ibanez JSM100

Based on the Ibanez AS200 with more features. John Scofield is most closely identified with these models.

Solid Body Guitars

The first solid bodies on the market were the electric Hawaiian guitars developed by Adolph Rickenbacker and George Beauchamp. These were soon followed by models from Gibson and others.

Gibson fitted one of its production archtops with a pickup to create the first successful electric Spanish guitar. Although this guitar was revolutionary in terms of the evolution of jazz guitar, its problems and limitations were apparent. The feedback generated by the vibrating top piece of an archtop guitar put a cap on achievable volume levels. And because string vibrations are quickly absorbed by the soundboard top piece of a hollow body, the long, sustained notes that were easily achieved by wind players were elusive to early electric guitarists. These are the primary reasons Les Paul was compelled to create his early homemade solid body - "the log" - to be a part of the development of the Gibson Les Paul, and why Leo Fender developed his ideas to produce the first commercially successful solid body, called the Fender Esquire, in 1950.

Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster, introduced in 1954, featured many innovations, such as the three-pickup configuration and a built-in vibrato arm. The original three-position selector was designed to activate the individual pickups, but guitarists soon found that the "in between" settings combined the neck or bridge pickup with the middle pickup, yielding an unprecedented range of tones. This led to the now-standard five-way switch.

Strats are widely used in many contrasting styles, including blues, rock, surf, country, pop, funk, R&B, reggae, and metal. A small sampling of artists known for using Strats: Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Steve Cropper, Jeff Beck, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, and many, many others.

Gibson Les Paul

The original Gold Top model went into production in 1952, followed by the Custom and Junior in 1954. A Sunburst model equipped with humbucker pickups replaced the Gold Top in 1957. These became known as the Les Paul Standard. Warm tone and sustain qualities have made the Les Paul a workhorse for blues, rock, and metal. Set-neck design generates more sustain and fullness of tone than the bolted-on varieties, and the higher output of humbucking pickups delivers more crunch. A small sampling of artists known for using a Les Paul: Eric Clapton (Blues Breakers era), Peter Green, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Gary Moore, Zakk Wylde, and Les Paul himself.

Elements That Contribute to Your Guitar Sound - Part 1: Wood

Elements That Contribute to Your Guitar Sound - Part 2: Attachment of Neck to Body

About Berklee Online:
Berklee Online is the continuing education division of Berklee College of Music, delivering access to Berklee's acclaimed curriculum from anywhere in the world. The material above was excerpted from the Berklee Online course "Getting Your Guitar Sound" by Dan Bowden. Learn more about Berklee Online's guitar courses, certificate programs, and Bachelor of Professional Studies degree program. Also, be sure to check out Berklee's Online Guitar Tuner, a free tool for getting your best guitar sound.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Did I miss something, or did this article say absolutely nothing whatsoever, other than 'hollow bodies feed back more and sustain less'?
    Hey, it's not titled "How Elements Contribute To Your Guitar Sound." However I'd be way more interested in that, rather than "These are the different types of guitar bodies."
    That's fair. Still, the overall shape doesn't actually matter - other than that certain shapes have more mass, and thus resist vibration more. If you have a Strat with a one-piece body, then you have vibration at the neck and at the bridge, and a whole bunch of wood in between, potentially preventing the two from vibrating at the same rate. Different rates = less sustain. If you have a neck-through with straight-grained wood, then you have both parts vibrating at the same frequency and rate(since they're the same wood and react the same way), and sustain is increased. Or more correctly, it isn't cancelled. Short of a sustaniac or the like, nothing INCREASES sustain - it just gets in the way less. If you have a Strat with a three piece body, then depending on the wood type and all that other crap, it might act like a solid body, or a neck-through. Probably a solid body, since they don't tend to use really great wood and excellent fit and finish on the three-pieces. But the point is that whether your solid body is teardrop, V, Strat, or coffin-shaped, the only thing that matters is how much mass it has. That said, more or less mass won't even have as much of an impact as changing string gauge. Now if you have an acrylic guitar with a locking nut and floating trem, then the guitar body basically isn't vibrating at all, and it makes zero difference how big or what shape the body is. Ditto for composite/laminate bodies with thick poly finishes; if you hack a chunk off a Les Paul, it will sound different. If you do the same to a First Act made from particle board, it will basically sound the same. And obviously hollow body shapes matter, because there's stuff bouncing around in there. The thing to remember will all these articles is that in an ideal world, with a perfectly well-built and well-tuned guitar, only the string would vibrate. In that world, body wood, neck joint, body shape - none of that would matter in the least. But it doesn't work that way. In reality, there are lots of things that reduce sustain or vibration, as materials 'bleed' into each other. Some say that a certain wood will 'feed back into' the string, but that's BS. It can certainly happen, but the body only vibrates from energy the string has already lost, so ... no gain. So when we talk about certain woods or body shapes having better sustain, all that really means is that the guitar is built so that it doesn't vibrate in a way that cancels out the string vibration. You can do that by using brass saddles and nuts(which don't transfer energy as efficiently), or by building a guitar that is allowed to vibrate, so the whole thing vibrates at the same rate, and doesn't cancel itself out. The best sustainer I ever had was an all mahogany LP with a super-thin rubbed finish. The second best was a Jackson soloist with upgraded, hardened hardware. Two approaches, same result.
    Which is total crap because my Strat has very little sustain in comparison to my 335..
    I have enjoyed reading all three of the articles on "Elements that contribute to your guitar's sound". I must say that I understand how all three of these do their fair share to creating great sounds. I believe however that the 3rd installment was by far the most informative. I have had the privlage of playing all the different styles mentioned and have enjoyed them all. Some more than others of course. There is one thing not mentioned to summarize. And that guitar has to be fine tuned and in perfect balance for the guitarist who will be playing it.