If you have always wanted to own your archtop jazz or 335 style hollow body electric guitar but found the price a little on the high side you may be interested in taking a closer look at the range of DIY hollow body guitar kits currently available.
Hollow body guitar kits typically represent very good value for money considering the workmanship required to produce them is quite a bit more involved than for a standard electric guitar.
For example, the sides of the guitar’s bodies are laminated, then planed (thicknessed) and shaped using a bending iron. The timber itself often requires soaking in warm water first to ensure maximum pliability and is then set in a mold. The bodies also require bracing or struts for additional support. For all intents and purposes, these guitars are more similar in construction to an acoustic guitar.
Semi-hollow body electric guitar kits such as the LP hollow body or TE Thinline, are less involved, however, and are essentially a routed solid timber body with a maple cap then placed on the top face of the guitar.
Solid body electric guitar kits in comparison are shaped, solid pieces of timber and require far less time to produce.
Build your own hollow body guitar kit
In the following article, we’re going to a look at three of the most popular hollow and semi-hollow kit guitar shapes currently available based on overall sales volume over the past three years here at guitar kit world.
Having sold hollow body kit guitars and assembling a number of my own over the years I’ll also provide some useful tips and tricks regarding finishing and assembly, as wiring a hollow body electric guitar is a different proposition to that of an ST or TE for example.
ES Style Hollow Body
The ES Hollow body is based on the Gibson ES-335. Behind only the Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul, the 335 is arguably one of the most heavily copied electric guitar body shapes of all time.
In case you were wondering, the ES in the name stands for ‘Electric Spanish’. At the time Gibson used this prefix to differentiate between their ES and EH models (electric Hawaiian – lap steel guitars).
First introduced in 1958 the Gibson 335 has been the guitar of choice for a wide range of respected guitarists from Chuck Berry and BB King through to modern players such as Dave Grohl who plays a variation with diamond sound hole based on the Gibson Trini-Lopez, itself a variation of the ES 335, which is also available.
Known for their versatility, ES style hollow body guitars have been used in a range of music styles from jazz and blues through to rock. In fact, the only style of music they aren’t ideally suited to is metal, as most hollow body guitars have issues with feedback when played at high volume.
In most cases when purchasing a 335 hollow body guitar kit, the top, bottom and sides of the guitar will be constructed from marine ply (as per the original Gibson 335) with a center block consisting of either maple or Mahogany running through the center of the body with binding running along the top of the guitar and in some cases the back and neck.
The bridge is typically a Tune-O-Matic style bridge, although you will at times also see a trapeze style bridge utilized.
The set neck is typically maple or mahogany depending on the vendor you purchase from, with rosewood fretboard and either dot or trapezoid mother of pearl inlays.
The pickups will typically be generic covered humbuckers, with two volume and two tone pots, along with a three-way pickup selector.
Assembly and Finishing Tips
Assembly is much the same as other electric guitar kits with one important distinction. As the ES Hollow body does not come with a back control plate, all electronics wiring must be completed via the F-holes on the top face of the guitar. The wiring itself is simple enough, however when it comes time to assemble the pots and pickup selector in place things can get a little tricky.
While threading the pots and selector switch can be tricky when first starting out, if you utilize a guide wire (e.g. a semi-flexible wire attached at one end to the pots and threaded through the volume and tone holes) assembly becomes a much simpler proposition.
Fitting the neck requires an understanding of scale length, as the ES is a set neck guitar and will require precise placement to ensure correct intonation.
If you are unsure of how to do this properly, please refer to this article.
Obviously, the finish is subjective, but if you are looking to match the iconic Gibson 335 cherry color, you will need to finish the guitar using a cherry red stain, available here.
If you prefer a sunburst finish, the following article will be useful for you.
Alternatively, if you prefer the look of BB King’s Lucille, then a solid black also looks particularly good, as seen below on the first of my hollow body guitar kit projects.
Jazz Archtop Hollow Body Kit Guitars
Jazz archtop guitars such as the Gibson ES-175 first appeared in 1949 and are still made up to this day. In fac, tthey are one of the longest running production guitars in the world and were the chosen guitar of iconic jazz guitarists such as Pat Metheny and Joe Pass.
While best known as a jazz guitar, the 175 has also featured in blues and rock music over the years and is suited to all three styles of music.
The original 175 was constructed from a laminate as per the 335 which was intended to compensate for feedback, although this still remained a problem to some degree in all hollow body electric guitars.
Construction is very similar to the 335, featuring a set neck, hollow body with binding and center block of either maple or mahogany.
Assembly and finishing tips
Assembling the jazz archtop hollow body is very similar to the 335 and again requires accessing the electronics via the F-holes. Being another set neck guitar you will also be required to take into account scale length.
The main point of difference is the trapeze style bridge which requires changing strings 1 or 2 strings at a time to save the assembly falling out of position, which in turn requires the intonation is reconfigured.
The majority of 175’s are seen with a nice sunburst (tobacco burst) finish. If you are wanting a similar look, please take a look at this article.
LP Hollow Body
Lastly, we come to the LP hollow body, which is based on the Gibson ES Les Paul (and the Les Paul Memphis and Florentine).
In my experience, the hollow body LP has been an extremely popular guitar, matching sales of the standard hollow body LP when it comes to kit guitar sales, thanks largely to its striking appearance and overall suitability to almost all styles of music.
The LP hollow body is more or less a solid body guitar, routed to hollow out the body and then capped with a figured maple top which allows for a stained finish that highlights the figured grain.
In many cases, the LP hollow body can be purchased in either a set neck or bolt on, depending on your preference and is most often supplied with block style inlays.
The overall weight as you might expect is less than that of a standard LP guitar kit which in some cases may brighten the tone to a degree, but tone and playability wise is otherwise identical and is well suited to blues and rock.
Assembly and finishing tips
The LP hollow body, as per the 175 and 335 typically does not come with a rear control plate. Meaning all wiring must be completed via the F holes on the face of the guitar also. But, as discussed previously if using the guide wire technique described above, while requiring some patience assembly is a relatively straight forward practice.
Due to the figured maple top, the LP hollow body is ideally suited to staining. Just be sure to note if your LP has a full maple cap (80+mm) or is simply a veneer (1-3mm). Both options can look particularly good, but if your guitar has a veneer top it is important to ensure you apply the stain lightly and allow drying time between coats, as in some cases if you allow the surface of the guitar to hold too much moisture it does have a tendency to ripple and bulge which is difficult to amend.
I hope the information presented above provides some insight into the world of hollow body guitar kits. Having assembled several of these personally, while they do represent some challenges as compared to a standard electric guitar kit it’s fair to say even a complete beginner should have no trouble assembling one of these guitars and achieving a great result.
already put together a hollow body electric guitar kit, why not leave a comment below and share your experience.