I love semi-hollow guitars. They have a beautiful resonance and often a crisp ‘snap’ at the top, cutting through a mix without sacrificing warmth or body. My first semi-hollow was a PRS signature model of Zach Myers from Shinedown, specifically the 2014 iteration. It’s a beautiful guitar and a joy to play. But no musician can ever have too many guitars and so I decided to build a classic LP style arch top, complete with gold fittings and Spalted Maple veneer.
Machining a guitar body and neck is a time-consuming and tricky process requiring woodworking skill, precision and patience, not to mention the required tooling. Those wishing to build a similar guitar can obtain a pre-machined kit from Coban Guitars which are supplied shaped and pre-routed but unfinished with all of the required hardware and even free strings and a few free picks. Here the body is Mahogany with white binding and a Spalted Maple veneer, with a set-in Mahogany neck, Ebony fingerboard and square inlays. 22 Frets (24.75″ scale) and a 43 mm bone nut round out the spec.
The electronics comprise a pair of humbuckers with two volume, two tone and a three-way toggle (neck, bridge or both). Alnico pickups were fitted for their warmer tone, which pairs nicely with the resonance and top end ‘snap’ afforded by the hollow body.
Not being blessed with a great deal of patience I glued the neck prior to finishing which made the job harder than it needed to be. Fortunately, this guitar was to remain natural in colour with a few coats of oil to pick out the grain, so no risk of mistakenly colouring the neck.
The complete guitar was sanded to 320-grit. The headstock was shaped to a curve on the band saw as I can’t stand headstocks with square ends, and is set to the standard Gibson backward angle in relation to the neck.
Several coats of Crimson Guitars’ Penetrating Oil were then applied. I lost count of the exact number, but a little over a pot was used to achieve the final finish. The wood suck in the initial coats like a sponge, with the final few building up a finishing layer.
The coats were left to soak in for a few hours before being wiped dry as per the directions before the next coat was applied. Once a good finish was achieved, the guitar was hung in a warm room to dry thoroughly.
Once the oil finish had hardened, a coat of clear wax was applied using a microfibre buffing cloth. The wax really brings out the finish and won’t affect the tone of the body. It also affords the finish some protection, especially once it has fully hardened. More drying time followed.
I treated the fretboard with Crimson’s Fretboard Cleaner And Restorative Set, first cleaning the board and then rubbing in the included oil with a cotton cloth. I left it for five minutes and wiped dry, leaving for a further 10 minutes before a final application of cleaner.
When the guitar is next re-strung the frets will be polished and possibly further levelled after they have been played and the neck has settled.
I installed standard gold machine heads for now, but they’re nothing to write home about and have fairly average tuning stability, so they will be replaced in the near future with a set of locking tuners. Nevertheless, they look nice and do match well with the rest of the hardware.
The bridge and tailpiece are beautifully made, however. Installing the threaded inserts can be especially nerve-racking as you approach a freshly finished body with a hammer. You’re supposed to knock these into place with a rubber mallet, but I don’t own one of those so a hammer and a block of wood were my weapon of choice. Incidentally, should you ever need to remove these on your own guitar, a suitably threaded bolt and a claw hammer allows you to pull them out without damaging the holes.
The final and most frustrating part of the assembly was the electronics. Most hollow-body guitars lack a rear plate to access the electronics. Instead, the F-holes are the only means of access. Fitting the electronics in this manner is fairly straight forward once you get the hang of it, but does take some practice and will cause you to utter curses you’ve not used in years, as well as some combinations of personal favourites made up in the moment. A bent garden wire and some string will make the job much easier.
Getting the pickup leads through is easy enough, but getting the pots in – especially those furthest from the holes – is a pain so frustrating it almost becomes physical, akin to being twanged by a snapping string. And don’t get me started on the toggle switch.
Once you do get the electronics installed, however, including soldering the inevitable snapped wire and forgetting to attach the toggle switch cover plate, you end up with a remarkable-sounding guitar.
With all of the hardware installed I gave the guitar a final buff with the wax to remove any marks from fingers and tools. I then proceeded to install a set of d’addario strings.
While trimming the B string end, a sharp ‘twang’ indicated the string’s sudden disappearance. I got too overzealous with the cutters and chopped the wrong end, so the guitar was reunited with a cheap B string until a new set of d’addarios arrived. We’ve all done it… I hope.
Cock-ups aside, I proceeded with a setup, first adjusting the truss rod and then the bridge height. I set the action nice and low to allow for fast fretting. I then adjusted the intonation, roughly at first and once again after stretching the strings in. All adjustments were fine-tuned and will be checked again once the wood has had time to settle.
The result is a guitar with a lovely resonant tone, with a warm sound full of body and decay but with a sharp top end ‘snap’ when required.
It’s great for rock and metal (rhythm especially) and decent for blues too. It’s fun to play with a comfortable body and a natural feel to the neck, somewhere between a nitro gloss and sanded gloss with no resistance from the finish. Super happy with how this one came out.