The Hidden Charms of Chambered Guitars

By Dave Hunter

The world of electric guitars has plenty of frauds masquerading as solidbody electrics while hiding a hollow secret deep within. Many so-called chambered or semi-solid guitars are built with bodies that begin with solid wood but are routed out to create either minor or substantial air pockets within.

Sometimes they’re revealed with an f-hole (like you might see on a fully acoustic archtop guitar), although often they’re hidden with a sold top with no soundholes.

Guitar makers manufacture chambered guitars primarily for two different reasons:

  • To reduce weight: Removing some wood can make such guitars slightly or substantially lighter.

  • To enhance the sonic character of the guitar: The hollow chambers often impart a roundness to the notes and a slightly airy acoustic character.

Sometimes just one or other of these aims is at the heart of a chambered design, but often a guitar benefits from both.

The first and most famous chambered guitar, the Gretsch Duo Sonic of the mid-’50s, was produced for the first of these reasons, or perhaps somewhat by accident. Looking outwardly much like an early ’50s Les Paul, the Duo Sonic had a pressed arched top that left some air space between it and the mahogany body, which also had substantial chambers where the controls were mounted.

Even so, this Gretsch was never advertised as a semisolid guitar and even went by the official name of Chet Atkins Solidbody in one of its variations.

Many chambered guitars, like the Gretsch Duo Glide, have simply been promoted as solidbody guitars and are generally categorized as such, only revealing their semihollow centers on further examination. Others, such as the Fender Thinline Telecaster, introduced in 1968, make a virtue of their air pockets.

Several makers today use chambered and semisolid build techniques to achieve a range of goals. Many of Gibson’s contemporary Les Paul models are weight relieved to lighten their loads, whereas high-end makers such as Tom Anderson and Saul Koll use chambering for a combination of ends.

[Credit: Photograph by Dave Hunter]
Credit: Photograph by Dave Hunter