Is a hollow or semi-hollow electric loud enough without an amp to enable quality practice?

I have a solid-body electric guitar and it’s obviously not loud enough without an amp to get in good practice. You need an amp, without one you’ll develop bad habits trying to play it loudly enough to hear what’s happening. It ain’t right, it’s an electric instrument. I get that.

I also have a beater acoustic dreadnaught that I pick up all the time because it is extremely convenient to play a bit without messing around with cables and amp settings. But I honestly don’t like acoustic guitar much, and the dreadnaught is huge and not very comfortable. It’s a great “learn to work on a guitar” guitar, but not great to play. (And a pro setup might not cure that, I suspect it has issues.)

So… I wonder if a semi-hollow or hollow electric guitar might resonate and project well enough to play without an amp. I’m not talking about performing that way… just bedroom practice!

If I could pick it up and play any time without messing with cables and amps, but then plug it in to an amp when I wanted to mess with settings and actually make it sound electric… that would actually be amazing. Best of both worlds for me.

But I don’t know jack about semi-hollow/hollow guitars and that dream may be unreasonable. Maybe that isn’t how they work, and you always need amplification.

Can someone clue me in?

BTW I am not married to a specific sound. I don’t need to have specific kinds of pickups and so on. I couldn’t tell the difference between a strat and a tele. I’ll worry about my “tone” later!

Also, I know there are acoustic guitars with pickups… but what I truly want is an electric that can play at being acoustic, not the other way around.

I started on an electric, unplugged, because I didn’t want to mess with amp settings, headphones, cables everytime I had a spare 10 minutes to practice. This worked fine, but I came to want a nicer sound.

I had the same idea as you, best of both worlds etc. Then I went to guitar shop and tried some hollows and some acoustics. Hollows are much more audible than solid body electrics for sure, but the sound was still ‘thin’ compared to the acoustics. There and then I knew I needed an acoustic. Have since bought one (Faith Venus in Blood Moon) about 4 months ago and love it. Hardly touched my electrics since.

My advice is go and try a few of each type.

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You can hear them louder than a solid body. How much is difficult to quantify and whether that extra is enough for you is something only you’ll know by actually playing one. Most hollow semi-hollow are also big bodied. If you find the acoustic uncomfortable you ought to hold one of these to feel it. They’re not as deep so overall not as ‘big’ though.
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Not really sure of the best way forward here. I can quite comfortably play my Les Pauls or a Squier Strat unplugged even though my hearing is shot from years of abuse. Things like the Telecaster Thinline don’t really sound that much louder acoustically so you’d be looking at a much bigger body of the Gretsch / Gibson ES 335 type.

Personally for less than the cost of an extra guitar of the type you are asking about, just plug into an amp. The Boss Katana MKII can be run at 0.5w settings with just a power cable and your guitar cable. No mess, no fuss, no excess volume.

I’m sorry that doesn’t really answer your question. it’s just my personal opinion.


I have two Washburn HBs and just picked up a Gretsch Streamliner. I have been using the Washburns for quiet unplugged practice for years and for me they create a sufficient volume for me to tell if unmuted strings are ringing out or my chords suck. I don’t think you will get that with a solid body electric, I certainly don’t - so they can mask errors. But the Washburn HBs are ES335 clones and therefore much larger than a Strat or LP, in fact looking at my rack they are huge compared to the Gibsons !! :astonished: But I personally find no difficulty switching around and they are slimmer than my dreadnoughts.

So yes they are audible enough for practice but you need to be aware of the size and get your hands on one before you buy. My HB30 was a retirement present from my old firm and was based on the fact I was browsing Thomann at work one day and my college spotted me drooling over it as I loved the style and TSB colour and he made a note of it, as my papers had been put in after 38 years. When they presented it to me and I got my hands on it my first thought were, jeepers this is big !! But I got used to it don’t think about that now.

So I would advise, try before you buy. I though the photo below may help you see the difference.



I can think of a couple of not too expensive options that could work for you.

  1. A 335 type by Harley Benton, excellent for its cost.
    Harley Benton HB-35 VB Vintage Series – Thomann UK

  2. A Jazz style guitar with thicker body that will be louder acoustically, made by Ibanez, very good quality and well made.
    Ibanez AF55-TKF – Thomann UK

Either would be fine for what you want but the downside is that you would have to buy blind instead of trying them first; upside is you know roughly what to look at if you go to a guitar shop.

It’s a good question. … :grinning:

As others have noted - the classic ES-335 style semi-hollow are large and so definitely try one before buying one given what you said on the larger acoustic guitar. The ES-339 style is similar in design but more ‘Les Paul’ sized so you might prefer that but it will likely be quieter acoustically so not achieve your goal…

I was thinking about it and my answer would be that you can but you probably wouldn’t. An electric guitar (even semi-hollow) sounds better through an amp to my ear (even super clean)… :grinning:

I’m lucky in that I can keep my electric always plugged in on a long lead even when its hanging on the wall so is no extra effort to grab than an acoustic. If that is something that can work it reduces a barrier to playing.

Other options include a smaller / more comfortable acoustic or a smaller more convenient amp. I started with the Boss Katana Mini which runs off batteries and is quick to grab and play (and there are many options in this space so could be any make / model).

I recorded this this morning as I was curious… Please excuse the playing - I just wanted to get some sounds quickly to demonstrate relative levels and am dashing about this morning… In particular when I switched to the acoustic I was worried about the mic clipping so was panicking on that and not focused on playing… :sweat_smile: I didn’t specifically do any thought into the setup but its into the Shure MV-88+ connected to iPhone on tripod infant of me and set about 27db with no limiter or compression and no post-processing.

  • Strat style electric (Yamaha Pacifica) played acoustically
  • Epiphone Dot played acoustically
  • Yamaha 3/4 played acoustically
  • Epiphone Dot played acoustically
  • Epiphone Dot played through the Boss Katana Mini sat next to me (on whatever levels it was already at).

As an aside - I was watching ‘Letter to you’ documentary and he mentions a guitar with built in speaker but isn’t particularly complimentary about it. :slightly_smiling_face:

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I think the answer is probably pretty subjective. Personally, I’m not at all satisfied with the unamplified sound of a solid body or even a semi-hollow. A hollow electric is…not really satisfying, but better. It probably depends on your tolerance for what I would consider less-than-ideal sound for practice.

The problem with practicing just about any electric guitar sans amp is that you might be in for a rude awakening when you plug it in. Things you thought sounded good without the amp will suddenly be “exposed” as needing slightly different technique. That’s not a disaster or anything as long as it doesn’t catch you by surprise. You’ll probably also find that when you plug in you’ll be in the habit of picking and strumming quite aggressively as a side-effect of practicing with no amplification.

Personally, I’d practice electric with an amp if at all possible. There are situations where I think practicing with an unamplified electric is fine, or better than not practicing (e.g., a beginner on a strict budget that is saving up for an amp), but it’s not something I’d recommend if there is another option.

J.W.C. speaks the truth and nothing but the truth.
Greeting ,Rogier

Wow, thanks everyone, this was everything I wanted to know and then some! I really appreciate the thoughtful replies.

Sounds like the answer to my question is “definitely maybe, but probably not.” :stuck_out_tongue:

@grayal that video was great, thanks so much. Strat to Dot to acoustic was exactly what I needed to hear. That semi-hollow is right on the edge of sounding “good enough.” But, I can see how spending a lot of time unplugged could get you digging in too hard like @J.W.C said. I already learned not to play that way with my electric bass and I am sure this is similar.

@TheMadman_tobyjenner how do you like the Streamliner? I’m interested in getting a guitar with a Bigsby, and so various Gretsch models keeps showing up.

Anyway, overall it seems like an unplugged semi-hollow/hollow might be OK once in a while, but it isn’t a great long term plan. I may still end up getting such a guitar for other reasons, but I wouldn’t be relying on unplugged capability.

I guess I will either get a tiny amp and make my pick-it-up-whenever guitar electric, or I will get the dreadnaught a proper setup and live with it.

Thanks again!!

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I do practice occasionally on an unamplified electric and even a hollow body nylon electric.

Neither of them sounds good enough unamplified to really play songs alone or with the Justin app. Essentially anything that really needs to sound “musical” isn’t worth practicing unamplified because you won’t hear music.

They are fine for practicing strumming patterns early on, fingerpicking patterns, one minute changes, finger gym exercises and all that.

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Thanks, that really puts it into focus.

Very nice to play, very light and has a good tone but still getting to know it. So I would not like to make a comparison against the 7 other electrics yet, as I love playing them all. And it very much depends on what I am playing as to which one I’ll use. At the moment for practice I am cycling round each day. Songs or impro I’ll pick one for the job at hand. :sunglasses:

I would definitely look into a professional setup for your acoustic.

I bought an entry level Martin last year, which came with one free setup in the first year. The action seemed a little high, but I figured it was mainly my beginner technique, and tried to live with it for many months.

But even as my technique improved, I couldn’t get the G string to ring properly on the A chord (among other problems). So I took it in to the shop for my free setup. I found a guitar on the rack that was really easy to play (a $5000 Taylor, IIRC)., and asked them to set mine up the same way.

Well, the difference is like night and day. All the chord notes ring out now, and I can play electric style riffs up around the 12th fret that just weren’t possible before.

Also, mine came with a saddle pickup, and I’m having fun experimenting with distortion and other effects with an old modeling amp I kept from a previous - unsuccessful - attempt at learning to play electric. Tone is surprisingly good, and you really have to learn how to mute open strings on an amplified acoustic!

Anyway, best of luck, whatever you decide to do.


I keep my Fender Mustang Micro and a pair of headphones always connected to my guitar, so you can pick it up for ten minutes here and there and its ready to roll.

I have a Nux Mighty Plug, same kind of thing. Unfortunately I ended up hating headphones so it’s a last resort.

I am going to get a setup done on my dreadnaught though and if it can be made nicer to play that may be all I need. If I decide to keep an electric here by the desk I will figure out some kind of amplification. It could be a good excuse to get some nice speakers for my desk.

Final (?) update: I got a setup done on my Takamine dreadnaught and it is much, much easier to play now. I had done the first setup myself and since I am not so skilled I knew it was not as good as it could be … but I thought it was good enough. I was so wrong. :slight_smile:

Now I still don’t love this guitar simply because I dig electric, and any acoustic is just not as interesting … but it’s now playing well enough that I don’t feel like I need to get an electric here by my desk for a pick-it-up-any-time guitar.


That will change sooner that you might imagine. GAS is extremely infectious :smiley: :guitar: :guitar:

I also have a Gretsch hollow body streamliner. One of many reasons I bought it was that I wanted an electric that I could also play unplugged. It has fit the bill nicely. It’s not loud enough to play around a campfire as a true acoustic is but loud enough to practice unplugged. It’s also a good choice when my family harps on me that my twelve string is too loud.

All that being said, I have been fighting a case of GAS. I would like a dedicated six string acoustic to add to the mix. I love both the twelve and the hollow body, but the twelve can be a challenge for some of the stuff I want to play and much of that stuff would sound best on a true acoustic.

My suggestion is to go to the store and try a few out unplugged and plugged in. It will give you the best answer as to whether it’s loud enough for you as well as if the size fits your needs.