Parlor guitars are a throwback instrument that were popular form the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. The idea was an instrument you played in the parlor for a small audience. They are making a comeback as players are looking for something different to set their sound apart from the rest. Most of the major manufacturers are producing these instruments, which gives you plenty of guitars to choose from. They also seem to be more competitively priced making it easier to buy a really good guitar with for little money. If you want to stand out from the hordes of dreadnought players, then maybe a small parlor might be the trick.
First we’re going to show you a comparison table with all the models we’ve reviewed and their ratings. There are also links to the extended reviews for any instrument that catches your attention. After the table we’ll have some guidelines, tips, and tricks for picking out your new (or next) parlor.
9 Best Parlor Guitars
The Canadian built Seagull Excursion Grand SG is a steel-string acoustic/electric parlor sized guitar. The body is all hardwood laminate made of wild cherry. The onboard electronics are Fishman’s Isys+ with a Sonicore pickup. The integrated set neck joins the body at the 14th fret, which is unusual for a parlor they usually join at the 12th fret.
The AP70E by Alvarez is a parlor sized steel-string guitar. The top is solid Sitka spruce backed with a forward shifted scalloped X-bracing. The onboard electronics are LR Baggs StagePro EQ and Element pick up. The tone is very sweet with a focused balanced output with plenty of dynamics.
Fender’s PM-2 is the parlor sized guitar in their Paramount Series. It has a solid Sitka spruce top with quartersawn scalloped X-bracing. The sides and back are solid East Indian rosewood. The C-shaped neck is mahogany with a 19 fret ebony fingerboard. The tone is bright with an even balance across the register with plenty of dynamics.
The Breedlove Passport Parlor MH is an acoustic/electric steel-string guitar. The parlor sized body has a solid mahogany top and laminate mahogany back and sides. The bolt-on neck is mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard. It has Fishman’s Isys+ USB preamp and Sonicore pickup. The tone is warm and is very balanced between the treble and bass.
The AVN5 by Ibanez is a strictly acoustic steel-string parlor sized guitar. It has a solid mahogany top with laminate mahogany back and sides. The body is bound on the top and back with cream binding. The sound is classic parlor bolstered by the warmth of the mahogany body.
Fender’s CP-100 is a parlor sized steel string acoustic. It has a laminate spruce top with laminate mahogany back and sides. The neck joins the body at the 14th fret, which open up a bit more access to the higher strings. The sound is fuller than on most parlors with good balance and very good projection.
The WP11SNS is a steel-string parlor style guitar. It has a solid cedar top with quarter sawn Sitka spruce X bracing. The back and sides are laminate mahogany. The body is bound on the top and back with cream binding. The small size has a very loud voice with the classic parlor sound.
The BR-341 by Blueridge is a prewar style parlor steel-string strictly acoustic guitar. It has a solid Sitka spruce top with forward shifted X-bracing. The back and sides are solid mahogany. The neck and body have a natural high gloss finish. It has a smooth warm parlor sound with plenty of projection.
The Luna Trinity is the parlor body guitar in their Trinity Series. It has a solid spruce top with laminate rosewood back and sides. The onboard electronics are the B Band T35, which has a 3-band EQ, volume, phase switch, battery indicator, and built-in tuner. The sound is thin with the treble having a stronger presence.
Tips, Tricks, and Guidelines
Parlors aren’t for everyone. They have a tone that can be considered very dated, but that is what adds to their charm. An experienced player with a collection of guitars should have a parlor for a different voice to choose from. A young player will find a comfortable instrument to learn on that is sized more to their liking.
The renaissance of the parlor means you won’t have to go to an antique store to get one. These newer instruments even have some improvements that you won’t find on the older guitars. Such as electronics, updated wood selection, and innovations of design from the latter half of the 20th century to today. It combines the best of both worlds to make very good guitars.
We haven’t broken down this group by price range, but by body shape. You are going to find every kind of guitar that is a parlor shape in this grouping. The inexpensive and expensive will be sitting right next to each other. So you have been warned.
For the Beginner
Due to their size they make very good instruments for new player or those with smaller frames. The shorter scale makes the string tension lighter so that it is easier to fret the notes. The biggest issue to worry about when buying a parlor for a young player is the neck width. They are generally considered to be finger-style instruments so keep an eye on the nut width so that you don’t end up with a guitar with a very wide neck.
What You’ll Need
The gear you need all depend on the guitar you buy and your experience level. A beginner has many things to buy, which you can see those items in our article about beginner guitar buying (make sure you check that out, if you haven’t already). The first time buyer of an acoustic/electric is going to have to think about how they are going to amplify their new instrument. Whether you buy an amp or mixing board depends upon your needs. Either way you’ll need a DI (direct input) box for sending your signal to the amp or mixing board. These are easy find at any music store ranging from cheap (about $30) to expensive all depending upon what you want and what your pocketbook can afford (or the limit on your credit card).
Traditionally parlors are played without a pick so the good news is you’ll save a little money (and I stress little) not having to buy a pick. You might want to try a thumbpick or a slide to try something new if you’ve never tried either parlors are amenable to either item.
A Few Words about Price Points
What’s nice about this list is you’ll see all the different price ranges right next to each other. This might be a bad thing if you fall in love with a guitar that is well outside your price range (and who hasn’t). It is also interesting to see where the focus for each builder is. There are instruments that look more expensive than their counterparts, and other instruments that sound more expensive than their counterparts. It really throws this into stark relief each manufacturer’s building philosophies.
You as the consumer have to decide where your priorities are. An inexpensive instrument with a lot of expensive aesthetics is going to have some cheaper parts, such as plastic nut and saddle, wonky tuners, or cheap electronics. These things can be upgraded, but that will add to the price of the guitar. A simply adorned nice playing and sounding instrument would be a nightmare to add “bling” to.
Then there are those magical instruments that look and sound above their price point. It is easy to make a good expensive guitar, making a good one that is inexpensive now that’s the trick.
12th and 14th Fretters
Traditionally a parlor neck joins the body at the 12th fret, but there are several new designs that has the joining happening at the 14th fret. This is sort of a poor-man’s parlor cutaway. It opens up a bit more of the fretboard without adding a cutaway that can hurt the tone of such a small instrument. Traditionalists may find this to be off putting, but it is something to take into consideration. A cutaway is too much since parlors are played between the nut and 12th fret (which had a lot to do with the original design), but 14th fretters will open up a bit more of the fingerboard.
On the Go
The smaller size of a parlor makes it a great traveling companion. These guitars will easily go anywhere from the campsite, to the impromptu jam session, to the poolside, and to the parlor. They may be small, but they are designed to have good projection so you won’t get lost in the mix. If you buy an instrument with onboard electronics you can even take these guitars to the concert hall. No longer are these guitars contained to small venues.
Some Extra Thoughts
An added benefit of the design is that parlors don’t have pickguards. I know you’re worried about the finish and protecting the top, but pickguards are kind of ugly. Plus they only protect on the down stroke of the strum, what about the up stroke? This is personal preference I know, but a point I thought I’d make.
A drawback I’ve noticed about the parlor is that there isn’t much selection for the left-handed player. That should be nothing new to you southpaws, but it seems even more of an issue with parlors. This unfortunately will dramatically reduce your selection, which is a shame.
Maybe parlor guitars aren’t your thing, don’t worry we have plenty other acoustic guitar comparisons for you to take a look at. Subscribe to our newsletter so we can keep you in the loop of what’s going on in the world of guitars. Stop back often to check out the new gear reviews and articles that we add all the time. Until next time, may your chords arpeggiate and your bass lines have a melody.