Parlor guitars have been making a comeback. Players are attracted to the small body, ease of play, ease of transport, and most importantly, unique tone. Ever since Chris Hadfield's debut cover of Space Oddity, the number of people looking to get their hands on a parlor guitar has skyrocketed. With modern day electronics, it is not longer essential to have a boisterous Dreadnaught guitar. We are now able to enjoy the different tone characteristics of smaller-bodied guitars.
We'll quickly cover some considerations you should be making when thinking about a parlor guitar. You will hopefully be able to use this as a buying guide for your parlor guitar. However, we will leave the basic details out. If you are buying your first guitar, please first read our guides listed above (in related section) to get a better idea on selecting your instrument. Let's jump in!
History Of the Parlor Guitar
The parlor guitar was initially designed for women in the late 1800s. The smaller body and thinner neck was more manageable for women to use and entertain guests in wealthy manors. As larger bodied guitars began to become more prevalent due to their ability to handle steel strings, interested in the parlor guitar waned.
With the increase in electronic technology, the interest in vintage guitars is increasing. The unique tone of the parlor is a great changeup from the conventional Dreadnaught guitar and is a welcomed addition.
Considerations For Selecting Your Parlor Guitar
All of the basics still hold when selecting your parlor guitar. The selection of tonewood and construction practices still determine the quality and tone of your guitar. However, there are a few features that we will cover that have an impact on the sound quality.
Buying an entry-level guitar? You'll probably need to make some adjustments using the adjustable truss rod to set the action. There are a ton of tutorials online outlining the steps. Keep in mind that these guitars aren't really designed to be strummed. Their body size doesn't project loud enough to make them a good strumming guitar. They are best suited for more delicate guitar playing such as fingerstyle.
You will come across a few styles of bracing using in parlor guitars. The soundboard bracing plays a role in how the instrument vibrates, and thus controls the tone and sustain. You will mostly see conventional X-Bracing which provides great projection and volume. You may also come across a fan bracing pattern. This gives the center of the soundboard more surface area to vibrate and respond to the tension of the strings.
Vintage guitars can be quite pricey. Thankfully, there are a number of companies now offering guitars that are modeled after their vintage counterparts but use modern manufacturing to keep the price down. If you are looking to get an original vintage style parlor guitar expect to be able to the $1000 price point.
Overall, parlor guitars won't be able to compete with a Dreadnaught when it comes to volume or bass projection. However, they have a sound characteristic of their own and can be a great addition to any social setting. Because of their small profiles they can make the perfect travel guitar to bring to any type of gathering.
- Parlors are best for fingerstyle or more delicate guitar playing
- Great travel guitars
- Lack bass but have a sparkling treble.
Our Top Picks For The Best Parlor Guitar
- Agathis body
- 12-Fret design
- Budget friendly
First up on our list the Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy Flat Top. The most budget friendly parlor guitar on our list. If you are hesitant to spend on your first parlor guitar this is a great entry-level option. Being constructed out of Agathis (not our favorite) keeps the price low enough that it won't send you digging through your couch cushions. While Agathis does have strong resonance (similar to Maple), it's generally used in low-end hollow body guitars to keep the price down.
The action may have to be adjusted. You can increase or decrease the action using the adjustable truss rod to set the angle of the neck. Guitars around this price range typically need a few adjustments right out of the box.
Price-wise, this guitar is hard to beat. We've included in on our list for those looking to get a lot of value for their dollar at the low-end of the price spectrum.
There have been many comments praising the personality of this guitar and the unique tone it is able to achieve. It doesn't project and is lacking a little on the bass, although the small body size makes it extremely easy to play.
Bottom Line: A great value option for those who aren't looking to take a risk.
- Mahogany body, top, and neck
- Rosewood fingerboard
- Chrome tuners
Another great budget option for those looking for a warmer tone. The Luna Gypsy Mah Parlor is an all Mahogany guitar that puts a unique spin on the old-fashion parlor guitar. The Mahogany body will provide a warm tone with enough depth to compensate for the smaller body. The visual appeal of the Luna parlor guitar is also quite striking.
Luna has a good reputation of sending their instruments factory adjusted, so I wouldn't expect this guitar to need much tweaking when it arrives. The chrome hardware is secure enough that the strings won't slip and detune.
We'd recommend this option for those looking to save some money and aren't totally sold on the Gretsch above. You'll be getting a beautiful, entry-level parlor guitar that is extremely easy to play.
Bottom Line: Another great budget option for those looking for a parlor guitar.
- Spruce top
- Mahogany body and sides
- Pitch control
Moving into the intermediate level guitars with the Ibanez Artwood Vintage AVN3NT Spruce/Mahogany Parlor Acoustic Guitar. The Ibanez uses the common tonewood combination of a Spruce top and Mahogany back and sides. This combination is hugely popular and is seen in numerous guitars. The Spruce top provides a punchy, crisp treble and the Mahogany sides round out the tone with a warm and full mid to low.
This guitar has a slightly larger neck with 18 frets but has a similar sized body. Ibanez has put a lot of thought into the aesthetic appeal of the guitar with white bindings, marquetry top purfling, and a classic mosaic rosette. This guitar will make a great intermediate level guitar that is easy to play with great sustain.
The size of the body and price point make this the perfect guitar to bring along on your travels. You will still have a nice tone to play with, but won't be worried about bringing it along to different environments.
Bottom Line: A great intermediate level guitar to bring with you wherever you go.
- Solid spruce top
- Scalloped braces
- Solid mahogany back and sides
- Slotted peghead style tuners
The intermediate to advanced level. The Blueridge BR-341 Historic Series Parlor Guitar contains a similar tonewood combination as the Ibanez about but uses solid tonewoods instead of laminate. This is usually one of the main differentiating factors when upgrading from an intermediate level guitar to advanced.
This historic series is specifically designed to replicate the post WWII era guitars. You are most likely very familiar with the Spruce top, Mahogany body, and sides combination. You can expect sparkling trebles in replace of a strong low-end response you'd get from a Dreadnaught. The Blueridge is unique in that it is still constructed using the traditional methods and uses a forward shifted X-brace pattern for the top.
Bottom Line: A recommended intermediate to advanced level guitar. If you have an ear for a balanced tone and will appreciate the solid wood top, sides, and back then this is a great option.
- Solid European Spruce top
- Solid Indian Rosewood back and sides
- Ebony fingerboard
Something different for the advanced player. The Cordoba C10 SP is a Classical parlor guitar that provides everything the advanced guitar player will be looking for. For starters, all the tonewood is solid. It uses the common combination of a Spruce top and Rosewood sides. The fan bracing pattern gives the center of the soundboard more surface area to vibrate and respond to the tension of the strings. This increases the volume of the guitar while still maintain a balanced tone.
The detail of this guitar is in the construction. The Spanish heel construction first attaches the top of the guitar to the neck, followed by the sides, and finally, the guitar’s body is sealed by the back. This construction feature allows the entire instrument to vibrate as one unified piece.
The C10 Parlor has a 7/8 size body shape and 50mm nut width. Perfect for a small, easily playable advanced guitar.
Bottom Line: For the advanced player, or someone who is looking to spend a little more the get an advanced-level guitar.