“The dreadnaught is king” they say. “The smaller guitar is for kids” I’ve been told. Apparently they – whoever “they” are – haven’t been keeping up with modern guitar trends…particularly parlor guitars.
But what is a parlor guitar and how is it different than a travel guitar? Let’s take a moment to answer a few of these questions and then look at the newest and best parlor guitars being sold in stores right now.
Use the simple navigation menu below or scroll down to explore some of the interesting new parlor guitars that could become your next instrument.
- What is a Parlor Guitar?
- Why did Parlor Guitars Come Back into Style?
- Why Choose to Buy a Parlor Guitar?
- What is the Best Parlor Guitars for my Budget?
What is a Parlor Guitar?
Unless you’re a student of guitar history, you can be forgiven for not being entirely certain what a parlor guitar is (aka “parlour guitar”). Considering that the parlor guitar history dates back to the late 19th century, none of us were even alive during the peak of the guitars’ popularity!
Winding back the clock, you have to remember that in the late 1800s, guitar makers weren’t nearly as sophisticated as they are now and the only kind of guitar string available to players was the very weak gut strings. In addition, instrument volume wasn’t as important since guitar players usually weren’t playing with large bands. In other words, the smaller guitar wasn’t just a fad, it was the only kind of guitar in demand at the time.
For this reason, what has become known as the “parlor guitar” was born. I put that in quotes because, to be frank, there is no universally-accepted definition for a parlor guitar. There are certain characteristics that are common in most common parlor guitars including a smaller width, elongated lower bout and a 12th-fret neck-to-body junction, but not all parlor guitars follow this definition exactly.
Today, most people tend to define parlor guitars as any acoustic guitar that is smaller than the standard Size No.0 standard that was set by C.F. Martin in the early 1900s. In the evolution of guitars, parlor guitars sit between the Spanish classical guitars and the modern, large-body acoustic guitars.
There are two things that I find very interesting about the history of the parlor guitar:
- The Name: The name “parlor guitar,” sometimes spelled “parlour guitar,” is usually attributed to the fact that they became a popular form of guest entertainment, which in wealthier homes took place in a parlor room.
- Originally Designed for Women: Although the most popular parlor guitar players are men, the parlor guitar was originally designed with women in mind. The smaller body was meant to fit the petite frame of women at the time and the shorter scale length accommodated their limited reach.
Travel vs Parlor Guitars | What’s the Difference?
Today, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between the mini travel guitars and the modern parlor guitars. Both have smaller bodies and both transport easily.
In order to make a fair comparison, however, let’s look at the Taylor GS Mini and the Larrivee Parlor guitar for an example. Both have a roughly 24″ scale length and look smaller than a full-sized guitar.
There are a number of differences between the Taylor GS Mini and the Larrivee Parlor guitar, though, which provide a good overview of the differences between travel guitars and parlor guitars in general:
- The parlor body is thinner but longer: The Larrivee Parlor is only 3.5″ deep but boasts a length of 22.75″. By contrast, the Taylor GS Mini is 4 7/16″ deep but has a length of only 17 5/8″. In general, parlor guitars are thinner but longer.
- The parlor guitar has a standard nut width: While most travel guitars, including the Taylor GS Mini, have a smaller nut width (1 11/16″), most parlor guitars maintain a standard nut width of 1 3/4″. Not all travel guitars have a smaller nut width but most of them do.
- The parlor guitar has fewer frets: Despite the fact that both the Taylor GS Mini and the Larrivee Parlor guitars have the same scale length, the Larrivee Parlor has only 18 frets to the Taylor’s 20.
The reality is that the differences between the guitars are trivial. The most important thing to know if you’re thinking about either guitar is this: the best thing you can do is play them both and see which one puts a smile on your face. Perhaps you’ll find that a travel guitar is right for you (here are the 5 best travel guitars that don’t suck); perhaps you’ll choose a parlor guitar.
Why have Parlor Guitars Regained Popularity?
Although parlor guitars have never been as popular as they were in the early 1900s, they’ve certainly seen a marked increase in popularity over the past couple decades. But why is that?
Part of the reason for this popularity has to do with a number of mainstream folk singers using parlor guitars in their music, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mark Orton and many others.
Interestingly, one of the primary reasons for the parlor guitar popularity has to do with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. While floating in space on the International Space Station, Chris recorded a cover of the David Bowie hit “Space Odyssey” on the Larrivee Parlor guitar he had brought with him.
The video went viral…and so did the guitar. Sales of the Larrivee Parlor guitar went through the roof and other manufacturers caught onto the demand and have begun producing their own. At the 2015 NAMM show, an annual industry gathering, new parlor guitars models were on display everywhere.
Why Choose to Buy a Parlor Guitar?
So why should you choose a parlor guitar? There’s really only one good answer to this question and it may or may not be one you like:
Because you like it.
It’s that simple. Sure, it travels well and has a “vintage” feel to it. It has a full-size neck and a nice sound. But it also lacks a bit of dynamic range as well as volume.
The best thing you can do, as I stated earlier, is to give the parlor guitar and travel guitar a side-by-side comparison while you’re in the store (and here are a few tips on how to test drive your guitar in store). See which one feels best in your hands and sounds better to your ear. Unless you’re a guitar collector trying to add a certain guitar to your collection, don’t worry about the “parlor” name. Just find a guitar that you like.
What is the Best Parlor Guitar for my Budget?
So now that we have all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the best modern parlor guitars on the market today. Since I know that not everybody has the same budget when they go out looking for a guitar, I’ll break this down by the best parlor guitar per budget.
Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison followed by more in-depth reviews of each parlor guitar.
*Note: Despite being recognized and marketed as parlor guitars, none of the manufacturers represented here choose to use “parlor” in the name of the guitar. You might not even find the word in the product description.
Best Parlor Guitar Under $300 | Fender CP-100
Although your expectations shouldn’t be too high when it comes to guitars priced under $300, Fender has done a good job with the Fender CP-100 manufacturing a decent quality parlor guitar fit for a tight budget.
The sunburst finish adds even more to an already vintage look for this parlor guitar. It has a nice sound and it’s simple and fun to play.
At this price, you’re getting all laminate wood which won’t matter to the average beginner guitarist but won’t get better with age like you hear with other guitars.
Bottom Line: The Fender CP-100 is an excellent first step into parlor guitars or even as a gift for a child wanting to learn guitar for the first time
Best Parlor Guitar Under $500 | Breedlove Passport
The primary advantages of the Breedlove Passport is the fact that it has a solid Sitka spruce top complimented by mahogany back and sides. The solid top is a great improvement over the Fender CP-100 above, which has a laminate top.
In addition to the quality manufacturing and the good sound, you get a great deal with this guitar when you consider that it comes with onboard electronics (Fishman) and a gig bag.
Bottom Line: With a price of $499, I consider this one of the best values in this list of parlor guitars.
Best Parlor Guitar Under $1000 | Simon & Patrick Woodland Pro
Although you’ve probably never heard of Simon & Patrick before, their Woodland Pro parlor guitar is recognized as one of the best parlor guitars currently being made.
This picture doesn’t really do justice to how beautiful the guitar is when you’re holding it in your hands. The finish is well done and the entire guitar oozes quality of details.
At this price point we’re finally getting into an all-solid wood guitar with a spruce top complimented by mahogany back and sides. There are no electronics and it doesn’t come with a gig bag, so factor at least a case purchase into your buying decision.
Bottom Line: As a gorgeous all-solid wood guitar, this parlor by Simon & Patrick will definitely make people say “wow” when they see it.
Best Parlor Guitar at $1,000 | Cordoba C10
Cordoba is best known as an excellent classical guitar maker and they definitely don’t disappoint when it comes to the Cordoba C10, the only nylon-string guitar on this list.
The guitar comes in at just a hair over $1,000 but what you’re getting is an all-solid wood guitar with gorgeous Indian rosewood on the back and sides. In my opinion, the parlor size and sound lends itself well to a classical style of play and the Cordoba C10 offers excellent playability.
The guitar comes with a nice case and, like most quality classical guitars, does not have onboard electronics. That is something you can add aftermarket if you absolutely must.
Bottom Line: The Cordoba C10 provides a vintage look to match the classical sound of the nylon strings. It’s definitely worth the price tag if it’s within your budget.
Best Parlor Guitar Over $1,000 | Larrivee P-09
Finally, the guitar that kickstarted renewed interest in parlor guitars when astronaut Chris Hadfield played it in space, the beautiful Larrivee P-09.
Like the Cordoba C10, this Larrivee parlor guitar uses a solid spruce top alongside a beautirful solid rosewood back and sides. While parlor guitars are not known for a wide dynamic range, this use of rosewood will add a bit more bass than what you’ll find with other parlor guitars.
If you’ve never played a Larrivee before, you’ll know that they have a specific look and feel that makes you proud to own one. They are equisite and everything from the rosette to the binding to even the case look gorgeous.
Bottom Line: There’s a reason this is the best of the best. There are more expensive parlor guitars out there but this Larrivee P-09 is all you’ll need.
Conclusion | Parlor Guitars
I hope this has been a good overview of parlor guitars for you! These can be excellent guitars that combine a vintage look with a size that is easy to travel with. It all depends on your personal tastes.
Do you have a parlor guitar? What do you think of it?
Feel free to answer these questions or give your own thoughts in the comments below. I read every one of them and try to respond as best I can!