Top 5 Best Parlor Guitars (That Don’t Suck)

5 Parlor Guitars that don't suck

“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.

Smaller-sized guitars are coming back into style and the guitar manufacturers are responding with a impressive additions to their lines that includes a number of travel and 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.

An example of a vintage parlor guitarUse 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?

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.

Vintage parlor guitar photo

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

Larrivee P-09 Parlor vs Taylor GS Mini acoustic guitarsToday, 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.

Top 5 Best Travel Guitars reviewed and rated    Review of the Little Martin Series of Acoustic Guitars

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.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield plays a Larrivee parlor guitar in space

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.

I doubt astronaut Chris Hadfield would ever have guessed the impact that his one little song would make on the history of the parlor guitar.


 

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.

Fender CP-100 Parlor GuitarFender CP-100 Breedlove Passport Parlor GuitarBreedlove Passport Simon & Patrick Woodland Pro Parlor GuitarWoodland Pro Cordoba C10 Nylon Parlor GuitarCordoba C10 Nylon Larrivee P09 Parlor Acoustic GuitarLarrivee P-09 Guitar
Price: $199 $499 $766 $1,050 $1,500
Woods: Laminate spruce top & mahogany back & sides. Solid sitka spruce top & laminate mahogany back & sides Solid spruce top & solid mahogany back & sides Solid spruce top & solid Indian rosewood back & sides Solid sitka spruce top & solid rosewood back & sides
Case? No Gig Bag No Included Included
Electronics: No Fishman Available No No
Click for more info on this guitar Click for more info on this guitar Click for more info on this guitar Click for more info on this guitar Click for more info on this 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

Fender CP-100 Parlor GuitarAlthough 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

Read More Reviews for Fender CP-100


Best Parlor Guitar Under $500 | Breedlove Passport

The Breedlove Passport Parlor GuitarI’m a big Breedlove fan, so I love this particular guitar. It is a quality built guitar with a reputable name.

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.

Read More Reviews for Breedlove Passport


Best Parlor Guitar Under $1000 | Simon & Patrick Woodland Pro

The Simon & Patrick Woodland Pro Parlor GuitarAlthough 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.

Read More Reviews for Woodland Pro


Best Parlor Guitar at $1,000 | Cordoba C10

The Cordoba C10 Nylon String Parlor GuitarCordoba 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.

Read More Reviews for Cordoba C10


Best Parlor Guitar Over $1,000 | Larrivee P-09

The Larrivee P-09 parlor guitarFinally, 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.

Read more reviews for Larrivee P-09


 

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!

Taylor 100 Series Guitar review    Best Collapsible Travel Guitar? A Review

 

17 Responses to Top 5 Best Parlor Guitars (That Don’t Suck)

  1. Fred Chapman says:

    Josh, thanks for this great article on parlor guitars! Who ever would have guessed that the parlor guitar of Blind Lemon Jefferson would one day become the instrument of choice for guitarists in space! 🙂

    I’m attracted to parlor guitars because I gather the bass-treble string balance is better than on dreadnoughts, which makes it a good tool for songwriting. Plus, the lower volume means you won’t drown yourself out if you accompany yourself while singing.

    I have a Yamaha C40ii classical guitar that I bought to learn Spanish guitar music, but I discovered that you can’t bend nylon strings to play blues. So, the parlor guitar will fill that bill for me. I have my eye on the Alvarez AP70 (a great value for under $400), which has the same 12th-fret neck joint and flat-radius fretboard as my classical guitar. Given the similarities, it should be an easy transition from the classical to the parlor guitar.

    By the way, your website is one of the most professional guitar websites out there. I’ve built a number of WordPress websites and blogs professionally, and you are definitely doing it right!

    Keep up the great work,

    Fred

    • Josh Summers says:

      Fred, thanks so much for your comment and kind words about the website!

      I appreciate your input here. Personally, I haven’t had any experience with the Alvarez AP70 that you’re referencing, but I know that they build some great guitars. I have no doubt that it should be an easy transition for you. Once you’ve given it some time, let me know what you think!

    • Wayne s says:

      Fred I have a Alvarez ap70that I bought about a year ago.Its a great little guitar I use to take to parties and outings.mine is acoustic electric and it sounds good plugged in or unplugged.When you by one make shore it has a good setup,i had to take mine back to the music store to get it completely set up and after that it was fine.its a real easy playing guitar when setup right and I think the shorter 12fret are great players.in my opinion it a good parlour guitar for the price.The ap70e that i purchased was $500 here in Newfoundland Canada…..keep on playing

  2. Ray Laroche says:

    I am a proud owner of an Alvarez AP66SB. The problem is I cannot go back to my Norman because with the Alvarez it is so easy to play and get great bluesy sound.
    If I want to go electric I grab my Gibson ES339 which is so small compare to a Gibson ES335 and give me a sound almost as great.

  3. Jason Sorgman says:

    I also have an Alvarez parlor model AP6090. It’s really a cross between the AP70 and the AP66….with a solid spuce top and mahogany sides/back. This little beauty has a wonderfully rich tone, excellent volume, and is delightful to play. I’ve been playing for almost 30 years. A few years ago I bought my first Cordoba (Cordoba GK), and was so impressed that I’ve stayed with them for several guitars/ukuleles since. I was hesitant to switch, but after purchasing the Alvarez, I’m delighted I took the leap. This guitar brings me great joy.

  4. Mark Chalupsky says:

    Hi Josh,

    I have a Taylor Parlor, 1 of 35 parlor guitars that Taylor made. I personally talked with Bob Taylor who told me that they only made 35 parlors to celebrate Taylor’s 35 years of making guitars. He suggested I try to find one and buy it as Taylor had no plans to make any more parlor guitars in the future. I was lucky enough to track a new one down and buy it. It has Madagascar back and sides, wide grain spruce top, bone nut and saddle, slotted head, 12 fret clear of the body, and Taylor’s sound system. I am not living in Pattaya, Thailand and one of the local luthiers here played it and could not put it down. Needless to say, it is not for sale!

  5. Ted K says:

    I have a Simon & Patrick Woodland Pro and love it. I got it in 2005 when the cedar top with cherry back and sides was an option. These guitars are solid, handmade in Canada by Art & Lutherie. The company also makes Seagull, their entry level offering. The story I got is that the Canadian government hooks them up with subsidized native woods, which is how they are able to offer so much guitar for the money. I love mine for a number of reasons: bang-for-the-buck, sounds great, plays great, looks great. Fits my body since I’m not a big guy and is perfect for playing around the house since I’m not exactly gigging. As for loudness though, I do have to say that while it’s no jumbo, iit holds its own and frankly, there’s no reason you couldn’t mic it on stage. Like everyone says, only way to know if it’s for you is to play it. For what it’s worth I highly recommend.

  6. Michalis Filippou says:

    Dear Josh, it is a great article, but I wouldn’t say that a parlor sits between the classical guitar shape and the Dread . . . The classical is similar sized as an OM, which is bigger that a parlor.
    Also, I wouldn’t consider the Cordoba classical to be a parlor guitar.A great classical parlor guitar is the La Patrie Motif, which a bought as a travel and sofa guitar 2 years ago.
    A great budjet parlor is also Epiphone EL-00 with a solid top.

  7. Tristan says:

    Hi,
    I have owned one of the fender parlor guitars for 2 years now & i would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice wee guitar without a huge budget, top value for money & they become nicer to play with age, don’t know if the sound quality has improved but it is fun to play & my wife rarely hassles me about the volume.

  8. Laura Gold says:

    I purchased an 028vs custom Martin a few years ago for $5,000. I love it! I just purchased a Taylor mini for about $500 and I’m glad and sorry to say that I enjoy playing it almost as much as my cherished Martin. Who knew?

  9. jon headrick says:

    great article josh. parlor guitars regained its popularity, and really nice to see that people are love to talk about them. I also take somen steps to tell the world about this guitars. I played fender cp 100 for a long time. now I have another parlor guitar. it is jim-dandy by Gretsch. at a reasonable price they are great guitars, I think.I will be glad to know what you think about jim dandy.

    • Jared says:

      -Jon,

      What are your thoughts about the CP100 vs the Jim Dandy? Any large preference either way?

      Thanks

      • Nick says:

        Hi Jared, The Jim Dandy is a fantastic little guitar. I would say its even better than the Fender CP-100 and you are playing a little bit extra for a superior guitar. The main thing for me at least is how the strings are placed. The Jim Dandy doesn’t have pegs/pins to hold the strings but like an electric you string through the bridge like on a SG or Les paul. I also personally think the Jim dandy is crafted much better than the Fender and looks gorgeous and has a nice vintage look to it and you can tell a lot of effort when’t into the Jim Dandy. The fender is still pretty good but the jim dandy sounds as good and plays as good as other guitars 3x its price.

  10. Patrick says:

    I think you’ll find first this C21st to really massively impace playing a small body was UK’s Ed Sheeran with his track ‘You need me, I don’t need you.’ By far Sheeran beat NASA astronaut hugely re-introducing the world to ‘Parlour guitars.’ I like the Taylor GS Mini as the bargain used best buy, not impressed by the Martin of Ed’s or out of the box Taylor Baby (The Baby does sound good mainly for Delta blues, Big Bill Bronzy and the song Tightrope by SRV).

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