What is a Parlor Guitar? – How to Choose One

Curious about parlor guitars?

Learn what makes these instruments special and get expert tips on choosing the best parlor guitar for you.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced player, let us be your guide to discovering the beauty of parlor guitars.

Definition Of a Parlor Guitar

A parlor guitar is a special kind of acoustic guitar known for its compact body and shorter scale length. This distinct design creates a one-of-a-kind playing feel and sound that has captured the hearts of both beginners and experienced musicians alike.

Parlor guitars are great for all sorts of players, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been playing for a while. They’re especially good if you’re new to different types of guitars.

These guitars are famous for their middle-range tones that really stand out, and they make a sound that fades quickly. This makes them perfect for playing with your fingers, playing blues, folk music, or even writing your own songs.

One cool thing about parlor guitars is their small size. They don’t just sound cozy; they’re also easier to hold and play. So, if you have small hands or you want a lighter guitar, parlor guitars are a top choice.

The History of Parlor Guitars

Let’s take a journey through the parlor guitar’s history to understand why they are so special.

Starting in the 19th Century

Parlor guitars have been around since the 1800s. Back then, people enjoyed making music at home, and these guitars were a big part of that.

People used to play these guitars in small rooms called “parlors.”

These were cozy spaces where families and friends gathered to enjoy music together. The guitar’s smaller body size and nice sound made it a favorite for these get-togethers.

Changes in the 20th Century

In the early 1900s, musical tastes changed, and bigger guitars became more popular.

Bigger guitars, like the dreadnought, made louder sounds and were better for playing in large places. That’s why parlor guitars became less common – they weren’t as loud as the big ones.

The Comeback of Parlor Guitars

Parlor guitars are making a big comeback!

Nowadays, lots of folks are into singer-songwriters and folk music. They love that warm, cozy sound that parlor guitars make.

Musicians today, especially those who like indie and folk music, think parlor guitars are awesome. That’s why famous guitar makers and smaller shops are making them again. They’re giving a new generation of musicians what they want.

Construction of the Parlor Guitar

The Size

When it comes to the parlor size, there wasn’t really a set rule for how big they should be.

The guitar makers liked to mix things up. Some made them smaller, some a bit bigger.

While there isn’t an exact size that everyone agrees on, lots of people think that having a bottom part (called the lower bout) that’s tinier than 13.5 inches or the size of a “0” shape Martin Guitar is the way to go.

Nowadays, parlor guitars can come in all sorts of sizes. Some companies even call guitars with a lower bout of 14 inches, like the “00” size ones, parlor guitars.

So, if you’re looking for a parlor guitar, our personal opinion is that anything as big as “00” and smaller is a good choice.

The Shape

Here’s an easier way to tell if a guitar is a parlor guitar: check out its body shape. If it’s smaller than a Concert size guitar and looks a bit stretched out, then it’s a real parlor guitar.

You might be wondering why it looks stretched. Well, back in the day, guitar makers wanted small guitars to sound louder. So, they made the body a bit longer. This extra length helped make the sound bigger without making the whole guitar huge.

But here’s the thing: nowadays, we have microphones and special systems that pick up sound from guitars. That means some guitar makers don’t think they need to make guitars with that stretched-out shape anymore.

The Sound of the Parlor Guitar

Even though parlor guitars are smaller, they still create a cozy and personal sound. Their little bodies highlight middle and high notes.

This balanced sound, along with a clear voice, is great for singing along or playing by yourself.

The sound of parlor guitars also works perfectly for fingerpicking. They respond well to gentle touches and show off the little details in how you play.

You can use them to play all sorts of genres, like soul, jazz, mariachi, and even punk.

differences between a parlor guitar

Parlor Guitar vs. Travel Guitar

When choosing the parlor guitar is easy to mistake it for a travel guitar. The line between parlor and travel guitars may seem blurry, and that’s because the definition of a parlor guitar isn’t crystal clear.

The travel guitars are usually smaller and typically have 14 frets beyond the body, while parlor guitars usually have 12.

Another thing to note is that travel guitars often have special cuts on the shoulder that make it easier to reach the higher frets. On the other hand, parlor guitars always keep a classic full-bodied shape with no curves on the shoulder.

Parlor guitars often have a vintage vibe, like something straight out of the 50s. Travel guitars, on the other hand, get creative with more modern designs, all to make them super easy to take on the road.

How to Choose the Right Parlor Guitar for You

Choosing the right parlor guitar might feel a bit overwhelming, given the wide variety available. But don’t worry, we’re here to make it easy for you.

Choosing the Right Type of Wood

The wood used for the guitar’s top, back, and sides play a big role in how it sounds and looks. Common woods include spruce, cedar, mahogany, and rosewood.

Spruce and cedar make brighter sounds, while mahogany and rosewood are warmer. Some even use carbon fiber for a bright tone.

Each wood has its unique sound, so think about what you want.

Finding the Right Price

Parlor guitars come in different prices, from affordable to fancy custom-built ones. First, decide how much you want to spend.

Remember, a pricier guitar might be made better, but even a cheaper one can still sound great.

New or Vintage?

You can pick a new or vintage parlor guitar. New ones have modern tricks and come with a warranty. Vintage ones have a cool history and a special feel.

It’s up to you – new vibes or old charm.

Playing Comfort

The neck’s width, shape, and how flat the fretboard is can really affect how easy the guitar is to play. Try different necks to see which one feels best.

This is extra important if you have smaller hands or a certain way of playing.

Choosing a Guitar Brand

Look into different guitar brands and ask other players what they think. Stick with brands known for good-quality parlor guitars. Check if there are any common problems people talk about.

By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to finding the parlor guitar that’s just right for you.

Popular Parlor Guitar Players

Some of the most popular parlor guitar players are:

  • Ed Sheeran
  • Mark Orton
  • Eric Clapton
  • John Mayer
  • Robert Johnson


Understanding what a parlor guitar is and how to choose the right one for you doesn’t need to be complicated. With this guide, you’ve gained insights into the unique qualities of parlor guitars – their cozy size, balanced tones, and rich history.

By considering factors like tonewoods, body styles, and playability, you’re equipped to make a decision that resonates with your musical preferences. Remember, selecting a parlor guitar is about finding a comfortable fit that complements your style and offers a warm, inviting sound.

Whether you’re a seasoned player or just starting your musical journey, the process of choosing a parlor guitar can be an enjoyable one. Use the information provided here as your roadmap, and let your instincts guide you toward the perfect parlor guitar that will inspire many melodious moments to come. 

Now I leave you to enjoy Ed Sheeran’s wonderful performance with Lowden’s parlor guitar:

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