What Is A Parlor Guitar And Who Is Most Suited To This Type Of Guitar?

Updated June 29th, 2023 . 

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar selection

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what is a parlor guitar
19th Century Parlor Guitars (By doryfour (Flickr: Washburn guitars (1896)) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

The term “parlor guitar” is a term that is widely used today to cover a spectrum of guitar types. But usually a parlor will only be described as such if it is of a certain smaller size.

The word parlor actually refers to reception rooms from old times and since compact sized guitars were regularly played in these compact sized rooms, they became known as parlor guitars.

Table of Contents

The Parlor Guitars Size

There is no set size to determine a parlor guitar really – or at least what are labelled parlor guitars these days – but those which have bouts smaller than 13.5 inches or are smaller than Martin Guitars 0 shapes, are usually referred to as parlor guitars.

Because of this, the best way to identify a real parlor guitar is through its shape. An authentic parlor guitar will be smaller than a concert size and will have an elongated body. The long shape of the parlor guitar is specially designed by the makers to give some volume to the small guitars.

Modern Day Parlor Guitars

However a lot of modern parlor guitars don’t even deem it necessary because they can embed microphones or pickup systems in the guitars to increase the volume which was earlier done with an elongated body for the guitar.

How Big is a Parlor Guitar?

Unfortunately, due to an infuriatingly vague definition of what a parlor guitar actually is, there are no exact, universal dimensions that we can attribute to them. In Mottola’s Cyclopedic Dictionary of Lutherie Terms, a parlor guitar is described as “any guitar that is narrower than current standards”.

A common modern definition is that anything smaller than a standard Martin size-O concert guitar can be considered a parlor guitar. But this is also a flawed description that lumps travel guitars – a decidedly unique type of guitar – in under the parlor umbrella.

Featuring 12-14 frets to body and measuring 13.5″ (lower bout), 4.3 – 4.25″ (depth), 19.125 – 18.375″ (body length), 24.9″ (scale), 1.875″ (nut width), some consider size-O concert guitars themselves to count as parlor guitars.

Perhaps it’s easier to define a parlor guitar by means of deductive reasoning. If the dimensions don’t describe anything else, the chances are you’ve got yourself a parlor guitar.

How many inches is a parlor guitar?

There isn’t a set size for parlor guitars. The historical description of these guitars is that they were smaller than a size no. 0 concert guitar, but no further guidance was given.

Parlor guitars are considered full-sized guitars, so they are larger than size guitars. This means that they should be over 36 inches long.

Most parlor guitars tend to be about 38 inches from top to bottom.


How is a Parlor Guitar Different from a Travel Guitar?

There’s a reason why the lines that separate parlor and travel guitars are a little blurry, and that’s because the definition of a parlor guitar is incredibly vague. The most capable description we have is that any acoustic guitar smaller in size than the Martin standard size-O is technically a parlor guitar. Travel guitars, being the smallest of all, are haphazardly lumped into this category, but there are some distinct differences.

  1. Firstly, as mentioned above, travel guitars are usually a smaller design, yet they typically have 14 frets beyond the body as opposed to parlor guitar’s 12.
  2. Travel guitars also tend to offer, via cut-outs in the shoulder, greater access to the higher frets. Parlor guitars are always full-bodied, featuring no curves in the shoulder.
  3. They can sometimes also be differentiated via their aesthetics. Parlor guitars can have a vintage style reminiscent of 50s design, whereas travel guitars take many unorthodox modern forms in order to make them as road-friendly as possible.

What Kind of Sound Should I Expect from a Parlor Guitar?

Because parlor guitars have smaller bodies, they are good for tones emphasizing the midranges. The voice of a parlor guitar makes them a good choice for old school blues, folk and slide music.

Parlor guitars have a very distinct tone which also has contributed immensely to the resurgence of this particular instrument in the market. Regardless of the type of wood used in their design and their size, parlor guitars all have midrange tones because of their small bodies.

What are Parlors Best Suited for?

modern day parlor guitar
Modern Day Parlor Guitar

A parlor guitar is great for acoustic recordings if you are looking for the distinct tone that they produce.

They are also good for small intimate performances. However, for larger venues you might need to amplify the guitar as the volume doesn’t travel as much as larger guitars.

However if the performance is purely acoustic without any preamp systems then a parlor guitar would do amazingly for a smaller venue.

They are also great for those who are traveling and need a smaller guitar.

Parlor guitars are also great when one wants to play at an intimate gathering. Although they are small, parlor guitars have a very robust sound and for those singers who want to play soft music, these guitars are well suited for them too.

Because of their smaller structure and shape, parlor guitars are an amazing learning tool for children and novices learning to play guitar. Children have small hands and their fingers can more easily play parlor guitars because the scale length is smaller meaning that the frets are closer together making them easier to reach.

Also parlor guitars have lower string tension which makes it easier for novices and children to learn to play. This way their fingers won’t get sore and they can spend more time without pain learning to play the guitar.

Why Have Parlor Guitars Regained Popularity?

Parlor guitars, initially designed as small instruments for the wealthy as a way to entertain guests in their parlors, fell into relative obscurity for a few decades, but now they’re back with a vengeance.

The primary reason these little guitars are making a big comeback is that they’re being picked up by respected musicians and used in popular music. Folk giants such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez are among notable artists known to champion the parlor design

There’s also more of a technological reason the parlor guitar is experiencing a resurgence in popularity at the minute, and it’s all down to the wide and universal access to music we currently have via streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Youtube. Aspiring musicians are hearing parlor guitar music of the 1950s they otherwise would have no exposure to and endeavoring to recreate the tonalities unique to the decade.

Being a space-friendly, lightweight option for a budding musician on a budget to take on tour, it’s important not to overlook their general practicality and aesthetic in their renaissance as well.

What Are Parlor Guitars Good For?

Parlor guitars are known for their compact size, which can be an advantage for a number of reasons. Looking to travel with your case in tow? The compact shape and feather-light weight means they can be easily transported, packed onto busy trains, and crammed into small performing areas. On average, they’re around 15% smaller than regular size guitars, so they’re the perfect choice for traveling.

These guitars are best suited to finger-style players due to their smaller dimensions, as this allows the player to more easily activate the top. This results in more power which generates a vibration that is large enough to draw out the full capabilities of its frequency response.

If you play a dreadnought without much force, you might find that it’s slightly weak or thin. But when you put some strength into your strumming you’ll reap the rewards and the form of a sound that covers bass, mid, and treble frequencies with truer accuracy.


Who Plays a Parlor Guitar?

While the parlor is not the most popular choice of guitar, it produces a great sound and is used by a number of different music artists.

Robert Johnson was the first artist to make this type of guitar popular. He used the Gibson L-1. When his music was re-released in 1961, he paved the way for many other artists to use this type of guitar.

Since then there are a number of different artists that choose to use a parlor guitar, notably Eric Clapton, who took much inspiration from Robert Johnson. Mark Orton is another guitarist that is well known for using a parlor guitar.

John Mayer often uses a parlor. When looking at current music, Ed Sheeran is often known to use a parlor guitar. Often on stage, it is only Ed Sheeran and his guitar and he has created some fantastic songs using a parlor.

Who Makes the Best Parlor Guitar?

This is a tricky question to answer. The issue with trying to establish the best of any guitar is that everyone has their preferences.

What we can do is suggest a few popular and highly regarded parlor guitars.

First up is the Larrivee P-09. This parlor guitar from the Canadian luxury guitar company has made plenty of waves globally and even in space.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield took his Larrivee P-09 to the international space station. The sales of this guitar have gone through the roof since!

Another great parlor guitar is the Fender CP-100. Fender guitars are loved and played by hundreds and thousands of people globally. Their name screams quality and the CP-100 is no different.

The CP-100 is a lot cheaper than other parlor guitars and that makes it a good choice for beginners.

Other names to look out for include Cordoba, Woodland Pro, and Breedlove.

Is a Parlor Guitar Good for Beginners?

Parlor guitars can be great for learners because they are more accessible than larger guitars like classical or dreadnaughts.

The small size of a parlor guitar makes it particularly suitable for younger players or people with smaller hands and arms.

While they’re not the loudest of the guitars, parlor guitars do have a decent volume and great range.

Are Parlor Guitars Good for Strumming?

Parlor guitars tend to be preferred by finger pickers. This is because you can easily activate the top string which creates some wonderful sounds when combined with fingerpicking.

Activating the top means that you can lightly strum or pluck the top string and still get a decent sound. Larger guitars need more force in the strum to get a good sound. The light touch is great for fingerpicking which is an altogether gentler pursuit.

That being said, you can definitely strum a parlor guitar. It won’t give you the thick resonant sound you’d get from a larger guitar, but with practice, it can sound pretty great.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading and I hope that you have learnt more about what a Parlor guitar is and who they are best suited to.

Check out the link below for some reviews of some parlor guitars and other smaller bodied guitars.


What is the purpose of a parlor guitar?

The smaller size and focused tone of a parlor guitar make it well-suited for intimate performances in small venues. Parlor guitars are often associated with fingerstyle playing and blues music. Parlor guitars are compact and lightweight, making them ideal for travel and musicians on the go. Their distinct sound can add a touch of vintage warmth and intimacy to recordings. Parlor guitars also have a rich history and are often sought after for their vintage aesthetic and collectible value.

What is the difference between a parlor guitar and a regular guitar?

The main differences between a parlor guitar and a regular guitar, often referred to as a “standard” or “full-size” guitar, lie in their size, shape, and tonal characteristics.

Are parlor guitars harder to play?

Parlor guitars are not inherently harder to play compared to regular or full-size guitars. But individual preferences and playing styles can vary. Some players may prefer the feel and sound of a regular or full-size guitar, while others may find the smaller size and reduced tension of a parlor guitar more comfortable and easier to play.

Do parlor guitars sound different?

Yes, parlor guitars have a distinct sound and tonal character compared to regular or full-size guitars. The smaller body size and unique construction of parlor guitars contribute to their distinctive sound.

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