One of the defining characteristics of the best parlor guitars is a focused tone with a mid-range oomph that makes them hard to put down. It’s hard to stay focused on reviewing the good ones, leave alone finding faults in models that are inexpensive and yet so fun to play.
In the past two decades, they have resumed their status as a formidable option for acoustic fingerstyle and blues enthusiasts. They’ve also gained traction as a porch guitar, one that you can have at hand for when inspiration strikes unexpectedly.
Whether you’re specifically seeking a parlor guitar or are in the market for your next acoustic, these models deserve your attention. They look, feel, and sound unique and managed to do that in a small package.
Features: Piezo pickup, All solid woods, Scalloped X bracing
Benefits: Huge punch/projection, Easy amplification, Beautiful resonance
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Features: All solid woods, 12 Fret design, Slim neck
Benefits: Comfortable to play, Genuine vintage tone, Excellent volume/projection
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Features: Nyatoh back/sides, Sapele top, Open gear tuners
Benefits: Thick midrange tone, Plenty of punch, Strong tuning stability
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Our Top Three Picks for Best Parlor Guitars
The Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy is our top pick among the best parlor guitars. It’s oozing with vintage cool, it’s extremely playable, and is perfectly priced (for the specs). It’s punchy as a parlor should be, ideal to evoke those bygone tones with tons of mid-range focus.
The Ibanez PN15 is our best budget option. It’s affordable and is a great choice if you’re looking for something you don’t mind taking a ding here and there when playing around the campfire. It’s best suited to beginners, budget-conscious buyers, and those who want an inexpensive travel instrument.
The Yamaha CSF3M is our Editor’s Choice. This narrow-waisted, all-solid wood parlor guitar delivers big on tone while keeping form factor to a minimum. The fit and finish is absolutely superb, and the playability is absolutely exceptional.
Best Parlor Guitar: Individual Reviews
Top: Agathis | Body: Agathis | Neck: Mahogany | | Fretboard: Rosewood | Scale: 24” | Frets: 18 | Finish: 2-Color Sunburst | Electronics: N/A | Case: Not included
The Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy (full review here) is vintage to the hilt with a slick Vintage Sunburst finish, white purfling, three-ring rosette, and a tin-box tone. It’s crafted with Agathis (top/body) and Nato (fingerboard). We’ve written about Agathis wood in a previous post, and the G9500 proves that it can be a part of a decent build.
The set-in Nato neck has a C-profile with a 12″ radius, a walnut fingerboard, and 18 frets with Pearloid dot inlays. Other notable features include a single-ply white pickguard, open-gear tuners, synthetic bone nut/saddle, walnut bridge, and nickel-plated hardware.
That said, for a parlor acoustic the guitar is smaller than the norm, particularly the 24″ scale-length and 3-inch body depth. That is, perhaps, why it sounds more tight and bluesy that the others. Its timbre is great for thumbpicking, slide playing and fingerpicking in blues, country, and folk genres.
The tone is deep and dry with crisp mids and tight lows. There aggressive bite of the guitar really comes through when you dig in. Unfortunately, the same tin-like tone does translate well into strumming. The sound is not as open as other instruments in this roundup and is prone to sounding boxy.
I’ll admit that I didn’t expect much before I reviewed the G9500. I’ll also admit all my presumptions were turned on their head after playing it. Gretsch impresses with an instrument that holds its own for the money and sounds wonderfully unique.
Verdict: Gretsch claims that the G9500 Jim Dandy is “Crackerjack quality at a sober price!” – and I can’t help but agree. It’s an excellent choice for beginners, fingerstyle novices, or intermediate players who are into blues/country/folk pickin’. It can also double up as a no-frills travel or porch guitar.
Top: Spruce | Body: Nyatoh | Neck: Nyatoh | | Fretboard: Nandu Wood | Scale: 24.4” | Frets: 19 | Finish: High-gloss Sunburst | Electronics: N/A | Case: Not included
If you’re looking to dip your toe in parlor guitars, the Ibanez PN15 (full review here) is a great place to start. Honestly, you might even find it scratches the itch well enough that you never upgrade.
For an under $200 guitar, there is no point in pondering over the wood used. However, for those who feel uneasy about it, these tonewoods are native to SE Asia and can be easily sourced in Indonesia (locally). This helps Ibanez keeps the manufacturing costs low.
The PN15 also sports a C-profile neck with a 9.84” radius and 19-frets with dot inlays. Other notable features include Ivorex II nut/saddle, cream binding, advantage pegs, chrome tuners, and double-circle rosette. The guitar is available in Sunburst with a high-gloss finish.
The body dimensions are 19 ½” (L) and 14 3/8” (W), with a depth of four inches. This makes the PN15 a touch larger than the average parlor acoustic, which might be the reason behind its relatively loud projection.
The build quality is great for the price, the looks are appealing, and the tone is reasonably well-balanced. The tone won’t make heads turn, and it may not be the guitar-of-choice for recording either. However, for a pocket-friendly parlor, it’s perfectly congenial for campfire strumming or casual noodling.
Verdict: The Ibanez PN15 offers great value for the price. It may not be the best guitar in the segment, but for under $200, the PN15 is backed by the Ibanez QA and pedigree. It can make a suitable ‘guitar-at-hand’ that you like to keep by the couch or bed. It’s tiny enough to double up as a travel guitar.
Top: Solid Sitka | Body: Solid Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | | Fretboard: Rosewood | Scale: 23 5/8” | Frets: 19 | Finish: Tobacco Brown Burst | Electronics: Yamaha SRT | Case: Deluxe Gig Bag |
The Yamaha CSF3M (reviewed in full here) sounds crisp, clear, and open – more than you would expect from this sort of body shape. More importantly, it has an intimate warmth to its fullness. The tone is so rich and full-bodied that you will keep returning to the instrument.
The tonewoods include a solid Sitka spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. The Nato neck is laden with a rosewood fingerboard with a 15.75” radius and a 19 frets with dot inlays. It’s earthy/elegant looks stand on the shoulders of the features like the Abalone inlay, black/white binding, and rosewood bridge.
I’d like to say it’s an affluent option for campfire sing-alongs, but it’s also too gorgeous to handle precariously. Instead, I imagine the CSF3M to be a go-to guitar for accompaniment, especially if you have a nice dove-eyed folk tune to croon over it.
The guitar features excellent electronics for this price point – the Yamaha SRT system. It’s a streamlined system with a passive piezo and an input through the strap button. To keep it as non-intrusive as possible, Yamaha has not included a preamp or on-board controls. It’s a shame because that would elevate the guitar to another level.
Despite the simplicity, the SRT system sounds excellent and it’s free of any quack or tinny overtones. It has the requisite tone sculpting flexibility and the presence is ideal for plug n’ play applications. Overall, the CSF3m is a PA-ready parlor for performing at small-to-mid-sized venues. Moreover, the USB port will be really hand when you want to record directly onto a computer.
Verdict: The Yamaha CSF3M is a modern parlor guitar that delivers on every imaginable front. It’s rare to see such build quality and tonal character at this price. It’s a great choice for players who need a compact high-quality parlor acoustic-electric guitar. It sounds confident, loud, and versatile enough to accompany players across a wide range of genres.
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce | Body: Whitewood | Neck: Mahogany | | Fretboard: Ovangkol | Scale: 25.4” | Frets: 20 | Finish: Satin Tobacco Burst | Electronics: N/A | Case: Not Included |
Recording King’s Dirty 30s series rivals the Gretsch parlor-style guitars with its Dust Bowl-era design and 0-sized body. However, the RPS-9 carves its own sonic identity with a vibrant solid Sitka spruce top and a 25.4-inch scale length – one of the biggest in this segment.
It also features a layered whitewood body connected to a mahogany neck with a dovetail joint. The thin C-profile neck is topped with an Ovangkol fretboard that hosts 20 frets with large ivory dots. The RPS-9 features notable value-additions such as the ivory body binding, bone nut + compensated bone saddle, and a satin Tobacco Sunburst finish.
The guitar is light, ergonomic, and feels comfortable to hold when seated. The projection is somewhat reigned in, but crisp nonetheless. It’s ideal for unamplified vocal accompaniment, especially for fingerstyle blues or country music.
The notes sound well-defined and the chords sound fat, both share a gratifying mid-range bark. The lows are focused and there is no noticeable boominess. It’s great for play or practice, and has a distinct predilection for some old-time tunes.
Verdict: The Recording King RPS-9 is a fun and easy-to-play bargain. It’s at home in the hands of folk/roots players and as an underlay for singer-songwriters. It’s perfect to have at hand in a home or studio to play on a whim or as a travel guitar that you don’t need to handle with kid gloves. If you are willing to sacrifice the solid Sitka top, you can opt for the cheaper version – Recording King RPS-7.
Top: Solid Mahogany | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | | Fretboard: Ebony | Scale: 24.72” | Frets: 20 | Finish: Satin Tobacco Burst | Electronics: Fishman GT1 | Case: Gig Bag |
The PE20E features a solid mahogany top with X-bracing, a layered mahogany body, and a 24.72” scale-length. The mahogany neck is fitted with a plush ebony fretboard that sports the signature PRS bird inlays.
It’s loaded with classy features such as a herringbone crème binding, ringed rosette, bone nut/saddle, and vintage-style tuning machines with Butterbean buttons. The guitar looks simple but elegant, and it upholds the QA and design standards of the PRS brand.
The string-spacing and fat (but comfortable) neck allows you to strum or fingerpick with ease. The body shape’s mid-range emphasis is balanced by the mellow voice of the mahogany. Unplugged, it sounds sweet with a touch of parlor punch and just the right amount of focus and projection.
Individual notes are crisp while fingerpicking and strummed chords sound vibrant – without any woof, boom, or muddiness. Overall, it’s a well-balanced instrument with clear lows and warm highs. Additionally, the guitar is fitted with the Fishman GT1 electronic system for amplification.
The Fishman system consists of an under-saddle pickup and a non-intrusive soundhole-mounted preamp. The pickup does a great job of retaining most of the organic acoustic tone, making the PE20E a studio and stage-worthy guitar. In terms of tone and looks, it will make heads turn when you plug it in for your set.
The PRS PE20E is available in three finish options: Charcoal, Black, and Mahogany.
Verdict: While nothing says it can’t be a travel companion, the PRS SE P20E is ready and eager for performance and recordings. It’s at home in the arms of a beginner on a couch or in a seasoned player’s acoustic set. It does carry some heft in the price tag, but it delivers an excellent tone, uncompromised playability, and top-shelf build quality in return.
Top: Solid Spruce | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Fretboard: Rosewood | Scale: 24.75” | Finish: 3-tone Sunburst | Frets: 20 | Electronics: N/A | Case: Not included
For once, Fender fails to make it to our top picks. The CP-60S put up a good fight, but it was up against some tough competition. That said, it’s still a good choice for Fender loyalists or those with a limited budget.
The CP60S has a solid Spruce top with a laminated mahogany body in a satin sunburst finish. It’s also available in a 3-tone Sunburst finish. The guitar sports Fender’s ‘easy-to-play’ neck profile with a walnut fretboard and rolled edges. It has 20 vintage-style frets and dot inlays.
Despite the modest price, Fender has thrown in some noteworthy features such as the headstock rosewood veneer, rosewood bridge, pearl acrylic rosette, and compensated artificial nut saddle. Other notable features include scalloped X-bracing, die-cast tuners, and a dual-action truss rod.
The CP60S is an average-sized parlor guitar with a 24.75” scale length and a familiar 12” fingerboard radius. It sounds bright and full, with an intimate emphasis in the mid-range. The guitar has an impressive projection for the size and price.
This sonic character lends well to strumming, which makes it a worthy instrument for couch or campfire playing. If you aren’t expecting the sky, the CP-60S will impress you with the build and tone. It may not be stage-ready, but it’s loud, pleasant, and presentable. Up-and-coming guitarists will enjoy the playing experience it offers.
Verdict: Fender CP-60S is a traditional design for folk/blues players and singer-songwriters. It strikes a good balance between price and value and delivers the parlor feel without breaking the bank. It can be a good first guitar for fingerstyle novices or a second guitar for casual play. The reasonable price makes it a compelling prospect for musicians who love to travel.
Top: Solid Adirondack Spruce | Body: Solid Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany| | Fretboard: Ebony | Scale: 24.9” | Frets: 20 | Electronics: N/A | Finish: Natural (Nitrocellulose Gloss) | Case: Hard Shell Case |
Eastman may lack the ornate brand value of Taylor or Martin, but the E10P is a guitar of superb quality. A Solid Adirondack spruce top is coupled with a solid mahogany body and a mahogany neck with a 24.9-inch scale length. The pristine ebony fingerboard features 20-frets with pearl dot inlays.
The ebony neck has an even-C profile, which is considered the traditional choice for parlor guitars. Without getting into the technical details, it’s one of the most articulate and comfortable to play necks in this segment.
Eastman has spared no expense in creating the instrument. It includes a dual-action truss road, top/back binding, pearl headstock, bone nut/saddle, and even ebony bridge pins. And, there’s more.
The EP10P has top-grade build quality and ships with D’Addario EXP 16 (12-53) strings and a hard shell case. It’s also available in a vintage sunburst finish if you prefer a vintage styling.
The rich looks are complemented by a versatile and magnificent tone. The guitar sounds warm, well defined, balanced, and has a robust projection. It can easily square up to guitars twice its price in terms of playability and performance.
Overall, the EP10 is a high-quality parlor guitar that will excel in a studio recording or an acoustic set. The tone is rich and more versatile than most parlor guitars that you’ll encounter. It can handle everything from Celtic DADGAD tunes to folk songs to raw delta blues tunes. However, the price might be a tad too high for hobbyists or fingerstyle enthusiasts.
Verdict: Eastman E10P looks, sounds, and feels every bit like a good parlor guitar ought to. It has earned a solid reputation among fingerstyle and slide guitar players. Despite tipping over the $1000 mark, it still offers bags of value. It’s highly recommended for pro musicians or fingerstyle enthusiasts who don’t find the price prohibitive.
What are Parlor Guitars?
There is no precise definition of a parlor guitar. The term generally refers to any acoustic guitar that is more narrow (in width) than the normal size (not to be confused with 1/2 size or 3/4 size guitars. Over the years, parlor guitars have become synonymous with guitars that have a narrow waist meets elongated lower body shape. Other distinct features include 12-frets to the body and smaller scale length.
Parlor guitars (or parlour) were the norm in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The subsequent period saw the emergence of the dreadnaught acoustic guitar, which nudged the parlor-style guitars into a quiescent phase.
Parlor acoustic guitars made occasional appearances in the repertoire of artists such as Chet Atkins, Joan Baez, Keb Mo’, and Eric Clapton. However, they remained largely absent from the collective memory of musicians, nearly on the verge of fading from memory.
In the early 2000s, guitarists world over rediscovered the unique attributes of this somewhat niche acoustic guitar– a distinct body shape, the mid-range parlor-punch, and a penchant for folk/blues fingerpicking. While the seasoned musicians used them for stylistic reasons, others picked them up as ‘at-hand guitars’ or travel companions.
The sudden demand and popularity prompted several manufacturers to create new parlor-style designs. The current market offers parlor acoustic guitars by Fender, Gretsch, Epiphone, Takamine, Yamaha, PRS, and several others.
Parlor guitars are available as short-scale (under 25-inch) and long-scale (over 25-inch). Long-scale parlor guitars have the same neck-feel as a full-sized guitar. They are more consistent with other acoustic guitars, which is ideal for musicians who want to dabble in slide, blues, or folk music.
For practical reasons, we’ve only mentioned entry-level and mid-range parlor guitars in this roundup. Here is a handy list of premium parlor guitars if you’re looking for high-end models:
- Larrivee P-09
- Fender Ron Emory Loyalty
- Martin 0-28V
- Loar LO-215
Related Questions: Parlor Guitar FAQ
A parlor guitar generally refers to a compact and narrow-waisted guitar, smaller in size than Marin’s single 0 size, which itself is 13 1/2″, with the name coming from the room in which the guitar was played back in the late 19th century. However, it’s worth noting that there is no single exact definition, and generally speaking, the parlor guitar is in the eyes of the beholder as it were.
Parlor guitars are an excellent choice for children, young students, and people with small hands. They are undoubtedly easier to play than full-sized instruments such as the dreadnought acoustic guitar. Seasoned musicians prefer parlor guitars for their mid-range emphasis, but their small bodies and scale length make them a great choice for beginners.
All acoustic guitars are good for strumming or fingerpicking, some more so than the others. Parlor guitars are no exception to that rule. They may lack openness and projection of other body shapes. Body shapes, however, are not the only thing that contributes to how strumming-friendly a guitar is. You’ll notice that we’ve listed several guitars in this roundup that are great for campfire or couch playing.
Parlor guitars are often confused with ¾ scale acoustic guitars because of the overlaps in design. Parlor guitars have a narrow body with a broad waist – the exaggerated pear-shaped body. They also have 12 frets to the body. The “3/4-scale acoustic guitars” have a different scale-length (shorter) and body shape.
One good look at the Ibanez PN15 (parlor guitar) and Little Martin (3/4 scale acoustic guitar) should be enough to distinguish between the two. That said, there is no official rulebook that defines the dimensions for these types of guitars (check out our full guide on types of guitar). You are bound to find a few variations in the dimensions based on the make/model/manufacturer.
Yes, a parlor guitar will be easier to play than a regular acoustic guitar due to their shorter scale length. Aside from generally being more compact than a typical acoustic guitar, the shorter scale length of a parlor guitar allows for strings to hold less tension, making a parlor guitar easier to fret and easier to bend. You can also use a lighter string on the shorter scale length of a parlor guitar, making for a more comfortable playing experience.
No, Ed Sheeran is not a parlor guitar player. He’s best known for playing a 3/4 sized acoustic guitar, most notably the Martin LX1 acoustic guitar series, which most of his signature guitars are based on. As we mentioned earlier, many confuse a 3/4 scale acoustic guitar for parlor acoustic guitars, but there are differences.
This is a tricky one as an 00 acoustic guitar has a very specific size whereas Martin never officially named or sized a “parlor guitar”. An 00 is defined as having a lower bout in the 14″ range, below which an 0 would be 13 1/2″. Most would consider a smaller size again to be a parlor guitar, but there is no fixed definition for a parlor acoustic, and each would have to be taken on it’s own merits.
The biggest advantage of a parlor guitar is being perfect for small stages or gigs with a lot of musicians on stage, where every inch counts. For this reason they’re often considered the orignal travel guitar. Sonically, they have a tight and compact acoustic sound and come across well for focused playing rather than the boomier sound you would get from a concert guitar.
Final Thoughts on the best parlor guitars
Whether you want an easy-haulin’ alternative to travel guitars or a delta blues companion, I’ve shared my favorite assortment of parlor guitars. They span a vast spectrum of price and features. Hopefully, it enables you to single out the inch-perfect partner for your style and level of expertise.
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