If you’re trying to find a compact acoustic guitar that’s punchy yet delicate, with lots of focus, then look no further than one of the best parlor guitars in this guide. These old-school acoustics take their name from the parlor rooms in which they were played in the 19th century. Nowadays, parlor guitars are favored by blues players, folk artists, singer-songwriters, recording engineers and more.
Their compact dimensions and narrow waist give them a fairly distinctive sound. They’re often quite mid-heavy, though can be nice and bright too. These guitars are great for cutting through a mix, so if you want to be heard, and you want to be able to control dynamics easily, then a parlor could be the right instrument for you. Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that a small guitar means a small sound – many of these can pump out a good amount of volume.
The fact that they’re small also makes them a great choice for beginners and players of a smaller stature. People who have struggled getting their arms around a dreadnought or something similar will find these much easier to manage physically. The shorter scale length can also help them feel easy to play.
Best parlor guitars: Guitar World recommends
With more and more manufacturers looking at producing these smaller, short-scale acoustics and all these options to chose from, what is the best parlor guitar? We hold the Gibson G-00 in high esteem. It’s got lots of premium features, like all solid-wood construction, and its player-centric sound port, but it comes in at the lower end of the Gibson price-range. Alternatively, if you like that sort of vibe but want to spend less, then the Epiphone L-00 is a great alternative.
Around the mid-range price point, you’ve got the PRS SE PE20, and the Fender PS-220E. Both are great options, with decent pickups on board, and should certainly be considered if you’re looking for the best parlor guitar around the $/£500 mark.
Best parlor guitars: Product guide
This has everything you’d want from a premium guitar – all solid woods, amazing playability, impeccable sound – and is put together by skilled luthiers at the Gibson factory in Bozeman, Montana. The spruce imparts a wonderful, bright tonality as well as clarity, and the walnut helps in the mid and lower registers, making this really balanced across the whole frequency range, though you’ve still got that classic little mid-range bump thanks to the parlor body shape. This being an all solid-wood body, the guitar’s tone is rich and resonant, and will improve the more you play it.
What’s really unique about the Gibson G-00 and the Generation series as a whole is the Player Port. This is a small sound hole on the side of the guitar facing up, so that you get a similar sort of projection as the audience; so essentially, you hear the guitar better, resulting in an improved playing experience.
Read the full Gibson G-00 review
The all-mahogany construction and renowned PRS build quality make the SE PE20 one of the best parlor guitars that money can buy, especially when you’re considering value for money. It’s a warm-sounding guitar, with lots of presence in the lower-mids. You get clarity when playing all over the neck, and considering its size, it can cut through a mix really well. The solid top means you get a rich sound that will improve with age.
PRS are known for building high quality guitars, and, despite the PE20’s price tag, this is no exception. It makes for a superb instrument for beginners, with its size lending itself nicely to those less used to an acoustic guitar, but the PE20 is also a great workhorse guitar for more experienced players. This is enhanced by the on-board Fishman GT1 pickup system that allows you to amplify your great parlor guitar sounds at gigs with ease.
Read the full PRS SE PE20 review
This is one of the best mid-level parlor guitars around in terms of sound and playability, though it’s also got quite a few premium appointments too. The solid spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides help deliver a crisp and clear tone, with plenty of mid-range presence and a lovely, detailed top end. Fingerpickers will love how well it reacts to playing dynamics, and strummers might be surprised by how much headroom it’s got – this means it’s versatile and can cater for different playing styles.
The Fender PS-220E has some beautiful aesthetic touches too – the white binding is really nice with its feathered checkered purfling, and the headstock and fingerboard inlays finish it off perfectly. There’s a pickup on board too; a collaboration between Fender and Fishman that helps amplify your guitar perfectly. Add to this a decent hard case and you’ve got one of the best parlor guitars that this sort of money can buy.
Read the full Fender Paramount PS-220E review
This is a really well made, beautiful parlor guitar featuring the classic wood combination of spruce and rosewood. This gives you a nice, bright tone, with lots of detail in the top end, and quite a big bass response too – more than you might expect of a guitar this size. Whilst the wood imparts a slight natural mid-scoop, you’ve still got the trademark parlor guitar sound. This well-crafted Faith is made from all solid woods too, so it’s lovely and rich sounding, with plenty of resonance.
The neck joins the body at the 12th fret, so there’s slightly less tension on the strings, making it feel really easy and loads of fun to play – plus it contributes to some of the sound, giving it a little more ‘oomph’. It boasts a whole host of other premium features too, such as high quality Grover tuners, figured ebony bridge, fingerboard and bridge pins, a hard case, abalone rosette and Fishman INK3 preamp with undersaddle pickup. It’s not cheap, but it really is one of the best parlor guitars where quality is concerned.
If you’re looking for an entry into the world of parlor guitars and don’t want to spend much, or if you’re seeking a cool sounding first guitar, then the Gretsch G9500 is worth considering. Inspired by guitars from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, the famous Jim Dandy model from Gretsch has the classic parlor body shape yielding a warm and intimate sound, and perhaps more volume than you might expect from a guitar of this size.
Sure, this thing might not sound as good as models further up the line, but here you’re getting one of the best parlor guitars at this price point, from one of the most well respected names in the business. The C neck profile and 24” scale make it comfortable to play for pretty much any style of player, plus the retro look gives it instantly cool vibe.
This incredibly well priced offering from Epiphone harks back to the golden age of acoustic guitars as a direct descendant of one of the most popular models of the 1930s. Boasting a solid spruce top, layered mahogany back and sides and the classic parlor guitar body shape, the Epiphone L-00 is a dream for fingerpickers and light strummers. It’s nice and bright, but also has a warm bottom end that will improve the more you play it. It’s got that nice, woody tone, with a responsive and immediate attack.
We love the fact that this model has a good quality pickup built in too. The onboard Fishman Sonicore pickup means you can plug in and play wherever you need to, making it the perfect accompaniment for singer-songwriters or those wanting to get started on the open-mic circuit. This classic guitar, and its Gibson counterpart have been played by a bunch of legendary players over the years, including one of the greats – Bob Dylan.
The TransAcoustic range from Yamaha has been met with great enthusiasm by players and critics alike. These guitars allow you to dial in reverb and chorus without the need for amplification. So, if you want to add more depth and texture to your guitar sound, without plugging into an amp, then this is the answer!
Aside from this amazing feature (it’s a lot more than just a novelty – it’s genuinely very useful), the Yamaha CSF-TA is just a great parlor guitar. It’s punchy sounding, with a nice solid spruce top that sparkles in the top end and is throaty in the midrange. It’s got a laminate mahogany back and sides which contribute some warmth to the guitar’s voicing, too. It’s super comfortable to play, and it comes shipped with a decent gig bag, making it the perfect guitar for traveling with.
There isn’t technically a clear-cut definition of a parlor guitar, and at its size the Martin 0-X1E is on the edge of being a concert guitar. However, it’s got a lot of the mid-range that parlor guitars are known for. It’s also nice and focused with a great attack. It being on the larger end of parlor size (small concert) also means that it’s got a touch more low end than some of the other options on this list.
In terms of the materials used, the Martin 0-X1E has a high pressure laminate mahogany top, back and sides, though you’d be easily fooled into thinking it was a solid top. This construction means that it’s a good option if the weather and/or humidity can fluctuate a lot where you live, as the guitar will be more stable. It sounds great, it’s got a very good pickup on board, it’s incredibly comfortable to play, and it’s nice and compact – what’s not to love?
Read the full Martin 0-X1E review
Best parlor guitars: buying advice
How to choose the best parlor guitar for you
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Finding the best parlor guitar for you is important; what is right for someone else might not be right for you, which is why we’ve put together some expert buying advice. There are plenty of great options out there from trusted manufacturers, so you’re sure to find something to suit.
Which tonewoods should I consider?
The woods from which a parlor guitar is made will have quite an effect on the sound it produces. Solid woods are generally preferred, as opposed to laminated woods, as they resonate more, produce more overtones and generally just tend to sound richer and better. Many of the best parlor guitars feature a solid top. This means the top part of the body, which is in effect like the speaker of the instrument, is made from solid wood so it vibrates more freely and will produce a better tone when compared to a laminate top. You can then get guitars where the whole body is solid, i.e. the top, back and sides are made from solid woods, which will yield an even richer tone.
Spruce is a common tonewood for the top and is fairly bright sounding, with a nice snap and attack. It can also lend some extra punch in the midrange. It’s versatile so should work for any style of music. Mahogany is used on quite a few parlor guitars too. Some players describe it as ‘woody’ or ‘earthy’ sounding. A lot of old blues players like mahogany for its warmth – if that’s your bag, then a parlor guitar featuring mahogany is worth checking out.
Should I buy a parlor guitar with electronics?
If you’re wanting to use your new parlor guitar at gigs or open-mic nights, or maybe you want to record directly into an audio interface, then going for one that has a built-in pickup will certainly help. With an electro-acoustic guitar you can turn up, plug in and play. You’ve usually got some controls on the side for volume and maybe even a simple EQ so you can dial in your ideal sound. Of course, if this seems unnecessary for your needs, then you don’t want to be paying for a pickup you don’t need, so a straight up acoustic parlor guitar will see you right.
How much should I spend on a parlor guitar?
Price is usually an important factor when shopping for a new guitar. You’ll want to get the best parlor guitar that your money can buy. All of our options on this list are good guitars, though of course, the more you spend, the better the guitar is going to be. You can get a great starter option for under $200. Increasing your budget is going to get you better woods, so you’ll see solid tops just above this price point which resonate better. Go even further and you’ll get all solid wood construction.
A more expensive guitar is also probably going to feature better hardware, which can help it stay in tune better, will probably feel nicer to play and might include a better pickup, giving you a more organic and natural sound when plugged in. Of course if you’re just starting out, then some of these higher end features might be unnecessary.