The mighty dreadnought has earned a solid reputation as a booming crowd pleaser, but for many savvy players in the know, the graceful narrow-waisted contours and charming, melodious voice that flows from a parlor acoustic guitar proves it to be, by contrast, the belle of the ball.
In spite of my attributing an affectionately feminine term to it, it’s worth noting the parlor guitar – since its appearance in the 1800s – has often been misrepresented as a women’s acoustic because of its smaller size.
But truth be told, nearly all acoustics were commonly small during their prominence in the mid 19th century, and if anything, the parlor guitar was and still is a celebrated instrument deeply steeped in historical music traditions.
It’s also been embraced by all – from progenitor bluesmen such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake, folk artists like Joan Baez, and even astronaut Chris Hadfield, who performed David Bowie’s Space Oddity on a parlor acoustic in zero-gravity aboard the ISS in 2013.
Now that you have the big picture on a classic acoustic with comfortably smaller proportions, I suggest looking no further than the affordable PRS Guitars SE Tonare Parlor P20E.
Keep in mind, PRS already produces more conventional acoustics in their outstanding SE Tonare Grand and SE Angelus series, but I must admit what a pleasant surprise it was to see PRS unveil their first-ever version of a parlor guitar with the SE Tonare Parlor P20E that offers tremendous tone for its size.
The SE Tonare Parlor line of acoustics is available with or without electronics (SE P20E or P20), with three satin finishes and – currently – two limited-edition colors.
The SE P20E reviewed here features all-mahogany construction with a solid mahogany top in satin black finish, laminated mahogany back and sides, mahogany neck with PRS’s signature “Wide Fat” neck profile, PRS hybrid “X”/Classical bracing, dark ebony bridge with compensated bone saddle, bone nut with a 1 11/16–inch nut width, and 24.72–inch scale length.
The guitar exudes understated elegance with its crème herringbone binding and rosette and crème pickguard, all of which impart an “old-time” mojo that complements the neck’s bound ebony fingerboard with PRS’s hallmark bird inlays and the vintage-style tuners with aged-ivory “butterbean” buttons.
The SE P20E comes equipped with the Fishman GT1 pickup system that features an undersaddle pickup and soundhole-mounted preamp with volume and tone wheels neatly tucked inside the top of the soundhole. PRS also includes a high-quality gig bag for the SE P20E.
In your hands and pressed against your frame, the sturdy SE P20E feels like an acoustic built to last, courtesy of its immaculate construction and smooth fretwork.
With a body depth averaging just over 3 1/2–inches, it’s one of the most pleasing guitars to cradle in a seated position, and even better, it doesn’t suffer from any lack of volume as its “elongated” parlor body does wonders to project its bold, mid-ranged voice without subduing it.
Whether your approach is fingerstyle, picking or strumming, the guitar’s responsive highs sound balanced and sweet, and plucked bass notes hit with a penetrating musical thump rather than a feeble thud. But clearly, the SE P20E possesses a stout midrange emphasis, and the Fishman GT1 electronics work well in articulating that.
The PRS “Wide Fat” neck will likely cause some ambivalence for certain players with its palm-filling profile, but I can vouch that the neck’s softly rounded shoulders will win you over – allowing you to easily arch your thumb over the fingerboard – and won’t get in the way of the guitar’s buttery playability.
And considering its inexpensive price point for a parlor guitar, the SE P20E is a no-brainer acoustic for your next coffeehouse gig or as a dependable couch companion.
- PRICE: $579 / £399
- NUT WIDTH: 1.69”, bone
- NECK: Mahogany, wide/fat shape
- FRETBOARD: Ebony, 24.72” scale
- FRETS: 20
- TUNERS: Vintage style with butterbean buttons
- BODY: Mahogany veneer back and sides, solid mahogany top
- BRIDGE: Ebony with compensated bone saddle
- ELECTRONICS Fishman GT1 with undersaddle piezo pickup and soundhole-mounted volume and tone controls
- WEIGHT: 3.84 lbs (as tested)
- BUILT: China
- CONTACT: PRS Guitars (opens in new tab)