The Best Parlor Guitars - All Prices up to $2000

The Highest Rated Parlor Guitars

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Parlor guitars have smaller bodies that look and sound distinct, evoking the classic appeal of Victorian era late 1800's guitars, or the more gritty aesthetics and tone of "blues box" mail-order guitars from the 1930's.

Thanks to their smaller size, parlor guitars are generally lighter. With their shorter scale length, they often have a softer comfortable playing feel, making them viable for both old and young musicians who want an instrument that's easy on their hands.

New to this March 2022 edition, is a section featuring my preferred parlor guitar, along with the pros and cons that I've encountered based on my personal experience with the instrument.

The Best Parlor Guitars

Author & Contributors

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

I've written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at my local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.

Author's Pick

Unlike the regular Meta Analysis we present, this is my review of my favorite parlor guitar that I own and play regularly.

Takamine GY11ME

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 40+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$450
Takamine GY11ME Acoustic-Electric Parlor Guitar

Takamine is known for stage ready yet reasonably priced acoustic-electric guitars, so when I saw the GY11ME at our local store, I immediately checked it out.

I was initially drawn to its classic aesthetics, especially its nice looking square tapered slotted headstock, which matches its "New Yorker" parlor style body. This was a big deal to me because Takamine usually employs their regular headstock shape on their acoustics. The top, back and sides are crafted from mahogany, wrapped in natural satin finish that showcases nice wood grain patterns.

Takamine GY11ME Headstock

Given its tonewood configuration and shape, it produces a warm midrange focused tone that suits my preferred styles of music, which include blues, gospel, rock and the like. For plugging in, Takamine equipped it with a TP-4T pickup and preamp system, which has essential controls including 3-band EQ and gain, as well as a nifty built-in tuner.

Takamine GY11ME Grain

Another factor that made me decide to get this parlor guitar is its easy playability, thanks to its shorter scale length, flat fretboard radius and narrow nut width. At the time, I was looking for a good pickup-equipped acoustic that's easy enough to play for my son, who I trained to play on a 3/4 size nylon string guitar. So it made perfect sense to get the GY11ME, especially when considering that I had been hunting for a parlor guitar.

Thankfully, the transition into steel string went smooth for my son, and I also ended up enjoying the GY11ME as a beater couch guitar.

Fast forward to today, the GY11ME is still our go-to guitar at home, surviving hours and hours of practice, and it has seen action in many church services, school events, gigs, and home recordings.

Note that while this version of the GY11ME is still available, Takamine has a new version with sapele body, slightly different specs, and a regular (not-slotted) headstock.

Takamine GY11ME on a Guitar Stand

Features

  • Body Shape: New Yorker Parlor
  • Top: Mahogany
  • Back and Sides: Mahogany
  • Finish: Natural Satin
  • Bridge: Laurel
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Soft-C
  • Fingerboard: Laurel
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12"
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Frets to Body: 14
  • Scale Length: 24.8”
  • Nut Width: 1.67"

Pros

Playability is the main edge of the Takamine GY11ME, it was way easier on the hands compared to regular-sized acoustics. So much so that I ended up spending more time with it than my other acoustics, which included a dreadnought and an OM Martin. Being compact also makes it more convenient to play, it was easier to pickup and store back on a guitar stand or case. While it may not have the fullness and clear sound of bigger acoustics, the GY11ME's warm tone works nicely for old school musical styles, while still able to handle the type of songs that younger students prefer. It also helps that the guitar looks more premium than it actually is. Finally, I never had any problem with its tuning and intonation, it remains reliable and solid even after getting dings and scratches from years of regular use.

Cons

After around 3 years of use, I ended up replacing the built-in preamp and pickup system with a Fishman Sonitone, because the original started to have issues. It would've been nicer if it the top was solid mahogany, but it probably wouldn't be as beginner friendly in terms of price and reliability.

Overall

The Takamine GY11ME scratched my parlor guitar itch with its classic appeal, smooth action and bluesy tone, highly recommended if you're into similar musical styles and guitar aesthetics.

Parlor Guitars Under $200

Ibanez PN1MH

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 80+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$160
Ibanez PN1MH (Mahogany) Parlor Guitar

The PN1MH is all that you'd expect a "blues box" should be, including having a very affordable price tag.

It carries Ibanez' reputation for quality and playability, while being the cheapest among the top rated parlor guitars that made it onto our recommended list.

To get the price low, Ibanez utilizes cheaper and more sustainable alternatives to the usual guitar tonewoods, including sapele for the top and nyatoh for the back and sides.

It features a retro inspired slim and sleek body design, with old school style appointments.

As expected from Ibanez, neck is designed to be easy on the hands.

Features

  • Body Shape: Parlor
  • Top: Sapele
  • Back and Sides: Nyatoh
  • Finish: Gloss Polyester
  • Bridge: Nandu
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Not Specified
  • Fingerboard: Nandu
  • Fingerboard Radius: 9.8"
  • Number of Frets: 18
  • Frets to Body: 12
  • Scale Length: 24.41”
  • Nut Width: 1.653"

Pros

Owners love the Ibanez PN1MH because it's easy to play and stays in tune, contradicting common issues that plague other acoustic guitars that are within the same price range. It logically follows that users are impressed with its overall value, especially those who are pleased with its warm tone. Those who play folk, blues and slide find its tone to be just right for their taste.

Cons

There are some reports of minor cosmetic flaws, while others find the sound to be too thin for their tastes, which is unfortunate because this parlor guitar is not meant to produce big rich tones given their small size. Also, some new owners find the compact shape of this guitar to be a bit awkward at first.

Overall

If you're looking for a budget friendly parlor guitar that can be your main portable and beater acoustic guitar, then this is for you.

Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy Flat Top

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 1200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$189
Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy Flat Top

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Parlor Guitar Under $200.

The Gretsch G9500 is an excellent example of the staying power of parlor guitars, impressing modern players with its old school design and tone, inspired by '30s era Gretsch Rex guitars.

More importantly it does all this while having a very affordable price tag.

The top, back, and sides are crafted from basswood, forming its compact parlor style body that makes this a very handy beater instrument that you can easily carry with you when needed.

The neck is crafted from nato with a C-shape profile, and it joins the body at the 12th fret following traditional blues box specs.

Features

  • Body Shape: Parlor
  • Top: Basswood
  • Back and Sides: Basswood
  • Finish: Semi-Gloss Polyurethane
  • Bridge: Walnut
  • Neck: Nato
  • Neck Profile: "C" Shape
  • Fingerboard: Walnut
  • Fingerboard Radius: 18"
  • Number of Frets:
  • Frets to Body: 12
  • Scale Length: 24”
  • Nut Width: 1.6875"

Pros

Owners describe this guitar as a very fun and inspiring instrument to play with, resulting in longer yet more enjoyable playing experience. Many are also surprised at its overall quality, given its price, with many reviewers commending various aspects of the guitar, from its fretwork, to its vintage style appearance, to its warm tone. One user nicely summarizes market sentiment by saying that this is one guitar that's hard to put down.

Cons

Some experienced musicians were able to get more out of the G9500 by replacing the nut and saddle. There are a few reports of tuning issues and minor cosmetic blemishes by some owners - make sure you buy from a reputable seller.

Overall

If you're looking for an affordable grab and go acoustic that's fun to play, then definitely check out the Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy Flat Top.

Dean AXS Parlor

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
Dean AXS 6-String Acoustic Parlor Guitar

The AXS Parlor's conventional design is quite a departure for Dean, a company known for edgy guitar designs meant for rock and metal styles.

While it does have a distinct looking headstock shape, everything else sticks to conventional parlor guitar builds. The top, back and sides of this guitar is made from eastern mahogany, with a natural satin finish that result in its traditional woody appearance.

Even with its smaller body, it does offer full-size playability, with its 25.5" scale length and 21 fret walnut fingerboard. If you're used to shred friendly electric guitars, you're fretting finger will also feel at home with its flat 14" radius fretboard design.

It sports a C-shape Okoume neck, with a nut width of 1.6875". And the unmistakably Dean style headstock comes with chrome sealed die-cast tuners.

Features

  • Body Shape: Parlor
  • Top: Mahogany
  • Back and Sides: Mahogany
  • Finish: Natural Satin
  • Bridge: Walnut
  • Neck: Okoume
  • Neck Profile: "C" Shape
  • Fingerboard: Walnut
  • Fingerboard Radius: 14"
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Frets to Body: 12
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Nut Width: 1.6875"

Pros

Value for money is the main reason why the Dean AXS is getting consistently good reviews. Owners find its build quality and overall appearance to be much better than they expected. Many also find its tone to be a step up compared to similarly priced acoustics, including full-size ones. Beginners find it fun to play, while experienced musicians appreciate its full scale length design.

Cons

There are a few who had fretwork related issues. If you're looking for a parlor guitar with a more traditional short-scale length feel, then this is not for you.

Overall

If you're looking for a good quality, yet affordable parlor guitar that retains full-size playing feel, then check out the Dean AXS Parlor.

Parlor Guitars Under $500

Fender CP-60S Parlor Guitar

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$230
Fender CP-60S Parlor Guitar

The Fender CP-60S is a step above other similarly priced parlor guitars when it comes to specs because it sports a solid spruce top, which is quite rare at this price.

The guitar's solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides form its slim body, resembling blues box of the past both in terms of look and in price.

Thankfully, this one does not come with manufacturing issues and string setup problems that plague old guitars, rather many are impressed with the CP-60S' craftsmanship.

It has a mahogany neck that joins the body at the 14th fret, and a walnut fingerboard with rolled edges.

Features

  • Body Shape: Parlor
  • Top: Solid Spruce
  • Back and Sides: Mahogany
  • Finish: Gloss Natural / 3-Color Sunburst
  • Bridge: Walnut
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Easy to Play Shape
  • Fingerboard: Walnut
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12"
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Frets to Body: 14
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Nut Width: 1.6875"

Pros

Value for money is the most common reason why the Fender CP-60S is rated highly. Experienced musicians appreciate its solid spruce top and good craftsmanship, which translates to good playability and tone. It is often described as a good sounding low-cost acoustic, and gets commended often for being easy on the hands. There are also plenty of positive comments regarding its build quality, which is a plus given the price and its specs.

Cons

There are a few who report string setup related issues like fret buzz, while others notice some imperfections on the finish.

Overall

With its solid spruce top and big brand backing, the Fender CP-60S is definitely a great deal, it is a great entry way into the world of parlor guitars.

Gretsch G9520E Gin Rickey

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$279
Gretsch G9520E Gin Rickey Acoustic-Electric Parlor Guitar

The Gretsch G9520E takes you back to the era of the "blues box" with its compact parlor body, while adding the option of having a gritty amplified tone thanks to its magnetic pickup.

Basswood is used for the top, back and sides, all of which follow the traditional parlor guitar shape with its small body size, resulting in warm tones that many experienced musicians love.

Being small also means that the G9520 is easy to carry around, and ideal for couch guitar duties.

What sets it apart though is the use of a magnetic soundhole pickup as opposed to the typical piezo and preamp system found in many acoustic-electric guitars. The Gretsch Deltoluxe magnetic sound hole pickup gives this parlor guitar a gritty amplified tone that works great for blues, rock and similar styles.

The resulting tone is quite fitting for slide playing.

Features

  • Body Shape: Gin Rickey Parlor
  • Top: Basswood
  • Back and Sides: Basswood
  • Finish: Black Semi-Gloss
  • Bridge: Walnut
  • Neck: Nato
  • Neck Profile: C Shape
  • Fingerboard: Walnut
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12"
  • Number of Frets: 18
  • Frets to Body: 12
  • Scale Length: 24"
  • Nut Width: 1.6875"
  • Electronics: Gretsch Deltoluxe Acoustic Magnetic Soundhole Pickup (Passive)

Pros

Tone is the main reason why the G9520E is beloved, many love its warm acoustic tone and its throaty amplified sound, as attested to in reviews. Being easy on the hands is another common reason why people rate this highly. Even Nick Millevoi of Acoustic Guitar magazine is impressed, summarizing his review by saying: "Ultimately, the Gretsch G9520E Gin Rickey is exactly what it claims to be: a low-cost guitar that’s meant for fun, is comfortable to hold, and sounds great. The Deltoluxe pickup certainly elevates the guitar in both sound and appearance, but it still sounds great acoustically." Finally, many consider the G9520E to be a great buy - if you're into its distinct tone.

Cons

Speaking of tone, this guitar has a specific voicing that may not appeal to those who prefer traditional acoustic sound. The use of magnetic pickup also means that it has a different sound when plugged in.

Overall

If you're looking for a "blues box" sounding couch guitar with a special stage sound, then the Gretsch G9520E is for you.

Yamaha CSF1M

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$450
Yamaha CSF1M TSB Parlor Guitar

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Parlor Guitar between $200 and $500.

Drawing from their experience and expertise, Yamaha gave the CSF1M a parlor style body that follows the shape of a classical guitar, albeit smaller.

This classical shape gives it a distinct yet familiar appeal, and adds a bit more volume and low end to its tone, compared to slimmer parlor guitars.

Helping it project its sound is its solid sitka spruce top, along with laminate mahogany for the back and sides.

The neck is crafted from nato, and is topped by a 23.5" short scale rosewood fingerboard, with a slightly wider than usual 1.692" nut width.

Finally it comes with built-in discrete SRT Zero-impact piezo pickup, note that this is a passive pickup, which means that it is meant to be paired with a preamp pedal or compatible acoustic amp.

Features

  • Body Shape: Parlor
  • Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Back and Sides: Mahogany
  • Finish: Gloss Tobacco Brown Sunburst or Vintage Natural
  • Bridge: Walnut
  • Neck: Nato
  • Neck Profile: Not Specified
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 16"
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Frets to Body: 14
  • Scale Length: 23.5”
  • Nut Width: 1.692"

Pros

Most of the positive comments point to its good tone, which resembles the sound regular sized acoustics. It is well received by those who just want a smaller more comfortable acoustic guitar that doesn't sound too different from what they are used to. Comfort and playability are also a big factors for many who gave this perfect ratings. Finally, users are impressed at the overall build of the Yamaha CSF1M, they describe its quality to be a step above its actual price.

Cons

Those who are looking for a bluesy voicing will want to look elsewhere. There are a few reports of string setup issues, but the users themselves were able to resolve it by a bit of adjustment. The passive pickup is a bit of a letdown for some users.

Overall

If you're looking for a compact guitar that doesn't stray too far from the acoustic sound that you're familiar with, then this is for you.

Parlor Guitars Under $1000

PRS SE P20E

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$629
PRS SE P20E Acoustic-Electric Parlor Guitar

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Parlor Guitar Under $1000.

Paul Reed Smith joins the parlor guitar market with the PRS SE P20E, bringing with it their brand of quality and craftsmanship at a relatively accessible price.

This parlor size acoustic features a solid mahogany top, supported by a hybrid bracing that combines the best features of X and classical bracing, developed to improve resonance and structural stability.

It uses mahogany for the back and sides, and has a slim parlor style body that's reminiscent of actual parlor guitars used back in the 1930's.

Finally, it comes with Fishman GT1 electronics, which includes under-saddle piezo pickup and soundhole mounted controls.

Features

  • Body Shape: SE Parlor
  • Top: Solid Mahogany
  • Back and Sides: Mahogany
  • Finish: Satin
  • Bridge: Walnut
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: PRS Wide-Fat Shape
  • Fingerboard: Walnut
  • Fingerboard Radius: 11.8"
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Frets to Body: 14
  • Scale Length: 24.72"
  • Nut Width: 1.6875"

Pros

As expected from PRS, owners are bedazzled by the SE P20E's craftsmanship. In addition to eye candy and solid build, users are pleased at how well the neck and strings are setup, which some describe as far better than their previous instruments. Tone is another important factor in reviews, described as mellow yet detailed, and very endearing especially to experienced musicians. Even Art Thompson of Guitar Player magazine is pleased, concluding his review with this: "I’m sold on the Tonare Parlor SE P20E. This is a great-sounding guitar with a price/performance ratio that is off the hook."

Cons

There are a few reports of minor finish related issues.

Overall

You don't have to be a fan of PRS guitars to appreciate the quality and sound of the PRS SE P20E parlor guitar.

Yamaha CSF-TA

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$800
Yamaha CSF-TA TransAcoustic Parlor Guitar

The CSF-TA is part of Yamaha's TransAcoustic line of acoustic-electric guitars, equipped with their System 70 TransAcoustic + SRT Piezo Pickup system.

This pickup system adds reverb and chorus effects right on the guitar itself, which means that you get reverb and chorus effect even when you're not plugged in. As expected, the effect also works when plugged in via the preamp. The two effects come with controls for tweaking.

The body shape is similar to a classical guitar, only smaller, the main difference being its use of steel strings. It comes with a solid sitka spruce top, paired with mahogany back and sides, a familiar tonewood combination that many manufacturers utilize.

Coming from Yamaha, this parlor guitar is meant to be student friendly, with a short 23.6" scale length, flat 16" radius fingerboard, and 1.6875 nut width.

Features

  • Body Shape: CSF Parlor
  • Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Back and Sides: Mahogany
  • Finish: Vintage Gloss
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Nato
  • Neck Profile: Not Specified
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 16"
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Frets to Body: 14
  • Scale Length: 23.6"
  • Nut Width: 1.6875"

Pros

Owners are impressed with Yamaha's TransAcoustic technology, allowing them to add chorus and reverb without being tethered to an amp. They are pleased at how this feature enhanced their overall playing experience. It gets kudos for its build quality, which is expected given its big brand backing. Many also love the response and overtones that the guitar produces, thanks to its solid spruce top. Emile Menasché of Acoustic Guitar Magazine concludes his review by saying, "the CFS-TA is a solid value in a cleanly built, highly playable acoustic guitar that delivers good sound and can handle a surprisingly wide range of musical situations."

Cons

There are some who needed to make string action related adjustments out of the box. Purist might find the unplugged effects gimmicky.

Overall

If you're looking for a grab-and-go guitar with modern enhancements, then the CSF-TA with its TransAcoustic technology is a good buy.

Parlor Guitars Under $2000

Martin 00-15M

98
GEARANK

98 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1349
Martin 00-15M

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Parlor Guitar Under $2000.

C.F. Martin & Co. continues to be a fixture in the acoustic guitar market, with a long list of iconic guitars and big name artists that keep the brand up top.

The 00-15M is an excellent example of why Martin guitars are well loved, and they didn't even need to add anything fancy to it, just good old premium craftsmanship resulting in a great instrument that retains near perfect ratings across major retailers.

The 00-15M comes with a an all solid mahogany body, shaped into Martin's compact 00 style body design. The resulting sound of this configuration prominently features the mids, giving it a warmer flavor while still retaining Martin's distinct woody tone.

The neck is also crafted from mahogany, and joins the body at the 14 fret via a dovetail neck joint.

To give it a familiar playing feel, Martin did not stray from its usual neck/fingerboard specs, equipping this with a 20-fret, 25.4" scale rosewood fingerboard, with a nut width of 1.6875".

Features

  • Body Shape:00
  • Top: Solid Mahogany
  • Back and Sides: Solid Mahogany
  • Finish: Natural
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Modified Low Oval / Standard Taper
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 16"
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Frets to Body: 14
  • Scale Length: 25.4”
  • Nut Width: 1.6875"

Pros

The 00-15M is just one of the many Martin guitars with all-solid mahogany bodies that are currently rating very highly in the market. It captures the hearts of guitarists with its mellow yet expressive tone, many of which are happy to report how pleased they are with the sound. Beautiful tone combined with excellent playability makes for an inspiring instrument to play, which in turn inspires users to write heartfelt commendations in reviews. Being well built is also another commonly praised trait by owners.

Cons

With its near perfect ratings, there's not much complaint to write about. Note that while this is still a quality Martin guitar, it does sound distinct compared to the familiar spruce top dreadnought acoustic configuration that Martin is best known for.

Overall

It's hard to go wrong with a Martin guitar, even more so when you check out their top rated offerings like the Martin 00-15M.

Guild M-20

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 60+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1599
Guild M-20

The Guild M-20 is a US-made parlor style guitar that retains many of the traits it had when it was first introduced in 1967.

It sports an all-solid mahogany construction, with the top, back and sides all crafted from solid mahogany.

The body follows a compact concert shape that's comfortable to play and easy to carry around.

This shape, together with its all solid mahogany construction results in a clear yet warm tone with emphasis on the mids.

The neck joins the body at the 14th fret, topped by a 24.75" scale rosewood fingerboard with a slightly wider nut width at 1.75".

Features

  • Body Shape: M Concert
  • Top: Solid Mahogany
  • Back and Sides: Solid Mahogany
  • Finish: Satin Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: "C" Shape
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12"
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Frets to Body: 14
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Nut Width: 1.75"

Pros

When users start their reviews with titles that include the words "superb", "fantastic" and "outstanding", you know that they are mighty impressed with what they got. And this is exactly what reviews for the Guild M-20 are all about, with users mostly commending it for its warm yet clear tone. The same positive responses are also pointed to its build quality and playing feel. Music Radar's Dave Mead and Dave Burrluck concluded their review of the Guild M-20 with this: " Build quality is tip-top and price point is very competitive for a premium-marque all-solid build. Clean, no-nonsense build at attractive price with engaging fingerstyle, friendly voice and feel."

Cons

The wider nut width may be a turn off for some players, and like most parlor style guitars, its warm mellow tone may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Overall

The Guild M-20 is a no brainer for fans of Nick Drake, but even those who aren't aware of him will find themselves in love with this guitar's tone.

Things to Consider When Buying a Parlor Guitar

What is a Parlor Guitar?

The label "parlor", also called "parlour", is based on 19th century Victorian era reception rooms where guests were often received and entertained with music. In the 1930's, small body guitars became more accessible, thanks to cheap "mail-order" guitars. These parlor guitars became widely used in early blues and folk music, earning the title "blues box".

Fast forward to today, the parlor guitar is still very much in demand especially among experienced musicians who appreciate the tone and convenience. Much of the old design is retained, but with improved reliability and better playability, thanks to modern production technology. These days, you can choose from a wider variety of designs, shapes, and price ranges.

Size and Shape

Since there are no set standards that manufacturers agree on, today's parlor guitars come in a variety of shapes, sizes and specs - the main limitation though is that they should be smaller than regular sized acoustics like dreadnoughts. Generally speaking, the smaller the body size is, the less bottom end it will have, resulting in more midrange. This warm midrange tone is ideal for blues, folk, rock and similar styles of music, and this distinct tone is often credited for the continued relevance of this old school guitar design up to this day.

Shape also affects tone, specifically the size of the lower bout which proportionally increases bass response. This is the reason why some parlor guitar manufacturers opt for a bigger lower bout to give it a more balanced tonality. This balanced tone makes it viable for more musical styles, freeing it from the limitations commonly associated with parlor guitars.

Wood and Tone

In conjunction with its body shape, wood plays a major role in shaping the tone of a parlor guitar. Solid wood is favored by many because it resonates better and improves with age, while laminate wood has the advantage of being more affordable and more resilient to environment and humidity changes.

Different types of wood are also affect the tone, and this difference may become more obvious as you're experience and playing skill grows. Spruce is the most commonly used wood for the top, preferred for its balanced tone and good projection. Sapele is a common alternative to spruce, with it bearing the many of the same characteristics as spruce, but more affordable and environment friendly. Mahogany is the favorite as the price tier goes up, it is well received because of how it further mellows the already midrange heavy sound of small bodied guitars. There are also affordable and renewable alternatives to mahogany, like the nyatoh, which manufacturers use to bring the price down. In addition, there are other tonewood types that are used in parlor guitars, but they are not as common, each type of wood adds its distinct flavor to the overall sound of the instrument.

Scale Length, Nut Width and Playability

Scale length is the distance between the saddle and the nut, which proportionally affects string tension. The shorter the scale length, the looser the strings feel, which impacts playability and tone to some extent. Many parlor guitars have scale lengths that are shorter than their regular sized counterparts, and this lower string tension is the reason why many consider parlor guitars to be easier to play. Still, there are some manufacturers that stick to standard scale lengths, these are preferred by guitarists who want their instruments to have a more uniform playing feel.

Nut width determines the spacing between strings at the nut. A narrower nut width makes it easier for smaller fingers to do different chord patterns, and ideal for those who are used to electric guitars. Wider nut widths allow for more room to position your fingers on frets, ideal for those who are used to more traditionally spec'ed acoustics, and classical guitars.

Pickups and Electronics

Some parlor guitars come with built-in active electronics, the most common configuration includes an under-saddle piezo pickup paired with a battery powered preamp. This setup allows you to plug-in your instrument to an amp or direct to PA systems, with basic tone and volume control. This is a good feature to look out for especially those who are looking to perform on stage with a parlor guitar.

More premium guitars come with more complex pickup systems, some even adding a soundhole mounted mic which you can blend with the piezo pickup. Other manufacturers opt for passive pickups which install discretely because they do not come with preamps. This means that there is no need to drill a hole on the body of the guitar to position the preamp. Note that while these can be directly plugged in, this configuration works best going through a preamp first, before going to an acoustic amp or PA system.

Magnetic pickups, while not as popular, also work well with parlor guitars in certain styles, as exemplified by the Gretsch G9520E Gin Rickey, with its throaty and gritty amplified tone that works great with blues and slide playing.

Interestingly, there are now plenty of non-intrusive pickup and preamp systems that you can equip into parlor guitars without the need for too much body modifications. These types of pickups usually have basic volume and tone controls that are mounted just under the soundhole. If you decide you want to add pickups to a guitar that doesn't have them already installed, then check out our guide to The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups.

Best Parlor Guitar Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2021 and the current edition was published on March 10, 2022.

Since there is no set size and shape standard for parlor guitars, we needed to make a distinction between parlor, travel and kids guitars. And to do so, we decided to filter out those labeled as Travel, Mini, Kids, and 3/4 size guitars - since these instruments are designed with a different purpose in mind. To be eligible for consideration to be included in this guide a guitar had to meet the following criteria:

  • Listed as a parlor guitar by the manufacturer or retailers or sized 00 or smaller
  • Have 6 steel strings (no nylon string parlors)
  • Is acoustic - with or without pickups installed
  • Have a street price less than $2,000
  • Had to be available from a major USA based retailer

With these filters set, we looked at the most popular eligible guitars currently available. For this 2022 edition, we ended up analyzing a short-list of 35 guitars, which entailed the analysis of over 3,600 relevant user reviews, discussions, ratings and recommendations. All of these data were then processed via the Gearank algorithm to give us the rating scores out of 100 that you see above. We used these scores to select the highest rated options in four price brackets: Under $200, Under $500, Under $1000, and Under $2000.

For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

I've written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at my local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.

Drawing on my experience in performing and recording, I teach guitar and bass and mentor young artists to be better musicians. And when not busy playing or tinkering with music gear, I put on my entrepreneurial hat, which helps fund my passion for collecting guitars, mecha figures and Gunpla kits.

Contributors

Jason Horton: Editing and illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: By Gearank.com using photographs of the Ibanez PN1MH, Guild M-20, Gretsch G9520E, PRS SE P20E and Fender CP-60S.

The videos have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

Comments

Publication of our March 2022

Publication of our March 2022 Edition resulted in the following guitar coming off the recommended list above, but you can still see our analysis of it: Yamaha CSF3M.

Let us know if you have any

Let us know if you have any questions about the parlor guitars listed above, or any other related questions.