Parlor Guitars: History, Pros, and Tradeoffs vs Larger Guitars

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 23, 2023

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A parlor guitar is a type of acoustic guitar that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is named after the small sitting rooms or parlors where it was often played in homes during this time period. Parlor guitars are known for their smaller size and intimate, warm sound.

Parlor guitars typically have a smaller body size than other acoustic guitars, with a shorter scale length and a narrower neck. They were designed to be more portable and easier to play than larger guitars of the time. The smaller size of a parlor guitar can also make it a good choice for players with smaller hands or for those who prefer a more comfortable playing experience.

I’ll tell you all about them in this article. So let’s get started!

What is a parlor guitar

Parlor Guitars: More Than Just a Small Instrument

Parlor guitars are a type of guitar that is smaller in size than a standard guitar. They have been around since the early 19th century and were originally designed for use in small rooms or parlors. They were popular among folk musicians and were often used to play dance music.

Over time, parlor guitars became more popular and were used in a variety of musical styles, including blues, classical, and operatic music. Today, parlor guitars are still popular among musicians and are often used by guitarists who prefer a smaller instrument.

Noted Players and Composers

Parlor guitars have been used by many famous guitarists and composers over the years, including:

  • Justin Winslow
  • Wilhelm Schatz
  • Joan Baez
  • Napoléon Coste
  • Siege Takamine

These musicians have composed pieces specifically for the parlor guitar, and their arrangements have become some of the most famous and influential in the history of the instrument.

The Fascinating History of Parlor Guitars

Parlor guitars are pretty easy to distinguish from other guitar designs. They are smaller in size than standard acoustic guitars, with a body that is typically a little bit smaller than a dreadnought guitar. They also have a shorter scale length, which makes them easier to play for people with smaller hands. Some of the other features that distinguish parlor guitars include:

  • A smaller body that is more comfortable to carry around
  • Nylon or steel strings that produce a rich, acoustic tone
  • A headstock that is equipped with gear for tuning the strings
  • Plain or slightly decorated bodies that are not as difficult to realize as the more expensive custom designs
  • A pickup for audio, which is excellent for studio or live performances

The Popularity of Parlor Guitars Today

Parlor guitars have become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks in part to the fact that they are associated with vintage and retro styles of music. They are also popular with players who love the comfortable, small body and the rich tone that they produce. Some of the primary genres of music that parlor guitars are associated with include:

  • Folk
  • Blues
  • Country
  • Jazz

Today, many guitar manufacturers have included parlor guitars in their production lines, and there are a couple of companies that specialize in putting out modern versions of these classic instruments. If you’re looking for an affordable, unique guitar that is easy to play and has a rich, acoustic sound, a parlor guitar is definitely worth considering.

Why Parlor Guitars are a Great Choice for Musicians

Parlor guitars are smaller than standard acoustic guitars, typically measuring around 24 inches in scale length and having a smaller body. This makes them a great choice for people who are looking for an instrument that is easy to play and handle. The smaller size and lower tension of the strings make it easier to play chords and fingerstyle patterns, especially for beginners or those with smaller hands. The neck shape and frets are also designed to make playing easier and more comfortable.

Excellent Tone and Sound

Despite their small size, parlor guitars are known for their rich and warm tones. The solid wood construction and smaller body allow for a more focused sound that is highly sought after by experienced players and recording artists. The vintage-style design and steel strings also contribute to the unique sound of parlor guitars, making them a popular choice for musicians looking for a different type of sound.

Wide Variety of Shapes and Styles

Parlor guitars come in a wide variety of shapes and styles, making them a versatile tool for musicians of all genres. From vintage-style models to modern cuts, there is a parlor guitar for every musical style and taste. They are also available with different types of wood, allowing players to choose the one that best suits their needs and preferences.

Great for Recording and Performance

Parlor guitars are highly valued by recording artists and performers for their unique tone and playability. The smaller size and solid construction allow for a more focused sound that is easier to capture with microphones or pickups. Many parlor guitars also come with a preamp, meaning they can be easily plugged into an amplifier or PA system for live performances.

Highly Recommended for Beginners

Parlor guitars are a great choice for beginners who are just learning to play the guitar. The compact size and easy playability make them a great tool for learning the basics of guitar playing. They are also typically less expensive than larger guitars, making them a great choice for people who want to learn to play without spending a lot of money.

Worth the Investment

While parlor guitars may be difficult to find in production by major makers, they are highly valued by experienced players and collectors. They are a great investment for anyone who wants to add a unique and highly playable instrument to their collection. The primary reason for this is that they are built to last and are highly sought after by musicians and collectors alike.

Is a Parlor Guitar the Right Choice for You? Consider the Tradeoffs vs Larger Guitars

Parlor guitars have a long and iconic history, dating back to the 19th century when they were the main instruments used for home entertainment. Today, they are still valued for their tonal quality and playability, and many guitarists choose to acquire one as a part of their collection. However, if you are looking for a modern guitar that offers a different sound or value, a parlor guitar may not be the right choice for you.

Making the Right Choice

When choosing a guitar, it is important to consider your playing style, the type of music you want to play, and your personal preferences. A parlor guitar may be the ideal choice for those who want a smaller, more portable instrument that offers a rich, tonal quality. However, if you are looking for a guitar that serves a different purpose, such as playing in a band or performing on stage, a larger guitar may be a better option. Ultimately, the right choice depends on what you want to get out of your guitar and how you want to play it.

Parlor Guitar Vs Dreadnought: Which One is Right for You?

  • Parlor guitars are smaller in size and have a compact body design, making them comfortable to play for players of all levels.
  • Dreadnought guitars, on the other hand, have a larger body and are typically heavier, making them less suitable for beginners or players who prefer a smaller instrument.

Price Range

  • Parlor guitars are typically produced by smaller companies and are priced lower than dreadnought guitars.
  • Dreadnought guitars are commonly produced by larger companies and come with a higher price tag.

Playing Style and Musical Preferences

  • Parlor guitars are an excellent choice for players who want to learn solo or fingerstyle playing.
  • Dreadnought guitars are better suited for players who prefer regular strumming and playing in a band.

Overall Design and Making

  • Parlor guitars are designed to be easy to carry and play, making them a popular choice for musicians who travel frequently.
  • Dreadnought guitars are typically produced with a longer scale length, which means they have a higher string tension and require more finger strength to play.

Remember to Choose What Feels Right

  • The key differences between parlor and dreadnought guitars come down to personal preferences and musical style.
  • Ultimately, the right guitar for you will depend on what feels comfortable and suitable for your playing level and musical preferences.

Parlor vs 3/4 Guitar: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to acoustic guitars, size matters. Parlor guitars are typically smaller than 3/4 guitars, but the differences don’t stop there. Parlor guitars have a narrower body, which gives them a more intimate feel and sound. 3/4 guitars, on the other hand, have a wider body, which can produce a richer, fuller sound.

Genres and Settings

The size and body of a guitar can also affect the genres and settings in which it’s typically played. Parlor guitars are best suited for intimate settings, such as living rooms or small venues. They’re often used for genres like blues, folk, and country. 3/4 guitars, on the other hand, are more versatile and can be used in a variety of genres and settings, from classical to rock.


If you want to amplify your guitar, you’ll need to consider the size and body of your instrument. Parlor guitars are typically not as loud as 3/4 guitars, so they may require amplification in certain settings. 3/4 guitars, on the other hand, are typically louder and may not need amplification in smaller settings.

Message to the Buyer

When deciding between a parlor guitar and a 3/4 guitar, it’s important to consider your specific needs and preferences. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What genres do I want to play?
  • What settings will I be playing in?
  • Do I want a smaller, more intimate feel or a richer, fuller sound?
  • Will I need to amplify my guitar?

Ultimately, both parlor guitars and 3/4 guitars have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s up to you to decide which one is the best fit for you and your playing style.


So, that’s what a parlor guitar is- a small guitar designed for use in a parlor or room, originally for playing dance music. 

They’re great for beginners, and you should consider getting one if you’re looking for a versatile tool for a variety of musical styles. So, go ahead and get one now!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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