Parlor Guitars in Popular Music

John Mayer playing a Martin parlor guitar
John Mayer playing a Martin parlor guitar

Although not as mainstream as the dreadnought and other bigger acoustics, parlor style guitars have conquered big stages and recording studios in the hands of capable artists. Here are some popular songs that showcase how parlor guitars have been used by various artists from different eras.

In the 19th century, parlor guitars were the norm and so much music has been written and performed using these instruments. The musical styles that were being played were mostly watered down versions of classical pieces, but there are some who played the prototypes of what we consider as staple musical genres including blues, jazz, country, folk and many more. Unfortunately not much recorded material has made it to our time, but if you can read notes there are a number of these parlor guitar arrangements available at Mean Tone. The "Spanish Fandango" by Henry Worrall (1825-1902) is one of the few parlor guitar songs that survived up to this modern age, still played by many guitarists world over. Watch a modern rendition of this piece played on a Larrivee P-09.

Born in 1911, Robert Johnson is arguably the most popular guitarist who wielded a parlor style guitar, the Gibson L-1. Ironically, he wasn't commercially successful in his lifetime, it was only after his recordings were re-issued in 1961 that the world began to take notice of his talent. His playing style would then influence generations of popular guitarists from Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn to John Mayer and many more. Below is his popular song "Crossroad", which has become a staple cover song for many bands and artists:

American folk singer Joan Baez opted to use a parlor guitar in a time where dreadnoughts and other folk style guitars are mainstream. She went on to become one of the most popular female folk singers of her time, with over five and a half decades worth of performances and 30 albums under her name. From original songs to covers, her parlor guitar provided a unique tone that perfectly matched her voice. See her perform her classic "Diamonds & Rust" song below:

Fast forward to the 21st century and you find pop artists wielding small body guitars, this includes today's biggest and youngest artists like Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and more. Among these new generation of artists is John Mayer who recently made the switch to parlor guitars from his usual dreadnoughts and OMs. Martin even made him a signature parlor guitar that quickly sold out even though it's uber expensive! Thankfully, John Mayer put his namesake parlor guitar to good use by writing and performing many of his new songs on them. The blues version of "Something like Olivia" is one of my personal favorites, and showcases just how awesome a well built parlor guitar can perform in blues band setting.

These are just four songs, a small sample of how parlor guitars are used in popular songs. If you know of other popular parlor guitar music, you can share them for the world to see in the comments section below.



These guys rock

Love the Robert Johnson & John Mayer vids.


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