What is a Parlor Guitar?

Blind Blake with his Parlor Guitar
Blind Blake with his Parlor Guitar


While there are debates as to the specific size and shape of parlor guitars, most will agree that it should be small and comfortable enough to play on your couch or your front porch. Today, the term parlor guitar covers a wide spectrum of guitar styles, from traditional western designs to eclectic one-of-a-kind boutique builds.

The word "parlor" or "parlour" refers to old reception and commerce rooms, and since these compact guitars were regularly played in these small to mid sized venues, they were labeled as such - parlor guitars. Incidentally, the bigger "concert" guitar also got its name from the venue where it was usually played in.


Since there was no legitimate standard for parlor guitar building, luthiers varied the size of their creations to a degree. Even when there is no standard size imposed, many consider having a lower bout that is smaller than 13.5", or smaller than Martin Guitar's "0" shape, to be the historically correct size for parlor guitars. However modern day production parlor guitars don't necessarily follow this size limitation and are much more varied, with some guitar manufacturers labeling even bigger "00" size guitars as parlor, including those with a lower bout of 14". It should be safe to say that "00" size and below are viable parlor style guitars.

Comparing parlor guitar size to other acoustics
Comparison Chart


An easier way of identifying parlor guitars is by looking at the body shape. If the guitar is smaller than Concert size and has an "elongated" body then it is a legitimate parlor guitar. This longer body is the result of guitar builders trying to increase the volume of small guitars. The luthiers that were building parlor guitars in the past found that by subtly elongating the body, they can increase the volume without expressly increasing the size of the instrument. But now that we have microphones and pickup/preamp systems, some of today's guitar manufacturers no longer deem the elongated shape necessary.

1920s vintage parlor guitar
'20s era vintage parlor guitar

Scale and Neck Joint

Scale and neck joint varies widely for parlor guitars, and as such they can not be used as good indicators. Still, small guitars that have the neck joining the body at the 12 fret do resemble vintage parlor guitars better, they are the more popular choice.


Because of their smaller bodies, parlor guitars tend to have tones that emphasize the midrange. This voicing makes the guitar viable for old school blues, slide and folk music, and this distinct tone has helped its current resurgence in today's market. The sound of the different parlor guitars vary subtly depending on size and type of wood used, but they should all have that midrangey tone due to the smaller body.


Whether you take the manufacturer's word for it, or you go by historically correct specifications, the bottomline is to find the parlor guitar that is comfortable to you, and inspires you to play.

You might also like to read A Parlor is the Best Acoustic Guitar for Kids - Here's Why...



So if a parlor guitar was

So if a parlor guitar was played in parlors, and a concert guitar was played in concert halls, was a dreadnought guitar played on battleships?


Actually in a way yes. In 1916 the word dreadnought referred to a large, all big-gun, modern battleship.

the named the new broad

the named the new broad shouldered guitar after it because it was so big!

Dreadnought guitars

On the subject of was it named after and at risk of lowering the tone othis thread( no pun intended) the word dreadnought is also urban dictionary or viz's profanisaurus slang for an excessively dimensioned bowel movement which is difficult to pass!!: so, is it possible that these guitars were first played by people visiting the khazi in the days before the installationo tiny cubicles aroundpublic facilities whenthere would have been space enogh to play such a large guitar whilst"at stool" as they used to call defecating. Just a thoughtand not just trying to be flippantanyhow. Think on!!

Searching for the right parlor guitar for me

Great site! Very informative.
If appropriate to ask here, I've been searching for a parlor guitar with on board electronics for performing & traveling. I also want all wood. Price doesn't matter as quality is most important. The Yamaha CSF3M caught my eye. Loved the all wood and the case. Although the Piezo pick-up is a nice addition I need more substantial electronics & like having it on board so I can easily control any volume/feedback issues when performing.
Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Nice choice

The Yamaha CSF3M is a great choice, but if preamp control is important to you, you'll have to go for one with enough features built-in, unless you are willing to spend extra money for adding a pickup later.

I for one own the Takamine GY11ME, and find myself quite satisfied with its basic EQ controls. I am very happy with how it sounds on stage.

To help you broaden your options, check out our roundup of good pickup-equipped parlor guitars.

try alvarez?

I bought the Yamaha CSF3M over Christmas. I'm happy with it, but while i'm getting a parlor guitar, i decided I'd get a traditional 12-fret instead of a short scale 14-fret. So I am trading it in for an Alvarez MPA70E.

I bought mine used, so it was roughly the same price as the Yamaha.

Searching for good smaller classical guitar

I used to play classical many years ago and thought I'd try again but my fingers do not stretch as well anymore. Tried and Arias - too big and flamenco-ish, tried a Cordoba studio negra - sound not really as deep as I'd like, so wondering what you might suggest for a GOOD (not necessarily cheap) classical 7/8 or parlor as you mention. Thank you.

Gretsch Jim Dandy

does anyone have any experience with the Jim Dandy Flat top? its a very reasonably priced parlor and ive thought about adding to my collections

Mic for parlor guitar

Hello! Nice page! I have a parlor guitar, and I wonder if you know about any mic that fits into the smaller soundholes that parlor guitars have?

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