The weapon of choice for finger-style guitar players the world over, parlor guitars show that great things really do come in small packages. Parlor guitars have a couple of really specific uses, making them an invaluable addition to any musician’s rig.
The question is: Which parlor guitar is right for you? Well, if you’re not sure how to choose the best parlor guitar for your needs you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you all the information that you need to make in an informed purchase, as will as give you five great recommendations to help aid you in your search!
- What Is A Parlor Guitar?
- What Should I Look For In A Parlor Guitar?
- The Top 5 Parlor Guitars
What Is A Parlor Guitar?
While there’s no set rule on what is and isn’t a parlor guitar, generally anything smaller than a Martin OO (which features a 14” lower bout) is considered a parlor guitar. Of course some people are going to have a different set of qualifications as to what is and isn’t a “true” parlor guitar, but it really is a matter of debate.
Going by the most widely accepted definition, a parlor guitar is a small bodied guitar with relatively streamlined bouts (the curves of the guitar). This elongated body type actually came about as an attempt to increase the volume of the instrument while keeping it as close as possible to the diminutive dimensions that were preferred at the time. For an example of the body shape check out the Recording King RPH-P1.
A parlor guitar really only has one advantage over the larger members of the guitar family. A lot of musicians don’t really know this, but smaller bodied acoustic instruments require a lot less force to play. This is why finger-style musicians generally gravitate towards smaller instruments. For example; a dreadnought has a much larger capability for volume but it also requires more energy to resonate effectively. This is less of an issue if you use finger picks, but if you use the flesh of your fingers to play it can be difficult to get enough power to reach an acceptable level of both tone and volume. Don’t get us wrong, it can definitely be done. There are tons of examples of finger pickers who sound great on a bigger instrument, it’s just more difficult to do so.
Also, parlor guitars are actually pretty great for flatpicking in a recording session for a similar reason. Think of acoustic guitars like a tube amp, you have to have enough volume going through both if you want to get the best sound possible. You can actually try this yourself if you have an acoustic guitar on hand. Strike a really soft note, then compare that to the tone you get when you pick as you normally would. You should notice not only a difference in volume, but a difference in the frequency response as well.
Parlor guitars are so small that it’s incredibly easy to always get the optimal tone when using a pick. This can actually be a bit of an issue with larger guitars for more complicated techniques or passages.
What Should I Look For In A Parlor Guitar?
Like every acoustic instrument, make sure you get a parlor guitar that’s made from solid wood if you can. A solid wood instrument will sound miles better than a laminate one in almost every circumstance. Thankfully, it’s really simple to tell whether or not an instrument is made from solid wood when you’re shopping through an online retailer. If the specifications list “solid wood, or solid top, back, or sides,” then it is a solid wood instrument. However, if they don’t specifically say solid wood then they’re made out of laminate. So be wary of that and always make sure that you read the specs of any instrument you’re considering purchasing very carefully.
Apart from that, buying a parlor guitar is just like buying any other acoustic guitar. Check for any warping in the neck or top, make sure that every note on the neck frets cleanly without any buzz, and check for signs of damage like cracks or any sort of rattling noise.
When you’re looking for a parlor guitar odds are you’re going to run across a few that have a different headstock than what you’d typically see on a larger body guitar. This type of headstock is called “a slotted headstock” because the strings fit into bars that are mounted in slots on the headstock. There’s some debate as to whether or not this affects the tone of the instrument, but if it does it’s not by an overly significant amount. For visual reference of a slotted headstock check out the Washburn WP55NS.
Top 5 Parlor Guitars
As always, the recommendations on our articles are intended to be applicable to as many of you as possible. Keep in mind that the best option for you may not be the best option for your peers, and vice versa. If you’re still unsure how to choose the best parlor guitar for your needs, you’re in luck! The five recommendations below are all great buys, and if you pick one up you definitely won’t be sorry.
Larrivee 00-40MH Acoustic Guitar
Gretsch Jim Dandy
Recording Kind RPH-05 Parlor Guitar
Art & Lutherie Ami