5 Best Parlor Guitars

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Trends in guitar sales of recent years indicate a great resurgence of interest in parlor guitars. Manufacturers eager to please their prospective clients have thus re-energized the market for these small sized acoustic steel string guitars. There are many new models available.

But what IS a parlor guitar? The simple answer is a parlor guitar is an acoustic guitar smaller than a 0 size concert guitar. The 0 size concert guitar is something as defined by industry bible, C.F. Martin & Company. The passing of time can change the meaning of a term. These days when someone speaks of parlor guitars, they in fact mean guitars of the concert size 0 as defined by C.F. Martin & Company.

So there needs to be further fleshing out insofar as definitions go, as today's market for guitars is huge. A parlor guitar is distinguished from a backpacking or travel guitar in terms of quality. A parlor guitar is not a guitar you sling across your back and head into the hills with. At least this is not the type of guitar we will address in this article. This article will display and discuss 5 of the very finest parlor guitars.

Why buy a parlor guitar?

I stated parlor guitars are in a state of resurgence or re-emergence. There has to be a reason. The reason is they offer the buyer something not found in other styles of guitars. So what is it?

Parlor guitars, being so small, are tremendously easy to wrap your arms around, and play. They are easier for a lot of people to play, and play well with than a great big dreadnought guitar, and certainly they are more ergonomic for most than a jumbo sized guitar. The parlor guitar offers the additional utility of being a size of instrument a child can learn on, but yet still be a valid and enjoyable instrument for the same person as an adult.

What else does a fine parlor guitar have to offer? Parlor guitars offer a different tonal character from larger bodied guitars. What tonewoods used always affect the guitar's tonal character, how good a quality those materials are affect the tonal character, and the way the luthier builds the guitar affects the tonal character. But so too does the dimensions of the body of the guitar. And parlor guitars are not smaller sized dreadnoughts, they are parlor guitars.

A Martin 0-28VS Marquis

Martin 0-28VS Review from Acoustic Guitar

The Martin 0-28VS at MaurysMusic - another very good review of this outstanding parlor guitar

The Martin 0-28VS parlor guitar

The C.F. Martin & Company, manufacturers of guitars in the USA since 1833, are very obviously the place to start with parlor or parlour guitars, as they've been stalwarts of the industry for many a long year, and have as fine a reputation as can be had in musical instrument manufacturing. They are the benchmark, and always have been - Martin guitars.

So little wonder it is the Martin 0-28VS is riding a wave of popularity. Trends in the consumer public may come and go, but a Martin guitar is forever. All solid wood construction with east Indian rosewood back and sides and a Sitka spruce top, the Martin 0-28VS will be louder and more responsive than most other competing instruments. And the cared for Martin often appreciates in value over time.

These 0-28 Martin guitars were hugely popular around the time of the American civil war. In a world full of technological wonders and distractions, you can grab a piece of history with one of these. Think marching tunes as the soldiers head off to define what America will become. Or think of wandering bards. These guitars need not be used for ancient music though, they will suffice quite well for modern musical styles.

Now one thing in particular needs to be noted here. The 0-28VS is a slotted head guitar. Now this can be seen easily enough, but when a Martin has a slotted head-stock, it also has 12 frets clear of the body. So you've two less frets clear of the body than is typical in a Martin acoustic. There is no exact definition for what a parlor guitar is, but most of them are 12 fret instruments.

Another particular here is the width of the neck. These slotted head Martin guitars, regardless of body size, all have rather wide necks. One and seven eighths inch at the nut is a fat neck. So the guitarist or buyer here needs be aware of it. This guitar could have too fat a neck for some women and children. But for an adult, this would be a finger-picker's machine.

The 0-28VS sells for around three and a half thousand. Yes, this is somewhat steep, but you do get what you pay for. For about a thousand dollars less the extremely similar Martin 0-12VS can be had. Interestingly enough, in recent years Martin is making the 0-28VS with solid cocobolo back and sides. Cocobolo is a cousin of rosewood. A discerning eye and ear may not always be able to tell a difference, so be certain you ask when shopping. Here are further bullet point specifications for the timeless Martin 0-28VS:

  • Body
  • Body type: Grand Concert/OO
  • Cutaway: Non-cutaway
  • Top wood: Spruce Adirondack
  • Back & sides: Cocobolo or East Indian rosewood
  • Bracing pattern: Scalloped
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Orientation: Right handed
  • Neck
  • Neck shape: Modified V
  • Nut width: 1.875" (47.62mm)
  • Fingerboard: Ebony
  • Neck wood: Select hardwood
  • Scale length: 24.9"
  • Number of frets: 20
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Electronics
  • Pickup/preamp: No
  • Other
  • Headstock overlay: Rosewood
  • Tuning machines: Waverly nickel side mounts w/ butterbean knobs
  • Bridge: Ebony
  • Saddle & nut: Bone
  • Number of strings: 6-string
  • Special features: Tonewoods
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: None
  • Country of origin: United States

The Gibson 1932 L-00 Vintage Reissue

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Gibson 1932 L-00 Reissue Acoustic Guitar

Gibson L-00 blues king

Gibson L-00 parlor guitars

Competition in markets is a wonderful thing. And Gibson competing against Martin has always, without fail, done great deeds for guitarist. Gibson's prime offering in the market for parlor or parlour guitars is very very different from what Martin offers. So they compete against each other by going in opposing directions. Same as Gibson has always done in electric guitars with Fender

This Gibson 1932 L-00 is really something special. This is truly a premium guitar for a very serious musician. To my way of playing guitar, this is the one I would most want. This guitar has 14 frets clear of the body. And it has that fabulous Gibson sunburst look and finish like Gibson's slope shouldered dreadnoughts so often do.

This is a mahogany body guitar. Mahogany offers a special velocity of tonal response not found in other woods. And the parlor guitar body dimensions create a focused and punchy, very assertive tonality. The soundboard here is premium Adirondack or red spruce. Red spruce is a holy grail tonewood, and this guitar will deliver the goods in a very loud and clear way.

The 1932 L-00 is a vintage reissue guitar. Gibson has gone out of its way to recreate these guitars to the exact specifications as used in 1932. That means they've used Hide glue to build this guitar. But that isn't all, very thin and beautiful nitro lacquer is used, as is a bone nut and saddle. This guitar will be like a toy cannon, if you follow me. Small but explosive in its tonality, presence, and clarity. And this is a five thousand dollar guitar.

Do not become dismayed here over all of this. Gibson also offers the 2016 production model of L-00 guitar. The 2016 Gibson L-00 is considerably less expensive, and is probably a better bang for your bucks guitar. Any Gibson L-00 you happen to purchase will be an out and out acoustic blues machine. These guitars are especially suited for acoustic blues finger-style picking and slide playing.

What is the difference? The major difference is the 1932 model comes with the holy grail soundboard of red or Adirondack (same thing) spruce. The standard model will have Sitka spruce. I can assure you sometimes Sitka can and does do everything red spruce can do. And it isn't everyone who can hear the difference anyway. The standard model can be had with electronics for plugged in play. And with guitars of this size, if you perform in front of a crowd of any significant size, you will need to be plugged into an amplifier. I'm going to list below the bullet point specifications for the standard model Gibson L-00:

  • Recreation of a classic vintage acoustic guitar
  • Use of hide glue for top bracing
  • Solid Sitka spruce top offers great projection and tone
  • Solid mahogany back and sides offer warm, round sound
  • Compound dovetail hide-glued neck joint for outstanding resonance transfer
  • Nitrocellulose finish enhances the instrument's tonal qualities
  • Plek setup delivers optimized performance
  • LR Baggs VTC electronics transfer every nuance of your tone to your PA or amp
  • Hardshell case and Certificate of Authenticity included

The Larrivee P-01

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Zero Gravity Guitar Demo: Larrivee P-01 ISS Commemorative Parlor Guitar

Larrivee's P-01 and the international space station parlor guitar

The Larrivee guitar company is making some serious inroads in the guitar business. They make excellent, terrific, superlative guitars and sell them for less, as often as not, than Martin and Gibson sell theirs. Jean Larrivee is a fine builder, and he's built a fine guitar manufacturing company.

Why are Larrivee guitars priced below Martin and Gibson? Because Jean Larrivee is busy making a name for himself. He's making inroads. He's building brand recognition. Strangely enough, he's had some guitars of his make do some things Martin and Gibson can only wish they'd had theirs do. You see, Jean Larrivee has had one of his parlor guitars played in space. You know outer space.

Yes, it was the Larrivee P-01 which became, presumably, the first acoustic guitar played in space. It was aboard the international space station, and so now you will see the letters ISS attached to the P-01s description these days. But this little Larrivee parlor guitar need not be played away from the home planet. One can utilize it sufficiently here on Earth. This is a fine all solid wood construction guitar, and I'm seeing them available used for under one thousand dollars.

Want an even fancier Larrivee parlor guitar? Go for the Larrivee P-09, it hasn't been played on a space station, but we're only getting started in space, as a species of musicians, I mean. The P-09 isn't really fancier, it's only more expensive because its solid wood construction body is rosewood, and rosewood is harder to purchase and harder to shape into guitar bodies than mahogany. Below are the specifications for the Larrivee P-01 in bullet points.

  • An exact replica of the Larrivée P-01, the same guitar used aboard the ISS
  • All Satin finish
  • Solid Mahogany back and sides
  • All solid wood construction
  • 3 piece South American Mahogany Dovetail Neck
  • Canadian Sitka Spruce Soundboard
  • African Ebony Fretboard & Bridge
  • Custom soundhole label
  • Custom neck block stamp by Matthew Larrivee
  • Symmetrical X-Bracing
  • Dovetail Neck Joint
  • Rounded Headstock
  • Ping "Mini" Tuners (18:1 Ratio) with Chrome buttons
  • Clear pickguard
  • B/W/B Rosette
  • Ivoroid Fretboard Binding
  • Silver Microdot Fretboard Inlays
  • D'addario Medium Gauge Strings
  • Tusq nut and saddle
  • Certificate of authenticity
  • Larrivee Limited Lifetime Warranty

The Froggy Bottom Model L parlor guitar

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Froggy Bottom Model L Deluxe Rosewood

The Froggy Bottom Model L parlor guitar

Froggy Bottom may be the greatest builders of guitars you've never heard of. Long I've known of them from the amazing images in the backs of Frets magazines left to me from my grandfather. Froggy Bottom is a boutique guitar building company. A small company with the highest standards under the Sun on the third rock distant.

These are very expensive guitars. You will get what you pay for. The highest levels of craftsmanship imaginable are evident with Froggy Bottom instruments. It is only not so likely you will ever see one unless you are rather proactive in seeking one out. You don't see Froggy Bottom at Guitar Center, you know.

Because I've done a lot of writing about high end acoustic guitars I've said several times how I think Santa Cruz and Bourgeois are the finest makers of steel string acoustic guitars. The best I've ever put my hands on. Those comments are true, but there are others who can be included on the most elite list, and Froggy Bottom is one of them.

This Froggy Bottom model L is based on a Martin guitar, of course. There is a nice story behind it which you can read on the Froggy Bottom website. They've expanded the Model L to include various and sundry tonewoods, grades of tonewoods, and levels of appointments or ornamentation. You can spend from between roughly seven thousand to twelve thousand dollars for a Froggy Bottom Model L. These are among the finest guitars on the entire planet.

A Fender Paramount PM-2 Deluxe parlor guitar

Fender Paramount PM-2 Standard Parlor Guitar - Unboxing video

The Fender Paramount PM-2

Very often in this world things we think are true are not. Well, when we think of Fender, we think of solid body electric guitars. Fender has always been the go-to company in America for solid body electrics with female curvy shapes and hot rod appeals. Well, so what? Fender makes some outstanding acoustic steel string guitars. They just aren't so visible in the company's product lineup. But when you know, you know.

The Fender Paramount PM-2 parlor guitar is a great little parlour guitar, and it is priced just right for someone in the market for one. This is an all solid wood construction guitar. Whenever you shop for an acoustic steel string guitar, the brand who made it matters a lot less than the construction techniques involved with the thing. An all solid wood construction guitar is always a superior guitar to one which is involved with laminates. This is a very serious and good general rule of thumb for any shopper. Solid wood construction is for the win, and the Fender Paramount PM-2 is an all solid wood constructed parlor guitar.

This guitar will cost you one hell of a lot less than the Martin, the Gibson, or even the Larrivee; yet is comparable to any of them. This guitar has a Sitka spruce soundboard and east Indian rosewood back and sides. You can get a natural finish, or you can get the sunburst.

These guitars, because of their small size, will more often than not come with Fishman electronics. Fishman does not make crap electronics. This is a professional level guitar, as are all featuring Fishman electronics. And the Fender guitar here comes with an ebony fingerboard. Only fine guitars have ebony fingerboards. Ebony for the win, every single time. Here's your bullet points:

Fender Paramount PM2 Standard Parlor Acoustic Electric Guitar Features

  • Solid Sitka Spruce Top with Solid East Indian Rosewood Back and Sides
  • Parlor Size Body Shape
  • Mahogany, “C” Shape Neck with Bound Ebony Fingerboard
  • Modified Fender Traditional Bridge
  • Factory-Mounted Forward Strap Button with Internal Block Reinforcement
  • Bone Nut and Saddle
  • One-Ply Tortoiseshell Pickguard
  • Ebony Bridge Pins
  • Case included

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