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What is a Parlour Guitar?
A Right 19th Century Knees Up
Before the invention of electricity and recorded music the parlour guitar was the 19th Century equivalent of the modern domestic sound and entertainment system. It was made smaller than a regular acoustic guitar to keep costs down. And where space would not allow for a piano, was quickly adopted by 19th Century middle class North American and British households for domestic use as an accompaniment to singing.
One for the Ladies
The parlour guitar also gained a reputation for being a musical instrument for women. In the 19th Century the guitar was primarily seen as a female instrument anyway, and the much smaller and lighter parlour guitar perfectly suited 19th Century sensibilities around women and their role in society.
Keeping up with the Jones's
Indeed, among the middle classes music in general was seen as a female pastime. And as the middle classes became more educated and very keen to impress, the ability to play a musical instrument was viewed as an important social skill for women to acquire. The parlour guitar was the perfect instrument for the job.
Parlour Room to Space Station
Today parlour guitars are still being manufactured and are experiencing a real resurgence in their popularity. Ed Sheeran is testament to that. And with improvements in amplification and recording techniques the need to have big bodied acoustics has become less important. Smaller bodied acoustics, like the parlour guitar, are once again finding their niche. One has even been played in the cramped confines of a space station. In 2013 astronaut Chris Hadfield played a Larivee parlour guitar while floating around the International Space Station.
The parlour guitar has come a long way from 19th Century middle class living rooms.