Parlor guitars are a small, sweet style of acoustic guitar with historic roots in the 19th century.
Their slender waists were originally designed for the sleeker physique of women, although they’ve since gained wider popularity, being used by guitar icons such as John Mayer and Ed Sheeran.
Their compact frame makes them excellent instruments for guitarists on the move, and small apartments. They also make some of the best guitars for beginners, as their small size is comfortable for new plays.
Yet these bijou instruments are not to be underestimated and are often designed with projection and volume in mind.
I tested 7 products and found the Yamaha CSF1M TBS to be the best Parlor guitar under $500
This guitar is truly fantastic. With superb workmanship, the natural finish has the authentic look, feel and sound of a true parlor guitar. This is a modern, 21st-century reimagining of the classic 19th-century parlor design.
I’m a big lover of small guitars. I think these are often overlooked for shinier, fancier electric guitars with all the features and gizmos. But there’s something humble and soulful about playing on acoustic guitars, particularly the smaller parlor models. You have to connect deeper with the music and your playing skills to create a captivating performance.
I’ve gone through tonnes of guitars in my time, it can take a while to learn what specifications work best for you. From the different neck types to wood choices, lengths and strings, there are tonnes of choices to be made. We put this post together to help you find the perfect new parlor guitar.
This Yamaha CSF1M model competes with instruments in much higher price ranges.
This guitar makes a great traveling companion and does not slack on tone and projection. It has increased fret reach compared to most models and includes a built-in electronic pickup for amplification. This is a top-of-the-range, electric-acoustic parlor guitar.
This guitar is towards the top end of $500, so it’s probably only suitable for the budgets of intermediate and professional players. Any of the other guitars on this list are more affordable and might be better suited for beginners.
What’s great about these guitars is that their small size means they often come at a lower price. You get much higher quality than full-sized instruments of the same price.
Keep reading for our full lineup of the best parlor guitars under $500
Alternatively, for bigger guitars check out our lineup of the best acoustic guitars.
What Is a Parlor Guitar?
(A 19th Century style Parlor)
The Parlor was a reception room or public space found in the houses of rich people in the 19th century, used as a place to entertain guests. This room is where the name “parlor” guitar came from. People would often play guitar and other instruments together.
Parlor guitars are the narrowest and shortest rendition of the six-stringed acoustic flat-top guitar. They are largely identical to acoustic guitars, except for their dimensions.
These guitars were designed for the smaller frame of a woman’s body. In those days, volume and amplification were an issue, so these parlor guitars were focused on producing a big sound from a small instrument.
A cross between traditional nylon-stringed Spanish guitars, and modern steel-string acoustics, they appeared in the USA at the end of the 19th century. Eventually, they spread around the world to Europe, where their design evolved.
This style of the guitar became popular in the early 20th century when guitar manufacturers started to create guitars with larger bodies, with enough structural reinforcement to withstand the tension of steel strings, which were replacing the mainstay of gut strings.
Parlor guitars regained popularity in recent years, in part thanks to their use on the International Space Station by astronaut Chris Hadfield
Parlors in space!
Ideal for busking, traveling, and impromptu jam sessions, parlor guitars are wonderful instruments for the modern guitarist.
Many popular contemporary guitar brands create their own parlor guitar models.
We’ve created this list of the Best Parlor guitars on the market today!
Best Parlor Guitar in our tests
7 Best Parlor Guitar reviewed in Details
This budget-friendly parlor guitar from Fender is a perfect choice for beginners.
The Fender CP-60 guitar produces a warm, familiar sound that is ideal for folk, blues, and fingerstyle players. With a compact, small body, this guitar will be a comfortable fit for small and new guitar players.
Fender has selected excellent tonewoods, rivaling pricier parlor guitars, this guitar has great value for money. Its solid Sitka Spruce top is durable, providing a mellow tone with some mid-range bite. With Mahogany sides, back, and neck, and a Walnut fretboard, this parlor guitar has Fender build quality at an affordable price.
Its 24.75” scale length is only slightly shorter than the normal size, feeling comfortable for most players. The 20 frets are well-sized and easy for playing chords. The range comes in sunburst, black, or mahogany finishes. It is available in both Parlor and Concert sizes.
The bundled Starter kit includes a gig bag, clip-on tuner, strap, picks, and educational DVD and Online Fender Play lessons.
This guitar will need some initial setting up to play perfectly. The action was a little high, but this is easily fixed with some truss adjustment.
- Fender build quality at an affordable price.
- Comes with accessories and a starter kit.
- Competitive sound quality for the price range.
- High Action, needed some setting up.
The Jim Dandy Flat Top guitar is a cute retro-style parlor guitar from Gretsch.
These musical instruments pay homage to vintage parlor guitars made by Gretsch in the ‘30s – ’50s, like their “Rex” model. The decoration and styling on this parlor acoustic guitar give it a unique look.
The dimensions of its small Agathis body make it perfect to use as a travel guitar. The C-shaped Nato neck and Rosewood fretboard had a smooth feel, although upper fret access is limited. It has a 24” Scale which feels shorter and slightly more condensed than other models’ lengths.
It creates a pleasant, warm tone ideal for country and blues. The sound does differ from the traditional parlor style but produces great twangy tones with chunky chords and a rich timbre.
This parlor guitar holds its tuning better than most parlor guitars at a similar price.
The Jim Dandy Flat Top has a fantastic blues sound for the price, although it won’t suit all genres, like a classical guitar.
This is one of the best parlor guitars for beginner to intermediate guitarists who play blues and folk music. This is a good-quality parlor guitar with a vintage, bluesy look and tone. Great for traveling, camping, and outdoor jams.
- Well build
- Cool look and sound
- Some rough patches on the fretboard.
- Not a traditional Parlor sound, more bluesy
The Recording King Dirty ‘30s parlor acoustic guitar is one of our favorites. This guitar has a serious attitude and makes playing guitar blast
The Solid Spruce top and Whitewood back and sides are an atmosphere-creating projection.
The Nato neck and Rosewood fingerboard feel sturdy and fast, with a vintage profile and headstock. The 25.4” scale is closer to the length of a concert guitar. The neck felt mostly decent, although some slightly sharp fret edges needed sanding down.
The look of the Recording King has been refined more than other parlor guitars, this is an inspiring instrument to look at. With vintage checkerboard binding, and unique Art Deco style fretboard inlays these parlor guitars are as stylish as they are functional.
Its bone tuning pegs and nuts faithfully reference the design of vintage guitars, but with the tuning stability of modern guitars. You could easily mistake this guitar as one from the ‘20s or ‘30s, maybe even earlier. Its luxurious satin finish doesn’t squeak, unlike some glossy finishes which can produce distracting noises when rubbed.
This is a traditional-looking and sounding parlor guitar, perfect for small intimate sessions. It has an inviting, clear tone with a full low end. Highs and mids are well defined with decent articulation. These parlor guitars will suit almost any playing style and create the signature parlor sound.
The King came to set up well, with comfortable, low action. Overall a great sound and a stunning aesthetic at a friendly price. Great for strumming, fingerpicking, and slide playing. This is a durable guitar that will last a long time for players of any skill level.
- Authentic parlor guitar tone.
- Faithful, unique traditional look, sound, and feel of a vintage guitar.
- Affordable, durable, with a solid spruce top.
- Some frets were sharp, needed filing.
This is a beautiful, premium parlor guitar that will suit professionals who need travel guitars. If you have the budget, this is easily one of the best parlor guitars under $500.
With a solid Sitka Spruce top, and solid mahogany back and sides, the Yamaha CSF1M range is ready to sing. Project your inner musical genius with its slick, long, solid African Mahogany neck. The Fretboard has excellent upper fret reach, not all parlor guitars provide this much access which is a huge attraction. The C-shaped, modern oval neck is comfortable and easy to play with.
This is a parlor-style guitar but it uses Yamaha’s own, slightly different shape. It’s closer to classical guitars in shape, it has a good waist size that isn’t too narrow. The body has a clear, open sound. Its full, rich, and provocative tone stands above all the others in this list in terms of range, articulation, and beauty.
The built-in electric Zero-Impact Pickup makes this guitar ready for gigging, recording, and amplification. The passive under-saddle pickup has a dynamic, full-range electric tone that can be plugged straight into amplifiers, PA’s, and recording gear. This is located in the compensated saddle.
The special internal bracing design improves the bass response and increases the resonance of the top, creating a surprisingly loud acoustic guitar tone. The Yamaha CSF1 Competes or even beats full-sized guitars for tone and projection.
Great for small hands, no compromise on sound and quality. This has the solid build construction and engineering that Yamaha is known for, feeling comparable in quality to guitars in much higher price ranges.
This parlor guitar comes in 4 finish choices: Tobacco Brown Sunburst, Vintage Natural, Crimson Red Burst, and Translucent Black. Our favorite was the Natural vintage style, for a classical look. It also comes in a solid top, or all solid wood variation.
The 23.6” scale length is shorter than most guitars, placing it somewhere in between a ¾ and full size. This keeps a good balance between portability, comfort, and sound. This is an excellent parlor guitar that is suitable for professional guitarists.
Comes with a hard gig bag.
- Fantastic sound, rivals more expensive parlor guitars.
- Durable will last many years.
- Beautiful satin finish.
- Loud, open projection
- Includes electric pickup
- Oversensitive tuners make precise tuning difficult.
This artistic parlor guitar from Luna is inspired by travel-sized guitars and folk instruments. Get ready to ride away into the sunset with this beautiful budget-friendly guitar.
The Muse parlor guitar is affordable but packed with professional design features and quality materials. This parlor guitar has a 100% Mahogany construction, with a Mahogany neck. The solid Mahogany body has a rich, full sound that is appropriate for intimate gigs, busking, and traveling.
These parlor guitars deliver a punchy, powerful sound with rich midrange and highs thanks to their solid mahogany top and body shape. Featuring plenty of bass for its small size, with loud and cutting mids.
The fret and build quality are great, requiring little setup. There were no sharp edges that needed filling, showing the great craftsmanship from the Luna guitar workshop. The 25.5” scale is full length, so will feel comfortable in the hands of most guitarists.
This parlor guitar feels and sounds great for fingerstyle, folk, country, and classical music. It isn’t as mellow as guitars with nylon strings, but it still has a full-bodied, full-flavored tone.
These parlor guitars also felt very durable, making them suitable for children, travel, busking, and clumsy guitarists. The mahogany back and sides will be able to withstand the hardships of travel. With a beautiful aesthetic, you can tell a lot of work has been done designing the look and feel of this guitar with its natural laminate mahogany finish.
The Luna Gypsy Muse includes a transducer pickup that can be attached to the body of the guitar for electric amplification.
This affordable, faithful companion is ready to accompany you on your romantic traveling adventures. This guitar boasts excellent integrity and style at a fair price and would make an excellent first parlor guitar.
- Beautiful look and tone
- Unique, sound, faithful to parlor tones.
- Slightly neck heavy
- Action Issues, high bridge
- Tiner misalignment
This acoustic-electric parlor guitar is a great choice for folk and blues players. This comes in the intermediate to the professional range.
This has a broad dynamic range, from intimate to extroverted. The CP-140 has an inviting voice with warm lows and rich, twangy mids that draw your ears in.
It uses a small parlor body shape, built with the familiar excellent quality Fender construction.
These come well set-up, with great, easy action. They didn’t need much adjustment from the get-go. This instantly feels like a high-quality, well-made, instrument, with a nice heaviness and sturdy feel.
The rolled neck feels luxurious and doesn’t tire the hands after long sessions. The chrome tuning pegs hold tune brilliantly, far better than most guitars on this list.
This has solid wood construction that will last for many years. With a solid Sitka Spruce top, Rosewood body, Indian rosewood fingerboard, mahogany neck. The rosewood bridge held the strings in place without any slippage or detuning.
This parlor guitar makes a well-projected, clear, and full-bodied tone. Crisp, resonant sound with great resonation, even unamplified.
The custom X bracing increases sustain, durability and projection. This guitar is as durable as guitars with a solid wood body. The included Dual action truss rod allows pitch accurate neck tensioning.
The CP140 includes a Fishman Presys pickup and preamp for amplification or recording. This comes with a built-in tuner which is extra handy for gigging, busking, and practicing, this parlor guitars good for many styles of music and performance situations.
With a 24.75” Scale and 20 frets this has a familiar feel, fractionally smaller than standard sizes.
It comes with a bundle including a hard case, spare strings, strap, picks, and educational DVD.
This is a good Parlor Guitar for any skill level guitarist, it will be a treat for beginners and professionals alike.
- Built-in pickup in the acoustic-electric model
- Includes Starter Kit & Hard case
- Some issues with saddle stability
- Better for chords than soloing
The Dean AXS Parlor is a fantastic parlor guitar for any guitarist.
This steel-string parlor guitar has a provocative look, and rich, full tone that will entertain you and your audience for countless hours.
This guitar uses a lot of beautiful wood, mostly Mahogany. Its Solid African Mahogany top creates a fantastic sound quality with durable construction.
Using Mahogany for the body and neck, with a rosewood Fretboard, the wood selection of this guitar is very high. Using exquisite-looking tonewoods with a beautiful grain.
This has a full, big tone when strummed, and a clean, clear precise sound when plucked.
This is close in feel to a full-sized guitar, using a 25.5” Scale, and 22 frets. This Dean AXS has the best fret reach on this list, as the neck joins the body at the 14th fret, rather than the 12th which is more common,
This would make a great couch guitar for those instant spontaneous jams. This is a travel-sized guitar with more room for playing than other models.
- Larger Fret count and reach
- Beautiful tonewoods.
- Some fret buzz without adjustment
- Some cheap construction elements
Best Parlor Guitar under $500: Yamaha CSF1M
Nothing but the best for your precious hands. With Yamaha’s CSF1M Parlor Guitar, you can experience the full power of a concert guitar with the compact body of a parlor.
Yamaha has been in the guitar business for a long time now, so they know a thing or two about building guitars.
The CSF1M is a guitar that’s made to travel. It has a light build and comes in 4 gorgeous, strong finishes that make it perfect for living out of your car and playing on the street corner.
Great for busking and stage performance, this guitar is also built to last. The durability will withstand any bumps, bashes, and knocks from your wildest adventures.
With its Mahogany and Sitka Spruce construction, this guitar is the perfect choice for any musician.
The Yamaha CSF1M guitar is the perfect choice for a guitar of this size. As one of Yamaha’s parlor guitars, it has a rich tone and is super easy to play. The neck is one of the best I’ve ever played, it’s comfortable and smooth.
Best of all, you can plug this guitar straight into an amp, the built-in pickups will give you a great sound!
- Superior Yamaha Quality.
- Built-in pickups make it stage-ready.
- Stunning, clear sound and projection.
- Durable, small, ideal for traveling.
What to Look for when purchasing a Parlor Guitar?
Body Size: Parlor guitars, whilst small, come in many shapes and sizes. They generally have similar-sized neck dimensions, including scale length and nut width, but the actual body chamber is smaller than normal. Parlor Guitars often have a thinner waist and a more pronounced top and bottom curve.
It’s a wise idea to try out a parlor guitar before buying it, just to make sure the body, neck, and fretboard feel comfortable for you to play.
Scale Length: Choose a scale that feels comfortable to play. If you have bigger hands, then look for lengths around 25” and above. If your hands are on the smaller size then try guitars with scales of around 23”-24.5” and below. Larger lengths result in a longer fretboard, with wider frets, and vice versa.
String Type: Traditionally featuring strings made from animal guts, modern parlor guitars generally use either nylon or steel strings. Nylon string models have a warmer, softer, and quieter sound that suits classical music better. Steel strings have a brighter, more cutting tone with a louder projection.
Steel strings usually produce more tension than nylon, so overall require more hand muscle strength to play well. I personally prefer nylon strings for their relaxed feel and sound, but it comes entirely down to personal preference.
Wood Selection: The wood used to build a guitar will largely dictate its sound. Some woods are dark, others are bright. The various species of wood also change the guitars’ decay, sustain, and weight. Coincidently, generally the brighter the appearance of wood, the brighter its tone, the darker wood, the more mellow the sound.
Electronics: Some parlor guitars come with built-in electronic pickups. This makes them easy to amplify or record by plugging into equipment. If an acoustic guitar doesn’t feature a pickup it will need to be used with a microphone for amplification and recording.
Avoid buying a guitar that’s too small to play comfortably. Parlor guitars tend to be smaller than typical concert guitars, both their body and fretboard. So make sure the model you are buying has enough room to be played comfortably by your hand size.
Fret buzz can be an issue, even for the best parlor guitars. Make sure you buy an acoustic guitar with a truss rod, this way the issue can be corrected easily. If the guitar doesn’t have a truss rod, sometimes fret buzz can be fixed by using lighter gauge strings or modifying the bridge.
Tuning: Some cheaper parlor guitars may experience tuning issues. This can be caused by using inferior tuning pegs, bridges, and strings. This can be somewhat addressed by replacing these parts, although it makes sense to buy a better instrument. The guitars on this generally had decent tuning stability that competes with most models on the market.
Recommended Read: How long does it take to learn to play guitar?
Overall the best parlor guitar under $500 was the Yamaha CSF1M
We thought this parlor guitar shone brighter than any others on the market.
The Yamaha CSF1M guitar is a professional-quality acoustic instrument that sounds amazingly beautiful.
This parlor guitar will last for years to come and has a sound and volume that competes with full-sized instruments.
The design of this guitar allows it to be played with ease and comfort; the extended neck and fretboard make it easy to reach all twenty-four frets.
The built-in pickups allow you to plug in and jam at a moment’s notice.
Whether you’re traveling or busking, the Yamaha CSF1M guitar has everything you need!
Check out the Yamaha CSF1M today!
Noah is an accomplished audio engineer with several years of experience producing music for major companies and independent artists. He enjoys sharing his vast knowledge of audio engineering topics to help musicians and music producers create great music.