A parlour guitar is a small-bodied acoustic guitar. Emerging in the late 1800s, these small guitars were popular among women, blues and folk musicians. This compact-sized guitar measures only 1 foot across the lower body of the instrument, with a 12-fret neck measuring approximately 22 to 25 inches. The sound emitted from the parlour guitar is less than that emitted from a full-bodied acoustic guitar. The sound hole itself measures only 3 1/2 inches in diameter.
Parlour guitars originated from the classical guitar in the late 1800s. Similar to the classical guitar, early parlour guitar models used gut strings as opposed to steel strings, which were later implemented. The height of parlour guitar popularity spanned the end of the 19th century into the early 20th century. By the 1950s, the popularity of the parlour guitar had faded, although they are still manufactured today. Full-bodied acoustic guitars with a larger sound replaced the parlour guitar. Today, parlour guitars are manufactured and marketed as travel-sized guitars.
Parlour guitars garner their name from the fact that they were designed to be played in small intimate settings. They were often played to entertain houseguests in the Victorian homes of the late 19th and early 20th century. Guests were received and entertainment was conducted in the parlour. The small size of the parlour guitar allowed the sound to fit smaller rooms. Later, larger guitars were made popular in favour of better acoustics and larger rooms.
Early parlour guitar manufacturers included Lyon & Healy. Later Washburn and Maurer began to make these instruments as well. Parlour guitar styles varied from plain to fancy, with many embellishments. Sound was one of the biggest problems with most of the early guitar models. Before amplification, people were often stunned at how little sound the guitar would produce. The parlour guitar was no exception. It didn't have booming sound, but it produced a tone that was easily captured in studio recordings.
Women, Blues and Folk
The small size of the parlour guitar made them popular among women. Women in the late 19th and early 20th century would receive and entertain guests in the parlour at tea time. It was common for women to entertain guests by playing the parlour guitar. The small size of the parlour guitar also made it very affordable. Therefore, many musicians chose the parlour guitar due to its affordability. In the 1930s, the parlour guitar can be heard on many blues recordings. Folk musicians also favoured this instrument due to its soft and sweet sound.