The Best Parlor Guitars Under $500

The Best Parlor Guitars Under $500

Are you ready to wail with the blues on a downsized acoustic? We’ve rounded up the best parlor guitars under $500 for all you soul-singers. These acoustic guitars might be small, but they’ve got voice and playability to go head to head with any dreadnought.

Our Recommendation

Luna’s Gypsy Muse Parlor Mahogany is taking our number five spot in this review. Its low price makes it a winner by most standards, but I have to knock off a few points owing to its laminate top.

The real winner today is the Yamaha CSF1M. This parlor acoustic’s spruce + mahogany build sings with a spirited voice in all acoustic genres.

Despite its size, Yamaha’s bracing design gives it the volume you need to fill a room. The CSF1M plays like a dream, and I love everything about it.

The Top 5 Best Parlor Guitars Under $500 – Overview

#5 Luna Gypsy Muse Parlor Mahogany Check On Amazon >>

Specs

  • Top – Mahogany
  • Body – Mahogany
  • Neck – Mahogany
  • Fingerboard – Black Walnut

Pros

  • Extra low cost
  • Beautiful design
  • Pronounced mid-range

Cons

  • Laminate top to keep production costs low
  • High action that is hard to adjust

Construction

Luna is more known for their good looks than their quality construction, but that doesn’t mean their guitars are garbage.

The Luna Gypsy Muse Parlor Mahogany is a really decent guitar considering the price. For under $200, you can’t expect the most expensive materials, but Luna provides a decent good build nonetheless.

Its body is all laminate mahogany, giving it a dense feel with just enough heft to keep it out of the realm of toy instruments.

A mahogany neck topped with a black walnut fingerboard is set into the body with a secure joint, maintaining a feeling of solidity as time goes by.

The bridge raises a small concern, as it is elevated a bit too high, making the action undesirable despite truss rod adjustments.

Sound

Although the Gypsy Parlor has a laminate top, its all-mahogany construction still provides a nicely rounded, warm tone that’s great for blues and folk.

When fingerpicked, the notes swim together in a sultry flow that, while not loud, are pronounced and pleasant in every range.

Playability

The Gyspy Muse Parlor’s nut width is a pretty standard 43mm, but its small body makes issues an added element of comfort that every player can enjoy.

Its action is a bit too high, and adjusting the truss rod can only bring it down so much. A guitar tech may be able to perform some more serious surgery on it to get it playing perfectly.

All factors considered, I’d probably keep it mostly as is and enjoy what you can get for such a low price.

#4 Fender CP-140SE

Specs

  • Top – Solid Spruce
  • Body – Rosewood
  • Neck – Mahogany
  • Fingerboard – Rosewood
  • Electronics – Fishman Presys preamp + under saddle piezo pickup

Pros

  • Acoustic electric capabilities with great Fender preamp
  • Easy-to-play neck design with rolled edges
  • Comes with a hardshell case

Cons

  • Uneven fret height causes string buzz
  • Fragile bridge prone to cracking

Construction

Fender’s not really known for their acoustics, and certainly not for their parlor guitars; however, this CP-140SE is a fine instrument regardless of its notoriety.

First, we’ll focus on the good. It’s made with a solid spruce top + rosewood body combo. This unusual but nevertheless pleasing tonewood choice is sturdily assembled and nice to hold.

The tuning machines are top-notch and will keep you in tune for hours on end.

Some real extras about this guitar are its starter pack accessories which include a hardshell case, a strap, extra strings, picks, and an instructional DVD. This is a great beginner’s bundle to get you playing in no time.

Unfortunately, the CP-140SE seems to be assembled rather hastily. This leads to problems such as unevenly set frets which cause string buzzing. Also, the rosewood bridge is low-quality wood that might crack and need repairs after a few months of playing.

Both these issues can be easily fixed by a guitar tech, but they’re a pain to deal with.

Sound

The sound of the CP-140SE saves it from its few minor construction issues.

Spruce + rosewood is a strange tonewood combination that results in a superbly folky voice. This guitar sounds like a walk in the woods.

When you plug in, the Fishman Presys preamp reproduces the natural tone as clearly as a piezo pickup can. An onboard 3-band EQ lets you dial in your tone to suit every genre you’ll want to play in.

Playability

Players with small hands and absolute beginners will love the rolled fingerboard edges on this guitar. This creates a very comfortable grip that reduces finger strain due to over-stretching.

It’s got a reduced scale length measuring at 24.75 inches, allowing you to play up and down the rosewood fingerboard with added ease.

#3 Washburn Vintage Series R314KK

Specs

  • Top – Spruce
  • Body – Trembesi
  • Neck – Mahogany
  • Fingerboard – Ebony

Pros

  • Historical 1886 design
  • V-shaped neck with 18 frets for authentic vintage playability
  • Natural bone nut and saddle for improved resonance and sustain

Cons

  • V-shaped neck’s unusual design may be uncomfortable for some players
  • Unconventional trembesi wood may be a turn off for traditionalists

Construction

Washburn is a big name in acoustics and crafted a great parlor guitar in the R314KK.

Right off the bat, you’ll notice this is an unusual guitar. Why is it unusual? Because it’s based off parlor acoustic designs from the late 19th century!

This means it has a historical V-shaped neck, rear-facing open-gear tuners, as well as stunning vintage fret inlays.

The top is unfortunately laminate, but this is easy to get over once you start hearing this parlor in action.

Sound

This is the first guitar I’ve played that uses trembesi as a body wood. Trembesi is a versatile sounding wood that responds well to many different playing styles.

Paired with the spruce top, the sound is tamed and focused, letting you rip out mellow walking blues lines just as well as flatpicked bluegrass solos.

Quartersawn scalloped X bracing kicks the volume up a few pegs to give the R314KK a big voice in a small package.

Playability

Here’s where things really get weird. Washburn’s been in the guitar game since 1883, and they brought back their original V-shaped neck style for this parlor acoustic.

If you’ve never played a V-shaped neck before, you’re in for a surprise. It looks uncomfortable, but it’s really not that bad once you get used to it. It may not curve to fit your palm like modern D and C shapes, but it gives you a good strong backing for broad open chords.

With an ebony fretboard providing fast response and attack, you’ll feel like a turn-of-the-century blues aficionado playing the Washburn R314KK.

#2 Alvarez AP66SHB

Specs

  • Top – Solid African Mahogany
  • Body – Mahogany
  • Neck – Mahogany
  • Fingerboard – Indian Laurel / Rosewood

Pros

  • Top – Solid African Mahogany
  • Body – Mahogany
  • Neck – Mahogany
  • Fingerboard – Indian Laurel / Rosewood

Cons

  • All-mahogany build creates amazingly earthy tone
  • Forward-shifted scalloped bracing projects each range with powerful clarity
  • Bone nut and saddle focus the tone and add harmonic emphasis

Construction

I’m a proud Alvarez owner, and it was a treat to get my hands on the parlor version of my guitar.

Mahogany is my favorite tonewood; I think it feels, looks, and sounds beautiful. The Alvarez AP66SHB parlor acoustic is all mahogany, with a solid African mahogany top to boot.

I have no complaints about this guitar’s build. It’s all-around strong and solid, with attention to detail going into every aspect of its construction.

This article covers all the fine points of what makes Alvarez acoustics some of the best.

Sound

Mahogany is creamy and luxurious, both in looks and in tonality. It’s as warm as it looks, sounding like a dwindling campfire on a late autumn night.

Without being much more poetic, I’ll tell you that Alvarez put a lot of work into making a great sounding parlor guitar in the AP66SHB.

You usually wouldn’t expect a tone of volume from a guitar this size, but their specially-designed FST2 bracing pattern sends each note forth with punch and power.

Furthermore, they use real bone for the nut and saddle and devised a method of setting the bridge pins close to the saddle as ways of boosting sustain and resonance in every register.

Playability

If you’re looking for a parlor guitar because your hands are small, this might not be your best option. The AP66SHB has a 44.45mm nut width, which is a little wider than the average dreadnought.

Still, it’s got low action, a highly responsive rosewood/Indian laurel fretboard, and a short 24-inch scale length that make it a pleasure to play, small hands or not.

#1 Yamaha CSF1M

Specs

  • Top – Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Body – Mahogany
  • Neck – Nato
  • Fingerboard – Rosewood
  • Electronics- Passive SRT under saddle piezo

Pros

  • Solid spruce top with mahogany body for vibrant, lively tone
  • Passive SRT pickup provides natural sounding amplification
  • Yamaha-engineered bracing pattern boosts volume and accentuation

Cons

  • No on-board EQ

Construction

Yamaha’s acoustics are all-around crowd pleasers. Their CSF1M is the perfect multi-purpose mini acoustic and the best parlor guitar under $500 I could find.

There’s no questioning Yamaha’s build quality. Even their lowest-tier acoustics are constructed with quality materials and fine craftsmanship. In the CSF1M, they’ve combined a solid Sitka spruce top with a mahogany body securely set with their go-to nato neck.

With every dimension reduced, this compact folk guitar is great for travel, for kids, or for players with small hands.

Sound

Mahogany’s warmth and roundness is brought into high definition with this parlor’s solid spruce top.

It has a strong and punchy mid-range, resonant lows, and smooth highs that sparkle without sounding tinny.

Yamaha’s bracing pattern gives the CSF1M added loudness without muddling the tone, so every note sings big and bright.

Of course, Yamaha knows their electronics, so it’s no shocker that their passive SRT piezo pickup does a great job of bringing this parlor acoustic to the electric realm.

The only downside is that, as a passive system, there’s no onboard EQ. However, with the guitar’s natural tone as sweet as it is, there’s hardly a need for one.

Playability

The CSF1M plays like a dreadnought, only smaller. It’s got a much smaller body, a shorter scale, and a reduced nut width that make it great for players with small hands, as well as for travel.

It’s equipped with a smooth, naturally oily rosewood fingerboard that keeps fingertip pain to a minimum. This fingerboard offers a light response, smooth attack, and overall feeling of gliding along as you jam out.

If you’re into the CSF1M but want a standard dreadnought, check out it’s big brothers in our reviews of the Yamaha FG830 and FG800.

Buyer’s Guide

What Is a Parlor Guitar?

Parlor guitars draw their names in reference to the parlors or sitting rooms of the mid-19th century. In those days, it was popular to entertain guests with one’s guitar-playing proficiency in these quarters.

With no need to play fill venues with the large, loud tones of dreadnoughts, hosts would opt for these smaller-bodied acoustics with just enough volume to fill their parlors.

When the term first became popularized, the standard parlor guitar was defined as an acoustic measuring smaller than Martin’s 0 body, but over time those standards have changed.

Now, parlor guitars have a range of sizes and body shapes but are generally still smaller than a 0 guitar.

They differ from travel guitars in that they typically have fewer frets, the standard parlor number being 18 and the average travel guitar having 20-21 frets.

Additionally, parlor guitars are typically longer and narrower than travel guitars. They usually retain the standard dreadnought nut width as opposed to the slim design of travel guitar nuts.

If you’re looking for travel guitars, we’ve got a great list of them here. People seeking acoustics specifically designed for small hands will want to check out this list.

Why Should I Buy a Parlor Guitar?

If you love guitar history and want to experience the feel of a 19th Century acoustic, parlor guitars will be right up your alley.

Their small, boxy voices make them ideal for fingerstyle folk and blues. The reduced low-end and focused mid-range also make them appealing to singer-songwriters.

They’re fine guitars for kids, but there’s a category specifically for these younguns you can read more about in this review.

Parlor guitars can be good instruments for beginners who don’t feel comfortable with full-size acoustics, as well as for kids who lack the arm length needed to reach the end of the neck.

While not designed with travel in mind, they’re still excellent travel guitars, often of higher quality than acoustics marketed for this purpose.

So, if a punchy, vibrant tone and compact size are what you’re after in an acoustic, parlor guitars are just the thing for you.

What to Look for in a Parlor Guitar?

Your main concern when buying any guitar should be if you like a specific model or not. This list is not absolutely conclusive, and you may wholeheartedly disagree with my rankings. I even argue with myself about my choices.

There are a few traits that I look for in any new guitar, though you’ll notice not every choice in this review features these specs.

First, I prefer guitars with solid tops. There’s argument around this in the world of guitarists, but personally, I think they sound better and have a much more pleasing tonal nuance.

Next, look for proper intonation and action. A lot of times, guitars that don’t feature these things from the start can be corrected by a guitar tech. If you decide to go this route be prepared to spend a bit of extra money to get your guitar into top-tip playing condition.

Tone, of course, is a big factor in choosing an instrument. Variances in wood and bracing patterns will yield different voices, and my best advice is to listen to and play several different instruments before making your choice.

Finally, it goes without saying that you should check your guitar over for flaws and defects, such as loose pieces, cracks, scratches, chips, etc. These issues can sometimes get you a decent markdown off the sticker price, but beware if there are any faults that will affect your guitar’s sound and playability.

The Final Word

Parlor guitars are fun little acoustics that work in a wide array of settings, from living room practice, to campfire singalongs, to street corners, open mics, and coffee shops, all the way to the stage and the studio.

Make sure you know if this is the right type of guitar for you by comparing them to ¾-sized guitars, travel guitars, and full-sized dreadnoughts before you make your final decision.

If they pass all your qualifications, you’ll find yourself with a joyful small instrument with a bright and bouncy feel you can enjoy in tons of different genres.

As always, happy jamming!

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