Good Things Come in Small(ish) Packages: Parlor Guitars Appealing to a Wide Variety of Players

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • August 2018
  • Current Issue
  • Survey
• Created: August 6, 2018

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The same qualities that made parlor acoustic guitars popular in the late 19th through mid-20th centuries have been fueling a present-day rekindling of interest in these instruments.

Their comparatively compact size and lighter weight appeal to many women, older players, guitarists with shoulder or back problems, younger (smaller) musicians, and smaller men, for obvious reasons. The generally more affordable price points are an equally self-evident selling point (literally), but many are also drawn to the distinctive “brighter” tone of the guitars, as well.

In this month’s survey – sent out to over 400 MI retailers – we found that, yes, these guitars are experiencing a renaissance (88.5% of participants reported that sales of parlor acoustics are either up or level, compared to 2017). They also represent a unique opportunity for dealers.

“As online shopping continues to grow, alternate sized or unusual instruments are an incredible connecting point with our customers,” says Mike McAfee of Maxwell’s House of Music in Jeffersonville, Indiana. “Offering a selection of instruments other than ‘standard’ sets us apart and provides us the opportunity to cultivate a strong relationship with players.”

Most seemed to feel that the instruments resonated with players of virtually all ages and backgrounds, although there was some dissention: “They’re usually older eclectic buyers… very seldom are they younger buyers.” – Tim Bascom of Morgan Music Services, Inc. in Lebanon, Missouri; “Younger, beginning to intermediate level.” – Glen Plumley of Plumley Music in Landrum, South Carolina.

As Mike Guillot of Mississippi Music, Inc. (Flowood, Mississippi) notes, parlor acoustic guitars appeal to players of, “all ages, skill levels, and income brackets. The parlor size has taken off in the past two years.”

However, on this latter point, there was at least one who disagreed.

“The parlor craze is over, it took place between 2015-16,” asserts Mantova’s Two Street Music’s (Eureka, California) Anthony Mantova.

Read on to learn more…

How would you describe customers attracted to parlor guitars (age, skill level, income bracket, et cetera)?

“Skilled players, sometimes women looking for a smaller guitar. Folks looking for a guitar they can carry on an airplane.”

John Grimm

Vintage Music

Dahlonega, Georgia

 

“Female, younger people, smaller frame-built people, those looking for smaller guitar limited storage space.”

Terry Skaro

The Music Business

Palestine, Texas

 

“‘18 has been a bit of a down start for us, especially in the guitar department comparatively speaking towards the last couple of years here. Summer has definitely picked up, and I would think for sure that they will pick up, but it is a small percentage of what we actually sell, acoustic wise. I would probably say more around the range of 10-15%; maybe 20% max towards the later part of the year.”

Ford Harris

Bill Harris Music

Provo, Utah

 

“Almost every customer shopping for a new instrument will at least ‘try out ‘ a parlor, even if they gravitate back to a big body.”

Dan Patterson

Roger’s Music

Fort Payne, Alabama

 

“Over the past few years, we’ve sold guitars to people of all ages and skill levels. Whether it be a 6’ 2” 50+ year professional or a 5’ 2” never-played-before beginner purchasing, parlor guitars continue to be exceptionally popular across the customer spectrum.”

Nick DuBaldo

DuBaldo Music Center

Manchester, Connecticut

 

“Usually women are our best customers for parlors.”

Joe Cardenas

Marshall Music Co.

Lansing, Michigan

 

“We sell parlor guitars to just about every age bracket from pre-teens to 70-year-olds. Mostly those who just want a smaller instrument, but with a good range of tone.”

David St. John

Music & Arts

Glendora, California

 

“Moderate skill level, all ages. Income varies.”

Paul Durand

Family Piano Company

Waukegan, Illinois

 

“Female and smaller men. Price: $2-3k.”

Baxter Clement

Casino Guitars

Southern Pines, North Carolina

 

“Intermediate or better skill level. Most of the ones we sell are under $400.”

Joe Chiappone

Northfield Music

Pittsford, New York

 

“1) Aging players citing shoulder issues with dreadnoughts, 2) many preferring the more balanced treble to bass tone and volume, 3) easier transport.”

Kevin Crossett

GuitarSam

Montpelier, Vermont

“Specific clientele. More people looking to play blues, country, folk, singer/songwriter stuff, etc. Demographic wise, I’d typically say more of the older for sure, but you do get people with kids learning and parlors do well in that aspect for learning while young in a comfortable format.”

Ford Harris

Bill Harris Music

Provo, Utah

 

What about parlor acoustic guitars is appealing to players? Have you been noticing any significant trends when it comes to this particular market segment?

“Convenience, travel-sized, ‘cute’ factor.”

Paul Rodriguez

Suburban Music

Wheaton, Illinois

 

“Some of our customers are purchasing these instruments for the unique tonality parlor guitars produce, and the reduced size makes these ideal “camping” guitars for others.”

Jerry Vesely

Vesely Music

Parowan, Utah

 

“Many customers have mentioned that the feel of that size guitar on their body is much more comfortable and manageable to them than a typical dreadnought.”

Nick DuBaldo

DuBaldo Music Center

Manchester, Connecticut

 

“Shorter scale length makes them very comfortable to play sitting down.”

Greg Henderson

Atlanta Vintage Guitars

Marietta, Georgia

 

“We’ve noticed that players are looking to parlor acoustics as an opportunity to expand

their existing guitar collection. It provides them with a different tone, a different look, and the potential to start a conversation that goes beyond music.”

Paul Shuffield

Shuffield Music Company

Arkadelphia, Arkansas

 

“Size is more comfortable, and they sound better than many bigger models. Amplification

has leveled the playing field a bit. You don’t need a cannon in most circumstances when you can plug in if needed. Also, folks moving over from an ukulele will like the smaller body better.”

Ted Parrish

Parrish Music

Viroqua, Wisconsin

 

“The size makes it an easy guitar to play and it makes a great travel guitar. The Gretsch Jim Dandy is our best-selling parlor guitar with the Fender CP60 a solid second. We have Martin, Breedlove, and Taylor, but those take a little longer to move, and I believe that is simply because of price.”

Diane Shibley

Napa Music Supply

Napa, California

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