Review: Bartlett Electric Parlor

Back in 2014 we checked out the Retrospec model from Canadian luthier Tom Bartlett, a guitar that achieved a vintage-Les Paul-like feel and sound, but with stylishly redrawn looks.
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Back in 2014 we checked out the Retrospec model from Canadian luthier Tom Bartlett, a guitar that achieved a vintage-Les Paul-like feel and sound, but with stylishly redrawn looks. Bartlett’s Electric Parlor model stems likewise from inspirations with deep roots in the guitar’s past, but this time from a full century before, to deliver an electrification of the small-bodied acoustic “parlor” guitars of the late 1800s and early 1900s. While it’s an easy grab for travel, quick jams, or living room noodling, the maker is quick to point out that this is no mere “practice” or “travel guitar.” Its traditional Gibson scale length of 24 5/8" and full complement of electronics and hardware make it a fully functional performance tool for any situation where you’d need a standard solidbody electric. The format is highly customizable as well, and takes equally to natural wood finishes and solid colors with alternative hardware.

The Electric Parlor is built with a solid korina body and neck, and a dark Indian rosewood fingerboard. This one carries a book-matched European walnut top veneer with a luscious chocolate-brown hue and subtly elegant figuring evident beneath an ultra-thin nitro finish. Touch points in the construction are distinctly Kalamazoo style, as seen in the shape of the glued-in neck’s heel, the binding, the neck profile and the back-angled headstock. Original details take it elsewhere, though—the compact body shape, of course, but also the cut-down pickguard, the understated art deco “empire” styling of the trussrod cover, and the simple yet pleasing headstock shape, all contributing to making the Electric Parlor its own beast. The OX4 humbuckers have vintage-spec readings of 7.58kΩ in the bridge position and 7.42kΩ in the neck, and their signals route to the output jack via a 3-way selector and a single Volume control.

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This guitar sits easily in the lap, without a hint of the neck-heaviness I might have expected from its design. Playability is excellent, and it’s an easy adjustment (if any) from, say, my 1959 Les Paul reissue. The rounded-C profile sits beautifully in the hand, and the fret dress and crowning are great, although the ends exhibit a little sharpness, possibly the result of its travels from Canada for this review. Plugged into a ’66 Fender Pro Reverb and a Komet 60 through a 1x12" StoneAge cab with EV SRO speaker, the diminutive sweetie immediately revealed bags of attitude. Notable within its sonic delivery is that chewy, roiling harmonic texture that korina often kicks out, along with its characteristic upper-midrange hump. The tone isn’t so much “baby Les Paul” as it is “alternative Gibson”—a marriage of SG, Explorer, and Flying V, if we need a reference point. The low end compresses easily, lending a tactile playing feel, while there’s a certain granular brashness to the highs, partly attributable, perhaps, to the absence of any signal loading that a tone control would bring to the table. That element smooths out when you roll down the lone Volume control slightly to clean up, but enables plenty of raw cutting power for solos at full whack. It’s not a natural for jazz or mellower styles, but in this configuration it eats up anything from classic-to garage-rock, gnarly blues, more aggressive roots-rock styles, and more.

All in all, the Bartlett Electric Parlor is a fun guitar to play, and has a lot to offer—and if its appeal might seem inherently limited, that has more to do with our traditional perspective than any major limitations in the guitar itself.



PRICE $4,400 direct as reviewed (including hardshell case); others start at $3,200
NUT 1 11/16" nylon
NECK Korina, 245/8" scale
FRETBOARD Indian rosewood, 12" radius
FRETS 22 medium (.095" x .045")
TUNERS Kluson-style strap tuners
BODY Korina with book-matched European walnut veneer top
BRIDGE MojoAxe compensated wraparound bridge
PICKUPS Two OX4 PAF-style humbucking pickups
CONTROLS Volume, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.2 lbs
BUILT Canada
KUDOS An enticingly original design. Excellent build quality. Rich and compelling tones, particularly for rock and gnarly blues.
CONCERNS Many players might enjoy a tone control on this guitar (which is optional), and the fret ends are a hair sharp.