c. 1851 James Ashborn

New York, USA

James Ashborn (c. 1816–1876) arrived in America from England in the late 1830s. Ashborn’s story is as much about the democratization of musical instrument ownership through mass production, as it is about guitar making.

Date 1851
Location New York, USA
Length of Guitar 915mm
String Length 612mm
Upper Bout Width 227mm
Waist Width 185mm
Lower Bout Width 290mm
Side Depth at Waist 88mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Brazilian rosewood | Sides: Brazilian rosewood | Details: Style #1 guitar with ebony tuners.

According to Gansz, Ashborn may have originally worked for New York City-based musical instrument manufacturer and publisher Firth & Hall, and later relocated to Connecticut to work in their Fluteville plant as a guitar designer. John Firth and William Hall had met in the service during the War of 1812 and later formed a partnership. In 1847, the partnership disbanded and they became competitors as Firth, Pond, & Co. and William Hall & Son. Ashborn contracted to produce guitars for both dealers.

By the late 1840s, Ashborn had set out on his own, relocating to nearby Daytonville, Connecticut where he built a factory along the Naugatuck River with financial help from a local industrialist, Austin Hungerford. The operation was the first of its kind, with saws and routers powered by a waterwheel on the river.

Ashborn devised a manufacturing system that departed from the traditional method of guitar production, whereas a single individual would essentially craft the instrument from start to finish. Ashborn’s assembly line approach assigned specialized duties to various workmen in his shop who were all involved in crafting the various parts of a single instrument. The results were impressive as he outproduced his competitor C. F. Martin by over 300% in any given year.

Ashborn further streamlined the production process by maintaining the same size and construction design of the six styles he offered. His models were differentiated by the materials used and the degree of ornamentation applied.

The Style #1 James Ashborn guitar in this collection is in excellent condition and displays the basic design elements of all Ashborn guitars. The guitar is similarly shaped to the instruments of Ashborn’s fellow countryman, Louis Panormo, and Ashborn’s use of fan braces to support the soundboard may have been inspired by Panormo as well. The soundboard is made of spruce and the back and sides are of laminated Brazilian rosewood. The tuning pegs are of ebony.