c. 1865 William Tilton

c. 1865 William Tilton guitar

New York, USA

William Tilton was an American inventor and luthier who began manufacturing instruments in New York in 1853. Tilton made new guitars and retrofitted others with his patented improvements. These included his signature metal tailpiece to relieve the tension of the strings upon the soundboard and allow for lighter bracing.

Date 1865
Location New York, USA
Length of Guitar 940mm
String Length 625mm
Upper Bout Width 228mm
Waist Width 192mm
Lower Bout Width 302mm
Side Depth at Waist 93mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Brazilian rosewood | Sides: Brazilian rosewood | Details: Fitted with Tilton’s patented metal tailpiece.

Maker Biography


In or around 1865, Zogbaum & Fairchild, located at 10 Maiden Lane in New York City, acquired the rights to manufacture guitars using Tilton’s improvements. Thus, Tilton turned to Zogbaum & Fairchild to produce the c. 1865 Tilton “style 3” guitar in the Austin-Marie Collection. The guitar bears a metal patent plaque inside the sound hole with the inscription: “Wm. B. TILTON’S IMPROVEMENT, NEW YORK, Patented MARCH 4, 1856, ZOGBAUM & FAIRCHILD, NEW YORK.”

Tilton licensed his designs to other manufacturers as well – most famously to John C. Haynes & Co. of Boston. A Haynes & Co. catalogue from the 1870s shows seven Tilton models, from “No. 0” to “No. 6,” priced from $25 to $65, with a No. 3 (like the Tilton in this collection) costing $45, about the same price as a Martin model 2-20 or 1-21 from the same period.

The c. 1865 Tilton in this collection has rosewood back and sides with a neck made of mahogany. The spruce soundboard is aligned with the grain angled approximately 27 degrees off the vertical axis. This must have been for acoustical purposes, and because it would lessen the soundboard’s resistance against the pull of the strings, Tilton applied his patented silver-plated tailpiece and a wooden dowel between the two ends to relieve the tension on the soundboard.

Tilton’s tailpiece proudly displays an engraving of the silver medal he was awarded by the “American Institute of the City of New York for the Encouragement of Science and Invention” for his improvement to the guitar. Tilton offered to apply his tailpiece system to any guitar sent to his workshop. The resulting testimonials were numerous and impressive. Many prominent guitar dealers and teachers from all over the world, had their guitars – Martins included – modified to much acclaim.

Performance Video

Performance Video