Vintage Instruments: Other Acoustic Guitars

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c.1885 Haynes No. 0 Tilton

A museum-quality example of a Boston-made John C.Haynes flat top guitar, complete with original Tilton Improvement fittings. This guitar has survived some 135 years without any cracks, repairs, seam separations or loose braces. It is 100% original and completely unmodified. Beyond that, it is in cosmetically immaculate condition. It is completely baffling to imagine how anything this old and this fragile can survive this well for such a long period of time.

John C. Haynes was the head of Oliver Ditson’s Musical Instrument division in the mid/late 1800’s. Ditson ran something of an empire in the music publishing industry at that time and its first foray into guitar sales was spearheaded by Haynes. (Vintage Martin guitar buffs will recognize the name Ditson as the company that requested the design of Martin’s first Dreadnought-shaped guitars in around the First World War era).

William B. Tilton was an instrument builder and inventor/industrialist who in the 1850’s patented a number of ‘Improvements’ in guitar construction, which became quite popular. Tilton’s first patent was for a reinforcement dowel that connected the neck and tail blocks of an instrument so as to relieve the stress on the top imparted by string tension. Imagine the dowel stick of a banjo inside a guitar. His second patent was for a guitar bridge that had eyeholes for the strings to pass through, rather than on. Used in conjunction with a tailpiece, it was suggested that the bridge design would further reduce the string tension on a guitar’s top, thereby allowing a builder/manufacturer to lighten up the top braces and supports. This would have presumably made for a better sounding instrument. Essentially, Tilton looked at a banjo and used it as inspiration for a new guitar-related patent. Clearly his marketing efforts were successful, and he received many accolades for his ‘Improvements.’ Many guitars were sent to him and other licenced shops for retrofitting of his Improvements.

Sometime in the 1860’s John C. Haynes acquired the rights to manufacture guitars with Tilton’s Improvements designed into their construction. His company fared quite well and, ultimately, became one of the main players in the American Musical instrument manufacturing and distributing industry through to the first years of the 1900’s.

This Haynes-built Tilton Improved guitar features an unbound Brazilian rosewood and spruce body that measures 11.5” wide at the lower bout. The neck has a pronounced V carve, short 24.5” scale, and a nut width of 1-7/8”. Ebony fingerboard and bridge, European tuning machines, and a thin original gloss varnish finish. While the guitar is in essentially mint condition, its string action is quite high and playability suffers. We have opted to leave the guitar as found to allow the next owner to decide upon resetting the neck.

Gura, Philip F., C.F. Martin and His Guitars 1796-1873, UNC Press, 2003, Bay State Guitars Research Project, Charles Robinson

With modern hardshell case

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