James Ashborn was born in England circa 1816 and came to New England in the late 1830s, for reasons unknown.
landed in the a small woodworking town of Torrington, 30 miles northwest of Harvard, Connecticut.
Because of the area's many mills, many woodworking shops were emerging.
Torrington was primarily a wagon-making community, and had a plentiful wood supply, as well as ease of transportation.
Due to the considerable amount of natural resources, including plentiful power from rivers that allowed for water-driven tools, Ashborn
concluded that Torrington would be a perfect place to make guitars.
shop in Torrington, but soon after start-up, he
began selling guitars to the New York distributor William Hall & Son
, whose name appears inside the instruments.
There is little written background about Ashborn
, but given his
training and skills, we can presume he
was once either a clock maker, gun maker, or machinist.
This is apparent due to the intricacy of his
tuning machines, seen in several patents, and the fact that he
seems to have applied a machinist's approach to working wood.
Ashborn's shop was apparently quite advanced for its time, employing water-powered table saws, routers, and band saws.
With equipment of this caliber, Ashborn
produced as many as 119 guitars in June of 1844, and averaged 54 guitars per month.
This is an astonishing rate of production, considering his
relatively small number of employees, rarely exceeding 10.
did not follow the conventional guitarmaking method of having only one person work on each guitar, nor did he
take on any apprentices, as was customary.
hired woodworkers from the community and gave them specific tasks according to their expertise.
design for the guitar was quite innovative for the early 19th century.
Instead of making guitars fashioned after the typical parlor-style guitars, he
made them in the Spanish style, by taking interior bracing cues from the Spanish while retaining the body of the English guitars.
This included a fan brace pattern rather than the more common ladder pattern.
The uniformity of the measurements is an indication that Ashborn
used jigs or fixtures to cut the depth of the sides.
In addition to the complex head design, Ashborn
own tuning machines in-house (photo 2).
They're made of brass, very much like contemporary machines, with worm gears, cog gears, and rollers (photo 3).
To manufacture such a complex joint, Ashborn
must have had access to advanced items such as cloth-backed sandpaper (possibly even long loops of sandpaper).
had an in-house case maker, just as C.F. Martin was the in-house case maker for Stauffer.
This is one example of Ashborn's
marketing genius, as it kept this aspect of the business under his
control and, hence, profit.
The guitars made by Ashborn
were distributed through the shops of William Hall and Son, Firth and Hall, and Firth, Hall and Pond.
The guitars were primarily labeled as William Hall and Son
, and were made by Ashborn
To the best of our knowledge, there are no Ashborns labeled as such.
It appears he
never labeled guitars with his
own name, but was strictly a maker who sold exclusively through these dealers.
Ashborn's shop was extremely advanced for its time, having a great deal of know-how and technology.
understood the need to have the technology as well as the skill, but more importantly he
discovered a new way of making high-quality instruments that were affordable.
was able to create a factory environment where workers did what they were good at and, with practice, became very fast and consistent.
With a new level of consistency in mass production, he
created the path followed by other companies such as Martin, Gibson, and Taylor.
Using designs ahead of his
was able to bring the sound and change to people who otherwise never would have been able to acquire an instrument of this quality.
The author wishes to thank Dr. Philip Gura for the information provided through research from his article, "Manufacturing Guitars for the American Parlor: James Ashborn
, Wolcottville, Connecticut, Factory, 1851-1856, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society
, 104, part I (1994), 117-155.