Isaiah Nightingale is not exactly what one would call a household name in guitar history. Born in 1836, he appears to have spent much of his working life in the burgeoning Ohio River settlement of Evansville, Indiana, showing up in city directories as a stone cutter and foreman at the Henry H. Uhlhorn Stone Works from 1866 until the time of his death at age 58.
A career stone mason might seem like an odd candidate for a musical instrument patent holder, nevertheless on October 7, 1892, Nightingale filed a US patent application for a guitar improvement that seems just as titillating and novel today as it must have seemed in its own time. Described as an “ATTACHMENT FOR GUITARS, MANDOLINS, ZITHERS, OR OTHER STRINGED INSTRUMENTS”, this “new and useful improvement” was described in the patent, which reads:
“To all whom it may concern.-
Be it known that I, ISAIAH NIGHTINGALE, of Evansville, in the county of Vanderburg and State of Indiana, have invented a certain new and useful Improvement in Attachments for Guitars, Mandolins, Zithers, &c., of which the following is a full, clear, and exact description…
My invention relates to an improved attachment for guitars, mandolins, zithers, and like stringed, musical instruments, by means of which the music is much improved in tone and strength; and my invention consists in features of novelty hereinafter fully described and pointed out in the claim.
Within the [body of the instrument], is a supplemental sound board (#2), extending from end to end, and from side to side of the interior of the [body], and secured at a point intermediate between the bottom of the case and the sound board (#4).
(#3) represents a tube secured on the upper side of the supplemental sound-board, and preferably immediately beneath the strings and openings (5) in the sound-board (4) of the instrument.
The sound-board and tube may be constructed of wood, metal, or any other suitable material, and may, if desired, be arranged in any other suitable shape or form, but the arrangement shown and described is preferred by me.
An attachment made in accordance with my invention besides strengthening the instrument, adds very materially to the quality of the music, making the tone much stronger and sweeter.
I claim as my invention- In a guitar, mandolin, or other stringed, musical instrument, a supplemental soundboard, with a tube thereon, substantially as and for the purpose set forth.
Nightingale’s patent was granted on March 28th, 1893. He would die the following year of pneumonia. His brother, Charles, a luthier and salesman for a local music store, Harding & Miller Music Company, would later secure a design patent for a mandolin pickguard in the shape of a lyre. His patent was granted in 1900 and The Nightingale Guitar and Mandolin Company was born. In 1902, it was relocated, possibly due to a fire in its Main Street building, and by 1904, was no longer listed in the city directory.
So, it would seem that one brother’s dreams of improving the guitar by adding a second soundboard were cut short by his untimely death, so his brother Charles, inspired by his memory and imagination, created The Nightingale Company guitar in his memory. Although the company was short-lived, the few extant instruments that remain tantalize us with questions of what might have been.
Special thanks to Goldman’s Pawn Shop and Art Woodward for sharing photos of his examples.
#guitar #history #documentary
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