Elvis Presley's guitars
Elvis Presley's guitars were a major component of the iconic rock and roll image created by Elvis Presley that revolutionized popular culture in the 1950s and 1960s. It is impossible to gauge the impact of that image on millions of young people around the world who were inspired to learn to play guitar after watching Presley in performance, on television, or in films. Although not known for his abilities as a guitarist, Presley had a profound musical influence on some of the most important rock and roll artists to emerge since the 1950s, including Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. The extent of Presley's impact on their lives and music is captured in John Lennon's famous quote: "Before Elvis, there was nothing."
According to his first lead guitarist, Scotty Moore, Presley was not "an accomplished musician", yet he possessed "an uncanny and amazing sense of timing and rhythm." In the early years of his career, Presley's rhythm guitar accompaniment played a major role in the sound of his early performances and recordings. Moore noted that as Presley began to learn to move on stage and to work the audience with his physical performance, his guitar became more of a "prop".
Presley was not known to treat his instruments in a gentle manner. His very aggressive strumming style would frequently break strings during his performances. The lack of a microphone on his guitar throughout those years contributed to the development of his "aggressive style in attempt to be heard". As his career progressed, he became even more aggressive toward his instruments, frequently tossing his guitar to Charlie Hodge, who sometimes failed to catch it. The impact of the large belt buckles and jewelry he wore left their marks on most of his instruments.
The following is a list of guitars that Presley owned or used for his performances and recordings.
|1940s||Kay (Tupelo Hardware)||January 1946 – August 1954||This was Presley's first guitar, purchased at Tupelo Hardware Co. for $7.75 on his eleventh birthday, January 8, 1946. He used it throughout his high school years and on his first Sun recording sessions.|
|1936||Martin 000-18||August 1954 – November 1954||Purchased at O.K. Houck Piano Co. in Memphis for $79.50|
|1939||Recording King||1954||Purchased at Montgomery Ward in Memphis. The guitar was given to Hall of Fame harness horseman Delvin G. Miller May 28, 1964 and includes a typed and signed note from Elvis to Miller which he affixed to the inside of the instrument. It is now in a private collection.|
|1942||Martin D-18||80221||November 1954 – June 1955||Purchased at O.K. Houck Piano Co. in Memphis, trading in his Martin 000-18|
|1953||Martin 00-21||1954 – 1960||Used by Elvis for performances during the mid 1950s[Note 1]|
|1955||Martin D-28||April 1955 – October 1956||Purchased at O.K. Houck Piano Co. in Memphis, first used on April 16, 1955 in Dallas, fitted with a custom made tooled leather cover with his name, appeared on the cover of Presley's first album [Note 2]|
|1956||Gibson J-200||A-22937||October 1956 – November 1970||Purchased through O.K. Houck Piano Co. in Memphis in October 1956, first used on October 11, 1956 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, used with a tooled leather cover on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1957made by Charles Underwood|
|1950s||Isana Jazz||1958 – 1960||Purchased by Lamar Fike in Bad Nauheim, Germany, a handmade German S hole jazz guitar used by Presley while serving in the U.S. Army|
|1960||Gibson J-200||A-32944||March 1960 – June 1968||Purchased through O.K. Houck Piano Co. in Memphis for his March 20, 1960 Nashville recording sessions while his original Gibson J-200 (A-22937) was being refinished and repaired, shipped to Scotty Moore c/o Chet Atkins, used for the Elvis 1968 Comeback Special|
|1968||Hagström Viking II||June 1968||Borrowed from session player Al Casey for several segments of the Elvis 1968 Comeback Special|
|1963||Gibson J-200 Ebony||61952||Mid 1960s – 1976||This guitar was given to Presley during a Nashville recording session at Studio B in the mid-1960s. Played on stage at the Las Vegas Hilton during the 1970s, the guitar has Elvis' Kenpo karate patch attached to honor his friend, Ed Parker, the founder of Kenpo karate.[Note 3]|
|1963||Gibson Super 400||62713||June 1968||Borrowed from Scotty Moore for the live segments of the Elvis 1968 Comeback Special, purchased from Gibson in October 1963 for $237|
|1964||Gretsch Country Gentleman||80736||February 1970 – March 1970||Developed as a signature model by Gretsch for Chet Atkins, similar to the 1957 Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet used by George Harrison for early Beatles performances and recordings|
|1969||Gibson Dove Ebony||539461||November 1971 – September 1973,
|Given to audience member Mike Harris during a concert on July 24, 1975 in Asheville, North Carolina, saying, "This is yours. Hold on to that. Hopefully, it'll be valuable one day."|
|1968||Gibson J-200 Ebony||618195||March 1974 – July 1975||First used on March 1, 1974 in Tulsa, applied a Kenpo Karate decal to the body in September, thrown into the audience on July 15, 1975 at the Springfield Civic Center in Springfield, Massachusetts after breaking a string|
|1970s||Gibson Dove Custom||A004051[Note 4]||August 1975 – April 1976||First used on August 18, 1975 at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, used exclusively on subsequent tours through April 27, 1976|
|1974||Guild F-50||96648||May 1976 – September 1976||First used on May 27, 1976 at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Illinois|
|1976||Martin D-35||377704||October 1976 – February 1977||Damaged during a performance on February 14, 1977 at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, Florida when Presley's guitar strap broke, given to an audience member, and later sold at auction for $20,000|
|1975||Martin D-28||369735||February 1977 – June 1977||Used during Presley's last 56 concerts, including the final show at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977|
The following is a list of "prop" guitars that Presley used on screen during musical numbers in his 31 theatrical films. These guitars were purchased by the studios, and in some cases, were identical to Presley's own performance guitars. The Gibson J-200 used in Loving You, King Creole, and G.I. Blues, for example, was identical to the Gibson J-200 he purchased in October 1956 (serial number A-22937).
|1956||Love Me Tender||Fox||Fox prop guitar|
|1957||Loving You||Paramount||Gibson J-45
|1957||Jailhouse Rock||MGM||Stella H929
|1958||King Creole||Paramount||Gibson J-45
|1960||G.I. Blues||Paramount||Gibson J-45
|1960||Flaming Star||Fox||Fox prop guitar|
|1961||Wild in the Country||Fox||Parlor style steel string|
|1961||Blue Hawaii||Paramount||Gibson J-45
|1962||Follow That Dream||UA||Old Kraftsman|
|1962||Kid Galahad||UA||Old Kraftsman|
|1962||Girls! Girls! Girls!||Paramount||Martin 0-17
|1963||It Happened at the World's Fair||MGM||Gibson LG-1|
|1963||Fun in Acapulco||Paramount||Harmony H950
|1964||Viva Las Vegas||MGM||Gibson LG-1
|1964||Kissin' Cousins||MGM||No guitar used|
|1965||Girl Happy||MGM||Gibson LG-1
Fender Precision Bass
|1965||Tickle Me||Allied Artists||Gibson J-200
|1965||Harum Scarum||MGM||No guitar used|
|1966||Frankie and Johnny||UA||Harmony H929TG
|1966||Paradise, Hawaiian Style||Paramount||Harmony H950|
|1966||Spinout||MGM||Burns Double Six
Fender Precision Bass
|1967||Easy Come, Easy Go||Paramount||Fender Precision Bass
|1967||Double Trouble||MGM||1960s Ampeg Baby Bass|
Fender Electric XII
Fender Wildwood VI
|1968||Stay Away, Joe||MGM||No guitar used|
|1968||Speedway||MGM||Fender Coronado II|
|1968||Live a Little, Love a Little||MGM||Gibson LG-1|
|1969||Charro!||National General||No guitar used|
|1969||The Trouble with Girls||MGM||Kay dreadnought|
|1969||Change of Habit||UA||Classical guitar
Harmony H162 style acoustic
Martin D-28, The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show (1956)
- The guitar, as well as a gold-plated Walther PPK handgun, was given to Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord backstage during Elvis's 1973 engagement at the Las Vegas Hilton. The instrument was later acquired from the estate of Jack Lord, and includes a letter from Joe Esposito, who retrieved the unique guitar from Graceland.
- Soon after purchasing the 1955 Martin D-28, Presley received a custom-made tooled leather cover with his name across the front, made by Marcus Van Story in the basement of O.K. Houck Piano Co. where he worked occasionally repairing pianos. Presley admired a similar one used by Hank Snow. One of the most famous photos of Presley's 1955 Martin D-28 with the leather cover appeared on his first album, Elvis Presley, which was released March 23, 1956. Known as the "tonsil photo", it was cropped from a larger photograph taken during a performance on July 31, 1955 in Tampa, Florida by William V. "Red" Robertson.
- In 1976, the Gibson J-200 Ebony was passed on to Presley's chief personal aide and Memphis Mafia member Marty Lacker at Graceland. Lacker was one of Presley's closest friends and served as the best man at his 1967 wedding in Las Vegas. Acquired directly from Marty Lacker, this guitar was formerly on display at the Elvis-a-Rama in Las Vegas, Nevada for a number of years before being purchased in a private sale.
- On March 16, 2003, a Gibson Dove Custom purportedly owned by Presley was auctioned in Los Angeles with documentation indicating, "Given by Presley's aunt Delta Mae Biggs to Don Wilson, 1977". The authenticity of the guitar has been questioned because the Grover Rotomatic tuners and the two screw truss rod cover do not correspond to photos of the guitar used by Presley. The guitar sold for $29,375.
- Roy, James V. (August 15, 2010). "The Performance Guitars of Elvis Presley". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
- Nizza, Mike (August 16, 2007). "Elvis Is Everywhere". The New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
- Shelton, Robert (July 29, 1978). "How Does It Feel to be On Your Own?". Melody Maker. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
- Garner, Dwight (November 6, 2012). "Americans May Never Get Weary of the Boss". The New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
- Roy, James V. "1940s Kay (Tupelo Hardware store) Guitar". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
- Roy, James V. "Elvis' Martin 000-18". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
- Roy, James V. "Elvis' 1942 Martin D-18". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
- Roy, James V. "Elvis' 1955 Martin D-28". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
- Roy, James V. "Elvis' 1956 Gibson J200". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
- Roy, James V. "1950s Isana Jazz Guitar". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
- Roy, James V. "Elvis' 1960 Gibson J200". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
- "The Elvis Personal Guitars: Gibson J-200, 1963". Elvis.net. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
- Kies, Chris (April 2012). "Elvis Presley's 1975 Martin D-28". Premier Guitar. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
- Roy, James V. (August 15, 2010). "The Movie Guitars of Elvis Presley". Scotty Moore. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
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