1950s Isana Jazz Guitar

Elvis with 1950s Isana jazz guitar
Photo courtesy EPE, Inc

Several pictures exist of Elvis with a guitar at home in Bad Nauheim while serving in the U.S. Army in Germany in 1958 - 1960.  Lamar Fike, his friend who accompanied him overseas recalls that Elvis had two guitars over there, one that he bought for him there in a local music store.*  He described them as an "S" hole guitar (likely the Isana) and a "round" hole guitar (probably a traditional acoustic) and gave both of them to two guys who came to the house on a scooter.  The boys got in some trouble with the police about the guitars but Elvis straightened it out and then brought them inside, autographed the guitars and gave them to them.  From the pictures it appears to have some sort of floating pickup in the neck position in the style of many jazz guitars though probably designed to be played acoustically.

Elvis with 1950s Isana jazz guitar
Photo courtesy EPE, Inc

Isana guitars were handmade German archtops built by Ignaz Sandner one of the many small guitar makers that proliferated in Germany during the post-war years.  Like the name "Isana" is representative of the builders name, Alosa guitars, built between 1947 and 1958, were built by Alois Sandner.  The relationship between the two is not completely understood but it is likely that Alois may also have had something to do with the founding of Isana guitars.   Alosa, Klira, Framus, Hopf, Hoyer and many other German jazz guitars from that era had similar headstocks and features.  Several such as Alosa, Klira and Isana featured perloid headstocks, pickguards and inlay no doubt influenced by the accordion industry at the time. This style of guitar was very common in Germany when Elvis was over there.

Elvis with 1950s Isana jazz guitar
Photo courtesy EPE, Inc

Elvis with 1950s Isana jazz guitar
Photo courtesy FECC/E-Cat

The company was very small and nowadays Isanas are quite rare.  They are hand made and good quality instruments - a cut above Framus and Hofner - but don't have the ornate detailing that the really expensive German guitars from makers like Lang and Roger have.1  Elvis' Isana, like most guitars of that type, was equipped with a floating neck pickup, most likely manufactured by Ideal.  Companies like Ideal and Fuma made pickups for many German guitars like Hofner, Framus and Isana, often under the label of each company.

Ideal floating pickup
Photo courtesy Tats Ohisa -JazzGitarren

Isana guitar said to be Elvis' on display in Memphis
Photo by John Broderick courtesy of the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum

During his stay in Germany, when at his rented house, Elvis would post set hours where fans could go to the house and he would sign autographs.  Lamar said that he remembers that Elvis gave his guitars to two kids who came up to the house on a scooter asking for an autograph.*  According to an article online at the WMCTV website, the guitar is now believed to be owned by Elizabeth Hollenbeck from Desoto County in Mississippi and since April of 2004 has loaned it for display at the Rock 'N Soul Museum in Memphis, TN.   Elizabeth is the cousin of Red West's wife Pat who was Elvis' first secretary at Graceland and according to Elizabeth, Pat was given this guitar by Elvis after his discharge and return to Graceland.  Years ago in return for tutoring Pat and Red's child in math they gave Elizabeth a guitar that was in their garage.  After several years of use by her son they saw a picture of Elvis with an Isana and believed them to be the same.  This guitar however bears no autograph and is fitted with an entirely different pickup, however this guitar originally had a neck mounted pickup as indicated by the existing mounting holes.2  Chuck Porter, Director of Operations at the Rock 'N Soul museum, questioned the Hollenbecks about the floating pickup and was told that it was there at one time but was "lost" during it's use by the Hollenbeck's son.  It is to be auctioned in Dallas by Heritage Auctions on October 6, 2006.

Photos courtesy Heritage Auctions

The Pearloid guards can sometimes almost be used like finger prints since their patterns are random and somewhat unique.  When comparing the pictures of this guard with as good a quality of images that we have of Elvis' there are enough similarities in the highlights to almost suggest (unofficially) that the guitars are one and the same.  If they are in fact the same and Elvis gave away two guitars autographed as Lamar recollects then its likely there must have been a third guitar, this one, with him that returned to the US with either his father or grandmother.  This, naturally, is pure speculation though.


The Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa, FL has a Framus similar in design to the Isana guitar that Elvis had in Germany.  It is inscribed "To the March of Dimes, Thanks from Elvis Presley -1958".   It is not known if this is one he had in Germany or if he ever actually owned it.

Framus guitar on display at the HRC in Tampa
Photo courtesy Doug Ferich

autograph on guitar on display at the HRC in Tampa
Photo courtesy Doug Ferich

*courtesy Marty Lacker

1 courtesy TerryM

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