1974 Gibson J-200
Jim Curtin's gift to Elvis

Charlie Hodge and Elvis holding the 74 J-200 from Curtin in Las Vegas Sep. 2, 1974
Photo courtesy FECC/Ben

In the early ‘70s, after spending his adolescence fanatically collecting virtually every Presley recording, foreign and domestic, Curtin, by then in his early 20s, decided he had to meet Elvis. He knew he needed a special plan, so he saved every cent he could from his job in a grocery store, and ordered a $2,000 custom-made Gibson guitar, which had "Elvis Presley" and two crowns inscribed on the fretboard.1

Charlie Hodge and Elvis holding 74 J-200 from Curtin in Las Vegas Sep. 2, 1974
Photo courtesy FECC

Then he bought two plane tickets to Las Vegas, one for him and one for the guitar. After spending a week in Las Vegas and attending all of Presley’s shows at the Hilton (often paying the maitre d’ up to $200 for a front row seat), Curtin managed to track down Vernon Presley, Elvis’s father, in one of the casinos and begged him for an opportunity to meet the King.1

Charlie Hodge and Elvis holding 74 J-200 from Curtin in Las Vegas Sep. 2, 1974
Photo courtesy FECC

At 5 a.m. one morning Curtin was summoned by the elder Presley to Elvis’s hotel room. There Curtin met Presley, reverentially told him how much he loved him, and presented him with the guitar.1

autographed photo of Jim Curtin with the custom J-200 he had made for him - 1974
Photo courtesy eBay

According to Jim, After seeing Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii in 1973, I decided I had to meet him. But how? The closest thing to Elvis is his music, so I designed a custom guitar and commissioned the Gibson Corporation to build it—a black acoustic instrument with Elvis' name on the finger board and two crowns inlaid in mother of pearl. With the case it cost $2,000 and took almost a year to make. Gibson shipped it to me in June 1974, a few days late to try to get it to him during his Philadelphia tour.2

More autographed photos of Jim with the custom J200 made for Elvis - 1974
Photo courtesy FECC/PEP

So I set my sights on Las Vegas, three months away. At the time, I was working at a supermarket in South Philadelphia, making $122 a week. I saved every nickel for a year to put together the money for my scheme to meet Elvis. When I flew to Vegas, I was afraid to put the guitar in luggage, so I bought another seat for the guitar. Once I got out there, I managed to meet Vernon Presley at the Hilton, by the dollar one-armed bandits. I explained that I had this $2,000 guitar that I wanted to give to Elvis. He said, "I’ll see what I can do." I saw 29 shows in Las Vegas, paying $150 per show to sit right up front so I could shake his hand. It was worth it, though. I got 32 handshakes.2

Front and rear headstock of a 1974 J200 and  the "custom" truss cover that is on Elvis'
Photos courtesy Gbase

Aside from the custom pickguard and fretboard, the J-200 Jim had Gibson build is a standard Norlin era (1969 - 1985) J-200 finished in ebony, like several of Elvis' other Gibsons (see Elvis' 68 J-200). 

1974 and 1981 Gibson J-200 bridges and then the inlay style on the Elvis model
Photos courtesy Gbase and Gibson

In the seventies, the bridges on most of Gibson's acoustics were standardized with a wide tapered and flared solid rosewood (or ebony) design and the adjustable saddles introduced in the early '60s were done away with. The only distinguishing feature between the bridges on the models was the pattern of the pearl inlay. On the J-200 the moustache bridge was replaced with the new design, as was Elvis' 74 Dove for example.  The types as used on Elvis' 74 J200, aside from the inlay, were used on Gibsons at least as late as 1981.

Gibson Limited edition "King of Rock" J-200
Photos © Gibson

In 1996, Gibson partnered with EPE to produce two limited edition Elvis Presley signature models, a total of 250 each over the next several years.  One was based on the 1956 J-200 that Elvis had owned since 1956 and that Scotty had modified on his return to the Army.  The other was called "The King of Rock" model and was based on the one Jim had built for Elvis.

Many of the remaining guitars from Elvis' collection at Graceland, Curtin's 3rd from the top on right
Photo © EPE, Inc.

Unfortunately photos Jim had taken when he met Elvis failed to develop but Elvis publicly thanked him for the guitar onstage the next night.  Jim himself went on to become a "super" fan and collector and would return to future shows with more gifts. Overtime he accumulated a massive collection of Elvis memorabilia, including records, autographs, photos, programs etc....  In recent years he sold much of it at auction and, sadly, passed away in June of 2011.  The guitar he had made for Elvis and presented to him in 1974 is, to this day, still part of the collection at Graceland.

Page added July 3, 2011

1 excerpt from For the Love of Elvis: The Jim "E" Curtin Story by Mike Walsh, Philadelphia City Paper, June 1991
2 quote by Jim Curtin from his book "Candids of the King"

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