The Performance Guitars of Elvis Presley

Elvis in concert Los Angeles, CA - November 14, 1970

The subject often comes up as to how well a guitar player Elvis actually was.  Scotty Moore often says that Elvis was not really an accomplished musician but that he had an uncanny and amazing sense of timing and rhythm.  At the very beginning of their performing careers Elvis' accompaniment on guitar was a big part of the sound but in most cases on tour they considered themselves lucky if there was a mic for Bill's bass let alone one for Elvis' guitar.  Scotty said that about the time that Elvis started to learn to move on stage to work the audience is when the guitar became more of a prop.  Ability aside though, it would be impossible to gauge the impact the image alone had of Elvis on TV and stage with a guitar and how many people were inspired to pick up a guitar and learn to play.

He was definitely not easy on his instruments with a very aggressive strumming style and would break strings constantly.  Perhaps the lack of a microphone on his guitar most of the time contributed to the development of his aggressive style in attempt to be heard.  Robert Dye who photographed him at the Overton Shell on August 5th 1955 recalled one performer loaning him his guitar after Elvis couldn't find his in time to go on and was pretty agitated after Elvis returned it with two strings broken.  In the later years of his performing career he appeared to have even less respect for the instrument and part of the show involved him doing a theatrical windup at the end of a number and tossing the guitar to Charlie Hodge.  Most times Charlie caught it, but not always.  Add to the fact the large belt buckles and jewelry he wore no doubt scratched the finish on instruments quite a bit.

Elvis tossing the guitar to Charlie Hodge, Ft. Wayne, IN - October 25, 1976
Photo© courtesy Antonio Baeza

Glen D. Hardin, who played piano for Elvis with the TCB band, told me he remembers one time Elvis while rehearsing in Las Vegas contemplating whether to kick a guitar face down or face up to damage it the least.  He then drop kicked it into the seats where it broke but was later repaired and used again for performing.  He couldn't recall whether Elvis kicked it face up or down. 

Its beyond the scope of this section to talk about all the guitars that Elvis owned, played, was photographed with, was given, gave away or even the ones remaining in the collection at Graceland.  There were many, in fact the movie guitars alone could almost constitute a section by itself.   Rather, in this section, its my objective to identify, catalog and define only his guitars that he performed with regularly on stage (with the exception of two that were borrowed and heavily photographed).  When and where possible I've identified the actual instrument, when it was used, as much of its history as is known and its disposition.  In no way would this have been possible, especially during the TCB band years, without the countless and detailed photos taken by fans and photographers like Keith Alverson, Bob Heis, Eter Sylvester and others and the undertaking of Francesc Lopez at who over the years has collected and chronologically presented many of these photos online (several borrowed for illustration purposes here).

James V. Roy
December, 2004

click on each for details

 The Guitars
Martin 000-18
used: 8~10/54 - 11~12/54 (approximate)
1942 Martin D-18
Ser. # 80221
used: 11~12/54 - 6/55 (approximate)
1955 Martin D-28
used: 6/55 - 10/56 (approximate)
1956 Gibson  J200
Ser. # A-22937
used: 10/56 - 11/70 (possibly as late as 9/71)
1960 Gibson J200  
Ser. # A-32944
used: 3/60 - 6/68
wpeA.jpg (20497 bytes) 1968 Hagstrom Viking II
borrowed: 6/68
1963 Gibson Super 400 
Ser. # 62713
borrowed: 6/68
cg.jpg (22738 bytes) 1964 Gretsch Country Gentleman
Ser. # 80736

used: 2/70 - 3/70 (at least)
1969 Gibson Ebony Dove
Ser. # 539461
used: 11/71 - 9/73  
(at least as late as 7/73 and briefly in 7/75)
1968 Gibson Ebony J200
Ser. # 618195
used: 3/74 - 7/75
wpe2.jpg (16040 bytes) 1970s Gibson Dove Custom
used: 8/75 - 4/76
1974 Guild F50
Ser. # 96648

used: 5/76 - 9/76
1976 Martin D35
Ser. # 377704
used: 10/76 - 2/77
1975 Martin D28
used: 2/77 - 6/77

Misc. and other guitars
wpeC.jpg (21498 bytes) The Kenpo Karate Decal (Ed Parker patch) Tupelo Hardware Store Guitar
used: 7/54 - 8/54 (?)

1950s German Isana guitar
owned 1958-1960 (approximate)

1975 Martin D28
Ser. # 361827
used: 12/12/76 (?)
1967 Wildwood VI
The Clambake Guitar

1972 Fender J Bass
Ser. # 375557

1974 Gibson J200
Jim Curtin's gift to Elvis
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