The Performance Guitars of Elvis
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
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
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
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 elvisconcerts.com who over the years has
chronologically presented many of these photos online (several borrowed
for illustration purposes here).
James V. Roy
click on each for details