The Auction at Graceland•January 7, 2016
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 1/7/2016

There are famous guitars that have become as legendary as their musician owners. While the talents of the musician may bring the guitar to life, certain guitars have evolved to take on a life of their own.  Eric Clapton’s customised Fender, “Blackie" strummed such memorable hits as "Lay Down Sally," "Wonderful Tonight," "Cocaine" and "I Shot the Sheriff"; “Lenny,” the Fender Stratocaster that Stevie Ray Vaughn fondly referred to as his first wife; and of course “Lucy," which was the guitar gifted to George Harrison of The Beatles from Eric Clapton, and on which he recorded "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." A prestigious handful of guitars have risen to this level of fame, becoming celebrities in their own right. 

John Lennon, whose own guitar just sold for over $2.4 million, was famously quoted as proclaiming, “Before Elvis, There Was Nothing.”   And Elvis Presley’s 1969 Custom Gibson Ebony Dove guitar is certainly one of the most culturally significant and celebrated guitars in all of music history.  Elvis wielded this iconic instrument in dozens and dozens of concerts from November 1971 until September 1973 and then again in July of 1975, before famously handing it to a fan in the front row one night in Asheville, North Carolina. The Ebony Dove was the most photographed and widely seen of any of Elvis’ guitars as he played it during the January 1973 Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite concert broadcast. This very guitar made it into the homes of nearly a billion fans around the world via television that fateful night and became the iconic and visual centerpiece to one of Elvis' most triumphant moments on stage. It is surely one of the most-used guitars by Elvis on stage in the 1970s, and in addition to Aloha from Hawaii, he can be seen donning it in the documentary concert film Elvis on Tour, as well.

There is no more important icon of rock 'n’ roll history than Elvis’ beloved Gibson Ebony Dove. The Dove is a flattop steel string acoustic guitar with solid maple back and sides, and a solid spruce top.  The double-ring rosette styling with seven and three-ply binding adds an understated elegance. The black pick guard has a white beveled edge and the adjustable rosewood saddle with mother-of-pearl circles and stylized dove shaped emblems. The rosewood fret board with rolled edges, split parallelogram inlay is also inlaid in mother-of-pearl with the script “Elvis Presley.”  The crown peghead Gibson logo, also fondly referred to as the thistle, adorns the headstock of the guitar, and a Kenpo Karate decal is affixed to the body. The Kenpo Karate Association of America decal dominates the front of the guitar. It is the hallmark of the organization founded by Elvis' longtime instructor, bodyguard and confidante Ed Parker.

Based on the serial number 539461, Gibson produced the guitar near the end of 1969. According to Charlie Lawing, who in the early 1970s worked at Guitar City across the street from Graceland, Vernon Presley came into the store and wanted to buy a nice guitar for his son. The new black finish was eventually applied by the staff at Guitar City, which included Tim Keckler and Charlie, and Charlie recalls Vernon choosing the ebony color as a reference to Elvis attaining his black belt in karate. Before the color was changed, though, the guitar was sent to have the mother-of-pearl inlays on the fretboard done by guitar craftsman Randy Wood at Gruhn Guitars of Nashville. Wood recalls the guitar not yet having the black finish done when he performed his work, so it is likely this step was done after the fretboard work, when the guitar was returned to Guitar City. There is an Elvis Presley Payroll & Expense Fund check, cataloged in the Graceland Archives, which is dated September 9, 1971, is made out to Mike Ladd's Guitar City and is signed by Vernon Presley—in the memo field are written the words "Gibson Dove."

While the offered guitar was a regular stage companion for Elvis from 1971 to 1973, in 1974, he had started regularly using another Gibson acoustic guitar on stage--his J-200. He would favor that guitar in 1974 and into the middle of 1975. But after famously throwing the J200 into the crowd during a show in 1975, Elvis once again returned to his old, faithful Ebony Dove—but not for long…

On July 24, 1975, during the last show of a three-night tour in Asheville, North Carolina, Elvis handed this Ebony Dove, (serial #539461), the guitar he played during Aloha from Hawaii and countless other concerts before and after, directly from the stage to our consignor, who was sitting front row center. This gesture is well documented and known among advanced Elvis collectors and Elvis historians alike—our consignor has been interviewed by various media over the years. As he recalls, Elvis was barely into "See See Rider," the first song, when his wife told him, "Elvis keeps looking at you." Elvis then pointed at him, called him to the stage and handed him the guitar. Feeling especially generous that evening, Elvis proceeded to give another gentleman a ring and brought a woman on stage and gave her a ring, as well. Two songs later, Elvis came to the edge of the stage and bent down. He once again pointed at our consignor, who feared it was time to give the guitar back. With Charlie Hodge holding his collar, Elvis said, "You keep the guitar. I gave it to you for a reason. Someday it will help you out." Our consignor spent the rest of the show nervously clutching the guitar between his legs, as can be seen in the news photo shown here. He was granted a police escort out of the concert and made it home safely with one of the greatest concert souvenirs of all time. This treasured symbol of musical legend has been safely tucked away in a bank vault from that memorable day in 1975 until now, making the occassional appearance at a family get together or media interview.

Rarely is such a prodigious asset of rock 'n’ roll grandeur made available at public auction. Most instruments of this caliber remain in artists' estates or move directly into the hallowed halls of various museums and institutions. But on the rare occasion when guitars close to this magnitude are offered for sale, the results are significant. Some of the more noteworthy examples include:

  • Reach Out To Asia Fender Stratocaster, which was auctioned for charity in 2005 in Qatar to raise funds for the tsunami victims.  The guitar was signed by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Mark Knopfler, Ray Davies, Liam Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, Tony Lomni, Angus Young, Malcolm Young, Paul McCartney, Sting, Ritchie Blackmore, Def Leppard and Bryan Adams. The guitar fetched approximately $2.7 million.
  • John Lennon’s Gibson J-160E Acoustic Guitar sold for $2.4 million.
  • Jimi Hendrix 1968 Stratocaster from his performance at Woodstock in 1969 reportedly sold privately for $2 million to Paul Allen of Microsoft in 1998.
  • Eric Clapton’s customized Fender Stratocaster “Blackie” sold in 2004 for approximately $959,500.
  • Eric Clapton’s C.F. Martin & Co. guitar, circa 1939, sold for approximately $791,500.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughn’s 1965 Fender Composite Stratocaster “Lenny” sold for approximately $623,500.
  • George Harrison's 1964 Gibson SG (also played by John Lennon in the studio) sold for approximately $570,000.

To own an artifact such as Elvis Presley's 1969 Custom Gibson Ebony Dove is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For our consignor, that moment was in July of 1975. For you, that moment is now. A guitar of this significance rarely comes to market because legendary instruments like these are revered and cherished and often considered to be extensions of the musicians themselves. This Ebony Dove was beloved by Elvis and is at the forefront of one of the greatest moments in music and television history when the king of rock n’ roll serenaded the world via satellite in 1973--live from Honolulu, Hawaii.

The guitar show heavy stage use, with many scratches and scuffing on the reverse from Elvis' belts and jumpsuits. The finish shows a small fissure above the karate sticker, and there are several spots of paint loss at the guitar's front edges. While the fret board shows visible signs of playing use, the mother-of-pearl inlays remain bold and the ornate details are intact. EX condition overall.
Elvis Presley Stage-Used Guitar from January 14, 1973 <em>Aloha from Hawaii</em> Concert – Given to Fan in the Front Row on July 24, 1975 in Asheville, North Carolina
This lot has a Reserve Price that has not been met.
Current Bidding (Reserve Not Met)
Minimum Bid: $150,000.00
Final prices include buyers premium.:
Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000
Number Bids: 10
Auction closed on Thursday, January 7, 2016.
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