When you think Elvis Presley, you think gyrating hips, flashy clothes and the King of Rock and Roll. From meek beginnings in Tupelo, Mississippi to his massive Graceland estate in Nashville, Tennessee, the hip shaking, guitar toting, musical sensation has entertained countless fans worldwide. And as legendary as Presley himself, the humble Gibson J-45 was born without privilege but quickly became musical royalty. The J-45 was often seen by Presley’s side in multiple performances and has been the go to acoustic for numerous artists throughout music history. The guitar is still one of Gibson’s best-selling guitars to date and can fetch a price tag upwards of $5,000.
Dubbed “The Workhorse,” the Gibson J-45 was first introduced in 1942 despite mounting war efforts for World War II. Government imposed rations forced Gibson to rethink how the guitars were made while maintaining a low price tag. With 90% of the company’s work force dedicated to war time projects, Gibson’s few available workers designed a guitar that was stylish but not flashy with a great sound at an affordable price. The group created a guitar that used up to four pieces of the then rare spruce for the guitar’s top and used a sunburst finish to hide any flaws in the wood. The model earned its name from the price tag set at $45.
Despite the guitar’s meager beginnings, the J-45 has been praised for its full and balanced sound and has been the acoustic of choice for many big name musicians. John Lennon first learned the fingerstyle/draw-hammer technique from Scottish singer Donovan Leitch on a J-45 which later inspired multiple songs on the famous White Album. Donovan had a cherry sunburst J-45 which was unfortunately stolen from a concert hall in the 1970s. Bob Dylan also used a 45 in his early albums and later returned to using it as his acoustic of choice in the mid-90s. Buddy Holly also used the 45 to record famed songs such as “Everyday,” “Send Me Some Loving,” and “It’s Too Late.”
Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935. Born to Vernon and Gladys Presley, he came into the world as a poor man with few resources. As a result of the family’s impoverished position, the family often moved for work landing them in Memphis, Tennessee in 1948. Presley’s mother was deeply religious and Presley found himself inspired by the hymns and gospels sung at the family’s church. He was also inspired by the R&B tunes he often heard along the historic Beale Street in Memphis.
When Elvis was 11, his mother gifted him his first guitar for his birthday. A few years later Presley used his talent to win a talent show at his school, Humes High School. His professional career began in 1954 when he recorded his first album under the label soon to be called Sun Records. The following year his contract was sold to RCA and by 1956 he was a worldwide star. His illustrious career included 33 successful films, numerous television appearances, over one billion records sold, gold, platinum, and multi-platinum awards, and 14 Grammy nominations of which 3 were won. He was the first to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was later inducted into the Country Music Hall of fame in 1998 and the Gospel Music Association’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame three years later.
While it’s true that Presley used many guitars throughout his career, the J-45 was prevalent throughout his career. He was often seen playing the iconic guitar in movies like Loving You, King Creole, G.I. Blues, and Blue Hawaii, and although he played a Martin 0-17 and a Harmony H165 in Girls! Girls! Girls! he’s seen playing a Gibson J-45 in the movie’s promotional materials. Fun Fact: The Hawaiian steel guitar seen in Blue Hawaii is actually just a Gibson J-45 with the pickguard covered in aluminum.
Both guitar and artist came from humble beginnings, but both Presley and the J-45 have found their place in rock and roll history. Born out of the hardships of wartime resource scarcity, the Gibson J-45 managed to work its way into the hands of an underprivileged young man from Mississippi who later went on to have the world at his fingertips. Now one of the Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitars, the 45 and Elvis seem to be a perfect match. Not bad for a $45 guitar right?
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Tags: celebrity guitars, elvis presley, gibson, j-45, acoustic