Elvis Presley’s Gibson Ebony Dove Fails to Sell

Elvis Presley’s Gibson Ebony Dove, The King’s most heavily played stage guitar, failed to fetch the reserve price of $300,000 at auction last night. The heavily modified steel-string flattop was a gift from Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father.

Elvis' Gibson Ebony Dove

Elvis' Gibson Ebony Dove

“Auctions are the last bastion of free market capitalism,” said Jeff Marren, consignment director at Graceland Auctions, adding that he was disappointed and that in such a case, unsold auction items are returned to the seller.

Very few instruments can be associated with Elvis Presley on such a consistent basis as the Ebony Dove, Marren explained. “For as much as he was a public figure, there’s a weird idiosyncrasy to his life in the ‘70s,” Marren said. “There wasn’t a ton of film or photography done at a professional level. There are a lot of things he may have used or touched, but there is very little record of it.”

Prior to the auction, the value of the guitar was estimated at between $300,000 and $500,000. Marren described the guitar as a significant item with rock-solid provenance. Elvis notably played the guitar on the “Aloha from Hawaii” concert, which was televised worldwide on January 14, 1973, and in the documentary concert film “Elvis on Tour Carolina.”

Built for The King

Vernon Presley bought the Ebony Dove from Guitar City, the store across the street from Graceland as a present to his son when Elvis earned his black belt from the Kenpo Karate Association of America, which was founded by Ed Parker, Elvis' bodyguard and Karate instructor.

Custom Inlaid Fretboard

Custom Inlaid Fretboard

Vernon had the guitar, which features a solid spruce top, maple back and sides, and three-ply binding, painted jet black, and then sent the guitar to Randy Wood at Gruhn Guitars of Nashville for the fretboard inlays. An Elvis Presley Payroll & Expense Fund check, cataloged in the Graceland Archives and dated September 9, 1971, is made out to Mike Ladd’s Guitar City and is signed by Vernon Presley. The memo field reads “Gibson Dove.”

Marren said the guitar was played a lot and has some distinctive scratching on the back. “We assume it’s from Elvis’ outfits, with the rhinestones and metal that would have been on his belt,” Marren said.

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During a show in July of ‘75 in Asheville, NC, during the first song, Elvis walked over to the front row and handed the Ebony Dove to a man in the front row.

“We have photos of the guy holding it later in the show,” Marren says. “He looks terrified! Later in the show, Elvis walks over to the guy, who thinks he’s going to have to give the guitar back. Elvis leans down and says: ‘That’s yours. I gave you that guitar for a reason. Maybe it will help you out someday.'” Since then the guitar has been stored in a bank vault and shown just a few times at family events.

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