Elvis' 1969 Ebony Custom Gibson Dove
Elvis in concert Boston, MA November 10, 1971
Photo© courtesy Eter Silvester
From November 5, 1971
through September 3rd, 1973 Elvis performed in concert on tour and in
Las Vegas with this customized Gibson Dove with an Ebony finish,
numbered 539461. This was one of the most photographed and well known
guitars in his performing career due mostly to the use of it on the January
worldwide broadcast via satellite "Aloha from Hawaii".
a replica of Elvis' Ebony Dove on display and the rear of a '70s
The guitar featured gold keystone tuners, a black 2 ply traditional Dove shaped
pickguard attached by screws, a rosewood bridge with dove pearl inlay and
adjustable saddle, a kenpo karate decal on the
body and Elvis' name inlaid in script on the rosewood fret board.
The Mother-of-Pearl inlay was done at Gruhn
Guitars in Nashville in 1970. According to George Gruhn "Gibson
ordered the inlay work from us because they didn't have anyone to do
this type work. They sent us a blank fingerboard and my repairman Randy
Wood did the inlay. We never saw the finished guitar."
Script Mother-of-Pearl inlay
Photo © courtesy Mike Harris
Like other Dove models
the guitar has a maple back and sides with a solid spruce
top. Originally introduced with a Mahogany neck by the 70's
they were Maple. The most common ones were normally finished in Cherry with a natural top,
they also offered sunburst, Cherry sunburst and Ebony.
When introduced in 1962 the Dove model featured a sculptured Rosewood
bridge with adjustable saddles like a tune-a-matic.
By 1969 the Dove featured an
adjustable rosewood saddle and some pickguards attached with screws (often covered
with pearl dots, like Elvis'). An adjustable saddle can be raised or lowered via screws
to adjust string height but on acoustics provide very poor contact
and coupling. In
1970 they went to a non-adjustable bridge saddle and through the '80s
a more sleeker sculptured shape. By the '90s they returned to the
original full shape but with a non-adjustable bone saddle.
Evolution of the Dove bridges
Elvis in concert Atlanta, GA June 29, 1973
Photo© courtesy Eter Silvester from Vienna
During a show in Little Rock, AR on April 17, 1972, one
night before the last show of a tour a member of the audience there that
night recalls Elvis fumbling with his "guitar at the end of 'See
See Rider' and it fell and broke off at the joint of the body/neck and
he just kicked it off the stage saying I really didn't mean to break
my guitar........."* He evidently had it repaired by
the beginning of the next tour in June. Elvis retired this guitar after his last performance of 1973,
on September 3rd, and in 1974
began using an Ebony finished J200. He began using the Dove again in
the middle of a tour in July of 1975 after tossing away the
J200 during a show in Springfield, MA. He used it for the remainder
of the tour, less than 2 weeks.
Elvis in concert
Asheville, NC July 24,1975
Photo© courtesy Jeff Parris
On July 24, 1975, the end of a tour and the last of 3 nights
Asheville, NC, Elvis gave this guitar away to a
member of the audience in the front row. John Boyle, senior writer for the
Citizen-Times interviewed Mike Harris of Ashville and
his wife in an article published August of 2002. He wrote the king was barely into
"C.C. Rider" when he walked over to Harris and changed his life.
"I said, `Mike, Elvis keeps looking at you,'" said Harris' wife of 25 years, Debbie, who was sitting next to Harris at the show. "That's about the time he bent down and tossed him the guitar. He told him, `Hold
on to that. Hopefully, it'll be valuable one day.'"
Much of the night is a blur to Harris, but he still clearly remembers the exchange.
"He struck a couple of licks on it, and then he just came to the edge of the stage and held it out by the neck," Harris recalled. "He said, `This is yours.'"
Mike Harris and Elvis' Dove #539461
Photo © courtesy Mike Harris
As of this date it is still owned by Mike Harris and he
keeps it stored in a bank vault. The article says that in the past
he has rejected offers of up to $200,000.00 for the guitar.
The Gibson company in association with
currently offers a production signature series based on this guitar
called the Elvis
Dove Model, though its not quite an exact replica (obviously).
Elvis Dove Model
Photo © courtesy Gibson
*this according to Frankie
Rider II of Locust Grove, AR. However, Elvis is pictured using
this guitar in concert the following night on August 18th in San
Antonio, TX which would suggest that either the event did not happen, it
wasn't this guitar or the damage was not as severe.
Auction Photos courtesy Mike Harris
Mike Harris put his guitar up
for auction on eBay but it closed at just over $85,000 failing to meet the reserve on Sept 2, 2008.
He is considering re-listing it at a later date with a heavily revised
description and advanced advertisement. Some bidders I'm told
questioned the authenticity of the instrument that was up for bidding.
However, that guitar is in fact the one given to him by Elvis on July 24,
1975 and owned and used by Elvis as described here and in the
auction. We will announce the auction in advance here also (as a
courtesy to Mike and interested fans) when we
James V. Roy
September 2, 2008
Mike Harris in the audience with 69 Gibson Dove, gifted
from Elvis in Concert in Asheville, NC - July 24, 1975
Photos courtesy Graceland
In January of 2016 the guitar, at least once again, went
up for auction, this time through the auctions
at Graceland. The guitar did not sell however, failing to meet
the reserve of $300K*. The pictures that accompanied it though seem
to be some of the best available to date revealing some previously
unknown, to me at least, details.
The inlay on Mike Harris' 69 Gibson Dove, gifted from Elvis
Photos © Graceland
The inlay on the fretboard bearing Elvis' name is far more
intricate when viewed close up, almost simulating a scrimshaw pattern in
the pearl inlay.
The headstock and tuners on Mike Harris' 69 Gibson Dove,
gifted from Elvis
Photos © Graceland
Apparently the guitar was initially a factory 2nd, denoted
by the '2' stamp below the serial number on the rear of the head stock,
and was equipped with Kluson waffle-back tuners.
Mike Harris' 69 Gibson Dove, gifted from Elvis
Photos © Graceland
Only the spruce top and headstock face was painted ebony
black while the neck, sides and body were finished in a walnut stain as
used on several Gibsons of that era.
updated June 12, 2017
* In May of 2016 The guitar was auctioned by Juliens in New York finally selling for $334K.