Elvis Presley’s “Sun Sessions” 1942 Martin D-18 guitar fetches $1.32 million at auction
Elvis Presley’s 1942 Martin D-18 guitar sold at auction this week for $1.32 million, becoming just the tenth guitar in history to sell for more than $1.0 million and the sixth guitar to sell for more than $1.0 million in the last 14 months. Clearly, the music memorabilia marketplace is red hot right now.
While the pandemic may have decreased the turnover of items going to auction, it is clearly not restricting the prices being paid for important music memorabilia, with an on-line auction at gottahaverockandroll.com this week seeing multiple records broken. The most significant was Elvis Presley’s 1942 Martin D-18 guitar, which he owned from 1954 to 1956.
The guitar was on display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, until very recently, and is often referred to as The Sun Sessions guitar. This was the period that Elvis recorded at the Sun Studios in Memphis, putting down classics such as Mystery Train, Blue Moon of Kentucky and Good Rockin' Tonight and That's All Right (Mama), the song many believe to be the first Rock and Roll record.
In 2002, the compilation album known as The Sun Sessions was chosen by the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress to be included in its archives because of its importance to the development of American popular music. The album was ranked number 11 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll" included two tracks from the album: Mystery Train and That's All Right
In addition to playing a key role in the history of rock and roll, this guitar was also used regularly on stage by Elvis during this period. It was purchased by Elvis at O.K. Houck's Piano Store in Memphis, with part of the price being made up by trading in his Martin 000-18 model.
Elvis was at the very beginning of his career at the time he used this guitar, and he decorated the body of the guitar with stick-on metal lettering spelling out "ELVIS." Only the first four letters of the name remain to this day, which isn’t surprising given the extensive wear and tear evident to the guitar.
The guitar was sold by gottahaverockandroll.com with extensive documentation, including a photocopy of the receipt from O.K. Houck Piano and photocopies of correspondence from the curator of the Country Music Hall of Fame to a historical note about the guitar.
This guitar was also featured in the "Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from April to October, 2019.
This is the second guitar in the top 10 most valuable guitars of all time that has been sold by gottahaverockandroll.com, which also sold the 1957 Gibson Les Paul used by Duane Allman to record, along with Eric Clapton, the rock anthem Layla. That guitar was also used by Allman in many appearances with the Allman Brothers Band, Derek and the Dominoes, the Layla Sessions, and the albums The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South. It sold for $1.25 million at the same gottahaverockandroll.com auction last year.
Other guitars to sell for more than US$1.0 million, are:
- Kurt Cobain’s 'MTV Unplugged' 1959 Martin D-18E ($6,000,010 on 19 June 2020);
- Dave Gilmour's 'Black Strat' used on many Pink Floyd albums ($3,975,000 on 20 June 2019);
- John Lennon's 1962 Gibson J-160E used in prolific Lennon/McCartney songwriting ($2,902,000 on 7 November 2015);
- Reach out to Asia 2005 Fender Stratocaster Charity Auction guitar signed by all the living Guitar Gods ($2,700,000 on 16 November 2005);
- Jerry Garcia's 1973 Doug Irwin "Wolf" Custom used in numerous famous Grateful Dead tracks ($1,900,000 on 31 May 2017);
- Dave Gilmour's 1954 Fender Stratocaster #0001 used on Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall ($1,815,000 on 20 June 2019);
- the abovementioned 1942 Martin D-18 used by Elvis Presley;
- the abovementioned 1957 Gibson Les Paul used by Duane Allman;
- John Lennon's 1964 Rickenbacker Model 1996 ($1,102,000 on 3 December 2015);
- Dave Gilmour's 1969 C.F. Martin D-35 ($1,095,000 on 20 June 2019).