How A $6.95 Guitar Changed Music History Forever

Kings of the old world were known to adorn themselves in lavish garb and illustrious trinkets. Cloaks, crowns, tunics, scepters ... talk about a regal sense of fashion. However, not all kings carry scepters. In the case of the eternally reigning King of Rock 'n' Roll – Elvis Aaron Presley – his scepter was a guitar.

Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935 (contrary to popular belief, he was not actually from Memphis, Tennessee). He grew up the only child of Gladys and Vernon Presley, and despite having limited wealth, the family was, by and large, a happy unit (via Biography). As a country boy, the young Elvis had a keen adoration of ragtag hobbies and adventurous past times, so when he requested a rifle for his 11th birthday, you can imagine his disappointment when his parents told him no. Nonetheless, the gift he did receive may have been the exact item that changed his life and, in the spectrum of things, music history in its entirety (per History). 

Elvis received a guitar for his 11th birthday

According to Elvis himself, Gladys was something of a hyper-protective parent, so it's no surprise that she was reluctant to arm her baby boy with a deadly weapon. "She never let me out of her sight," he once shared. Instead, Gladys took her son to a local general store to pick out a different item for his 11th birthday — ideally one that didn't carry the harrowing risk of death. While traversing the isles of the Tupelo Hardware Store on January 8, 1946, Elvis spotted a guitar on one of the shelves (via History).

Though he'd never played an instrument before, the little wooden apparatus seemed to capture his appeal in a mysterious way. The guitar, modestly priced at $6.95, ended up going home with Elvis Presley that day. It almost seems serendipitous in hindsight because, as you probably already know, Elvis would go on to build an unprecedented legacy whose influence and austerity remain eternal (per History). 

The crowning of a king

Elvis Presley's first No. 1 hit "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1955 shattered the mold of propriety and conventionalism that predominated music up until that point. Its rugged, bluesy prowess and confident ferocity kept a magnitude of class at its core, offering listeners something that they'd never heard before. Along with the likes of blues and rock legend Chuck Berry, Elvis gave birth to a new era of sound that had women melting into the floors of concert halls and men slicking their hair back like greasers in a high-end body shop. It was nothing short of a full-blown revolution (per Biography).

Throughout the course of his career, Presley opted for a more refined approach to instrumentation, more often than not appearing on stage Gibson or Martin guitars (via Graceland). However, he never forgot the place where it all started or the cheap little six-string that was the catalyst behind it all. 

Later years, acting career, and death

Moving forward, Elvis Presley's reign of prosperity and affluence in the world of music would define a major part of the twentieth century. He even had an acting career, appearing in 31 motion pictures during his life as a star (per IMDb). However, not all kings have a graceful end to their story; not even the King of Graceland himself. Like many others who become enraptured by the majesty and enchantment of stardom, Elvis Presley started abusing drugs and alcohol to an alarming degree of over-indulgence (per Britannica). 

By then, Presley was spending most of his time on stages in Las Vegas — a city that only compounded his fast-paced life of decadence. In 1977, the King of Rock n' Roll was found dead in his home from a massive heart attack, likely brought on by a large number of drugs in his system. He was 42 years old (via Britannica).