Many people believe that Elvis Presley simply used the guitar as a prop, making them wonder if he was actually a good guitar player. Let alone if he could really play the guitar at all.
In this article, we answer whether Elvis Presley could play the guitar or not. We’ll also explore his early experiences in learning the instrument, as well as how people started to wonder if he just used the guitar as a prop.
Could Elvis Presley play guitar? Elvis Presley was not a guitar genius by any means, but he can play well enough to accompany him in his singing. Presley can play chords and a few riffs. He also had great timing and a sense of rhythm. Elvis Presley started to play the guitar at 11 years old.
How well could Elvis Presley play the guitar?
Elvis Presley playing the guitar live at the ’68 Comeback Special
Scotty Moore, his lead guitarist in his early career, said that Elvis Presley had a fantastic sense of timing and rhythm. Country singer Johnny Cash also said that Presley’s skills as a rhythm guitarist were underrated.
Elvis’ guitar accompaniment hugely contributed to his sound in his early years of performing. But as he propelled more into stardom, it became rare when Elvis’ guitar had a mic.
Scotty Moore said that Elvis began using the guitar more as a “prop” when learning to move on stage and engage the audience. After all, he really didn’t need to pick up the guitar because he was backed by one of the best musicians.
Although Elvis Presley wasn’t an excellent technical player, he was still one of the most influential guitarists of all time. His rock and roll image of always having a guitar in his hand had inspired fans to pick up a guitar to learn how to play.
That said, if it wasn’t for Elvis and his guitar, we probably wouldn’t have The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and many other rock artists.
How did Elvis Presley learn to play the guitar?
Elvis Presley learned to play the guitar after getting his first guitar for his 11th birthday. He was taught by a few people, but he practiced mainly by himself. His friends and classmates recall him always playing the guitar back in the day.
Elvis didn’t really want a guitar for his birthday. He originally wanted a bicycle, but his mother was worried about him. After all, the guitar is a lot cheaper. It’s also safer than being on a bike that risks being run over, which his mother was worried about at the time.
“Son, wouldn’t you rather have the guitar? It would help you with your singing, and everyone does enjoy hearing you sing.” – Gladys Presley
After getting the guitar, he began to obsess about music. His past schoolmates would say music was all Elvis talked about. He was also eager about learning even just a few chords from anyone who could teach him.
He also bought a book on how to place the fingers when playing the guitar. His neighbor, Pastor Frank Smith, would teach him some chords from his book whenever Smith came over to his house.
Elvis was always on his guitar, and some bullies looked at him with a distaste for that. In 7th grade, Elvis started taking his guitar to school every day. At the time, classmates would tease him for playing “hillbilly” music.
In 8th grade, some kids took his guitar and cut the strings. The good thing is that some of his classmates chipped in and bought him another set. This happened the year Elvis and his family moved to Memphis.
Who taught Elvis Presley to play the guitar?
His most influential guitar teacher was pastor Frank Smith who was married to their neighbor Corene Randle. Elvis had bought himself a book on guitar tutorials. When Smith came over to his house, he would show Elvis some runs and different chords from his book.
Vester and Johnny
His Uncle Vester was also one of the few people who taught him to play the guitar. Vester frequently played in honky-tonks and at country dances and greatly appreciated country music.
Another uncle who taught was his mother’s brother Johnny Smith who taught Elvis how to play a few chords.
Jesse Lee Denson
Another person who gave Elvis guitar lessons was Jesse Lee Denson, son of a family friend. Lee’s mother requested that he teach Elvis how to play the instruments, which he was not thrilled about.
He was 18 at the time, two and a half years older than Elvis. He felt embarrassed in being associated with Elvis, the shy kid in Memphis in 1950.
Why do people think Elvis Presley couldn’t play guitar?
Many people think Elvis Presley doubted whether he could really play the guitar because you often wouldn’t see him showing his guitar skills, especially later in his career. The rumors were that he only used the guitar as a prop.
In 1956, Elvis addressed the rumors in a fan magazine. He said he did not receive formal music lessons, but he was a massive fan of music and musical instruments.
He said he learned how to play a few chords, but he never tried anything more technical than that. Indeed, Elvis was a good enough guitar player who could play the instrument smoothly and in time.
Elvis would often play the instrument in his recordings in his early career. However, in the 1960s, his guitar credits started to fade.
When Elvin was asked about this, he responded by saying he wasn’t “very good at it”. He mentioned he always had another and much better guitar player backing him anyway.
What other instruments did Elvis Presley play?
The guitar was the instrument most associated with Elvis Presley, but he can also play the bass and piano. He also often played around instruments like the drums, accordion and ukulele.
Elvis didn’t receive any formal music training. He could not read music, so he only learned and played by ear.
Even if he didn’t have formal lessons, Elvis was a true natural musician. He would hear a song, pick up an instrument, and play. He was also always eager to learn music, even at an early age, often going to record stores with jukeboxes and listening booths to customers.
Elvis would sometimes play an instrument in his recordings. He was credited as a guitar player on almost all his recording sessions from 1956 through 1958. He also always produced his own music.
Although his technical guitar skills were limited, Elvis was still one of the most influential guitar players back in the day.
His rock n’ roll image of him and his guitar inspired many people to pick up a guitar and learn how to play. Even if he wasn’t the best guitar player ability-wise, his influence on people was still groundbreaking back then.
Michaela Jyra Melo is a freelance writer, music obsessive, and professional content creator with a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge with the world. Michaela is a music lover first and foremost. She's passionate about new music and artists, but she also loves to dig into musical instruments and equipment. Michael studies communication at the University of the Philippines. When she's not writing or listening to new music, she can be found reading on her Kindle or traveling somewhere new with friends.