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Watch Austin Butler, star of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic, play the King’s Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar at Graceland

Austin Butler
(Image credit: Riley Keough / Instagram)

There are all kinds of stories cropping up about how Austin Butler went deep into character to portray Elvis Presley in the Baz Luhrmann biopic that opens next Friday, June 24. 

But perhaps to really walk a mile in Elvis’ blue suede shows, you’ve got to pick up the very same acoustic guitar that the King played, and in a post-production pilgrimage to Graceland, Butler did just that.

Butler was accompanied by Elvis’ granddaughter, the actor and filmmaker Riley Keogh, who captured some of the footage on her Instagram (opens in new tab) account and revealed that Butler was in esteemed and select company. 

Few others besides Elvis have played his 1956 Gibson J-200. Paul McCartney, who has enjoyed some success himself as a recording artist, once tuned it. 

The J-200 was produced for 1930s country stars and had the proportions and build to make it sing. It also looked the bee’s knees, with solid Sitka spruce on top, curly maple on the back and sides, and a moustache-style bridge. It is the same guitar Elvis used on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, albeit with a tooled-leather covering for a little extra visual pizazz. 

According to Scotty Moore (opens in new tab), Elvis acquired it stock in October 1956. The model was officially designated as a J-200N, with the N standing for natural finish. 

The J-200 was acquired stock, and notably was paid for on account of Elvis’ manager Tom “The Colonel” Parker forbidding him to take on any artist endorsements. The guitar was put in for repair when Elvis served in the United States Army, and had his name inlaid on the fingerboard in time for him leaving active duty on March 5, 1960.

Describing Butler as one of her favorite people besides her grandfather, Keogh said that visiting Graceland in his company was “a special and overwhelming experience”.

“One of many sweet things that happened while we were there, Austin played my grandfather’s guitar in the house,” she wrote. “This guitar hasn’t been played by many people. I know it was tuned by Paul McCartney once, but as far as people sitting down and playing it Austin Butler is one of very few people aside from my grandfather.”

Other custom details that were added to Elvis’ number one acoustic while he was in the army included a custom pickguard, which makes an appearance in Philip Dunne’s 1961 film Wild in the Country. We watch with interest to see what Butler plays in Luhrmann’s Elvis. Not long now…

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Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.