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How Elvis destroyed his session guitarist's acoustic by kicking a gun out of his bodyguard's hand

Elvis Presley
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Baz Lurhmann’s 2022 Elvis biopic offers a rich insight into the life of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, and has brought his iconic catalog of songs to the attention of a brand-new generation of fans. 

Naturally, though, the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime isn’t nearly enough to document some of the crazy stories and anecdotes from Elvis’s life.

Despite famously gaining weight in his later years, the King stayed in great shape for the majority of his life, due to both his energetic stage presence and other pursuits, including his love of karate.

And as Chip Young, a session guitarist who worked with Elvis on several of his recordings, once explained in an interview (opens in new tab), the icon was once urged to display his martial arts prowess in the studio, and subsequently caused serious damage to one of Young's guitars.

As Young recalled, while Elvis and a group of other musicians were gathered at Nashville’s RCA Studios, a backing singer asked the star how he would disarm someone if they were to draw a pistol on him.

“Oh, that’s easy,” Elvis replied, before urging Red West, his bodyguard and a songwriter in his own right, to bring over a pistol so he could demonstrate.

“Red reaches in his pocket and pulls out a pistol,” Young remembered. “I said: ‘God, is that pistol loaded?’ Red said: ‘I wouldn’t bring an unloaded pistol in here!’ I said: ‘How about unloading it?’ He opens it up and the bullets fall down on the carpet.’”

Elvis Presley

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Unsure of what move Elvis was about to pull, Young noticed that if the gun were to be knocked out of West’s hand, its trajectory would likely carry it towards his guitars that were leaning against a kick drum the other side of the room.

“Right about the time I said, ‘Let me move [the guitars]’ – Pow, Elvis hit [West’s] hand and that gun went flying right into the back of my gut-string guitar. The barrel went into the guitar and hung there.”

Young recalled that while everyone present found the incident hilarious, he, as the owner of the guitar, was not best pleased. Fortunately, Elvis was immediately apologetic, and offered to buy Young a replacement guitar.

“I could have gone and gotten a Ramírez for $2,000 or $3,000 – it wouldn’t have made a difference to him,” Young continued. “I picked up the guitar, took the gun out, and gave it back to Red. I said: ‘Actually, Elvis, I think this guitar is probably worth more now than it ever has been!’”

Fast-forward to the present day, and the punctured guitar now sits in a plexiglass cabinet at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame – donated by Young some time between the incident and his death in 2014 – with the story of its demise on a plaque next to it.

A new wave of fans have been turned onto Elvis since Baz Luhrmann’s biopic landed earlier this year. Following its release, online guitar lessons provider Fender Play reported double the number of users seeking to learn his songs.

Back in June, footage emerged of actor Austin Butler – who portrayed Elvis in the biopic – playing Presley's iconic Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar at Graceland, the King's former mansion in Memphis, Tennessee.

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).