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Elvis Guitar Fight Moves Forward in Federal Court

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on March 17, 2016 12:15 PM

The legendary king of rock n' roll is still an international icon, and Elvis Presley's possessions are highly prized, particularly his guitars. Now a dispute over ownership of a guitar he broke on his last tour in 1977 will go forward after a federal judge in South Dakota determined that dismissal of the case is inappropriate, according to Courthouse News Service.

The instrument in question is a Martin D-55 (or Martin D-35, according to the Associated Press) that Elvis reportedly played in a concert in the last winter of his life and was given to a female fan. The King died in the summer of 1977 in his mansion, Graceland. The guitar has changed hands many times since. Let's take a look at the issues in this case.

The King's Guitar

Robert Johnson came to own the Martin D-55 (or D-35) that was once Elvis Presley's and he let it be displayed at the Museum of Rock and Soul in Memphis, Tennessee. But he also sold the guitar to a man named Larry Moss, along with another instrument, and they agreed to a two-part deal with two payments and Moss allowing the instrument to remain at display in the museum until 2009.

In 2008, Johnson took back the Elvis guitar, listed it for auction again, and eventually gave it to another museum, as part of a vaguely worded donation. The National Museum of Music, based in Vermillion, South Dakota reportedly agreed to pay $250,000 for a Gibson Korina Explorer guitar, formerly belonging to The Who's John Entwistle, and to receive the donation of other instruments including the Elvis guitar.

The museum received the guitar in February 2013. But in December, that same year, Moss stated a claim to the guitar he bought from Johnson. He won in a Tennessee state court. But the museum in South Dakota had no say in that claim, which is one reason why the federal case survived a motion to dismiss.

The Ruling

The ruling here only means that the case will proceed and that the ownership dispute will be reviewed in full. According to the judge, there are factual questions regarding the terms of all of these deals surrounding Elvis's prized guitar and the parties will all be heard, though the King himself is now silent.

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