See Rock & Roll History on the Sun Studio Tour in Memphis

Sun Studio in Memphis is often referred to as the “birthplace of rock & roll.” The Sun Studio Tour lets you witness the history firsthand!

It’s rare that I’m ever in awe of anything, but standing in the actual spot where Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins recorded together in 1956 was pretty amazing.

Sun Studio exterior

Among the other legends who recorded here over the years include BB King, Roy Orbison, U2, Bonnie Raitt, and many more!

This article will describe what a Sun Studio Tour is like, go over all the details (cost, hours), and recap the recording history of this American institution.

RECOMMENDED TOUR: The Memphis City Tour includes a visit to Sun Studio, a walking tour of historic Beale Street, and a pass-by at the National Museum of Civil Rights, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Check tour availability here!

Visiting Sun Studio in Memphis

The Sun Studio tour begins upstairs, where you are treated to the sights and sounds. Historic memorabilia is on display, and audio clips are played as the guide provides information about the beginnings of rock ‘n roll history.

Then, you move downstairs into the very studio where the “Million Dollar Quartet” recorded.

That’s the nickname given to the foursome of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, future icons who held recording sessions together here in 1956. 

You can even pose with a microphone used by Elvis and the rest of the legendary figures!

elvis microphone sun studio

There’s also a crowded gift shop that sells t-shirts, hats, and tons of other Sun Studio items. 

There aren’t a lot of places left that hold real significant music history, but Sun Studio is definitely one of them. I highly recommend taking this tour.

Sun Studio Tour – Hours & Ticket Prices

Unlike some other stuffy recording sites (Motown Museum, I’m looking at you), Sun Studio allows you to take pictures during the tour. Score!

You can take the tour daily from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, with tours leaving on every half hour. 

As of 2024, the adult ticket price is only $20, and kids from 5-11 are charged $15. Leave your toddlers at home – kids under 5 are not permitted.

Tickets currently cannot be purchased online in advance. Everything is first-come, first-serve.

So get there early if you really want to take this tour. You can arrive when they open at 10 am and buy tickets for any time slot that day.

Sun Studio gift shop

Parking is free at Sun Studio. The building is located at 706 Union Avenue. The studio is about one mile from Beale Street.

The Sun Studio Tour runs for about 45 minutes. Plan to stay 60-90 minutes to give yourself time to check out the gift shop and the rest of the space.

The studio used to give guests the chance to record their own song (a “karaoke recording”), but that is no longer offered.

Sun Studio Guided Tour Options

Every tour of Sun Studio is a guided tour, in the sense that a tour guide leads each small group through the facility. But there are several professional guided tours designed for tourists that include a stop at Sun Studio as part of their journey through Memphis.

Memphis City Tour: This 4-5 hour tour includes a tour of Sun Studio, plus a walking tour of historic Beale Street. a long-time hotbed of blues music. The tour also features a pass-by at the National Museum of Civil Rights and the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This is a good way to get to know the history of Memphis in a half-day. Check tour availability here.

Private Half-Day Beale Street & Sun Studio Tour: If you’ve got more money to spare, consider a private tour with a local guide. You’ll walk along Beale Street, visit historic sites like the Peabody Hotel and Handy Park, and then head to Sun Studio for the public tour. Check tour availability here.

Note that Sun Studio also offers private tours for groups of 20 or more people. Those tours run on the hour, from 10 am to 4 pm.

Interested parties must email the studio to inquire about pricing and availability. See the “group tours” entry on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Studio Tour

Is the Sun Studio Tour worth it?

Yes! If you’re into music at all (and who isn’t?), this is one of the most hallowed facilities around. It might be the most famous recording studio in the U.S., aside from Motown.

Getting the chance to stand right where legends like Elvis, U2, and Johnny Cash recorded is a rare opportunity. And the $20 ticket price is reasonable.

How can I reserve a Sun Studio ticket?

Unfortunately, the studio does not accept advance reservations for general admission tours. It’s first-come, first-serve, which means you can expect a wait.

The studio recommends coming in the morning, so you can get your ticket early and ensure a spot in line.

Is Sun Studio a historic landmark?

Yes, in 2003 the studio was officially declared a National Historic Landmark.

Is the Sun Studio Tour wheelchair accessible?

Partially. Due to its landmark status, the building cannot be significantly altered, so there is no wheelchair access to the first part of the tour. However, the second part of the tour and the gift shop are both wheelchair accessible.

Is Sun Studio location in Downtown Memphis?

No, but it’s not far away. It’s about a mile (20 minutes) to walk to Beale Street, and 1.5 miles to walk to Mississippi River Park.

Is there a shuttle bus to Sun Studio?

Not anymore. There used to be a free shuttle between Sun Studio and a couple of other music museums in Memphis, but as of this writing, it is no longer operating.

Can you still record at Sun Studio?

Yes. The studio is still used at night, when tours have concluded and visitors are gone. Recording sessions can begin at 7 pm. Interested artists must contact the studio and set up a booking.

Were any movies filmed at Sun Studio?

Yes. A lot of music biopics focusing on legendary singers have filmed at Sun Studio in order to accurately re-create the environment these artists worked in. Movies that shot scenes in Sun Studio include Walk the LineGreat Balls of Fire, and Elvis.

What other historic music sites should I visit in Memphis?

Of course, Elvis Presley’s home at Graceland is a must-visit. You can tour the inside of the home for a hefty fee, or just visit the outdoor Meditation Garden for free

The Memphis Rock n Soul Museum presents exhibits dealing with the history of popular music’s beginnings, with a focus on Memphis. 

The Stax Museum is another great tourist attraction that focuses mostly on soul music, as Stax was one of the most successful R&B record labels of all-time.

The Memphis Music Hall of Fame honors local artists who hit it big, including Isaac Hayes, Roy Orbison, Albert King, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, and ZZ Top.

Which famous artists recorded at Sun Studio?

See the next section for a lengthy list!

Sun Studio History and Artist Appearances

Sun Studio is a legendary recording studio where some of the most influential figures in music history have recorded their work. 

It was opened by Sam Phillips, who discovered and produced early rock & roll stars like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. When it opened in 1950, it was called Memphis Recording Service. Phillips opened the studio with his friend Marion Keisker.

In 1952, Phillips launched his Sun Records label, and that led to an explosion of acts coming here to record. This place catered to soul music, country music, rock and roll, and just about every type of popular music.

Sun Studio has become an iconic symbol of American music culture and continues to be a popular tourist destination for fans from around the world. 

This historic building serves as a reminder of how far modern music has come since its humble beginnings at this small recording studio in 1950s Memphis.

Today, visitors can tour the facility and even record their own music using vintage equipment that remains unchanged since it was used by legends such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. 

The studio was in its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s, but eventually closed down in 1969. In addition to all the legends already mentioned, acts like BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, and Ike Turner recorded there in the early days of Sun Studio.

When Sun Studio re-opened in 1987, rock bands like U2, Def Leppard, John Mellencamp, Def Leppard, Bonnie Raitt, and Chris Isaak began recording there.

Who wouldn’t want to record in a place with all that history?

Because of Sun Studio’s history, musicians stop by all the time when they’re visiting Memphis, so you may even get a celebrity sighting during your visit.

The first time I visited the studio, Elvis Costello happened to be there with the blues legend Hubert Sumlin, as evidenced by this awesomely blurry photo:

Elvis Costello Sun Studio

So which songs were recorded at Sun Studios? Here’s a partial list of some of the greats:

“That’s All Right” – Elvis Presley: A classic rock and roll song that marked the beginning of Elvis Presley’s legendary career.

“I Walk the Line” – Johnny Cash: A timeless country anthem with heartfelt lyrics about love and devotion.

“Great Balls of Fire” – Jerry Lee Lewis: An energetic and fiery rock and roll track that showcases the singer’s incredible piano skills.

“Blue Suede Shoes” – Carl Perkins: A popular rockabilly song with catchy lyrics and a memorable guitar riff.

“Rocket 88” – Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats: Often credited as the first rock and roll song, this track is a high-energy blend of rhythm and blues and early rock.

“Matchbox” – Carl Perkins: A lively rockabilly tune with a catchy chorus and infectious rhythm.

“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” – Jerry Lee Lewis: A rock and roll classic that will make you want to get up and dance with its energetic piano and powerful vocals.

“Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash: A haunting and iconic country song inspired by Johnny Cash’s experiences performing for inmates at Folsom Prison.

“Mystery Train” – Elvis Presley: A bluesy rock and roll song with a mesmerizing rhythm and Elvis Presley’s signature vocals.

“Honey Don’t” – Carl Perkins: An upbeat rock and roll track with a lively guitar solo and infectious rhythm.

Anyone who is interested in music or pop culture history should make it a point to stop by Sun Studio while in Memphis. It has just as much history as places like Graceland and Nashville’s RCA Studio B.

Have you ever taken a tour in a legendary place like Sun Studio?