The many guitars of Prince

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He could pick up any piece of shit and make it sound good

Susan Rogers

Prince’s association with the electric guitar is written large into his legend, owning a large number, be that for tours and in the studio.

Known for throwing his guitars at technicians stage side during performances, in the hope they would catch them, the many guitars made for Prince were designed with particularly tough necks and passed through many restorations over the years. Duplicates were produced for touring. Today, his collection of 121 guitars reside at Paisley Park where they are lovingly curated. Here are the most iconic in his collection.

Hohner MadCat

Prince began using the Hohner MadCat in replacement of the Fender Telecaster he played in his Dirty Mind Tour of 1980 – having the EMG coils of his Telecaster modified by Minnesota luthier Chuck Orr. Prince acquired the MadCat shortly after the release of the Dirty Mind album in the autumn of 1980, as the legend goes purchasing it for a mere $30 at a petrol station but was more likely bought from the Knut Koupee Guitar store in Minneapolis. The MadCat was an electric guitar manufactured in Japan from 1973 by H.S. Anderson for the German harmonica factory Hohner as their cheaper alternative to the Fender Telecaster. Hohner’s design ‘borrowed’ the shape of the Telecaster’s headstock, with pickups adopting the style of the Fender Stratocaster. Consequently, the MadCat produced a great sound and became Prince’s mainstay guitar during the Dirty Mind Tour and his most trusted guitar since, giving it virtually continuous use throughout his career. In result, he had several copies custom-made copies following the exact specification of the original – one of just 500 Hohner produced of the model before production was brought to a end following an infringement lawsuit brought against them by Fender. The firm went back into production in Korea in 1990, this time with the TE Prinz (Telecaster Prince – named after Prince) an exact copy of the original albeit with redesigned headstock and changed pickguard pattern from Leopard print (which gave the model its name) to tortoiseshell. Hohner’s original branded MadCats thereby fetch $12,000 apiece today.

The MadCat’s construction is formed of a walnut centre strip, ash sides and a maple neck and back. All of Prince’s Hohners were embellished with his trademark leopard skin shoulder strap matching the leopard pick-guard of the original production model. He had the pickups modified also. Prince preferred the Hohner over other guitars in the studio and so can be heard on virtually every tour and album Prince did since Dirty Mind; the sole knowing exception being Batman. As a stage novelty prop for the upcoming Purple Rain Tour in 1984, Prince had a copper tube fitted behind the neck of two of the four his Hohner replicas built by New York based technician Roger Sadowsky. The headstock sprayed ivory coloured soap pumped from a tank attached offstage. Named the Ejacucaster, the modified guitars were ready as the tour rehearsals began and were full playing instruments. This intriguing feature is captured for posterity when Prince showers the First Avenue audience in the closing number of the movie Purple Rain. Sadowsky additionally crafted two painted copies of the Hohner, one purple and the other pink (for Wendy) decorated with floral displays and were played during the Purple Rain and Parade tours. The Hohner MadCat was used continuously by Prince both in the studio and on tour until 2002 when he switched to the Fender Stratocaster as his main guitar until returning to the Hohner a few years later, returning to the stage with it for The Earth Tour. It was famously his guitar of choice to play his legendary solo for While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony of 2004. Prince’s original Hohner is on display at Paisley Park Studios.

Cloud Guitar

The Cloud electric guitar is undoubtedly the guitar most associated with Prince. The first Cloud was produced in 1983 specifically for the Purple Rain movie and painted entirely white with gold hardware, famously transitioning from the Hohner in the movie. In the film, Apollonia buys it as a gift for the Kid at the Crystal Court shopping mall, and Prince’s character plays it at the climatic performance of Purple Rain filmed at First Avenue. So impressed was Prince with it, he continued playing the white Cloud on the accompanying tour and had three extras built. Indeed the Cloud remained as his showpiece instrument for subsequent years and several versions were consequently produced in other colours.

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The original Cloud guitar was custom made by technician Dave Rusan of Knut Koupée Music of south Minneapolis. The design drew inspiration from a hybrid of the Sardonyx bass guitar designed by Jeff Levin in 1972 (Prince bought a Sardonyx for Andre Cymone in 1978 and it appears in the video Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?) and a 24.75in Gibson Les Paul neck. Like the Sardonyx the fretboard was embellished with black playing card spades for markers, but on later models these were replaced with Prince love symbol shaped markers. The Cloud’s body and neck are of maple construction, but the main feature is without doubt the elongated cloud-scrolled horn helping make the neck appear longer than actually was. The entire body is spray painted to look like one piece. It produces a distinct sound.

Rusan produced three exact copies of the original white Cloud for playing on the resulting Purple Rain Tour, one of which is featured in the promo video for Raspberry Beret. Prince famously later smashed the original movie Cloud, as well as its copy, in Japan at the conclusion of the Parade Tour – venting out his frustration with The Revolution shortly before disbanding the group in the autumn of 1986. Of the two undamaged Clouds, one was given away to a competition winner in 1985 and the other simply vanished, likely stolen. The surviving Rusan Cloud was repaired and repainted peach and used extensively for the Sign O’ The Times Tour in 1987. It was afterwards repainted blue and became the famous Blue Angel and central feature on the Lovesexy Tour and subsequent Nude Tour. A black replica of the Cloud was produced in 1986 by Andy Beech of D’haitre Guitars, Washington for the Parade Tour and later used in the studio for the Batman album (seen in the Batdance video). Beech also produced a second peach Cloud as a spare for the Sign O’ The Times Tour, as well as a teal version.

The teal Cloud was auctioned in 1994 to raise funds for the Los Angeles Earthquake appeal and was resold on 4 November 2017 for $700,000. The black Cloud was given away in England, 1989, as the grand prize for a Warner organised in promotion for the Batman movie. The Blue Angel was sprayed yellow in 1991 and used in the Diamonds And Pearls album, tour and promotion and is today on permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. A second yellow Cloud, dating from 1988 which Prince broke in Paris in 1994 was sold at auction on 25 June 2016 for $137,500 to collector Jim Irsay. A dark blue version was produced in 1992 for Act I and Act II tours of 1993 – this was the final Cloud produced and was later auctioned on 19 June 2020 for $563,500. Cloud guitars can be heard on every Prince album from Purple Rain to Chaos And Disorder. Post 1993, the Cloud only made occasional appearances, the dark blue Cloud receiving the last in the Rave Un2 The Year 2000 TV concert and following Hit N Run Tour of 2000, prior to the iconic instrument’s retirement.

Auerswald Model C

The Model C is a custom electric guitar produced by Jerry Auerswald in Konstanz south Germany. The construction is entirely antique maple wood. The body is one piece of maple wood incorporating a connecting ‘sustain bow’ bar extending from the headboard to give the instrument, similar to the Roland G-707, to produce a rich sustain sound as well as give structural durability for resonation. Prince was gifted this futuristic looking guitar in 1986 by a German princess and fashionista named Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, whom commissioned it. So enamoured was Prince with the gift he had firm make a duplicate. The Model C is a ‘headless’ type instrument, meaning that the tuners are incorporated into the bridge opposed to the headstock. The guitar is sprayed pearlescent white and offset by gold-plated EMG pickups, volume and tone controls and tuners. Prince played the Model C in the recording sessions for Lovesexy, Batman and Graffiti Bridge albums, after making its debut with the odd public appearance during the Sign O’ The Times Tour in 1987. The guitar was also played in the Lovesexy Tour of 1988/89, Nude Tour 1990 and at Prince and the NPG’s headlining appearance at the Rock In Rio festival in 1991. The original Model C is on permanent display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Prince’s copy remains in the care of Paisley Park Studios.

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Auerswald Love Symbol Guitar

So impressed was he with Auerswald’s Model C, in 1993 Prince commissioned the luthier to construct the most striking guitar of his career. The brief was simple: “Make it look like my name”, said Prince love symbol. Fully constructed from 120-year-old maple sprayed gold, the guitar was so fashioned in the shape of Prince’s new name and adopted many of the Model C’s features. The so named love symbol guitar was first used in The Gold Experience studio sessions and appears in the promo videos for Dolphin, Endorphinmachine and Gold and got its first public appearance in the Interactive Tour, during which it was prominently featured in the TV special The Beautiful Experience and was featured on the cover of the November 1994 issue of Guitar World. The hardware is gold-plated and features two EMG pickups, and maple heart-shaped tuning buttons. The frets were smaller than standard to accommodate Prince’s fingers. Prince’s guitar technicians Zeke Clark and Andy Beech of D’haitre Guitars produced two further duplicates from the original. The first of these was made in 1994 and sprayed black and played on The Ultimate Live Experience tour and in the studio for the follow-up Chaos And Disorder album. The second copy was white, produced in 1996 for Emancipation and Newpower Soul albums and their subsequent promotion and Jam Of The Year Tour. The long curling protrusion from the guitar’s body does not reportedly affect the instrument’s playability. The two copies were made of mahogany and therefore less durable than Auerswald’s original – Prince accidentally broke the horn off the white guitar and had to be glued back. Prince continued to use the gold symbol guitar on stage and for promotional purposes right up to 2015 for the single Hardrocklover and HITNRUN Phase Two. The gold original remains at Paisley Park Studios.

Schecter Habibi

Also known as Habibi, this model is an updated and a more faithful copy of the Auerswald Love Symbol electric guitar, crafted by the American wing of Schecter Guitar Research in 1999. The body is sprayed purple with gold-plated EMG pickups, volume knobs and other metal fitments, it is complete with matching shoulder strap. Prince christened the instrument Habibi (“my love” in Arabic), and the guitar can be heard on Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic and was played on his Hit N Run tour in 2000, World Tour 2003 and Musicology Live2004ever. Habibi was featured on the cover of Guitar World magazine in July 2004 and was Prince’s set-piece instrument, and in 2007 featured in the single artwork for Guitar. Prince’s last public appearance with it was in 2007 at Super Bowl 41 for his halftime performance when it was retired after the result of heavy use. Prince later gifted this guitar to TV host Tavis Smiley.

Cleo Bass

As well as commissioning Auerswald’s Model C, Prince also had the firm produce a matching 4-string Cleo thumb electric bass. Built of antique wenge wood, the Cleo likewise features the firm’s trademark connecting ‘sustain bow’ bar and matches the design of the Auerswald Model C. Prince played this bass in the studio sessions for Batman and Graffiti Bridge. In 1991, the Cleo was restrung for left-handed band member Sonny T to play on the NPGs albums Diamonds And Pearls and Love Symbol. The Cleo next appeared in 2010 in the promotional photos for the Welcome 2 America Tour and was played on stage during that tour.

One-Eyed Bass

Prince owned three copies of the Warwick Thumb 4-string electric bass. In 1994, he had one was sprayed white and decorated with an eye illustration designed by J C Munson (reputedly basing it on Mayte’s eye) air brushed on the body’s front panel by Steve Parke. The bass featured a black block inlay pattern along the fretboard, and black hardware. Prince duly christened it the One-Eyed Bass and became his favourite and main bass until the mid 2000s when switching to the Fender Jazz. One-Eye Bass was played on tours and can be heard throughout the Come, The Gold Experience, Chaos And Disorder, Newpower Soul, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic and The Rainbow Children period.

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Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster was the first electric guitar Prince took into the studio, using a white starburst model for the recording sessions of his first two albums For You and Prince, before transferring to the Gibson LS6 for his debut tour in 1979. Prince didn’t pick up a Stratocaster again until later in his career, having transitioned from it since his debut tour of 1979 opting for the Fender Telecaster for his next tour, during which he adopted the Hohner MadCat which famously became his lifelong favourite electric guitar. Following a long absence from the Stratocaster, Prince was next seen with it in 1992 smashing a prop copy in the filming of the video for My Name Is Prince, later sold at auction on 21 August 2021 for £60,000. Prince played the Stratocaster in his late career, using a standard Sonic Blue model in 2002 for the One Nite Alone… Tour and his 2003 World Tour. Prince preferred the Stratocaster as a rhythm guitar, having Fender modify his versions to include a pale wood grain pickguard and knobs to match the fretboard. His customisations included reducing the guitar’s standard’s three EMG pickups to two (removing the noise-cancelling EMG, adopting the similar arrangement of his earlier Cloud guitar). Prince played Tangerine and Sonic Blue models on the Musicology 2004ever Tour 2004, 3121 album, and in his tour with Támar and the Vegas and 21 Nites In London residencies of 2006 and 2007. His blue Stratocaster was famously rain damaged during his iconic halftime performance at the Super Bowl of 2007. So taken with the Stratocaster, Prince had the guitar incorporated into the artwork of his 2009 album MPLSound, and in 2010 approached Fender to create a custom Stratocaster to play in his Welcome 2 America Tour. That guitar was gold leafed by Yuriy Shishkov and was afterwards sold at auction to raise funds for the charity Harlem Children’s Zone and was won by Lewis Hamilton in August 2011 for $100,000.

Vox HDC-77

Prince was introduced to the Vox HDC-77 in 2012 by 3rdEyeGirl bassist Ida Nielsen. The HDC-77 was first produced in 2010, formed of a semi-hollow construction with laminated maple back and front and mahogany sides, plus aluminium hardware. Vox electric guitars are most recognisable for their teardrop shape. Prince went on to own about ten copies of the model – many getting stolen or given away. The first variant he used is the Blackburst model, and later an ivory white version of the guitar decorated wrapped with a custom psychedelic custom tie-design depicting two sets of plump lips and even had clothes designed in a matching pattern. Prince played unmodified stock models of the Vox HDC-77 throughout his tenure with 3rdEyeGirl, playing it on their Live Out Loud and Hit And Run tours of 2013-15 and in the studio sessions for Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum. Prince made several high-profile appearances with the Vox; the Jimmy Fallon show in 2013 to perform Screwdriver, his Arsenio Hall ‘take-over’ special of 2014, and a performance at The White House for Barack Obama in June 2015. In 2007, Simon Farmer of Gus Guitars produced a custom made model G1 Purple Special electric guitar, its body is formed of red cedar covered in purple coloured carbon fibre laminate, with striking gold-plated metal fitments. Prince only received this in March 2016 just weeks before his death and there is no evidence he ever played it. The Vox was therefore Prince’s last mainstay guitar.

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