6 facts about Prince’s gear that only superfans will know
One of the most individualistic guitarists of all time also had an individualistic approach to gear.
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The influence of Prince Rogers Nelson on the electric guitar has always been bigger than even his larger than life character – a virtuoso in the truest sense of the word, Prince’s otherworldy ability on the guitar was balanced by an equally unique approach to gear. Here are some truths about Prince’s interesting approach to guitar gear that you might not have heard…
The Mad Cat
Among Prince’s stable of unique custom guitars was a familiar shape – a Telecaster style guitar made by Hohner – the same Hohner that is more famous for their harmonicas than their guitars. Production of those guitars, known as “Mad Cats” due to the leopard print pickguards, began in 1973 and ceased several years later after a lawsuit was filed because the headstock shape looked identical to a Fender. As a result, the Mad Cat is quite a rare species – an estimated 500 were ever made. Princes was modified with Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups, and later Kinman Traditional pickups. A third pickup was also added under the pickguard for noise-canceling purposes, but this was later removed. The original Mad Cat has a wireless receiver built into the body, which was added initially during the Purple Rain tour.
- READ MORE: Prince’s 10 greatest guitar moments, ranked
Two exact replicas of the Hohner Mad Cat were made by Roger Sadowsky. According to Prince’s longtime guitar tech Takumi Suetsugu, one of the Mad Cats (we’re unsure if it was the original or one of the replicas) was famously tossed into the air at the end of Prince’s incredible solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Takumi caught the guitar off-camera and promptly handed it to Oprah Winfrey. According to the people at Paisley Park, Oprah ended up giving the guitar back to Prince at some point. We can assume that the Mad Cats are safely stored in some deep underground bunker at Paisley Park.
In addition to the two exact replicas of the Mad Cat made by Roger Sadowsky, there were two more replicas built, except these had some unique plumbing through the neck that allowed for the ability to spray ivory liquid out of the “tip” of the headstock. Sadowsky was brought into the project just as Prince and his band were starting rehearsals for the Purple Rain tour. Roger delivered the guitars to Minneapolis himself. As Roger explained:
“In the Purple Rain movie, there is a scene where he climbs to the top of a huge mountain of speakers, grabs a guitar and masturbates the neck until the guitar ejaculates onto the audience. The guitar was a prop and connected to a tank of Ivory Liquid off stage. Prince wanted a fully playable guitar that could also ejaculate. I ran copper tubing along the side of the truss rod, and it terminated at the tip of the headstock. On the body side, it terminated in a compartment we routed in the back so they could install their solenoid valve that connected to the tank of Ivory Liquid. I called these two guitars the Ejacucasters!”
The replicas were so good that Roger couldn’t even tell the difference when Prince played them on stage.
Prince’s longtime guitar tech was the great, Takumi Suetsugu, who is universally revered in the guitar tech world, but on occasion other techs would fill in during different periods of his career. One such tech was Vincent Price, who is currently the bass player for the Grammy award winning band, Body Count. Price was also a guitar tech for Chris Cornell on his final tour. Vince was tasked with building Prince some “pyramid shaped guitar cabs” – this was well before Jamie Scott’s company 3rd Power Amps started making pyramid shaped cabinets. Vince built the cabinets, and, per Prince’s request, they were finished in purple. We’re unsure what ever became of these speaker cabinets but we do know they were built and delivered to Prince.
The model C
The Model C is very unique electric guitar used by Prince in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was built by famed German luthier Jerry Auerswald, who also built the Symbol guitar and Cleo bass. It has a bar connecting the body to the headstock, called a “sustain bow” – like the Roland G-707, also used by Prince. The tuning mechanism is incorporated into the bridge and the guitar has a humbucker and single coil, all positioned near to the bridge.
Prince was given his first Model C by Gloria von Thurn und Taxis in 1986. Gloria had married Johannes, 11th Prince of Thurn and Taxis in 1980, so at the time, she was technically a Princess Consort. Making the Models C, quite literally, a gift from a princess to a Prince. A second Model C was acquired years later. Only one of the two has survived through the years and resides at Paisley Park.
The purple one
The year after Prince’s passing, a paint company called Pantone used their patented color matching system to design a very specific shade of purple. The color was derived from Prince’s piano, which was painted purple but had faded a bit over the years, that shade is now an exclusive color from Pantone called Love Symbol #2.
Clouded in mystery
Dave Rusan built the original “Cloud” guitar as seen in the Purple Rain movie – it instantly became part of Prince’s persona and he immediately commissioned two more so that he could tour with them. Rusan actually ended up making four of them in total. Prince was pretty famous for throwing his guitars and sometimes they would get dropped and/or broken. As a result, they were often in the repair shop and at one point, they were all repainted. This makes the tracing of them very difficult. Many replicas have been made over the years by other luthiers, but of the original four, we only know the whereabouts of two of them.
One is now painted yellow and hangs in the Smithsonian [tests have concluded that this is a Rusan Original] – another one was built by Rusan but was never used by Prince – it was painted black and given away by Warner Brothers as part of a contest to promote the 1989 Batman movie – which Prince did the soundtrack for. This one recently resurfaced in England, where the contest took place. As for the other two, nobody knows their whereabouts, but we have it on good authority that they are not at Paisley Park.
A couple more little-known facts about Prince’s most well-known instrument. It was modelled after a bass built by Jeff Levin and while most people believe that the fret markers are dots, they’re actually little spades – this was one of the very few specifications that Prince gave Rusan for the original guitars. Later versions had variants of the Love symbol or dots, but the originals were spades. Rusan still builds hand-built replicas of his originals for collectors and fans.
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