Iconic Instruments: Prince and the Cloud Guitar

June 20, 2024 3 min read

Iconic Instruments: Prince and the Cloud Guitar

It seems no surprise that Prince had eclectic taste, from his fashion sense to his musician stylings to his choice of instruments.

We’ve all seen Prince wield some very unique guitars, from the Love Symbol-shaped instrument he played during the Halftime Show at Superbowl XLI to the Hohner Mad Cats he’s been closely associated with (the one he uses while shredding to “My Guitar Gently Weeps” during a performance at the 2004 Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony).

The Cloud guitars that were built during the Purple Rain era were some of the most unique guitars he owned, and certainly made an impression with their look and sound. Let’s take a closer look at Cloud for today’s piece.

At Least U Got Friends

When Prince was a budding musician hanging around the Knut-Koupee music store, he was already turning heads with his talent, including that of Dave Rusan, a luthier who worked out of the store. Rusan spent many years working on instruments for several notable artists in Minneapolis and during a short stint in England.

When Prince began work on what would become the Purple Rain movie and album, he approached Rusan about building an instrument based on a bass guitar built by Jeffrey Levin of New York, NY. The “Cloud” bass’s shape and ornamentations were based on those of the Gibson “F” style mandolin. Looking at the curves in the mandolin’s design, one can easily draw parallels between the two instruments. The bass itself would become the inspiration for the Cloud guitar.

Prince wanted the guitar’s shape to follow that of the bass as closely as possible, along with some specifications: it had to be white, have gold hardware, have EMG pickups and have spades for fret markers. Apart from that, nothing else. It appears that getting more specifics from Prince was a challenge (lots of questions went unanswered despite his best attempts), so Rusan built the guitar with the hopes that it would pass muster.

Rusan included the specs Prince wanted, using an EMG SA in the neck and 81 in the bridge, Schaller tuners and 457 bridge, 24.75” scale length with a pitched headstock, brass nut and neck-through design.

I’m Rich on Personality

The guitar debuted in the moviePurple Rain and was used extensively on the soundtrack album. It was also featured extensively during the film's performance and was definitely a showstopper of a guitar to go with a showstopper of a performance.

For the following tour, Prince had Rusan build him two more Cloud guitars to take on the road (a fourth was also later built). The instruments also found themselves back in the shop for regular repairs since Prince wasn’t the most gentle with his or other instruments (you can ask Captain Kirk Douglas from The Roots about that one...) 

Everybody Say, Nothing Come 2 Easy

In later years, when consumer demand for the Cloud guitar was great, Rusan started Rusan Original, offering hand-built copies of the Cloud guitar (a design he would eventually trademark), all to the specs of the original. Since they’re handbuilt, they command a bit of a premium of $9,750 each.

For his part, Prince would have more Cloud guitars built by different luthiers. Following his death in 2018, his estate began selling Cloud guitars built by Schecter on the Official Prince online store. These particular guitars can still be found on the used market; the only guitar associated with Prince on the Schecter website is their version of the Symbol guitar.

For those wanting a guitar resembling the Cloud, imitations are sold on sites such as AliExpress. However, your mileage may vary.

As for the originals, according to Julien’s Auctions, the first Cloud guitar is at the Smithsonian. The second was damaged and never repaired, but it was sold at auction by Julien’s Auctions for over $500,000. The third guitar was later repainted yellow and (at the time of writing) will be auctioned off by Julien’s Auctions, along with other iconic instruments, at the end of May 2024. As for the fourth, it was given away to a fan during a TV appearance. 

When an instrument is closely tied to an artist, the iconic stature of the instrument becomes inevitable. This is no different from the Cloud guitar. No matter who might be playing one, thoughts of “that’s Prince’s guitar” are never far behind.

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