Trademarking the Cloud Guitar

Since Prince left us, Dave Rusan of Rusan Guitarworks has been making Cloud guitars to the same specification as Prince’s original guitars. Dave regularly provides superb high quality photos of his work on his Facebook page and these look incredible. What sets Dave apart from any other builder is the attention he puts into all the details, ensuring that he is using authentic dimensions, matching original paint colours, and original components. The quality of his workmanship has no match. I can only dream of owning an original Rusan Cloud.

Sadly Dave Rusan has recently announced that his trade in Cloud guitars is under threat. It seems that Paisley Park have asked him to surrender a trademark that was awarded to him in 2018, and by doing so Dave’s thriving business in creating Cloud guitars will have to stop.

Prince appointed many builders of the Cloud guitar over the years. In 1983 the guitar builders at the Knut-Koupee Music Store (where Dave Rusan worked) were asked if they could copy the Sardonyx bass and create a guitar version. Later, Andy Beech of D’Haitre Guitars built models used by Prince on tour. Schecter Guitars have mass-produced Clouds over the years, for sale in the NPG Stores, at tour merch stands, and most recently at Paisley Park and the My Name is Prince exhibition.

There are plenty of other builders of Clouds that were not appointed by Prince – ranging from fans creating project guitars in their garages and workshops, to companies such as Rare Electric Guitars who produce a range of inexpensive copycats on a commercial scale, and even ESP who marketed a range of Clouds in the Japanese domestic market in the 1990s.

Although the configuration, build quality, and some design elements such as colours vary with these copycats, there is a single fundamental with all of them. The basic shape is the same as the Cloud Bass built by Sardonyx. We know that the original shape of the body, the curl around the jack input, the distinctive horn on the upper bout, and the flamboyant asymmetrical headstock shape, were all designed by Jeffrey Levin, going by the name of Sardonyx. If you ask a casual bystander if the Sardonyx bass and the white Cloud guitar were the same basic design, the answer is yes, every single time. The Cloud bass was a one-off, meant to be used by the builder alone, so there was no reason to apply for a design patent. Jeffrey had no idea how iconic his design would eventually become. So is it fair that Dave Rusan, Paisley Park, or anyone else could establish a trademark or patent for something that was not their original design?

The design details of the Cloud guitar are all present in the Sardonyx Cloud Bass. (Photo from Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book)

Dave Rusan’s posts and subsequent press attention have suggested that he might be unable to fight Paisley Park to keep his trademark. But it wasn’t completely clear what Dave Rusan had actually registered, so I’ve taken a look at the trademark applications that Dave Rusan has submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office. There are three:

[87291711]- A two dimensional drawing of a guitar (the Cloud Guitar). This Trademark is the only one awarded currently to David Rusan. It doesn’t trademark any particular colour of guitar, nor any words, just the drawing itself.

[87646968] – the words “Cloud Guitar”. This trademark was submitted on October 16th 2017, but abandoned in January 2019, soon after Dave Rusan posted on his Facebook page that he had received notification from Paisley Park that they wished him to stop using the trademark. What is noteworthy is that Paisley Park Enterprises Inc. also submitted a trademark for “Cloud Guitar” [88141856] on October 3rd 2018, and this has yet to be awarded.

[87064806]- The design of the Cloud Guitar itself. This was submitted 55 days after Prince died in June 2016, and abandoned in March 2017. It is not clear why this was abandoned, although given the amount of commercial use this design has had since the 80s it is easy to imagine that this would not have been awarded.

It’s easy to imagine that if the trademark of the name “Cloud Guitar” enters into the ownership of Paisley Park then they may attempt to enforce their rights and issue desist letters to those that use the term. This could well affect those copycat builders, as well as artists, bloggers like me, Facebook groups and others. If Dave Rusan had been awarded this trademark I can’t imagine that he would start chasing down others using the same term. In his ownership I’m sure we would have all been safe from reprisal.

The iconic shape of the Cloud Guitar has provided inspiration to others over the years. Its likeness has appeared in works of art by artists such as Blule, Dean Russo, and Spencer Derry (aka 3rdeyeboy). It has appeared on notebooks, phone cases, t-shirts, and Hard Rock Cafe pins. The white Cloud also appeared in the recently released video for Holly Rock. I guess given the trademark awarded to Dave Rusan, at least the animation in that video that features is close to violating Dave’s trademark of the 2D guitar image.

To date it doesn’t appear that Paisley Park have attempted to register the design of the Cloud guitar itself as a trademark or patent. As we know from the multitude of Fender and Gibson copies, it is very difficult to assert this kind of trademark and prevent others from creating copycat guitars. Tiny changes in dimensions are enough to differentiate from the original and avoid violating copyright. From the Japanese”lawsuit” guitars created in the 70s and 80s, we know that the only details that has been successfully protected has been the headstock and logos.

The creation of copycat cloud guitars dates as far back as the 90s, and really it is far too late to now attempt to prevent these guitars from being made. More than 40 years after it was built, surely the basic design of the Cloud is in the public domain. There appears to be a market for Cloud guitars at all price points, with Dave Rusan’s being the most (reassuringly) expensive. What sets Dave Rusan apart from the others is his skill and attention to detail. Surely he isn’t threatening Paisley Park or the estate?

Washburn EA44

Three of Prince’s guitars made it onto his album covers. For Sign O’ The Times Jeff Katz photographed Prince with a seemingly discarded peach cloud. On MPLSound art director Anthony Malzone rendered a blue Strat for the cover. The third guitar is more difficult to find – it is hidden behind the symbol on the cover of “Love Symbol”. This is the Washburn EA44.

The symbol on the cover of Love Symbol hides Prince’s guitar.

The model number EA44 has been used by Washburn a few times since introducing the Festival series guitars in the early 80s. This version is a slim-bodied electro-acoustic guitar that was built by Washburn in the early 1990s. It has the familiar shape of other Festival series Washburns, and is equipped with Equis II pre-amplification, which included both a standard jack and XLR output. It came in Black, Tobacco Burst and Natural variants. This was one of the premium guitars in Washburn’s range, and in 1993 the retail price was US$999.99.

I don’t know how Prince came by his EA44, but it makes its first and last appearance in the official promo video for “7”. The cover of the Love Symbol album is actually a still taken from that video, with Prince and Mayte in the centre of a group of children, and he’s holding the EA44. It’s hard to make out the details of the guitar, so I went to the official video for “7” where it is much easier to see it. There’s no doubt it is the EA44.

Captured from “7”

The Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book has a couple of high quality photos of the EA44, but the details that go with the photos don’t quite add up. The text says that the guitar can be seen in the “My Name Is Prince” video, but I can’t find it anywhere (of course we do know that the Cloud Bass pops up in that video, albeit upside down). They also say that the heart mirror on the body of the guitar dates back to the Lovesexy era, but this version of the guitar was not in production until the 90s, so that’s not correct. I can see that it might have been mixed up with the guitar in the Glam Slam video (the Sigma SE-19) that also has a heart mirror on the body. Unfortunately the Guitar and Bass book has let us down, I’m hoping there will be a revised edition in the future as there are quite a few corrections that need to be made.

Detailed photos are available in the Paisley Park Exhibition Series Guitar and Bass book, now available here

I’ve been searching for an EA44 since my first visit to Paisley Park in 2017. The guitar appeared in the Lovesexy room directly accessed from the atrium, which itself doesn’t quite make sense, as we know it’s not the guitar he was using at that time. I was able to get up close and confirm the model number, and then my searches started. In two and a half years I only found one example for sale, and fortunately for me it was in the UK and in great condition, and I’ve added it to my collection. Without the heart mirror the guitar is not instantly recognisable, so you may be able to find it at a reasonable price, but be prepared for a long wait.

Prince’s guitars in Hard Rock venues

Hard Rock Cafes and Hotels have a dazzling array of Prince memorabilia on display in their venues around the world. In most of them, guitars take centre stage.

Because of its iconic status the Cloud guitar is on display most, and amazingly – no Madcats, Symbol guitars or Fenders as far as I can work out. It’s not clear if any of these Clouds were ever actually used by Prince. The plaques that accompany these instruments are usually pretty vague.

I’m using this post as a “work in progress” list of where guitars are on show, and I’ll add to it as I find more. You are welcome to provide more details on any of these (or any I haven’t listed) via comments.

  • USA
    • Atantic City Hotel and Casino – Dark Blue Cloud
    • Chicago Hotel, White Cloud and shirt (hotel now closed)
    • Hollywood – Yellow Cloud
    • Las Vegas Hotel and Casio – Blue Cloud 
      • Hotel due to close and reopen as a Virgin hotel in 2019
      • May have been built by a dutch builder – to be verified
    • Memphis – Yellow Cloud
    • Minneapolis – White Cloud (venue is now closed)
    • Sioux City – Model C
    • Tulsa, USA – Blue Cloud, Purple Rain sunglasses
  • Europe
    • Budapest, Hungary – Blue Cloud
    • Oslo, Norway – White Cloud
    • Prague, Czech Republic – Bass and jacket
    • Warsaw, Poland – Yellow Cloud
  • Asia
    • Tokyo, Japan – Yellow Cloud
  • South America
    • Caracas, Venezuela – White Cloud

The Cloud Bass

The Cloud guitar is a cultural and style icon that will forever be associated with Prince. It first came to prominence as a plot device in Purple Rain and subsequently has been celebrated in books, magazines, and even in the Smithsonian Museum.

Luthier David Rusan has provided some insight into how the Cloud guitar came to be. Prince approached the Knut-Koupée Music store in Minneapolis and asked them to build a guitar based on a bass that Prince had in his possession. David Rusan, who worked in the store at the time, built the White Cloud primarly as a prop for Prince to use in Purple Rain. Premier Guitar magazine published the full story in June 2016.

The bass he used as a template is now known informally amongst fans as the Cloud Bass.

The origin of the Cloud Bass has been somewhat mysterious, with conflicting stories about how Prince acquired it.

Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book

The Cloud Bass appears in the Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book

The first and most widely quoted account comes from Andre Cymone, Princes’ friend and bass player during the beginning of his solo career. Andre has told his story to magazine and radio journalists, and it appears beside photographs of the Cloud Bass in the Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book.

According to Andre (and Paisley Park) – the year was 1979 and Prince was recording his first album “For You” in California (presumably at Record Plant in Sausalito), and Andre Cymone had accompanied him. The pair took a day off from recording, so took a drive. Andre spotted a guitar shop in San Rafael. They stopped to look in, and Andre saw this bass and took a liking to it.  He asked Prince to buy it because Andre himself didn’t have the means to purchase it. Owen Husney (Princes’ first manager) also recounted this story to Andrea Swensson at The Current.

The timeline of this first story is mixed up. “For You” was released in 1978. Given that his next album was recorded at Burbank, it seems likely that Andre and Paisley Park just got the dates mixed up.

The second account is from David Rusan. He had been told that Prince had acquired the Cloud Bass from a shop in New York City in the early 1980s.

The Cloud Bass is now part of the large collection of instruments managed by Paisley Park. Fans viewed it up close at the My Name Is Prince exhibition in London and Amsterdam in 2017/18. The photos in the Cloud and Bass book provide a clue to the origin of the Bass – there is a distinctive, if little-known, logo on the headstock.

Some armchair dectective work revealed the logo is that of a company called Sardonyx. Sardonyx is most well known for creating a guitar that John Lennon played on his 1980 album Double Fantasy – the Sardonyx 800 D II.

D 800 II

The Sardonyx D 800 II – made famous by John Lennon in 1980

According to Guitar Player magazine the Sardonyx 800 D II was built by a luthier called Jeffrey Levin who worked at a “Matt Umanov Guitars” in New York City. Guitar Player doesn’t mention any other instruments created under the same brand, so I made contact with Matt Umanov, who is now retired, and he shared the following:

Sardonyx was a brand of guitars made by one person, who worked for me in the 1970s, made them on his own, and some sold through my store. He made the Sardonyx guitars like the one that John Lennon bought, and also one bass of a totally different design, that was bought at my store by Prince in the 1970s. Prince later had someone copy that design.

Matt Umanov’s story appears to confirm David Rusan’s description of events – that Prince bought the bass in New York.

Fortunately I was able to speak with Jeffrey Levin, now confirmed as the builder of the Cloud Bass. In the ’70s Jeffrey was repairing high end acoustic instruments at “Matt Umanov Guitars”. He spent around a decade perfoming these repairs to a high standard of workmanship – techniques he gained through experience and training received at Brooklyn Technical High School. Like the best artists and craftsmen, Jeffrey felt it was important to concentrate on doing the very best job he could – often taking much longer on a repair than others would. This earned Matt’s store with an enviable reputation for quality workmanship.

There came a point when Jeffrey wanted to turn his hand to more, so he started to build guitars using the skills he had developed while performing repairs. He started with acoustic models, which made sense given his experience.

Gibson F Style Mandolin

Gibson “F” Style Mandolin – the curves and lines look very familiar

The Cloud Bass was built for Jeffery to play. He was playing bass in a band and needed a new instrument, so naturally he built one. For the first bass he made, Jeffery took inspiration from the Gibson “F” style mandolin. This was an instrument Jeffrey had had the opportunity to work on and described it to me as the best mandolin ever made.

Once he had created that first bass, he discovered it had a problem. It didn’t balance. This was a common issue with bass guitars. They were heavy (modern materials have helped to address this problem) and didn’t balance well. Bass guitars tended to slip down when the player was on his/her feet. The bassist needed to give them more support by holding the neck up.

With this in mind he approached his second build trying to establish an equilibrium point, by extending the upper body curl out towards the neck. This created the “horn” that is now synonymous with Prince.

When he had completed his Sardonyx “F” Style bass it looked somewhat different to the bass that is now stored at Paisley Park. It had a brass coloured thumb rest installed, and an extra knob was present. These details are present in the photographs Jeffrey kindly shared with me. Naturally Prince or Andre replaced the pickups with his preferred brand EMG. At some point the thumb rest and a knob were removed. Paisley Park’s photos show where the holes have been filled after these changes were made.

Eventually Jeffrey put his bass up for sale in Matt Umanov’s store. It hung there on the rack for sometime, until Jeffrey recieved a call from a friend who was working on the till in the store. Prince had been into the store and purchased the Sardonyx bass. Jeffrey is unsure exactly when this was, but believes it was in the very late 70’s. At the time he had no knowledge of the up-and-coming artist called Prince.

When a friend showed Jeffrey a picture of Prince on the cover of a record years later he saw something that he recognised – the shape of his bass guitar, in the hands of Prince. Jeffrey has been a lifelong a fan of blues and rock and roll artists, so Prince was not someone that he had paid much attention to, imagine how surprised he must have been!

 

When I asked him how he felt about his work being plagerised by Prince, Jeffrey was philisophical. He said that all guitars are somewhat copies of what has gone before (bearing in mind the Cloud bass was based on a Gibson mandolin) and so he doesn’t mind that copies have been made of his design. But he is surprised that there hasn’t been any interest in crediting the original designer of the shape, particularly by the Smithsonian who have a responsiblity for getting their facts straight.

Today you can see the Cloud Bass in action in the video for Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad, and it famously re-emerged (upside down) in the 90’s in the video accompanying My Name Is Prince (at 4m 53s). The Cloud Bass went on tour in 2017 and 2018 as part of the My Name Is Prince exhibition, and then returned to Paisley Park, but wasn’t on display there during my visit August 2018. The best way to see it currently is on the pages of the Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book.

The Cloud Bass on display at “My Name Is Prince” in London in 2017

Many thanks to Matt Umanov and Jeffrey Levin for your time and helping to set the record straight.

Red Heart Guitar

I love finding surprises while flicking through photos of Prince.

This photo comes from Allen Beaulieu’s recent book “Prince: Before The Rain”. It shows Prince and his bandmates on stage at First Avenue (at the time called “Sam’s”) in October 1981.

Prince is playing his familiar Madcat, with a number of backup guitars ready for action, including a distinctive red heart shaped guitar.

Fast forward to 2011. Andy Allo joins Prince for his European leg of the Welcome To America tour. Is that when this photo was taken, or was it later?:

Nice ❤️ guitar.

Has she been browsing the instrument room at Paisley Park by any chance?

MadCat Re-issues

The Prinz - 80s tribute guitar issued by Hohner

The Prinz – 80s tribute guitar issued by Hohner

There is a lot of misinformation regarding the various attempts at recreating the iconic H.S. Anderson/Hohner MadCat. But with the plethora of versions, it’s easy to get the details wrong. Here’s what I consider to be the definitive list of re-issues, in chronological order:

  • Late 1980s: The Prinz (Hohner)
  • 1990s: The Prinz/TE Prinz (Hohner)
  • 2008: The Artist (Hohner)
  • 2008: The Artist Elite (Hohner)
  • 2009: Moridaira 45 year anniversary Mad Cat (H.S. Anderson)
  • 2012: Vintage MadCat Re-issue (H.S. Anderson) (Version 1)
  • 2016 to present day: Vintage MadCat Re-issue (H.S. Anderson) (Version 2)

Each of these have notable differences, and vary in value. They are all available regularly on eBay and Reverb, as well as other selling sites like Gumtree.

I own a few of the Hohner tribute models, and will provide my own photos and details in these pages in due course.

Blue Stratocaster

During the 2007 Superbowl half-time show Prince played three guitars. He started with his trusty Madcat, and ended with his purple symbol guitar. In between, he performed All Along The Watch Tower and the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” with this light blue Stratocaster. It wasn’t the first time Prince was seen with this guitar – he also used it in the summer of 2006, most notably at Bryant Park, New York – which was part of the Good Morning America concert series. There are dozens of photos of that event here.

Prince was also seen playing this guitar on Saturday Night Live in February 2006 – it was his guitar of choice for a short period in the run up to Superbowl where it became water damaged. That damage didn’t render it unplayable, it made another appearance in June 2007 when Prince performed with Sheila E. at the ALMA awards.

2007 will long be remembered for Prince’s 21 night residency in London. He rocked the O2 arena playing the same combination of guitars as at the Superbowl, which included this Strat. The latest video footage I can find of Prince with this guitar is on the Jay Leno show on the 26th March 2009.

Paisley Park’s twitter post featuring the blue Stratocaster

Continue reading “Blue Stratocaster”