I’m in awe of home guitar builders. There are plenty of examples of homemade MadCat tributes out there, but it’s no easy feat. Most of these partcasters start with a Harley Benton TE-80. These are ideal because they are inexpensive, and are not bad guitars at all for the money. The body top looks very similar to the original MadCat bookmatching, and it’s easy to find the leopard print scratch plates to complete the look. With a bit of attention to the shape of the neck, and the addition of a Hohner Limited Edition sticker on the headstock, the look is almost perfect, for a relatively low cost.
What I don’t understand is why home builders would want to replicate one of the MadCat tributes that Hohner have produced down the years. These are all flawed in some way – most of the scratchplates are not correct, and the shape of the headstock is wrong on all of them. Each of those guitars have a place in history, but are they are not worth copying.
When I saw this pop up on eBay today, it made me wince. This guitar is not a Hohner The Prinz. It doesn’t look like an original MadCat. It is pulled together using all the wrong parts, and it has a Hohner The Prinz logo rather than an original Hohner Limited Edition logo.
It might sound wonderfully funky, but it doesn’t look right. And it certainly isn’t what it claims to be. Buyers beware.
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?
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:
- 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.
 – 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”  on October 3rd 2018, and this has yet to be awarded.
- 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?
I recently wrote about the Godin Acousticaster featured prominently in the Rock and Roll Love Affair video, so I’ve decided to follow up with some details about the distinctive purple heart shaped guitar that also features in the video – this time in the hands of the stunningly talented Andy Allo.
According to the Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book Prince set eyes on this guitar on tour in Japan. But its design originates from a specialist guitar manufacturer based in California called Daisy Rock Guitars. Daisy Rock’s mission statement is simple – to make guitars that encourage girls to pick them up and play.
Daisy Rock’s heart shaped guitar is called the Heartbreaker, and it was made available in two variants: “Debutante” which has a child-sized 22 1/2” scale length; and “Artist” which is a 24 3/4” scale length, much more suitable for adults.
I believe Daisy Rock originally started out making full sized guitars, but quickly adjusted their strategy and focussed on children’s guitars, so I presume that the Artist version pre-dates the smaller Debutante.
The Heartbreaker can be found in several colours – “Princess Purple”; “Pink Heart”; “Red Hot Red”; and “Black Heart” (not pictured). As well as the Artist and Debutante there is also a bass version available.
Both guitars feature a solid Basswood body, which helps to keep them light. Each have bolt on maple necks, with rose wood fingerboards inlayed with pearloid heart shaped fret markers. The larger of the two has a Duncan Designed humbucker pickup at the bridge and a single coil Duncan Designed Lipstick Tube pickup at the neck. These pickups are produced by Seymour Duncan for the mid to low end guitar market, and are manufactured in Korea rather than in the US like their premium range. By contrast The Debutante has a single unbranded humbucker.
For adult hands the Debutante is just too small to be comfortable. Given the lack of practicality, I presume that its appearance in the RnR Love Affair video is as a funky prop rather than an instrument that Andy Allo actually played. Inspection of tour footage and photos from the Welcome 2 America Tour (European leg) during which Andy joined Prince and the NPG there is no evidence of the guitar making an appearance.
The guitar featured in the Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book is the larger Artist model, easily identified by the additional neck pickup. It is much more comfortable to play, with the slight issue that the body of the guitar tends to easily slip off the players knee when playing seated.
Purple Heartbreakers rarely come up for sale on eBay and other sites, finding them takes perseverance. But when they do it is possible to pick them up for a bargain price as they are not commonly associated with Prince. This makes them perfect for collectors on a budget.
My blog has opened up new connections with Prince fans from all around. I’ve exchanged messages via email, Instagram, Twitter, and through comments submitted here too. People with varied interests and with plenty to contribute to my geeky fixation with Prince’s guitars. Very often I learn something new.
This week I was tagged on a Twitter post from Captain, one of the co-creators of the well known Peach and Black podcast. He was asking about an interesting green coloured guitar Prince was pictured on stage with sometime around 1993. It’s not a guitar I was familiar with at all – and I love a good mystery. But the answer wasn’t too tough to find – it’s a Godin Acousticaster. Godin Guitars themselves posted a tribute to Prince on 21st April 2016 with the very photo that Captain had shown interest in.
Godin Guitars were established in Quebec in 1972 by Robert Godin. Today Godin Guitars remain exclusively made in Canada and the US, using high quality Canadian wood. This is a rarity in modern times, almost all major guitar brands have factories in Asia or South America. While Godin was getting established they focussed on models that differentiated them from the classics. One of those models was the Acousticaster, which is an acoustic guitar masquerading as a Telecaster.
Acousticasters have hollow bodies, but no sound holes. Yet un-amplified they still produce a significant acoustic sound. The trickery is in how the guitar vibrates. Inside the cavity of the body are a set of tuned metal tines. These resonate in tune, enhancing the sound significantly. (photo from 440 Distribution’s Facebook page)
When amplified with the piezo pickup hidden in the bridge the guitar can produce either a classic amplified acoustic sound, or with some tweaking of the equaliser mounted on the body, a more jazzy electric sound.
I don’t have any details on how Prince came by his green Acousticaster, or what attracted him to it. He adorned it with one of the heart shaped mirrors that appear on the acoustics from the Lovesexy era, and what looks like a blanking plate to conceal the equalisers. I have only found two photographs with him playing this model on stage in the 90’s, and then it wasn’t seen again…until 2012.
Rock and Roll Love Affair
In November 2012 Prince released standalone single Rock and Roll Love Affair, and released an accompanying video through YouTube for the first time. The video was shot in the NPG Music Room at Paisley Park and features Prince playing a mysterious and distinctive new guitar, a Telecaster shape with a mirrored faceplate covering the body. Further inspection reveals the faceplate to have slots for equaliser sliders, just like the Godin Acousticaster.
Zooming in on the stills from the video, the green body of the ’90s Acousticaster can clearly be seen. It looks like the headstock has had a paint job, or perhaps it’s a new neck. Either way I think this is fundamentally the same guitar.
The Acousticaster is now an exhibit at Paisley Park. It really caught my eye under the lights in the soundstage during Celebration 2019 where it was on display along with the transparent drum kit and Prince’s outfit from the video. I have also seen it on display in the NPG Music Club room, where it really belongs.
Many thanks to Twitterers @captain_says and @ThePrinceArmy, and Prince.org user Kares.
In 2012 Prince started appearing with a new main guitar – the Vox HDC-77. This was momentous, and somewhat bewildering for fans. Why was Prince not playing his Hohner Madcat, or a Stratocaster, or even a new Cloud?
Vox are most famous for their amps. Their AC30 amplifiers typified the “British invasion” sound of the 60s, and were used by The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks amongst many others. But Vox have also been making iconic guitars since the 60s, the most recognisable being the Phantom with its irregular pentagonal shape, and the Teardrop.
According to André Cymone, he owned a Phantom V as a youngster, and Prince borrowed it – André believes that the Phantom was the first electric guitar Prince played. You can hear more in the Touré Show podcast from June 2018
In 1992 Vox was purchased by Korg, and they have continued to produce guitars intermittently, usually focussing on innovating design and (sometimes crazy) electronics.
There were two different variants that Prince played in concert. The HDC-77 Blackburst appears to be an unmodified stock model. There was also an Ivory/White version with a custom tie-dye design on the curved top – more about that another time.
For Prince guitar nerds like me, today was a good day…the question about how Prince came to own the Vox was answered by Ida Nielsen, NPG and 3RDEYEGIRL bass player. Responding to one of my posts on Twitter, Ida says that it was her that first introduced Prince to the Vox. “I bought one for me and then he liked it so much that I got one for him too”.
Photos from Paisley Park taken on the 21st April 2016 illustrate that Prince kept his Vox close to him – there was one in his office. Although he had said that he couldn’t play guitar while he was focussing on his Piano & A Microphone tour, it still appears to have been his guitar of choice. The last evidence I can find of Prince playing the black Vox are the photos of his performance for Barack Obama at the White House in June 2015, and he performed with the ivory Vox on the 1st January 2016 at a private New Year’s Eve party. If you know differently please do let me know.
To date there has been no sign of the Black Vox guitar on display at Paisley Park or on the My Name Is Prince tour. I can only presume that it remains archived in the Paisley Park instrument room. The more recognisable tie-dyed ivory model has been on display in the atrium at Paisley Park and in the exhibitions in London and Amsterdam.
For those looking to own an HDC-77, they now tend to command a higher price than when they were first made. Blackburst models are especially hard to find, I’ve seen three for sale since 2016, all of them were sold almost immediately. Be prepared to pay upwards of £1000. Good luck finding one!
When I think of Prince at the mic stand with a guitar strapped across his body, I rarely think of Prince with a Stratocaster. But his love affair with Strats extended from 2003 to 2011, starting with the custom blue Strat, and ending with him regularly playing a collection of them – in Red, Orange, Purple, and the most recognisable of all – this custom Gold Stratocaster.
The luthier that created the Gold Stratocaster is Belarussian Fender master builder Yuriy Shishkov. He has recounted the story both in press interviews and via his Instagram account. According to Yuriy he had a dream of creating a guitar completely covered in gold leaf, but who would ever want such a gaudy guitar? Later, and completely co-incidentally he was approached by one of the Fender’s sales reps, who asked him if he could create such an instrument for Prince.
Yuryi has shared some very high quality photos of the guitar in his workshop they are worth checking out.
The guitar appeared on the cover of the tour programme for his 21 night residency at the LA Forum in April and May 2011, and on advertisements for various tour dates in the US and Europe. Prince was apparently very happy with his extraordinarily unique instrument.
But given the craftwork that went into the guitar (and presumably the $$$$ too), its life was short-lived. In April 2011 the guitar was auctioned for charity, raising $100,000 for the charity Harlem Children’s Zone. The buyer was Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, although sadly I can’t find any photos of Lewis with his guitar.
On 13th April 2011 Prince was asked about the upcoming auction during an interview segment on Lopez Tonight, during which he pulls out the guitar and says how much he will miss it. But look closely…the guitar now has a Floyd Rose tremolo, just like his Blue Strat. This is not the same guitar that Prince played live, at least I can’t find any evidence of Prince playing this.
And of course the answer is that Yuri Shishkov built two Gold Strats, one with a Floyd Rose and one without (and with more traditional Strat pickups). [Reader Nazarenko Denys kindly shared a link to a Russian site that shows both guitars in Yuri’s workshop: http://jimi.ru/read.php?99351%5D
In April 2019 I attended Celebration at Paisley Park, where they displayed a Gold Strat in Studio A – in a small display called “Suits and Strats”. This Gold Strat was not fitted with a tremolo, so I suspect that it is the same guitar that Prince used, and that the guitar sold to Lewis Hamilton had the Floyd Rose fitted. Since then Paisley Park have allowed guests to take some photographs in the Sound Stage and NPG Music Club rooms, and its good to see that the Gold Strat is still being displayed there.