Vox HDC-77 Blackburst

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.

Prince performing with his Vox HDC-77 Blackburst

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!

Custom Gold Fender Stratocaster

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 there’s a problem…the guitar now appears to have been fitted with a Floyd Rose tremolo, just like his Blue Strat. I guess there are a couple of possibilities here. Either it’s a prop and not the same guitar… or the real Gold Strat had a Floyd Rose fitted before it was auctioned. I can’t find any other evidence of Prince with a Gold Strat fitted with a FR tremolo. It could be possible that Prince put his beloved instrument up for auction because, now fitted with the trem, it was no longer meeting his needs.

Unless we see a photo of the guitar that Lewis Hamilton actually bought, we may never know if this was a prop or not. I haven’t seen a second Gold Strat at Paisley Park or displayed on the My Name Is Prince tour. If you have an answer please do let me know.

[UPDATE May 2019: I have just returned from attending Celebration at Paisley Park, where they did display 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. Until we see a photo of the guitar that was sold at auction, we will never know for sure]

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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

Prince Pre-Fame: Gibson L-48

Way back in 1977 Prince was taking his first steps towards stardom. Armed with a demo tape, his manager Chris Moon was struggling to make any impression on prospective record companies. He needed assistance marketing and selling Prince and his music.
Chris Moon enlisted Owen Husney, a local advertising agent with a background in the music business. Chris Moon approached him with Prince’s demo, and Husney immediately paid an interest. He commissioned a local photographer, Robert Whitman, to provide some portraits for a press pack to be distributed to music industry executives.

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Prince pictured with the Gibson L-48 in Owen Husney’s home, and in the studio (Photos: Robert Whitman, see links)

Robert Whitman’s photos are iconic. They show a teenage Prince without the protective shell he created as he found fame. Whitman skillfully relaxed his subject enough to capture a natural smile – a rare occurance in photographs later in Prince’s career.

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