Thursday, September 1, 2011

Prince's Guitars

Quite a few years ago, in the Cincinnati, Ohio area, there was a department store called Swallens. This company specialized mainly in furniture, appliances, and electronics.

In the late 1970’s Swallens started offering a few musical instruments, mainly Gretsch guitars, for sale. This may have been because Cincinnati was home to the Baldwin Piano Company, which at the time owned the Gretsch Company.

I will also mention that Duke Kramer, who was running Baldwin’s guitar division, made his home in Cincinnati. Mr. Kramer had been Gretsch number one salesman.

Duke Kramer of Gretsch

Swallens was the first place I had encountered a Gretsch White Falcon. In addition to the Gretsch line, they also stocked a few brands made in Asia.

One of the guitars was a distinctive Telecaster style instrument that had an ash body surrounded by a dark tortoise-shell binding on its top and bottom. The plastic pickguard appeared to be tortoise-shell. There was also a thin strip of binding material down the center of the body, from the end of the bridge to the rear of the guitar. The headstock was very similar to that of a Fender Telecaster, except for the brand, which said Hohner.

The other feature distinguishing this instrument from a genuine Fender was its bridge. Instead of the typical Telecaster bridge, this guitar had a bridge similar to that found on a hard-tail Stratocaster. Surrounding the bridge was an oval of plastic that matched the pickguard. It was a very distinctive look.

Most of us know that Hohner is a German company well known for their excellent harmonicas, accordions, and reed based instruments.




During the 1960’s Hohner branched out into manufacturing the Pianet electric piano and the Clavinet, which was an electric version of the 17th century instrument called the clavichord, which simply described is a smaller version of a harpsichord. In the 1970’s, I was unaware they were manufacturing guitars.

Hohner, founded in 1857 by Matthias Hohner, became the world’s largest producer of harmonicas. The company continued under his family heirs through the 1965. By the 1970’s the company branched out into electric instruments.

It was in the early 1980’s when Hohner joined forces with the Sabian Cymbal Company and Sonor. Due to declining sales, the company underwent massive lay-offs in 1986 and the Kunz-Holding GmbH & Co acquired most of its assets.

By 1997, the assets became the property of K.H.S. Musical Instruments Co. Ltd., based in Taiwan. Most of the manufacturing moved to Asia, although some high-end products are manufactured in Europe.

The next time I saw a Hohner guitar exactly like the one I have described is when I saw the film Purple Rain, which featured Prince. I was astonished that someone who could afford to play an expensive, big-name instrument would be playing this knock-off by Hohner.

However, I have friends and know of pros that continue to stick with the instruments they started out playing.

I later learned Hohner designated this instrument the Hohner TE.

Through the years, Hohner continued to offer the guitar.. Changes occurred to make its appearance more like a Telecaster. The bridge changed to a metal plate with a six adjustable bridge saddles. The colours changed and the binding on the rim disappeared.

Hohner continues to offer a well-made version of this instrument, now known as the Prince guitar. The headstock has changed to include the German-cut, popularized by Roger Rosmeisl.




Prince had changes made to his Hohner that included the installation of Kinman Broadcaster pickups, accomplished by changing the routing of the pickguard and bridge plate.

The Kinman units come with a pre-wired harness, which replaced the original controls. You can see the neck pickup has exposed pole pieces, much like the bridge pickup.

As his fame grew, Prince commissioned some custom guitars. The first being built in 1983.

The builder, David Husain, was employed at the Knute Koupee music store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He created The Cloud Guitar.

This is the guitar with the extreme upper horn. The original seems to have a white finish. The wood for the entire instrument was maple. It has a 24.75” scale with 22 frets and a 12” radius. The two pickups are EMG’s. The bridge pickup is an active humbucker and the neck has a single coil pickup. Schaller made all the hardware.


This includes a tune-o-matic style bridge and tailpiece and machine heads. All hardware is gold plated. The controls are simple; one volume, one tone and a 3-way pickup switch. The nut on the headstock is brass. The entire instrument, including the neck, is painted one colour.

The original instrument came in a white finish and featured spade symbol fret markers. It was seen at the end of Purple Rain. Unfortunately, it became a casualty during a concert.

Prince had thee other Clouds made, although some of these underwent multiple paint changes. The next version has a black paint job; however, the fretboard is natural maple. Another Cloud Guitar has a peach finish with small black dot markers.

Prince gave this away as a price. Prince later commissioned a blue Cloud guitar that he called Blue Angel. Like the peach version, this also has black dot markers. Another black Cloud produced, that had an entirely black finish with “bat” fret markers.

The next Cloud had a yellow paint job. Finally, another blue Cloud guitar was produced. This time the knobs were gold plated and the body’s profile was rounded. The Yellow Cloud sold for $18,750 in Minneapolis.



There is a White Cloud on exhibit at the Smithsonian. Others are at various Hard Rock Cafes. Prince named the four Cloud guitars, North, South, East, and West.

Schecter guitars offered copies of the Cloud guitars for sale on Prince’s website. However, the website recently shut down. Some of the Schecter guitars have bolt-on necks, and some have through-the-body necks. The bolt-on instruments have a 25.5” scale. None of the Schecter instruments has the “Love” symbol.

The other guitar identified with Prince is the Symbol Guitar. This instrument was custom built by German luthier, Jerry Auerswald. This guitar made from antique maple and has neck-through-body construction. The neck scale is 24.75” and the fretboard has 24 medium jumbo frets.



Mr. Auerswald installed EMG pickups on this guitar similar to those on the Cloud guitar. The luthier custom built the bridge and installed Schaller machine heads, with custom-made buttons. The original guitar came with a gold finish.

Prince had his guitar technician built two more of the Symbol instruments. The tech accomplished this by taking measurements of the original instrument and sending them to Schecter. One guitar was white and the other was painted black over the mahogany bodies.

Due to Prince’s guitar acrobatics, the guitars did not last too long. He would throw the instruments in the air and let the guitars drop to the ground. Thus, the horns snapped off and the techs would patch them up.

Much like the Cloud guitars, the tech-made Symbol guitars underwent repainting. At times, the guitar were not only black and white, but also yellow, gold, orange and of course, purple.


Auerswald designed another guitar for Prince. This one is known as the Model C. It is a very unique instrument with two distinct features. The obvious is the stabilizer bar that runs from the body to the headstock. This is very reminiscent of the first Roland Synth guitar. If you look carefully you will notice no tuners on the headstock. The tuners are at the end of the bridge.

Prince has used several other guitars, which include a Fender Stratocaster that has an entirely gold finish. This instrument recently fetched $100,000 at a charity auction held this past April.


Prince and Hamilton










The buyer was race car driver Lewis Hamilton. The proceeds are benefiting the Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organization that serves over 8,000 children and 6,000 adults.

6 comments:

MSDos5 said...

I messed up the paint on My fender and rattle canned it. :^P Prince should stop wrecking his stuff.

Anonymous said...

I am selling my Hohner Prinz that I have owned for 20 years.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Hoher-Prinz-Telecaster-Guitar-Prince-NO-RESERVE-/280849465068?pt=Guitar&hash=item4163eebeec#ht_500wt_1357

Anonymous said...

Question: Would you happen to know the make of the acoustic guitar Prince used in 1987 that's featured in Forever In My Life from the Sign o' the Times movie? I believe he also uses it in the Glam Slam video.

KevGreg82 said...

I'm selling my Model C guitar...check it out here
http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=mhee&v=q7lCMrXmP90

Glen Penrhyn-Lowe said...

I came across this website last week; my son's acoustic needed some running repairs and I found this website.
http://www.kgb-music.co.uk/guitar6.htm

Don't know if it has any connection to Prince's symbol guitar or its a copy, but thought it may be of interest.

Anonymous said...

The Schector cloud guitars were produced with the love symbols. I know because I bought one at the Hit and Run show in Hollywood, CA in white.