Prince’s Iconic ‘Purple Rain’ Tour Guitar Fetches Record-Breaking $910,000 At Auction

A piece of rock-and-roll history exceeded expectations at auction and set a new record. Prince’s Yellow Cloud guitar that the legend shredded during his “Purple Rain” tour fetched $910,000 at Julien’s Auctions, blowing past the estimated value of $400,000-$600,000. It’s the most expensive Prince guitar ever sold at auction.

Prince stage-played "Purple Rain" tour guitar
Prince stage-played “Purple Rain” tour guitar. (credit: Julien’s Auctions)

There were just three bids for Prince’s guitar before the final gavel hit.

The eye-catching yellow guitar, officially known as Cloud 3, was built for Prince in early 1985 by Minneapolis luthier Dave Rusan. It became an iconic part of Prince’s visual style during the height of his Purple Rain era and beyond.

The Cloud guitar’s distinctive shape was inspired by a bass guitar Prince acquired in the late 1970s. That instrument, called a Sardonyx, had an exaggerated curved body modeled after a Gibson F-style mandolin, but super-sized.

Prince brought the Sardonyx to his local music shop, Knut Koupée in Minneapolis, and asked them to make an electric guitar version, in all white with flashy gold hardware. It was no easy task, but the wizards at Knut Koupée were up for the challenge.

To build the complex body shape quickly, they started with husks of “Shark” and “Nightwatch” model guitars from the recently defunct O’Hagan brand.

“I was under a lot of pressure to do them quick, and I made everything except the neck,” says Rusan. “I didn’t have a lot of jigs so there are some variations in the scroll carvings, but they’re all really close.”

Prince stage-played "Purple Rain" tour guitar
Prince stage-played “Purple Rain” tour guitar. (credit: Julien’s Auctions)

After the bodies were roughed out, some mods had to be made, like filling the neck humbucker rout to fit the EMG single coil pickup that Prince wanted. The asymmetrical Cloud headstock was crafted by adding wood to the original O’Hagan headstock and re-shaping it.

Another quirky feature is the control cavity cover on the back of the guitar. This unique shape was designed by Knut Koupée employee Gerald Ronning back in 1983. He blended the cover shapes of a Gibson SG and Les Paul and made a template, which ended up being used on Prince’s Clouds. A happy accident!

The first four Cloud guitars, including the Yellow Cloud 3, started out all white. But over the years, as Prince’s tastes evolved and the instruments got some battle scars, they were refinished in a rainbow of colors by Knut Koupée’s Barry Haugen, often with very tight deadlines.

Other unique visual elements of the Clouds include the painted fretboards with funky inlaid markers. Prince liked using spade shapes, Roman numerals, or his iconic Love Symbol. Each time a guitar was repainted, the frets would be pulled out, the fretboard re-finished, and new decals applied.

From 1984-1993, Prince played his four custom Knut Koupée Clouds extensively on tours and in the studio. The hi-fi tones of the EMG pickups and maple body were a key part of his sound. But Prince was also known to sacrifice his guitars for the sake of showmanship.

By 1993, as Prince’s disputes with his record label raged, he gave away three of the four Clouds, including Cloud 3, which was awarded to a lucky radio contest winner in New York.

Prince’s Cloud 3 guitar was part of Julien’s Auctions’ “Music Icons” auction that ran from May 29-30. Other Prince items that sold sold included:

  • Stage-played tambourine from Prince’s 1987 “Sign O’ the Times” tour ($2,275)
  • “Purple Rain” scripts and document archive ($2,925)
  • Handwritten “Lovesexy” lyrics ($22,750)
  • Handwritten “White Mansion” lyrics ($5,200)

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