Peculiar pop multi-instrumentalist Prince is one of the music industry’s most underrated guitarists.
Known for his flamboyancy and sporadic hit singles, the American singer-songwriter has too long been widely ignored. His versatility and adaptability has seen him play almost every instrument under the sun, not too mention peruse the charts in his 80s heyday.
Combining rock, R&B, soul, funk, jazz, and pop, the force behind ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘When Doves Cry’ is alone the pioneer for the now iconic ‘Minneapolis Sound’ of the late 70s, and he continues to inspire to this day.
Born Prince Roger Nelson on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to African-American musician parents, Prince developed an interest in music at an early age, writing his first song at age seven.
After recording songs with his cousin’s band 94 East, 19-year-old Prince released his debut album For You in 1978. His 1979 self-titled album went platinum due to the success of the singles ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ and showcasing Prince’s trademark of sexual lyrics and hybrid genres. In 1984, he began referring to his backup band as the Revolution and released Purple Rain, which served as the soundtrack to his film debut of the same name.
From 1987 to 1991, Prince was a solo artist, before unveiling The New Power Generation band to the world. Throughout the 90s and early 00s he changed his stage name to an unpronounceable symbol and “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’. Throughout his career so far, Prince has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He has won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
A key component to the Prince sound is the guitar, and Prince’s guitars are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Sure he played a fairly standard Hohner MadCat Telecaster on and off throughout the 80s, but it’s his Cloud guitars and Love Symbol guitars that have impressed the most.
The Cloud guitar was first seen in the movie Purple Rain, and there were four built by David Husain that Prince played. The original Cloud guitars were maple neck with Love Symbol inlays at the fret markers with metallic blue, white and purple body.
The most standout and recognisable guitar model in Prince’s collection, however, is the Love Symbol guitar. They were mahogany and as such, not very durable, especially since Prince loved to throw his guitar up in the air and let it crash. The lower horn on the white model had to be glued back on.
Prince is an accomplished funk guitarist with a unique sense of when to throw in a classic rock solos.
His melody and texture can be felt in most every note he plays, and he sure knows how to make the guitar “cry”. He is a master of call and response, using two instruments or an instrument and vocals to play off each other in what could be called an instrumental “conversation”.
He’s a fan of awe-inspiring sustained notes and bends. He knows how to use his fingers and volume to get unending sustain and can control feedback. He is an expert at extravagant bends and vibrato as well as harsh stabs and guitar grunts. From gorgeous acoustic to 80’s shred, Prince seems to have no limits on what he can make a guitar do.
The power chords of ‘Little Red Corvette’, the funky falsetto tempo of ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’, the opening shred of ‘When Doves Cry’, the punctuating bend fills of ‘Cream’, the hair-raising solo of ‘Batdance’, the psychedelic phaser of ‘She’s Always In My Hair’, the fuzz fest of ‘FUNKNROLL’, the warped intro to ‘D.M.S.R’, the sexy strums of ‘Kiss’ and the wailing climax of ‘Purple Rain’.
Due to Prince’s ongoing dislike of the media and the internet, most of his songs and videos – live and studio – have been taken down from websites and YouTube.
However, Prince’s 2004 performance alongside and a bevy of musical legends including Tom Petty, Steve Winwood to honour George Harrison’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is available to watch. Along with George’s son Dhani Harrison, the guys and full band perform an incredibly powerful rendition of The Beatles’ classic ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Watch below: