A glimpse into the gear behind The Purple One's magnum opus: Prince's Purple Rain.
No one will ever match the legacy of Prince, and further, of the inimitable Purple Rain.
Upon news of the artist’s untimely death in 2016, legions of fans re-sparked an interest in the plethora of music left behind by the virtuosic musician, with significant attention being directed towards the 1984 magnum opus.
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Regarded as one of the finest albums – if not the finest album – of the ’80s, the LP pays testament to Prince’s talents as a composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer, with hit like ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Purple Rain’ highlighting the wunderkind musician as one of the finest of his era.
In this week’s Gear Rundown, we take a look at the assortment of gear used by Prince and The Revolution on his landmark 1984 LP – let’s go crazy!
‘The Cloud’ Guitar
Prince certainly had a penchant for weird guitars, and while this one isn’t his whackiest, it’s certainly his most iconic.
Now stored in the Smithsonian, ‘The Cloud’ was designed by Knut Koupee luthier Dave Rusan after Prince requested a unique looking guitar for the film, with the incredibly hefty instrument featuring specs such as active EMG pickups, gold Schaller hardware, and an all-white finish.
Although it was intended to be used solely for the film, Prince loved ‘The Cloud’ so much that he toured with the guitar and requested further copies be made for his own collection – which was probably a good idea, seeing as he smashed the original at his last gig with The Revolution in 1986.
Hohner Mad Cat Telecaster
One of Prince’s main instruments throughout his whole career, this rare Japanese Hohner Telecaster was picked out by The Purple One some time in the early ’80s before the corporation was served with a cease and desist by Fender (for obvious reasons).
By that time, Prince had acquired several models, with the hot single-coil pickups proving to be a core aspect of his funky clean sound heard across the album.
Acting as the rhythm guitarist for Prince on Purple Rain, Wendy Melvoin played a modified Rickenbacker 330 throughout her tenure with Prince and The Revolution.
Extensively modified with G&L pickups for increased sustain and featuring blocked soundholes to reduce feedback from playing huge stadiums, Melvoin played the custom purple Ric on six tracks across Purple Rain, including ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and the title track.
Fender Jazz Bass
While some of the bass parts across Purple Rain were played by Revolution bassist Brownmark, Prince played many of the bass tracks himself, using a Fender Jazz Bass which was also played by him and Brownmark live.
While the exact specs of his main bass are uncertain, Brownmark’s main Revolution bass looks to be a ’70s model with a maple fretboard and block inlays, and, of course, was painted purple.
Mesa/Boogie Mk II Coliseum
An absolutely huge guitar amp with a crazy 180 watts of headroom, Prince owned three Mesa Mark IIC+ heads around the recording of Purple Rain, and the amp was seen in his touring rig up until the 1999 Tour.
Apparently, one of the heads somehow ended up in a music shop in Minneapolis, where it was purchased by an unsuspecting fan who later discovered it was Prince’s backup head – not bad for a cheeky second-hand purchase.
Mesa/Boogie Strategy 500 Power Amp
Prince was also a huge fan of using power amps to achieve a heavy, saturated lead tone, with various sources claiming he used a Mesa Strategy 500 to push his amps to the absolute limit on Purple Rain.
For cabinets, Prince typically paired his Mesa heads with either Mesa Recto 4×12’s or slanted Marshall 4×12 speaker enclosures.
It’s no secret that Prince had a penchant for the humble BOSS box, and Purple Rain holds true to this testament.
Throughout the album, you can hear classic tones from the likes of the DS-1 Distortion, BF-2 Flanger, OC-2 O Octave, DD-3 Digital Delay and the incredibly rare VB-2 Vibrato for chorus tones, as well as the classic Dunlop Crybaby wah-wah for all those electro-funk freak-outs.
Regarded as an OG synth of the 1980s, Prince notably used the Oberheim OB-Xa on all of his classic ’80s albums, including Dirty Mind, Controversy, and of course, the title track for 1999.
You can hear the OB-Xa during the Church Organ intro to ‘Let’s Go Crazy’.
If there’s one synthesiser that defined the sound of the ’80s, it’s the Yamaha DX-7.
A landmark in the world of synthesis due to its claim of being one of the first ever digital synths on the market, Prince was an early adoptee of the DX-7, and its funky tones can be heard prominently across Purple Rain – a perfect example of which being on ‘When Doves Cry’.
Read what it was like to work with Prince in the studio through our interview with Peggy McCreary here.