It’s a sad fact of life that some of the greatest guitarists of all time do not get given enough credit. If strangers in the street were asked about the greatest guitarist, they’ll probably mention names such as Slash, Herman Li, or Jimmie Page – all great guitarists, but not quite the greatest in my opinion.
For me, one of the very best guitarists in the world would have to be Prince. Prince is incredibly underrated if you ask me – everyone remembers him for his quirky pop hits and experimental style, but not enough people realize that he was the guitarist behind the music.
He was a truly innovative songwriter and the electric guitar was his instrument, and I have always wondered how he reached his iconic sound.
I did a lot of research to understand this better, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Luckily for you, I’ve decided to compile all of this information into the following guide on Prince’s player profile, guitars and gear list so that you don’t have to do the research yourself. I hope you find this as helpful and interesting as I did!
Bottom Line Up Front: Whilst the Schecter and Auerswald Symbol has to be Prince’s most iconic guitar, his most iconic gear setup which is obtainable at mainstream music stores would be the Hohner Madcat guitar, the Marshall 1960a cabinet amp, the Mesa Boogie Mark II amp head, and a collection of BOSS effects pedals.
What Did Prince Look For In Guitars and Gear?
In case you’ve never listened to Prince’s music, let me tell you something straight – this guitarist was one of a kind. I’m not just talking about his personality or his guitar-playing technique, but the gear that he chose was absolutely nuts.
Many people compare Prince to Michael Jackson, and whilst their music certainly had crossovers, this was mainly due to the similar levels of effort that they both put into in terms of stage presence and appearance.
They both dressed in incredible ways, but Prince took this one step further by dressing his electric guitars in incredible ways.
This will all become quite clear to you shortly once we take a look at some of his signature guitars, but let me just answer the question of what Prince looked for in guitars first – he looked for uniqueness.
Some guitarists favor immaculate tone, comfort, or reputation, but not Prince. Prince looked for the most visually insane and quirky guitars that he could get his hands on.
Prince was huge in the ‘80s and ‘90s and these were wacky times of experimentation for musical instruments, and he took every opportunity he had to purchase strange-looking guitars.
However, when he eventually began to run out of options, he eventually resorted to working directly with guitar manufacturers to craft the most unusual and bizarre-looking guitars.
So, to answer your question, the most important quality in a guitar for Prince was simple – uniqueness was where it was at.
Prince’s Favourite Guitars
So, I’ve given you a bit of a warning on how weird things are going to get, so are you ready? Trust me, when I first discovered the types of guitars that Prince played, I was baffled. Don’t worry though – I’m going to get you started on something nice and simple, Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters!
Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster
That’s right – you might be feeling a little bit underwhelmed, but don’t worry – things are going to get weird any minute now. For now, though, I think it’s important to take things back to Prince’s roots, back when he was learning how to play guitar for the first time.
Despite his quirky taste in guitars later in his career, various photos show that the Fender Strat was Prince’s first-ever guitar. No wonder – these were insanely popular around the ’70s and ’70s for their incredible craftsmanship and gorgeous tone.
However, Prince’s use of Stratocasters didn’t last long – these guitars were very much associated with rock music, and Prince was going for a funkier vibe and psychedelic, so it’s unsurprisingly that he swiftly moved on to the Fender Telecaster.
This was a very important guitar in Prince’s career as it was used to write some of the first-ever songs on his discography, but once again, it didn’t stick with him for long. His musical style was evolving rapidly, and he was eager to find a far more unique guitar.
- Fender is one of the most reputable guitar brands of all time
- Both the Stratocaster and Telecaster are very affordable beginner guitars
- A classic and neutral look, accompanied by a brilliant tone
- They look nowhere near as cool as the other guitars on this list, simple.
After learning the guitar ropes on a Stratocaster and mastering the instrument on a telecaster, Prince wanted something more, and that was when he discovered the Hohner Madcat.
This is perhaps the most important guitar in terms of the early era of Prince – it featured a Flamed Maple finish and a custom cheetah print scratchplate, and this unique aesthetic took Prince’s look to the next level that he was looking for.
It wasn’t just the looks that had Prince interested in the Madcat though – this guitar had a smaller scale length than other guitars around at the time, a very unique tone, and a truly stunning wood quality that put the Fender guitars to shame.
Prince loved this guitar so much in fact that he continued to use it through the ‘80s, ‘90s, and even the early ‘00s, although it’s assumed that he locked the guitar up in his studio for preservation shortly after.
- Premium build quality from Hohner
- Stunning custom design
- A cheetah skinned scratchplate, enough said!
- Many people are not a fan of the cheetah print scratchplate, but each to their own.
Prince was already looking pretty unique in comparison to other guitarists with his cheetah print Hohner Madcat, but this simply was not enough.
This dude had an aesthetical appetite that was blowing the mind of his audience, and he wanted to continue to push this envelope forward to no tomorrow. So, in 1984, Prince first acquired the Schecter Cloud.
Stop what you’re doing right now and search online for a picture of this bizarre piece of musical history – this insane cloud-like guitar was the direct result of a collaboration between Prince, Dave Rusan, and Schecter guitars, and boy did it look bizarre.
The guitar had a tiny scale length of 24.75 inches, a thin and curvy body, dual EMG pickups, brass dials, and a brass bridge that made the guitar shine like nothing else.
It was truly a spectacular musical collaboration and Prince would own various blue and white editions of the guitar over the years, but if you thought that this had satisfied his thirst for unusual guitars, you couldn’t be more wrong.
- Small scale length for easy fretboard exploration
- Dual EMG pickups
- Brass hardware
- Lightweight and compact body
- The unusual nature of the body no doubt had an unusual effect on the tone
- Custom built, and therefore incredibly hard to find
Roland G 707
When I first saw Prince use the Roland G 707, I was convinced that it must be have been a custom job – it looked completely out of this world, and after he collaborated with Schecter it would have made sense.
Believe it or not, however, this 1986 guitar was an original design by Roland and had absolutely nothing to do with Prince!
Once again, you’re going to need to see a picture of this one to believe it. The guitar had a super futuristic look about it, mainly due to the silver/ash finish, angular build, and the way that the neck joined up with the body from two different angles.
I’ve honestly never seen another guitar like this, it looks unbelievably fresh to this day so I can’t imagine how cool Prince must have felt playing it back in ’86!
However, it wasn’t all about the visuals – the coolest thing about this guitar in my opinion is the fact that Prince had modified the electronics of the instrument so that he could use the tonal controls as a means to control his synthesizer parameters.
That would be pretty next level in today’s experimental music scene, let alone back in the ‘80s. What a guy!
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- Incredibly cool ash/silver finish
- Futuristic angular design
- The way the neck joins the body from two angles makes the guitar incredibly easy to hold
- Readily available on the market, despite its bizarre design
- Easily moddable for MIDI control
- Costs a pretty penny if you want to locate one these days
- Ridiculously small scale length
Schecter Auerswald Symbol
There are so many other guitars that I could mention, but I’ve only got so much writing space and the guitars I’ve been discussing have been getting progressively weirder. Therefore, it only feels natural to finish things up on another collaborative and wacky effort, the Auerswald/Schecter Symbol guitar.
One look at this and it will be obvious that this is another insane collaboration, but this time it wasn’t just from Schecter. Prince collaborated with Auerswald guitars on a unique Model-C guitar that looked strikingly like the Tesla Model C, and Prince was so inspired by this that he wanted to work with both of the companies together.
Visually, it was bonkers. It was made in both purple and gold with Prince’s signature brass hardware, with triangular machine heads, acutely angled tremolos arms and an even more bizarre body than anything he had used before.
It’s easily Prince’s most unique guitar out of his whole collection, and it truly baffled me that something so unusual sounded so darn good!
- A design that feels like it has come from another planet
- Came in both purple and gold
- Brass hardware
- Incredibly unique tone
- Hardly any of these were made, so it’s almost impossible to find one
Prince’s Favourite Amplifier Setups
So, you’ve probably got the impression by now that when it comes to his taste in guitar gear, Prince loves to go above and beyond with custom designs, complimenting his stage presence and entertaining his fans. So, you might be wondering whether he does anything to stand out in terms of amplifiers.
Unfortunately, this side of things isn’t quite as exciting, but that’s probably because he was focused on tones in this department. Let’s take a look at some of Prince’s favorite amplifiers.
Mesa Boogie Amp Heads
I mentioned earlier that Prince didn’t use anything particularly outlandish in terms of amplification, but that’s only relative to what is normal these days. Some of the amp heads he used early on in his career were pretty futuristic at the time.
A prime example of this would be the Mesa Boogie series, particularly the Mark II which he used between the late ’70s and ’80s.
The futuristic nature of these heads was due to the range of controls that they had – they had five-band graphical equalizers which were very unusual at the time, additional knobs for treble, bass, and presence, an in-built reverb control, and two volume dials across two channels.
That’s pretty nuts considering the decade we are talking about here!
This wasn’t the only Mesa Boogie head Prince used though – he also used the Mesa Boogie Mark III between the late ’80s and early ’90s, favoring the “Lead Mode” of this model over the previous which is known to result in the fat tone of his 1991 tour.
Other than this though, the amp was pretty similar to the Mark II, other than the functionality. For example, the control switches were pull-style instead of traditional buttons, and whilst this may seem insignificant, it was all about the minor details for Prince.
- Futuristic appearance for its time
- Large range of controls
- Five-band graphical EQ allowing for intuitive tonal control
- Pretty standard amp heads in this day and age
Marshall 1960a Cab Amps
Prince was able to use the futuristic style of the Mesa Boogie amp heads to his advantage, but there wasn’t much room for exploration when it came to cabinets.
As a result, the guitarist focused on something stable, large, mobile, and most importantly – loud. The best option for this at the time was the Marshall 1960a, and it would still hold up at a gig to this day!
The guitarist did experiment with other amplification cabinets such as Peaveys, Mesas, and most notably the Bag End D12 M, but he ultimately settled on the Marshall 1960a for the vast majority of his career. Specifically, Prince was noted to prioritize using this amp between the early ’70s through to the early ’90s.
At this point, his fame was larger than life, and was performing at enormous stadium concerts, and thus, unfortunately, had much less control over the amplifiers that he used live.
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- Marshall is unbeatable in terms of cabinet quality and reputation
- Large yet very mobile
- It was one of the loudest amps at the time
- Due to the bulky nature of the amplifier, there wasn’t much room for innovative appearance here
Prince’s Favourite Effects Pedals
Guitars and amplifiers are the most important pieces of equipment to a guitarist, but when you’re trying to break musical boundaries such as Prince, you’re going to need a helping hand from effects pedals.
Many people are not aware that effects pedals have been around for almost as long as rock music has been, and Prince was one of the early pioneers of the equipment. Let’s take a look at the staples of his pedalboard.
Take a look at any photograph of Prince’s pedalboard, and you’ll notice that it mainly consisted of BOSS pedals. Prince used so many BOSS pedals that there were simply too many to list here, so I’ve just picked some of the ones that I hear most commonly in his music.
To start things off, Prince loved his BOSS OC 2 Octaver. As the name suggests, this quality pedal handled the pitching of his guitar tone, ultimately allowing him to pitch shift his strings to produce high, low, or merged tones. This was pretty unusual at the time but formed a signature sound in the funk movement.
Next up is the BOSS SD 1 Overdrive, a staple of just about every bedroom guitarist’s pedalboard. Sure, the amplifier setups Prince used could handle his clean tones, but they weren’t all that great at producing overdrive. This is where the SD 1 came in, it added a ton of crunch to his sound portfolio.
Prince was also a big fan of modulation effects – these are much more experimental and unique than traditional effects such as reverb and distortion, ultimately giving the instrument a more synthetic vibe to it.
For his modulation effects, Prince favored the BOSS VB 2 Vibrato and the BOSS BF 2 Flanger. When used in unison, this pedal combo produced a Prince tone that is unmistakable.
There are a few other honorable mentions such as the Mutron BI Phaser (yet another modulation effect) and the Dunlop Cry Baby Wah Wah effect. However, it’s undeniable that Prince was primarily a fan of BOSS pedals, and it’s so great to see that they are still on the market in shops like Guitar World to this day!
From Prince’s earliest explorations with Fender Strats and Teles to his custom guitars and BOSS-fuelled pedalboards, we sure have covered a lot of information regarding this iconic musician’s gear preferences.
Let’s take a moment to take in what we have learned, followed by this short and snappy section answering your most frequently asked questions!
Question: What Was Prince’s First Guitar?
Answer: The guitar that Prince learned the instrument on was a Fender Stratocaster, although he soon switched this out for a Telecaster and then ultimately swapped that out for custom and quirky models.
Question: Why Did Prince’s Guitars Look So Crazy?
Answer: Prince had an extremely unique taste in guitars which made them look very odd, and these were only made possible due to his collaborations with guitar designers such as Schecter and Auerswald.
Question: What Amplifiers Did Prince Use?
Answer: Prince used a ton of different standalone amps and stack setups, but his most iconic combination was the Marshall 1960 cabinet driven by the Mesa Boogie Mark II head.
Question: What Effect Pedals did Prince Use?
Answer: Like most guitarists, Prince had an enormous arsenal of effects pedals that he used to augment his music, but he was particularly fond of BOSS effect pedals such as the OC2, SD 1, VB2, and BF 2.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this journey through Prince’s musical gear as much as I have! From classic Fender Stratocasters to guitars that control synthesizers, Prince went through a whole journey of exploration and it resulted in an incredibly unique sound.
However, when it comes to his staple setup, there’s nothing more iconic than his Schecter and Auerswald Symbol guitar, although you’ll have a hard time finding it!
If you wanted to replicate Prince’s sound, I would recommend getting yourself a Hohner Madcat, modding it with a cheetah print, and using a Marshall 1960 cabinet driven by a Mesa Boogie Mark II head. All of this equipment is readily available at stores like Guitar Sound, so it’ll be a lot easier than obtaining some of his custom equipment.
Well, I wish you all the best on your musical journey, and who knows – perhaps I’ll be writing about you in the future instead of the legend that is Prince!
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