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40 Years of Purple Rain – Prince and his Gear

40 Years of Purple Rain  · 

RGR Collection / Alamy Stock Foto

Prince is a phenomenon: Hardly any other guitarist received less recognition from the general audience for his skills as a guitar player. That said, Prince has always been known as a musical maverick and unconventional artist. As we celebrate the 40th (!) anniversary of “Purple Rain”, let’s take a look at Prince, the guitar player – his technique, his sound, and of course his gear. “Purple Rain” not only made music history, but is also a great example of how Prince revolutionized the world of music.

Note: This article was originally published by Jan Rotring on Translation: Lasse Eilers.


Born in 1958 in Minneapolis as the son of a jazz singer and a pianist, Prince Rogers Nelson was influenced by his parents’ involvement in music at a young age. As a teenager, he already played several instruments and, most importantly, quickly developed his own style. At 19 years of age, he signed with Warner and released his debut album “For You”. Let’s not forget to mention the fact that he played almost all instruments himself.

Prince: Musical Development and Influences

As an avid music fan, Prince drew inspiration from the greats during his early years: Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and James Brown shaped the mix of funk, rock, and pop that would become the foundation of Prince’s signature style.

As he began to expand his musical vision in the early 1980s, his albums “1999” and “Purple Rain” combined complex musical structures with catchy hooklines – a mix that proved to be extremely popular.

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Prince: Playing Style and Technique

Purple Rain Live – Prince
Purple Rain Live – Prince · Source: Allstar Picture Library Ltd / Alamy Stock Foto

As a guitar player, Prince’s technique was characterized by his exceptional versatility that extended far beyond the scope of his genre – whatever you may call it.

Rapid runs, smooth legato playing and rhythmic slapping were all part of his repertoire. And the chords! Far beyond I-IV-V and other common progressions, he used highly unusual chords that contributed to his unmistakable style. Need an example? Just listen to the solo in the title track “Purple Rain”. Despite a high level of complexity, it conveys an emotional intensity that couldn’t be any more sophisticated.

And what sounds brilliant on the record was even more impressive live on stage – thanks to plenty of improvisation and Prince’s perfect interaction with his band The Revolution.

Purple Rain: Sound and Gear

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Sure, the fingers make the sound. But they weren’t the only components of Prince’s signature sound. Let’s take a brief look at the setup that helped create the sound of Purple Rain.

Guitars: Price was always known for his unique, custom-made guitars – take “The Cloud” as an example. This special guitar featured active EMG pickups and gold-colored Schaller hardware and contributed greatly to his unmistakable sound.

In addition to The Cloud, Prince frequently used a Hohner Mad Cat Telecaster. A modified Rickenbacker 330 was also used during the Purple Rain sessions.

Effects and Amps

Prince playing a Telecaster on stage
Prince playing a Telecaster on stage · Source: RGR Collection / Alamy Stock Foto

A complete list of all the effects used by Prince is probably impossible to compile. However, it included some well-known classics that are still popular today:

  • Boss DS-1 Distortion: fat distortion with an open and transparent sonic character
  • Boss OC-2 Octaver: wide, chorus-like effects
  • Boss BF-1 Flanger: emotional highlights, especially during solos
  • Boss DD-3 Digital Delay: all-purpose echo and delay
  • Dunlop Crybaby Wah: a must for funky licks that Prince knew how to use masterfully.

As an admirer of Carlos Santana, Prince also relied on Mesa/Boogie amps since the early days of his career. Whether it was a good-old Mark IIC+ or a Strategy 500 Power Amp with maximum headroom: Plenty of power and a great sound!

How Purple Rain was made

40 Years of Purple Rain
40 Years of Purple Rain · Source: Jan Sandvik Editorial / Alamy Stock Foto

The reason I’m writing this article is the 40th anniversary of Purple Rain. So let’s take a look at how the album came to be.

Prince recorded large parts of the album at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles and used live recordings as the foundation of the tracks. For example, “Purple Rain” and “I Would Die 4 U” are based on tracks from a charity concert, which were later refined using overdubs.

Prince’s close collaboration with The Revolution was a central part of the production process. Prince closely worked with the members of the band to shape the sound of the album. Wendy Melvoin (guitar) and Lisa Coleman (keys) both played significant roles in the creation of the album and contributed innovative chord structures and arrangements.

During recording, Prince experimented with room acoustics and various microphone techniques, combined analog and digital technology, and used a mix of live recordings and overdubs. This recording process gave the album the energy and authenticity that made it a timeless classic – not just because of its fantastic sound!

Prince as a Live Performer

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The tour that followed the album was a spectacular display of Prince’s abilities as a live performer and guitarist. Spanning 98 concerts in North America between November 4, 1984 and April 7, 1985, the tour was a sensational success – both in terms of revenue and critical acclaim.

Prince’s concerts will always be remembered for their untamed intensity and energy. While they were meticulously choreographed, they also left plenty of room for spontaneity and interplay between Prince and The Revolution.

Prince became known as one of the greatest live performers of his (or all?) time and demonstrated his ability to deliver breathtaking performances – both musically and visually. 40 years after Purple Rain, it remains an integral part of his musical legacy.

Prince’s Musical Legacy

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The album “Purple Rain” and the accompanying tour made a lasting impression on the world of music and cemented Prince’s legacy as a guitarist and artist. This work not only helped define the 80s, but also inspired the generations of musicians that followed.

Prince’s unique playing style and his creative use of gear and recording technology have secured him a permanent place in music history. Even 40 years after its release, Purple Rain continues to inspire. It always makes me happy when a work of art ages this well.

Personally, I didn’t discover Prince for myself until recently – sparked by videos of live performances from the Purple Rain era. What does this exceptional guitarist mean to you? Let us know in the comments!

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40 Years of Purple Rain

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John Smith

My John Smith is a seasoned technology writer with a passion for unraveling the complexities of the digital world. With a background in computer science and a keen interest in emerging trends, John has become a sought-after voice in translating intricate technological concepts into accessible and engaging articles.

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