Prince’s Blue Cloud Guitar Featured in Julien’s Auctions Event

Liz Catalano
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Music Icons Sale to Include Items from Kurt Cobain, the Beatles, Jim Morrison, and Others

When Prince was rising to popularity in the late 1970s and early 80s, he reached out to an Uptown store in the Twin Cities called Knut-Koupée Music. He was thinking of making a movie and needed a functioning stage guitar that would make a statement. Dave Rusan, who worked in the shop at the time, had already established a reputation as a guitar designer and luthier. 

“[Prince] and Jeff [Hill, the owner,] went into the back office and they talked a long time, and then Jeff came down and told me, ‘Prince is going to make a movie. He needs a guitar, and you’re going to make it.’ And I was like, wow,” Rusan would later recall. The movie was Purple Rain (1984), which won the last Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and became one of Prince’s most well-known artistic endeavors.

Custom-made 1984 blue Cloud guitar for Prince ($100,000 - $200,000). Image from Julien’s Auctions.
Custom-made 1984 blue Cloud guitar for Prince ($100,000 – $200,000). Image from Julien’s Auctions.

In Julien’s Auctions’ upcoming Music Icons event, held on June 19th and 20th in Beverly Hills, California, an early Cloud guitar custom-made for Prince will be featured. The guitar was made in 1984 and was one of the earliest Clouds that Prince used. It was heavily staged-played and no longer has strings attached. However, the piece is accented with gold hardware and the artist’s signature love symbols on the neck. With a presale estimate of USD 100,000 – 200,000, this piece is expected to perform well at auction. Previous stage-used guitars have reportedly sold for between $400,000 and $1 million, while others are housed at the Smithsonian Museum or remain at the late artist’s Paisley Park home. 

Those interested in Prince memorabilia will find other lots to explore in this auction. His two-piece purple suit, custom-made in the late 1990s for his New Power Soul Tour, will be offered ($15,000 – $20,000), as well as his love symbol belt buckle and several pieces of personal jewelry.

Another famous guitar will be for sale in the Julien’s event. Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E, used in Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged show, is among the leading lots. An intimate, acoustic performance, MTV Unplugged was recorded shortly before Cobain’s death by suicide. The recorded album remains one of the most popular live performances in history, hitting No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard charts almost immediately before winning a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1996.

Kurt Cobain’s 1993 MTV Unplugged performance. Image from CNN.
Kurt Cobain’s 1993 MTV Unplugged performance. Image from CNN.

“Surrounded by lilies, the flowers of death, Kurt Cobain sat on a soundstage almost five months before his suicide and made his last self-portrait,” Rolling Stone wrote of his appearance. This acoustic guitar was the only one Cobain used during the set, and he was careful not to smash it in typical Nirvana fashion. Rather, he left the guitar center stage before walking away at the end of the performance. 

Other artifacts from MTV Unplugged have historically drawn attention on the auction block. The green cardigan sweater Cobain wore during the show sold for $334,000 in October of 2019, above the high estimate of $300,000. The unwashed item, complete with cigarette burns and stains, remains one of the most expensive sweaters ever sold.

The guitar itself has gained fame and notoriety in the years since Cobain’s death. It was purchased at Voltage Guitars in Los Angeles and was customized before the show. One of the only D-18Es made by Martin Guitar, Cobain added a Bartolini pickup to the soundhole and decorated the hard-shell case with ticket stubs and punk rock flyers. Following his passing, the guitar made headlines when it was caught in a legal battle between Cobain’s daughter and her ex-husband, Isaiah Silva. He later sued several individuals in the industry for allegedly attempting to steal the guitar. Now coming to auction, it is expected to sell for around $1 million. Admirers of the guitar can view it at the Hard Rock Cafe Piccadilly Circus in London’s West End through the end of May.

Liberace’s Howard “Cabinet Grand” J upright piano ($20,000 - $40,000). Image from Julien’s Auctions.
Liberace’s Howard “Cabinet Grand” J upright piano ($20,000 – $40,000). Image from Julien’s Auctions.

Other key lots in the auction include handwritten lyrics for the Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” ($200,000 – $300,000), a journal written by Jim Morrison of the Doors during his time living in Paris ($80,000 – $100,000), and the ivory satin halter gown Madonna wore in her “Vogue” music video ($20,000 – $30,000). 

“Julien’s Auctions is proud to present these important artifacts, all of which occupy an unparalleled place in music history and pop culture,” Darren Julien, the president and CEO of the auction house, said in a press release.

The available lots can be viewed in a public Beverly Hills exhibition a few days before the event and bidding will begin live and online at 10:00 AM PDT on June 19th. Visit Julien’s Auctions for more information.