Prince 'Cloud 3', Music Icons Auction Smash Records & Expectations

Prince's iconic "Cloud 3" guitar sold for a staggering $910,000, setting a new world record for the most expensive Prince guitar ever sold at auction.

June 3, 2024

prince is playing a guitar and singing into a microphone on stage .

The air crackled with electrifying anticipation at The Hard Rock, New York, as Julien's Auctions – touted as the maestros of music memorabilia – orchestrated a two-day symphony of sales aptly titled “Music Icons." In a symphony of sales over May 29th and 30th, a mesmerizing collection of 1,000 artifacts, each a unique note in the grand composition of rock and roll history, captivated discerning collectors and ardent enthusiasts alike. The event was a resounding success, with a 95% sell-through rate and an astonishing $10.3 million in sales.

Prince's "Cloud 3" Electrifies the Auction Block

The undisputed crescendo of the auction was the sale of Prince's legendary "Cloud 3" electric guitar. This majestic instrument, a shimmering crown jewel in the Purple One's arsenal, had been absent from the public eye for nearly two decades. Its reappearance was a divine revelation, and its sale for a staggering $910,000 set a new world record for the most expensive Prince guitar ever sold at auction. The "Cloud 3" had accompanied Prince on his iconic tours from "Purple Rain" to "Diamonds & Pearls," making it a tangible link to some of the most electrifying performances in music history.

A Yellow “Cloud” guitar built by Dave Rusan for Prince, completed in early 1985 for the Purple Rain tour. Distinctive Cloud shape, multiple layers of paint, 25” scale length neck-through-body construction, 22 frets on a painted fretboard with dry transfer “Love Symbol” position markers, a mix of brass and gold-plated hardware, EMG pickups, Schaller 457 wraparound bridge, West German Schaller tuners, and a brass nut. Used by Prince on stage along with three other such instruments from 1985-1993.

Completed for the Purple Rain tour in 1985, Cloud 3 began life as an O’Hagan Nightwatch guitar and presents with correct three-piece neck-through-body construction. Its body was cut down and maple wings were attached and re-shaped to create the signature Cloud shape, based on a bass guitar acquired by Prince in the late 1970s that was designed and built by luthier Jeff Levin under the name Sardonyx. The shape of that bass was an extrapolation of the Gibson F-style mandolin, upscaled for the much larger instrument.

Prince brought the Sardonyx bass to his local Minneapolis music store Knut Koupée, and requested a white guitar version with gold hardware and EMG pickups.. Owned by Karl Dedolph and Jeff Hill, Knut had recently acquired a large inventory of guitars, parts, and tools from the recently defunct O’Hagan Guitars brand which included the completed husks of Shark and Nightwatch guitars. Using the center portions of these husks for the Cloud was the best way to complete the job in the time allotted.

“I was under a lot of pressure to do them quick, and I made everything except the neck,” Cloud builder Dave Rusan recounts over the phone. “I didn’t have a lot of jigs so there are some variations in the scroll carvings, but they’re all really close.”

A Guitar Hero's Arsenal

The auction showcased an illustrious array of guitars that had been wielded by some of the most influential figures in rock and roll. Steve Jones' 1974 Gibson Les Paul Custom, the very instrument that powered the Sex Pistols' punk rock revolution, fetched an impressive $390,000. Bono's 2005 Gretsch G6136i "Irish Falcon," a gleaming symbol of U2's soaring anthems, and Adam Clayton's Fender Rose Sparkle Precision bass guitar, the rhythmic backbone of U2's Las Vegas residency, each sold for $260,000. These instruments were more than just tools of the trade; they were soulful extensions of the artists themselves, imbued with the raw energy of countless performances.

A 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, s/n 9 0319, in faded sunburst finish, owned by Randy Bachman who has sold 40 million records worldwide as a member of The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and as a solo artist. Affectionately known as “The American Woman Guitar,” it is indeed the very same instrument on which Randy wrote and recorded The Guess Who’s most famous hit song.

Randy first acquired this guitar in 1968 during a gig in a church basement in Nanaimo, British Columbia. As the story goes, Randy was using a Mosrite with a cracked neck during the set when an audience member approached the stage with a familiar brown guitar case.

“If you’re a guitar player, you know what that little brown case means,” Randy teases. “It means a Les Paul.”

The concertgoer gestures at his case, offering Randy the chance to take it for a spin. Randy accepts mid-song, slings the guitar around his shoulder, and proceeds to play the rest of the show with the Gibson.

After the set, a trade was proposed: the Les Paul, which formerly belonged to his uncle, for Randy’s Mosrite. This was not a fair trade in Randy’s eyes, so to make up the difference he added in all the cash in his pocket, which amounted to $72.

With the trade accepted, Randy promptly had the guitar fitted with a Bigsby Vibrato, and from then on it became the sound of The Guess Who. It was also the guitar Randy played at a fateful performance at a Canadian Curling Rink, where he stumbled upon the iconic riff after breaking a string during a gig at a Curling Rink in Southern Ontario.

While the band took a break, he re-strung the guitar and tuned to a nearby piano, checking note after note in succession until it all coalesced into the classic chord progression we all know to this day.

World Records Tumble

"Music Icons" not only celebrated the timeless legacy of these musical giants but also shattered several world records. In addition to the record-breaking sale of Prince's "Cloud 3," Julien's Auctions also achieved the highest prices ever paid at auction for guitars owned by John Lennon and Robbie Robertson. The event solidified Julien's reputation as the premier destination for passionate collectors seeking to own a piece of music history.

Beyond the Axes

While guitars took center stage, the auction offered a dazzling treasure trove of other memorabilia. Tina Turner's 1996-97 "Wildest Dreams Tour" stage-worn Versace outfit, a testament to her electrifying presence, sold for $38,100. Michael Jackson's 1984 Victory stage-worn "Billy Jean" black sequin jacket, a garment synonymous with his iconic dance moves, fetched $114,300. Even Amy Winehouse's 2008 Chanel leather bag, a silent witness to her tumultuous life, found a new home for $22,750.

A sequined Bill Whitten, Billie-Jean style jacket, stage-worn by Michael Jackson during the 1984 "Victory" World Tour.

The unstructured black sequin cardigan style blazer, worn open, has no button closure. The material has black sequins sewn over a black poly-blend base fabric, fully lined with a poly-blend fabric. There is a royal-inspired crest patch on the right side of the chest. Sewn at the interior neckline is a Whitten Bill label.

Jackson wore a black sequined jacket on stage during the tour, specifically during his performance of the hit single "Billie Jean." Fashion designer Bill Whitten famously designed Jackson's crystal glove and socks, also worn throughout the tour. The jacket was exhibited at the Grammy Museum from Oct 5th, 2018 to Oct 5th, 2021.

Accompanied by Grammy Museum papers as well as Mears grading letter.

Sounding off with guest contributor: Alan Light
The Jacksons’ 1984 Victory Tour was essentially the Thriller Tour—Michael Jackson had not done a solo tour following the 1982 release of the biggest studio album of all time. An inevitable highlight of the largest-scale tour ever attempted was Jackson’s performance of “Billie Jean,” a masterpiece which is his best-selling single and was voted the Greatest Dance Song of All Time by BBC Radio listeners. Inextricable from “Billie Jean” is the sequined blazer Jackson wore for “Billie Jean,” designed by Bill Whitten (who also designed MJ’s crystal glove and socks)—an iconic look for an iconic song.

Unrivaled Auction Experience

Music Icons ended its two-day stint at The Hard Rock, New York in harmonious fashion. The event not only generated impressive sales figures but also fostered a vibrant sense of community among music lovers and collectors. It was a joyous celebration of the enduring power of music and a testament to the undying appeal of the artists who created it.

Julien's Auctions, once again, proved our metal as the undisputed authority in offering the best evaluation and presentation of holy grail guitars with unparalleled expertise in curating and showcasing these priceless artifacts, ensuring that the legacy of these music icons will continue to resonate for generations to come.

We're keeping the excitement going with the upcoming TCM and Julien's presents "Hollywood Legends: Danger, Disaster & Disco auction -- a trove of cinema's best. Don't space out and miss your chance to snag the film industry's most coveted production and movie artifacts. Register and bid today.

a man singing into a microphone while holding a guitar


Julien's Auctions | 13007 S. Western Avenue, Gardena, California 90249

Phone 310-836-1818 Fax 310-742-0155

© 2003-2024 Julien's Auctions