Prince was known for playing some very unique guitars through the years such as “The Cloud Guitar” which was designed and built by Dave Rusan, the “Love Symbol” which was originally built by the brilliant German luthier, Jerry Auerswald, in 1993. He was also often seen playing Telecasters and relied on them in the studio more than any other guitar, more specifically, Telecaster knock offs known as Hohner “Mad Cats” which featured a flamed maple top on an ash body with a walnut strip in the middle. They featured a bridge much like a hardtail Stratocaster. The Mad Cat was further distinguished by its leopard-print pickguard. A little over 500 Mad Cats were made during the ’70s (starting in 1973). Originally, they were made under the banner of “H.S. Anderson”, which was a brand launched by the Japanese Morris Guitar Company. Morris sold the rights to the German company Hohner (yes, the same company known for their harmonicas). Hohner kept making them in the same Japanese factory but the headstock now said “Hohner“, although it was stylized like the H.S. Anderson logo. Production ceased after a lawsuit was filed because the headstock shape looked identical to a Fender.

The Mad Cat

Prince acquired his Hohner Mad Cat at some point in the late 1970s, legend has it that he purchased it for $30 from a gas station. Prince was always more concerned about the look of a guitar rather than its tone – The Cloud Guitar was originally made to be a movie prop for Purple Rain. Fortunately, it sounded great and played well enough for Prince to continue using it as the film had helped create the iconic status of the guitar. At the time, the Mad Cat‘s leopard-print pickguard matched Prince’s stage clothes and amps, which were covered in fake fur. The Hohner’s were pretty high-quality Tele copies. It would have cost about 80,000 YEN new in 1976, which equates to about $772.98 in today’s US currency. Prince’s longtime guitar tech, Takumi Suetsugu, rarely breaks his silence regarding Prince’s gear but has stated that it is the best Telecaster he has ever played. The pickups have been replaced on a few occasions. First, with Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups and later Kinman Traditional pickups. A third pickup was also added under the pickguard for noise-canceling purposes, but this was later removed. Prince’s Mad Cat has a wireless receiver built into the body, which was added during the Purple Rain tour.

After Prince became a superstar in the ’80s, Hohner decided to bring this guitar back into production, but now with a different headstock to avoid legal issues. In fact, they did it a few times (models were called “The Prinz” and later “TE Prinz”), but these guitars didn’t reach the quality standards of the old H.S. Anderson and original Hohner models. Prince used an original Hohner version of the Mad Cat starting in the early 80s (around 1983) and it was most notably used for the recording of “Purple Rain“.

Prince’s original Hohner Mad Cat is still intact and served Prince for the duration of his career. This is a testament to his tech, Takumi’s skilled hands. Some may not know this, but famed luthier Roger Sadowsky made some replicas of Prince’s Hohner Mad Cats. He confirmed that he, in fact, was asked to make six – two exact Mad Cat replicas, two telecasters with flowers painted on them [one pink and one purple], and two more exact replicas of the Mad Cat, except with some unique plumbing through the neck that allowed the ability to spray ivory liquid out of the tip (I mean… headstock). Roger was brought into the project just as Prince and his band were starting rehearsals for the Purple Rain tour. Roger delivered the guitars to Minneapolis himself.

Those guitars featured DiMarzio pickups when they were delivered to Prince – any modifications beyond that are a mystery. The replicas were so good that Roger, himself, couldn’t tell the difference when Prince played them on stage. Prince is not generally heavily involved, and he often speaks through his techs and security guards. He was, it’s fair to say, not a micromanager – not to his guitar builders, at least. Prince kept himself quite insulated.

As for the current whereabouts of the Mad Cats… According to Takumi, one of the Mad Cats (we’re unsure if it’s the original or one of the replicas) was famously tossed into the air at the end of Prince’s incredible solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Takumi caught the guitar off-camera and promptly handed it to Oprah Winfrey. According to the people at Paisley Park, Oprah ended up giving the guitar back to Prince at some point. We can assume that the Mad Cats are safely stored in some deep underground bunker at Paisley Park. The Pink Sadowsky Telecaster is hanging at Paisley Park and the Purple one was given to Sheila E.
Although they might not be as iconic or synonymous with Prince’s image as his other guitars, Prince’s Mad Cat Telecasters hold a special place in music history and is one of a long list of influential guitars that some might describe as ‘cheap knockoffs’ or ‘off-brand’ guitars.