The Long Shadow Of Prince Rogers Nelson


What we have here is a Korean Telecaster copy, badged as a “Hohner Prinze”. In general, the value of made-in-Korea Fender copies hovers in the $100-200 range, perhaps with the exception of the absurdly well-regarded Squier “Pro Tone” series sold during the late Nineties, which can reach as high as $500 for a solid Strat. They’re strictly Craigslist fodder; you’d be a fool to sell a $100 guitar on eBay because the shipping costs will be close to the guitar’s value and you have to pay a percentage of them as commission to eBay itself. While it’s possible that Korean guitars of the Nineties will eventually have a price surge similar to that enjoyed by the better Electra and Aria guitars from the Seventies, it’s highly unlikely that any such surge would include garbage like this fake-Tele.


This very guitar is currently being auctioned on Reverb and it’s already at $820 with more than two days to go. Can anybody explain this to me?


Ah, that helps, doesn’t it? It’s easy for younger guitar collectors, and music fans in general, to forget that the “big names” like Fender and Gibson made a tiny fraction of the guitars sold to young musicians in the Sixties and early Seventies. The vast majority of the guitars on the street came from Harmony, Kay, Sears Roebuck, and hundreds of other fly-by-night operations that sprung up to take advantage of Beatles fever. Despite the nostalgic inflation-ignorant reminiscing you’ll read in the music press, Fenders and Gibsons were always spectacularly expensive items. Here’s an example: Clapton paid about $400 for his 1956 Stratocaster in 1967. That was the used-guitar price, not the vintage-guitar price. Vintage guitars weren’t worth shit back then. Think about what a 2005 Strat is worth today and you’ll get the idea.

$400 in 1967? That’s $2,900 today. You can buy a brand-new American Professional Strat for $999 today.

Let’s not forget that the Gibson “Super 400” was so yclept* because it cost $400 in 1939. That’s seven grand today. If you’re looking for a golden age of cheap, high-quality American guitars, congratulations: you’re living in it.

Back to young Prince Rogers Nelson, who bought a Hohner TE in 1980. Maybe he thought it was a Hofner; Paul McCartney, of course, played a made-in-German Hofner bass because the chances of a poor Liverpool teenager owning a Fender Precision Bass were about the same as the chances of that kid owning a new Corvette. Prince liked the “raggedy” sound of the Hofner and bought a few more of them as time went on. From what I can learn, these guitars were almost certainly made in Japan, but not by any of the big guns like Terada, Matsumoku, or Fujigen.

Over the course of four years, Prince played his Hohners nearly to death before retiring them to secondary duty around the time that Purple Rain was filmed. Those of you who watched the movie and didn’t lose interest after beating off furiously to the topless-Apollonia scene…

…wait, that’s what happened to the rest of you as kids, right?

…will recall that one of the major plot points was when Prince replaces the Hohner with his custom Cloud guitar. I would suggest that the Cloud guitar was essentially Excalibur to Prince’s King Arthur; it represented who he was and who he would become.

There’s just one tiny little problem: Prince made his best records with the shitty Telecaster copy. Purple Rain represents his artistic apex in my opinion, and it was done on the Hohner. Don’t get me wrong: the man made some great music after that, and if you can’t enjoy Sign O’ The Times you don’t deserve to listen to pop at all. But the more Prince-like Prince became, the more his creative output suffered.

There’s a lesson in there for every flamboyant or hugely charismatic artist, if he can but understand it.

If you’re a true Prince fan with any pretense to musicality yourself, you probably need to own a Prince-era Hohner. The problem is that most of them were thrown away or chopped up or simply worn out a long time ago. Hohner itself collapsed and became merely a name owned by a Korean company. The 1992-forward “Hohner Prinze”, as seen in the auction listing, is a typical crappy Korean guitar of the era that has nothing in common with the Purple Rain axe besides generic appearance. Prince sued Hohner Korea over the use of the name “Prinze” to describe it, and the logos were removed.

In other words, the auction is for a guitar that could hardly be any more distant from the original. It’s made by a different company, in a different country, to different standards of material and craftsmanship. It was so lousy that the artist in question sued to have it de-badged. You still want it? Do you still want to pay what’s likely to be a final price of well over a thousand bucks for it, despite the fact that you can get a really decent late-model American Telecaster for $700 every day of the week?

If you’re truly a Prince fan, and you want to buy a guitar that will reward you both musically and financially, I’d recommend a 1961 Epiphone Crestwood. Prince ruined one while playing a set recently that truly recalled the ability and musicianship that he had thirty years ago. Here is a great 1965 example of the Crestwood. Made by Gibson, in K-zoo, side-by-side with the great Les Pauls and Explorers of the era, and available for under $3500. Come on, let’s go crazy.

* yclept: you know what this word means. Give me a break.

11 Replies to “The Long Shadow Of Prince Rogers Nelson”

  1. VicMik

    If you are going for a cheap guitar to get that unique shitty sound that will stand apart from Les Paul/Marshall and Strat/Fender sound…you better pay $100

  2. rwb

    I know I already left an inanely self-indulgent comment on the last entry, but this is kinda serendipitous. I received this picture, of the unfortunate deconstruction a guitar which used to be mine, from a good friend who may or may not actually work for Reverb, and which I feel is best shared without comment.

  3. aircooledTOM

    I grew up playing a Peavey Tele copy. Head to head against real Teles, it held its own. Never heard of this company til this post. O think my Tele was 100 bucks for a practice amp, guitar, and gig bag. Used from the classifieds section in 1994.

  4. Charlie

    I hate and love that every other article has me looking up words. At least you’re not one of those neanderthals that uses an asterisk but has no explanation after the article.

  5. Pingback: A Sign Of Times Long Past, Now Available For Free - Riverside Green

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