Currently, it’s Dave Rusan’s time to tussle with the Paisley Park enforcers. Rusan designed the “Cloud guitar” that Prince plays in Purple Rain, and a version of which sits in the Smithsonian. The Bloomington-based luthier builds versions of the instrument for clients, selling them for $8,000 a piece, and he’s registered the design as a trademark.
Recently, Rusan was contacted by attorneys representing Comerica Bank & Trust, the personal representatives for Prince’s estate, informing him that they intend to challenge that trademark.
Rusan remembers the 1983 day that the Cloud guitar saga began, when he was repairing guitars at Knut-Koupée Music in Uptown. “I was working one day at the store, and I saw Prince up at the counter with the owner,” he says. “Then they went into the back room.”
When they came out, Rusan had an assignment. He was tasked with reconfiguring the design of a peculiarly shaped bass that André Cymone owned to create a guitar for Prince to play in his upcoming movie. It was Rusan’s first project of the sort, and there wasn’t much time: Purple Rain had already been in production for three months.
The film made the guitar instantly iconic. The instrument was also featured on the album cover of Around the World in a Day, where Prince is wearing a cloud-covered suit, which is how the guitar got its nickname.
Rusan built two more Clouds for Prince, and a third for a Warner Bros. contest giveaway. Over the years, folks who wanted a Cloud of their own would hire him to construct one, which is a fairly intensive process. ”It’s a neck-through-body instrument,” Rusan explains, unlike many guitars, where you can snap two separate parts together. “You could probably make 10 Telecasters in the time it takes to make one of these.”
Working out of his home studio in Bloomington, Rusan continued producing Cloud guitars. “Prince never complained, and I think he knew what was going on in town,” says Rusan.
“After he died demand picked up a lot,” Rusan says. Prince fans from around the world began contacting him.
There are also Chinese-manufactured Cloud knockoffs available, according to Rusan, and Schecter produces a variation of the Cloud guitar, made in Korea, that’s for sale at Paisley Park, of which the luthier does not have a high opinion. “They have some flaws,” he says simply.
To protect his interests in his creation, Rusan registered a trademark for the design, and then a year ago applied for a trademark for the name “Cloud guitar” itself.
Now he’ll have to fight to retain his trademark.
“It isn’t just a guitar to me,” Rusan says of the Cloud. “Fans have let me into their world. And it’s my legacy.”
Reached via their attorneys, Comerica stated that they did wish to comment on the matter.