You might say Jim Irsay got a bargain.
On Saturday, June 25, the Indianapolis Colts owner and guitar collector bought a Yellow Cloud guitar owned by Prince for $137,500 at Heritage Auction’s Entertainment and Music Memorabilia Signature auction. The guitar was one of the late artist’s favorites and was among the main guitars he used from 1988 to the mid 1990s.
Of course, $137,500 hardly seems a bargain—unless you consider what else is in Irsay’s collection. He paid considerably more in February 2015 when he dropped $343,750, including commission, for Les Paul’s Black Beauty.
But that was nothing compared to the small fortune he’s spent on Beatles gear in recent years. A keen collector of the group’s instruments, Irsay paid $567,500 for George Harrison’s cherry-red 1964 Gibson SG and $408,000 for a 1966 Vox Kensington prototype guitar once owned by John Lennon.
His other auction prizes include Lennon’s 1964 Rickenbacker 325 Fireglo “Beatle Backer” ($910,000), Jerry Garcia’s custom Doug Irwin Tiger ($957,500), and Bob Dylan’s 1964 Fender Stratocaster, which the folk-rock legend played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival for his infamous electric set ($965,000).
But even those prices pale in comparison to the $2.125 million Irsay paid last November for Ringo Starr’s drum head with the Beatles logo, seen during the group’s 1964 performances in the U.S., and the $2.2 million he dropped the following month for Starr’s first 1963 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl three-piece drum kit, purchased at the same auction where he bought Lennon’s Beatle Backer.
So $137,500 for a guitar that was one of Prince’s favorites? It’s small change by comparison.
The bright yellow guitar, serial number P.M. 16644, was built by luthier Andy Beech and features gold-colored hardware, including Schaller tuners, a Floyd Rose Original tremolo (with bar), one volume knob, one tone knob, a three-way switch, nut and truss rod cover. The pickups are an EMG humbucker in the bridge position and an EMG single-coil in the neck. The auction included a custom hard case and seven original Prince guitar picks of six different designs and colors.
- The guitar was authenticated by Prince’s former guitar tech Zeke Clark, who notes that the instrument was the second Cloud guitar that Beech built for Prince, preceded by P.M. 16643. Prince used the guitar for recording and at performances for several years until he broke the neck at a French TV studio. Clark repaired it and at the same time installed the Floyd Rose, the first one that Prince had ever used.
- Chris McKinney, curator for Irsay’s collection, says his boss “is delighted this historical instrument will reside with many others.
“The collection is about preserving pieces of music history and this guitar will join those used by some of the world's greatest musicians—of which Prince certainly deserves a place of honor.”
In the video below, McKinney shows a few of the Colts owner’s guitars, including instruments once owned by Lennon, Harrison and Garcia. Below it is a video from Heritage about the Prince Yellow Cloud guitar.