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Watch Wendy Melvoin break down Purple Rain

Wendy Melvoin (left) and Vertex Effects' Mason Marangella
(Image credit: Vertex Effects/YouTube)

Wendy Melvoin, the perennially underrated electric guitar legend most famous for her time with Prince & the Revolution, recently sat down for a chat with Vertex Effects' resident "rig doctor," Mason Marangella.

Melvoin was mostly there to discuss the smart-lookin' new pedalboard Marangella had built for her (more on that in a minute), but also kindly gave some insights into how she got the tones for a couple of her greatest riffs. 

Though Prince is credited as the sole writer of his 1984 smash hit, Purple Rain, it was Melvoin who arranged (opens in new tab) the song's opening chord progression as we all know it today. 

As she explains to Marangella, the original recording features a sealed-up Rickenbacker – with G&L pickups – into the legendary Boss CE-1 chorus pedal and a Mesa/Boogie Mark I guitar amp. Melvoin adds that, sadly, both that Rickenbacker and its identically hot-rodded twin – the main guitars she used for the entire Purple Rain album – were stolen.

Melvoin – armed with a Hohner MadCat Tele copy modeled closely after the one Prince famously used – then demonstrates the riff with a trio of Strymons (the Deco, Timeline and Bigsky) and a Keeley GC-2 engaged, before playing it again with the same setup plus a Strymon Mobius, for added depth. Though the equipment is more 21st century than what was used for the original recording, the tone is instantly, unmistakably, hers. 

As an added treat, Melvoin also unpacks the snappy guitar work she contributed to Sheryl Crow's 1998 hit, My Favorite Mistake.

A sharp contrast to the light and airy Purple Rain riff, My Favorite Mistake is pure country-rock grit, and was – Melvoin says – recorded with a '57 Telecaster into a tweed Fender Twin, with a bit of slapback, into a rack compressor. Melvoin then demonstrates how she'd play the riff using the stompboxes on her current pedalboard.

Speaking of Melvoin's modern-day pedalboard, the video features her and Marangella running through her whole signal chain. Melvoin's signal runs first into a custom-made buffer/interface box, then immediately into a Klon Centaur. From there, it goes to Vertex's own Steel String Supreme SRV – which Melvoin says she uses like a boost – and subsequently to a JHS Colour Box preamp/EQ pedal.

Melvoin's compressor pedal of choice is a Keeley GC-2, with a Vertex Boost, Ernie Ball VP Jr. and TC Electronic Polytune also all making appearances on the 'board.

Finally, there's the aforementioned quartet of Strymons, and an Eventide H9, all powered by a Strymon Zuma pedalboard power supply

The interview – which you can see above – also covers how Melvoin gets some of her favorite ambient guitar and clean tones, plus the overall story of Purple Rain. The whole thing is really worth a watch.

For more on Vertex Effects, meanwhile, visit the company's website (opens in new tab)

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Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player (opens in new tab). Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder (opens in new tab) and Unrecorded (opens in new tab). Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.