loader image
Artwork by Reverend

Dave Rusan Interview

Proudly presenting Dave Rusan as our guest for a Housequake questionnaire.

By Housequake

Rusan grew up in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, and became interested in playing guitar as a teenager. Currently, his clients include the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, Brian Setzer, Dire Straits, Genesis, Iron Maiden, and many others.

Hi Dave, we have got various questions from our readers, and of course, most of them about the famous iconic Prince Cloud guitar that you have built. But I’d like to kick off the questionnaire with this question: Where were you on July 26, 1984? Were you at the premiere of Purple Rain, and what was it like to see your creation on the silver screen? Housequake

I know that I saw the movie very soon after it came out but I wasn’t at the premiere. I felt very honored to have been able to craft something that was an important part of the movie’s story and it was exciting to see it on the screen. My most vivid memory however, had to do with the magical world of the silver screen, how even everyday objects like cars and buildings seem as though they are from a different “fantasy” world when we see them in a movie. To then have something that I looked at and touched every day as I labored on it go on to enter this celluloid world was a most unusual experience that few people experience.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
The world’s first glimpse of Prince’s iconic Cloud guitar by Dave Rusan in the Purple Rain movie.
What was Prince’s initial reaction the first time he saw the Cloud? D.D. Blaze

I didn’t see his reaction but I was told by the staff members that came to deliver it to him that he was happy with it! Prince was already very busy with the movie since it was already in the early stages of production so I didn’t expect him to come and get it at the shop.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
How involved was Prince in the creation of the Cloud guitar? Did he come to you with specific technical requirements? For instance, did he ask for EMG pickups? (Known for their ‘heavy metal’ sound, so to speak). Douglas Rasmussen

His involvement consisted of a long meeting with one of the owners of the music store named Jeff Hill. Prince told Jeff that he was going to make a movie and that he needed a guitar made that would be part of its storyline. He brought in his Sardonyx bass and said it should be the starting point of its design and laid out a few specific requirements: that it should be white, have spade markers on the fingerboard and be equipped with EMG pickups and gold-plated parts. Usually when you make a guitar for someone you have many more aspects to cover, such as the size of the neck, fret dimensions, and wood selection but in this case all those aspects were left up to me to decide on.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
How did you approach using the Sadowsky bass as a model for the Cloud? Nick Sair

It was actually his Sardonyx bass that was used as a starting point in the guitar’s design. I thought it was important to incorporate the horn into the new instrument plus a few other features such as the scroll carving in its tip and the spiral around the jack. These were features that would set it apart from most guitars and create an impression on screen.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
How many different versions of the design did you go through before you settled on the final design? Andre Terrace

There was only one! I was under a lot of pressure to make the guitar quickly since the movie was already underway so I drew the plans out on paper and got right into making it. Luckily my plans worked out pretty well!

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
Do we know what happened to the original Cloud guitar? I believe it was repainted several colours over the years. Also how many Clouds have you made including the original ones for Prince? Mark Allison

The Smithsonian seems pretty sure that they have the movie guitar and when studying it they found several layers of different color paint under the yellow that it was last finished in.

When the movie turned out to be a success Prince decided to have a Purple Rain tour to take advantage of it and asked me to make two more that would be used on stage. In the attached photo I’m getting ready to take the second guitar that I made for him to his rehearsal at the Minneapolis Auditorium.

I have been making these guitars ever since and still get orders from all over the world.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
Dave Rusan with the second white Cloud guitar.
Did Prince ask for “upgrades” when he ordered new Cloud guitars, what are the main differences between them, besides shape and colours. Did he talk about the fact that he kind ripped off the Orr bass guitar model. Did he ever acknowledge the fact that it was kind of a copy and if he ever gave credits and appreciation for your work? STIJN

As I mentioned I never talked to Prince directly about the guitar that he wanted made for the movie, the store owner relayed the following requests: It should be painted white, have gold plated parts, EMG pickups and spades on the fingerboard. His Sardonyx bass was used as a starting point for the design.

– I think you are thinking of the Sardonyx bass and since we didn’t talk I don’t know how he felt about that.

– I got no appreciative words from Prince since we never had any conversations, but in Guitar Player magazine he was asked who made his Cloud guitar and he answered: “David Rusan”.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
Is there a feature of the design that – time over – you’d have changed? Pickup configuration; painted or unpainted fretboard; more source-able bridge? David Wagstaffe

I think for the most part I would do the design the same now. The two different EMG pickups give the guitar a clear rhythm tone and a strong lead tone, the wood choices and construction make it a guitar that has a bright clear tone and one that can stand up to some rough treatment. Some have suggested that if the neck pickup was mounted from the front the fact that the center section would be continuous might make for more sustain. That may be true but I was thinking a lot about making it look good on screen and felt the design was cleaner with it mounted from behind.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
Rusan Original. Photo by Bob Cole.
How many Cloud guitars did you make for Prince? What were the original colors? Which ones did Prince destroy or repaint? Patrick Gellerman

I made three for him, the movie guitar plus two for concert use, all were originally painted white, but they were all later painted in the different colors seen with him on stage. The one that was destroyed may have been one of the ones he had made by other builders in the nineties after my guitars had suffered broken necks many times and had to be retired!

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
Did you make any color for him that he never used? Like red, deep purple or gold? Did you build the black one with the white fretboard (1986)  or it was just one of the white with black body? Gian Paolo Costantini

The three guitars that I made were repainted by other craftsmen since I left the store in 1985, one was painted in orange to be used for his Super Bowl show but he decided at the last minute to play that blue Strat instead.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
Who came up with the name Cloud guitar? David 

I’m not sure, but most likely from the cloud suit that Prince wore in the ‘Raspberry Beret’ video.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
Prince with the white Cloud guitar in the ‘Raspberry Beret’ video. Photo by Jeff Katz.
Prince used the EMG SA + 85 combination for the majority of his career both in live performances and recordings. What’s the story behind choosing this configuration? As far as I know, guitars with this configuration were scarce during that period, making it likely that he couldn’t test them prior to selecting them. Super curious to know! Calundé

On the three guitars that I made for him, I used the SA and 81 model EMG’s. Since I was only told that he wanted EMG’s I chose to use those models, I thought that he would want a bright, clear rhythm tone and a very different brawny sound for his lead work. I was lucky and those worked for him!

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
What’s your take & feelings on cheap knockoffs being sold online? IrresistibleRich

If a Prince fan wants one to remind them of him and his music they serve a purpose. The better ones can be playable but the cheapest probably should be used to hang on the wall. Having said that, there doesn’t seem to be much effort made by most of them to get the details right with decent attention to quality. Worth noting, is that some of the correct parts are very hard to get, and the actual EMG pickups would just be too expensive to be included.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
I love your Rusan Original guitars. I read that you used the neck and part of the body of an O’Hagan Shark guitar for the first Cloud? David Ryder Prangley

I was under a lot of pressure to finish the guitar quickly and worked 6 days a week to get it done since the movie was already in production. I heard in the last few years that the delay in ordering the guitar was supposedly due to Prince having a falling out with the builder Chuck Orr whom Prince had used to make him guitars early in his career. After their disagreement, Prince came to Knut Koupee where I had already done work on his Sardonyx bass and his Gibson L6S. I had never made a guitar before Prince requested his movie instrument but I had carved a few necks, including a replacement for a Gibson Les Paul gold top, since I had to make the guitar quickly I decided to use a neck from an unfinished O’Hagan that was in the shop since it was suitable in its specifications. I made wings to complete the body, cut it out on the bandsaw, carved it and did the routing. After it was painted by Tommy Stinson I fretted it, installed the electronics and hardware and adjusted it. When I got it done, it was really a new instrument.

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake
Rusan Original. Photo by Bob Cole.
Last one, are there any Prince stories that you could share that very few people know about? Housequake

Since I was also a pretty good guitar player I tried out for the band that Prince was putting together after his first album came out. All the guitarists in town also wanted to get that gig since we could see that Prince was going somewhere, I got a slot to take a shot at it and the auditions were held at an abandoned warehouse that used to be called Del’s Tire Mart. Bobby Z was already in the band, as was Andre Cymone, we did a few jams in the common keys, Prince played keyboards for a bit and then drums (he was a really good drummer) and after about 40 minutes it was over. Bobby walked me out to my car and told me that I sounded good but if possible Prince wanted a female black guitarist and at that time I didn’t fit the bill in either department!

Dave Rusan Interview-Housequake

Order your own Rusan original!

Dave Rusan continues to make guitars with the exact same specifications in his workshop Rusan Guitarworks in Bloomington, just south of Minneapolis. He will build you the most authentic and highest-quality guitar available!

— Housequake
Hi, just a moment...

Have you enjoyed reading so far? We are a non-profit, ad-free Prince fansite, and we like it keep it that way. Would you consider buying some of our funky merchandise to support us? Thank you!


About the author


Hi, I am the owner of this website. 26 years ago on June 7, 1997, I started Housequake because at the time there was little to read and discuss on Prince. Except on some obscure Prince fan sites, mailing lists, and newsgroups like alt.music.prince.


Follow Us

Hi, just a moment...

We are a non-profit, ad-free Prince fansite, and we like it keep it that way. Would you consider buying some of our funky merchandise to support us? Thank you!


Latest articles

Latest Comments