Yes, Prince really did hold a design patent for a custom keytar known as the 'Purpleaxxe'

Prince Purpleaxxe
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You’ll remember Prince as many things - musician, producer, bandleader, actor, friend of the Muppets - but instrument designer? Maybe not so much. 

However, we’re here to tell you what the great man did indeed hold the patent for a specific kind of “portable, electronic keyboard musical instrument” - a type of keytar to be precise, which would end up being known as the ‘Purpleaxxe’.

Records show that the application for the patent was filed back in 1992, with the “inventor” being listed as - yes, that’s right - one Prince R Nelson. Drawings show something that has echoes of both Prince’s ‘Symbol’ and his famous ‘Cloud’ guitar.

Prince Purpleaxxe

(Image credit: USPTO)

The patent was granted in 1994, but this shot of Prince’s gear in 1992 - taken at a press conference to celebrate the signing of his new contract with Warner Bros records - one that he would soon try to extricate himself from - makes it clear that the instrument had already been built sometime earlier.

It’s not clear what was actually inside the Purpleaxxe but it was played regularly on stage by Tommy Barbarella (AKA Thomas Elm), who entered the Prince universe as part of the New Power Generation in the early ‘90s, making his debut on the Diamonds And Pearls album that was released in 1991. 

You can see Barbarella/Elm wielding the Purpleaxxe in this clip of Prince and the NPG performing Get Wild on UK music show Top Of The Pops in 1995. The track featured on NPG’s Exodus album, which was released in the same year, with an ‘anonymous’ Prince being credited as ‘Tora Tora’ on the record.

Prince clearly didn’t want his band to have all the strap-on keyboard fun, though - he also played the Purpleaxxe himself from time to time, as you can see in this trailer to promote a TV airing of his excellent Rave Un2 the Year 2000 concert film, which was filmed in December of 1999 and premiered on New Year’s Eve to mark the arrival of the new millennium.

Prince’s ‘90s era is back in the spotlight right now thanks to the release of a Super Deluxe Remaster of Diamonds And Pearls, which features previously unreleased tracks and comes with a Blu-ray containing a 1992 live show and the album’s video collection. 

As for that original Purpleaxxe payment, it expired in 2008, so if you want to make your own keytar that’s based on the design, we guess you can go right ahead.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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