NAMM 2024: When Prince died in April 2016, he was in the midst of what was being billed as his Piano & A Microphone tour, which saw him perform solo reinterpretations of some of his greatest hits. Tragically, his death came just a few shows into what would turn out to be his final musical project, but one of the legacies of this is a custom-made Yamaha piano that Prince planned to use on further dates around the world.
Now, for the first time, this is set to leave Paisley Park, Prince’s former Minneapolis studio complex, as it goes on display on the Yamaha booth at the Winter NAMM Show.
“2024 is the 40th anniversary of Purple Rain,” Charles F. Spicer Jr, a managing member of Prince Legacy LLC and longtime friend of Prince’s, tells the Yamaha website. “This event will be the stepping stone to a year’s worth of celebration of Prince’s life, and the phenomena we know as Purple Rain, both the album and the film. It is only fitting that we recognise the partnership between Yamaha and Prince that created this instrument, so starting at NAMM we plan to turn the world purple again.”
When commissioning the piano, Prince’s request was for a custom purple version of the company’s C7X Silent Piano, which he was already familiar with. There was also a special technical requirement; Prince wanted to be able to dial in a specific string sound at various points in his performances, as he was used to doing on his Yamaha Motif X.
“He was doing that for sustain,” confirms Scottie Baldwin, Prince’s Front of House engineer on the Piano & A Microphone tour. “He was using it as a means of sustaining a chord so he could change keys and things like that. Sometimes he would do it during a song, but often he would use it at the end of a song, knowing that a grand piano only sustains for so long, but a string patch would carry on until he made his next move and decided what song he was going to play next.”
Because Prince had requested one of Yamaha’s Silent Pianos, which have a setting that stops the hammers from hitting the strings and instead triggers an internal sound engine via MIDI, it was possible for Yamaha’s engineers to install the strings sound that Prince wanted into the piano before it was shipped.
“In order to get the effect of fading strings in, he’d manually switch between the Grand Piano sound and the Grand Piano / Strings patch,” Baldwin confirms.
Prince’s friend Kirk Johnson, meanwhile, reveals that the star was very specific about the shade of purple he wanted the piano to be. “He and I walked around the Paisley Park building and picked the couch colour he liked best,” he says, “and that’s the swatch he sent to Yamaha.”
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Prince piano without his famous symbol, which sits right in front of the player on the fallboard, just above the keys.
BOOM (FROM LOTUSFLOWER) ON THIS NEWLY ARRIVED PURPLE PRESENT FROM YAMAHA.... "RESOUNDING!" pic.twitter.com/cXwRPi1wzGApril 12, 2016
Sadly, Prince’s time with his new piano was brief. It was delivered to Paisley Park in early April 2016, and he died on 21 April. It’s believed that he was pleased with the instrument, though - on 12 April, he tweeted a photo of it, and he did manage to use it for just one brief performance.
“On 16 April, 2016, Prince invited a small crowd to a music party at Paisley Park,” says Chris Gero, Yamaha director and Chief Artist Relations Executive. “The piano was covered with a purple cloth. Then he dramatically pulled the cloth off the purple piano. He played chopsticks first, then a few minutes of classical music without singing. He finished with the piano and did not play again publicly.”
If you’re heading to NAMM, be sure to check out Prince’s piano at the Yamaha exhibit on the third floor of the Anaheim Convention Center.