His name might be synonymous with the likes of Oberheim’s OB synth range and the Linn LM-1 drum machine, but Prince used many other electronic instruments, too. It’s said that, prior to recording his seminal Purple Rain album in 1983, he purchased a Yamaha DX7, and now this very same synth is up for auction.
The synth is currently owned by Shane T Keller, a former Paisley Park Studios employee who worked with Prince between 1991 and 1996. Initially employed as a night receptionist, Keller worked his way up to become Prince’s personal recording engineer, and purchased the DX7 - as well as Prince’s EMAX II sampler and disc collection - in late 1995.
Keller says that, at the time, Prince needed to raise money to fund travel expenses for The Gold Tour in Japan, so his road crew had a fire sale of old equipment to help.
"Money was tight as Prince was in his battle with Warner Bros [his record company at the time], so there was no outside money coming in for tour support,” Keller explains. “Then defacto tour manager, Stuart White, told me about it in passing at the studio.
“I said I needed a sampler, and Stu replied that I could buy his (Prince's) EMAX II. I also wanted a keyboard to trigger the sampler. I knew I wouldn't be able to get a newer keyboard, but I was aware of Prince's old keyboard in the band tech room on the very back shelf.
“I knew where it was because he used it the spring before on the Purple Medley [a continuous mix of old Prince songs for which Prince re-recorded all the parts and vocals]. Stuart agreed, and I made the cash purchase of both the EMAX II and Prince's DX7.
"When we were working on the Purple Medley, Prince asked me, ‘Can you get my DX7?’. I had to look for it, so that is how I knew where it was later in the year during the fire sale. His handwriting is all over it, and he assumed ownership of it when I brought it into Studio A. Indeed, it was his, and I saw him play it."(opens in new tab)
Keller says that this was the only DX7 in Paisley Park and is probably the only one that Prince ever owned. The handwritten notes on the synth includes Prince song titles - Let’s Work and Kiss, for example - and there’s a ‘Fink Main’ sticker on the back. This suggests that the instrument was also played on tour by Revolution keyboard player Matt ‘Dr’ Fink.
The EMAX II, meanwhile, had been retired by 1995, with Prince having moved on to more advanced samplers. However, Keller is sure that he had used it in the past.
“I know he used it in the studio before I worked with him,” he says. “I was made aware of previous studio setups as well as seeing pictures of the EMAX II sitting on the outboard rack in Studio A as part of his regular studio setup. The accompanying floppy disks tell me that he used it at the very least to build drum grooves using samples from other Prince songs. This was not uncommon at all. He would often use grooves from other songs to write on top of.
The DX7 (opens in new tab) and EMAX II (opens in new tab) are currently being auctioned by RR Auction in its Marvels of Modern Music Sale (opens in new tab). The synth is expected to fetch $25,000, while the sampler and disks could raise more than $5,000.
Other Prince highlights in the sale include a handwritten lyrics and sketch notebook (opens in new tab), signed copies of the Parade (opens in new tab) and Purple Rain (opens in new tab) albums, the handwritten lyrics for Get Off (opens in new tab), studio notes for Get Wild (opens in new tab), cufflinks (opens in new tab), a necklace (opens in new tab) and a tambourine (opens in new tab).
The Marvels of Modern Music Sale runs until 18 June.