What happened to Prince's guitar after 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'?

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Prince 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Inductee Prince performs following George Harrison's induction at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame 19th Annual Induction Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel March 15, 2004 in New York City. (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

On March 15, 2004, Prince was inducted to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. But that's not what most people remember. Most people remember the tribute to fellow inductee, George Harrison, when Prince stole the show with the most amazing guitar solo imaginable during "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," upstaging Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and... well, everything else that happened that night. And at the end of the song, Prince casually tosses his guitar, never to be seen again.

The story of that night has been retold dozens of times, notably in The New York Times, Time and Rolling Stone — but none of them clear up the guitar mystery.

The tale of the performance goes something like this: Joel Gallen, the producer of the telecast, wants to include Prince in the tribute. Olivia Harrison, George's widow, only wants people who knew George to perform. Gallen persuades Harrison and contacts Prince, who agrees to perform, saying "I'm going to listen to the song a few times, and I'll get back to you." (In a subsequent interview, he cites his affection for Tom Petty's music as the reason for joining — "It was an honor to play with him. 'Free Fallin" is one of my favorite songs.") During rehearsal, there's a kerfuffle about Jeff Lynne's guitarist stepping on Prince's solo. Prince plays it cool, and may or may not have shown up for a subsequent rehearsal.

Gallen said, "They never rehearsed it, really. Never really showed us what he was going to do, and he left, basically telling me, the producer of the show, not to worry. And the rest is history. It became one of the most satisfying musical moments in my history of watching and producing live music." Tom Petty agreed, saying, "[Prince] just burned it up. You could feel the electricity of 'something really big's going down here.'" 53 million views of the video can't be wrong — the performance was epic.

But what about the guitar Prince casually tossed in the air? Hundreds of theories — and jokes — have been put forth. But none of them quite hit the mark.

Dave Rusan, the builder of Prince's famous cloud guitar told CBC that Prince "would always throw them [his guitars] to the roadie at the end of show and they weren't always caught so they'd have to be repaired often."

So it only makes sense that the key to this mystery resides with one of Prince's guitar technicians. In 2004, his guitar tech was Takumi Suetsugu, who was a guest at the 2017 Celebration at Paisley Park.

Andrea Swensson, who moderated several panels at Paisley Park that weekend, wrote:

Takumi Suetsugu, who caught the guitar Prince threw off — seemingly into the void — after his searing guitar solo at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. (Prince told him to hand the guitar to Oprah, said Suetsugu, and after the performance, internal monitors cut to a shot of the dumbstruck talk show host holding Prince's axe.)

The People of Paisley Park Facebook group recounts the event in a little more detail:

Per explicit instructions from Prince, Takumi stood in the front row and caught the guitar...and then promptly handed it to Oprah Winfrey. Prince was known to toss many a guitar over the years, but this one deserves its own place in the R&R Hall of Fame. And I'll bet Takumi never dropped a guitar even once in all those years.

After he tosses the guitar and just before he exits the stage with his Princely confidence, you can see him cast a quick glance in the direction of his faithful and beloved guitar tech.

Swoosh, nothing but net.

Oprah.

Oprah Winfrey.

Update: 5:43 p.m. March 16, 2018
People of Paisley Park report that the guitar was returned to Prince, saying "We all know how much Prince loved his guitars."

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