Kurt Cobain’s Guitars and Gear
Bio: Kurt Donald Cobain (born February 20, 1967) was a famous singer, guitarist and front-man of the grunge band Nirvana. Cobain formed Nirvana with Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, in 1985. Nirvana went through a succession of drummers, the longest-lasting being Dave Grohl, who joined the band in 1990.
Nirvana released their debut album called “Bleach” in in 1989, and established itself as part of the Seattle grunge scene. The band became well known all over the country after their second album “Nevermind” in 1991, and their famous hit “Smells like teen spirit”.
Cobain himself often struggled with depression. On April 8, 1994, he was found dead in the greenhouse above his garage at his Lake Washington house. Suicide note has been found next to his body.
Kurt Cobain’s Electric Guitars:
1969 Fender Lake Placid Blue ‘Competition Stripe’ Mustang
One of the Kurt’s personal favorites – the guitar he used in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video. It was purchased just prior to recording “Nevermind”.
Kurt’s Mustang was lake placid blue with matching headstock. It had two black, single coil pickups with a white mother-of-pearl pickguard. The original bridge was replaced with a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic (Kurt’s favorite).
Despite being a guitar Kurt took special care of, he did smash it at a show in Dallas in 1991 breaking the neck joint. Eventually Cobain placed his beloved Fender Mustang in storage for the “In Utero” tour. It was rarely used after that, an exception being at the Hollywood Rock Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1993.
Kurt’s Fender Mustang is currently on display at Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum. The serial number of the guitar is 279651.
1965 Fender Jaguar
|Kurt’s main guitar during the Nevermind era. He purchased it through the “L.A. Recycler” just before recording “Nevermind”. The Jaguar was seen on tours mostly during 1991 and 1992.
The guitar had a chrome Schaller bridge, and a tortoise shell pickguard. The pickups were DiMarzio PAF in the neck, and a DiMarzio the Super Distortion in the bridge (it was later replaced with a black Duncan JB). There was also a tape covering the on/off and phase switches which were replaced with a Gibson-style toggle switch.
It is believed that Courtney Love gave this Jaguar to Eric Erlandson after Kurt died. The guitar’s serial number is 95747.
Fender Mustang Fiesta Red
This guitar first came with a red swirl pickguard, which was later replaced with white pearl one. This led some people to believe that Kurt had two red Mustangs.
It was mostly used during the In Utero tour. It had a hambucker in bridge, and a white Seymour Duncan JB Hot Rails in the neck, which was later modified with a black pickup cover.
Fender Mustang Sonic Blue
Kurt had three of these guitars, one of them with the serial number 016988. One had a red-swirl pick-guard, another a matte red pick-guard, and both had a humbucker in the bridge. These two were used on the In Utero tour. The third one was never set-up properly, and stayed at Kurt’s house.
After Kurt died Courtney gave one of these Mustangs to a boy named Bobby Costello.
|Kurt used a lot of different Strats. They were mostly Japanese, because of availability and smaller frets. These guitars usually ended up being trashed on the concerts, and reassembled after (if possible). He also used a number of Fender Mexican Stratocasters most fitted with black Seymour Duncan Hot Rails on the bridge.
He had three white Fender Stratocasters. Two of them had Seymour Duncan Hot Rails, the third one was stock, and had the “K” sticker on the pick-guard. Two of these guitars ended up being trashed, one at the Seattle Center in 1992 and the other one in Argentina.
This Strat had a black pickguard, 2 white single-coil pickups and a black humbucker in the bridge, probably a Seymour Duncan JB. It also had a sticker saying “Vandalism: As beautiful as a rock in a cop’s face” and “Courtesy of the Feederz: Office of Anti-Public relations”.
The guitar had several neck replacements, including ones from Fender Japan, Kramer and Fernandez. It ended up being smashed by Kurt in 1991 during a concert in Seattle Washington in 1991, It was put back together after Kurt’s death by Earnie Bailey, Nirvana’s guitar tech. Serial number of the guitar is 006414.
Another Black Stratocaster with white pickguard belonged to Cobain. It had a black Seymore Duncan Hot Rails pickup on the bridge. It was smashed by Dave Grohl at the 1992 Reading Festival, and can be found today at the Boston Hard Rock Cafe.
It is safe to say that Kurt probably had a few more Stratocasters, as they seemed to serve a purpose of a disposable guitar. Most of the were thrown in the audience, and are almost impossible to track down.
Fender Telecaster ‘Heart’ Courtney
Japanese-made, with white pickguard and originally a 3-tone sunburst with white binding, but Kurt repainted the front of the body with blue latex paint and etched out “Courtney” and a shape of a heart.
Seen in the “Come As You Are” music video, before it was smashed at the Hollywood Rock Festival in Sao Paulo 1993 (Kurt also smashed a black Stratocaster on that concert – see video).
1993 Fender Telecaster Custom
This was supposedly the guitar that Kurt wrote his music on from 1993. It was modified by Earnie Bailey. It had Gotoh tuners, Duncan JB black on the bridge, and a Gibson PAF on the neck.
The guitar was sold to a private buyer at rockstarsguitars.com. It still has four of the original strings.
1960s Mosrite Gospel
This was one of only two actual Mosrite guitars Kurt owned (other ones were usually a Univox copies). Kurt purchased this particular Gospel in San Francisco in 1990.
This was a factory right handed instrument, so it was modified for Kurt with a strap button added to the treble side horn, and the original metal string guide has been flipped to allow it to be strung left handed.
Custom Ferrington Guitar
This is a custom built guitar, based on the Fender Mustang, made by Luthier Danny Ferrington for Kurt in 1992.
Part from an article about this guitar:
“I built his guitar to be a lot like that old Mustang, except we used a Gibson-style bridge that’s better at keeping the guitar in tune, and I made the neck a little straighter so that it won’t be so apt to break when Kurt plays it hard. It’s tricky making left-handed guitars, though, because everything on a left-handed guitar is counter-intuitive for me. Right off the bat I made a few mistakes on Kurt’s guitar, so finally I took to labeling all the parts ‘This Side Up’ to remind myself that I needed to do everything backwards. The guitar turned out real well, and a few months later Kurt came by with his wife to pick it up. Just after he started playing it he stopped dead in his tracks and said, ‘This is like my dream guitar!’ His wife asked, ‘Honey, are you gonna trash this one too?’ but Kurt got this horrified look on his face, and in a solemn voice he said, ‘No, this one’s going to be my recording guitar.’ I was tickled to death, and it was incredibly satisfying to hear that I’d hit the nail right on the head”
Another custom guitar built for Cobain. He worked with the Fender Custom Shop to develop this guitar, which was supposed to be some kind of combination of Jaguar and Mustang. It had a Dimarzio H-8 Humbucker pickup in the bridge, and a Texas Special single coil in the neck.
Kurt Cobain’s Acoustic Guitars:
1959 Martin D-18E
Kurt bought this guitar at Voltage Guitar in Los Angeles in the 1993. Martin made only 302 models of this model. This one in particular had a serial number 166854. It had a solid spruce top, mahogany back and sides, and two single coil exposed DeArmond pickups. Kurt also added a Bartolini 3AV soundhole pickup. This guitar is probably most know from Unplugged in New York concert.
1961 Epiphone Texan Acoustic “Nixon Now”
Kurt purchased this guitar in Los Angeles guitar shop. It had a Bartolini 3AV pickup, and it was Kurt’s main guitar until he started using the Martin D-18E.
This guitar was also used as a backup on the recording of Unplugged.
Kurt Cobain’s Guitar Amps:
As you may have noticed, Kurt wasn’t really one of those players who stick to one guitar, and one amp. He used a lot of different stuff, and especially when it comes to amps, it’s not easy to name them all, because most of them were used briefly and ended up being trashed or replaced.
- Randall RG120PH
Used during Bleach era. Kurt often smashed these amp, so they were replaced all the time with whatever was available at the time. They were also affordable.
- Mesa Boogie Preamp
This was the preamp Kurt used for the latter part of the “Nevermind” tour. He had midrange turned all the way up.
- Crest 4801 Power Amplifier
Kurt really liked this amp, and used it on the In Utero tour. As Kurt’s guitar tech Earnie Bailey put it, it is “the amp that wouldn’t die”.
- Fender Twin Reverb
1982 blackface 135-watt “Ultra-Linear” model. It had Groove 6L6’s Tubes. Kurt used it for recording “In Utero” and on “Unplugged.”
Some people argue that Kurt also used Marshalls, and he did indeed use Marshall cabinets, but as Earnie Bailey his technician said, he really disliked Marshall Amps:
“Regarding the Marshalls, Kurt really disliked Marshall amps. Partly, due to the whole hair metal stigma happening in the 80’s, and he didn’t like the sound of them. I think it was too generic for him. If you recall on his 4×12 cabs, he had his Marshall logos taped over, not removed (which is a simple task), as a statement towards the status associated with owning Marshall gear. Marshall 4×12’s are easy to find whether you are buying or renting overseas. This is a likely reason why he used them considering how often they had to be replaced. Kurt using a Marshall head for a power amp is pretty out there, think about it, a Marshall’s output stage is rather dirty and would be even more so at the volumes Nirvana played at. I brought an old plexi 100 to the Reciprocal session in 1993. It had 6550’s in it and had the gain lowered to sound like a Dual Showman. It took a long time to get him to even try it. Kurt wound up recording with Endino’s Twin again, and Krist used the plexi for bass”
Kurt Cobain’s Guitar Effects:
- Boss DS-1 Distortion
Kurt used it throughout “Bleach” and “Nevermind”. He often referred to as Roland EF-1.
- Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion
Kurt switched to a DS-2 pedal after Nevermind. His settings were:
– Level: Max
– Tone: usually around 11 o’clock 11,
– Distortion: to the max but occasionally at about 1 or 2 o’clock in the studio
– Turbo knob was usually set to position one.
Kurt also used this pedal on “Unplugged” for the song “The Man Who Sold the World” .
- Tech 21 Sansamp Classic
This was Kurt’s man distortion throughout the “In Utero” tour.
- Electro Harmonix Small Clone Chorus Pedal
One of Kurt’s favorites. He used it on Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are, Drain You, and many other songs.
- Electro Harmonix PolyChorus
Used for “In Utero” for the “Heart-Shaped Box” solo, “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” and “Scentless Apprentice”. Kurt also gad Electro-Harmonix EchoFlanger which has the same basic function as this pedal.
- Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi
Used for recording “Lithium” and possibly many more.
- MXR M107 Phase 100
- MXR M104 Distortion +
Kurt Cobain’s Guitar Picks:
- Dunlop Tortex .60mm Orange