Kurt Cobain

Summary of Gear used by Kurt

Kurt first started playing on a Univox Hi-Flier electric guitar. This model is a cheap and affordable replica of the more expensive Mosrite Gospel model. He played a few of these Hi-Fliers in his early days. These include a sunburst model decorated with stickers, and a white one, given to him by his girlfriend at the time, Tracy.

The Bleach-era was also filled with various half-working guitars. He had a blue Gibson SG, pieced together by Kurt himself, and a Mustang, which went through at least two different reincarnations.

By the time Nevermind was out, Kurt was playing Stratocasters left and right. The most notable of which was a black model, decorated with a sticker reading “Vandalism”. For the album tour, he played a 1965 Fender Jaguar – which is the guitar that most people associate Kurt with. Around the same time, he also acquired a 1969 Fender Competition Mustang, which he used during the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video.

Kurt playing his Martin D-18E during MTV Unplugged concert.

During the In Utero tour, he used four different Fender Mustangs, three of which were blue, and one of which was red. All these Mustangs Kurt’s customized to his own liking. Each was fitted with a full-sized humbucker in the bridge position (a Seymour Duncan JB) and a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic bridge.

As far as acoustic guitars, Kurt’s best-known guitar is a 1950s Martin D-18E which he played during the Unplugged on MTV concert. He also had a Harmony Stella 12-string, which he played on “Something in the Way”. Also worth mentioning is the 1961 Epiphone Texan that styled a “Nixon Now” sticker.

On effects – Kurt used a Boss DS-1 and DS-2 distortion pedals, the latter of which replaced the former around the time of the Nevermind release. He also used an EHX Small Clone Chorus pedal on some of Nirvana’s hits, including “Come as You Are”, and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. In the latter years, he switched to an EHX PolyChorus/EchoFlanger.

For picks, he mostly used the orange-colored Dunlop Tortex .60mm guitar picks, and for strings, he alternated between Dean Markley 2502s and 2504s. The difference between these is that 2502 is a 9-48 set, while 2504 is a 10-52 one.

Kurt Cobain Gear Page

How to Sound like Kurt Cobain

Please note that this is just a quick basic guide for beginners. In reality, a lot of factors go into replicating someone’s sound, and it’s usually nearly impossible to achieve. To see the equipment that Kurt actually used himself, and all that went into it, refer to the chronological list below.

Guitars

Kurt wasn’t too picky about his guitars, and especially in the early years, prior to Nevermind, he had to make do with what was available. So, if you really want the ‘iconic stuff,’ you could get yourself the Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar, which is based on the guitar that Kurt used probably the most.

However, a cheaper option would be building something of your own. Grab a cheap Mexican Stratocaster, or even a Squier, and load it with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickup in the bridge position – because that’s exactly what Kurt did with a lot of his guitars.

Amps

When it comes to amps, you can get away with almost any decent amp. You’ll pretty much use the clean channel all the time anyway, and add distortion with a pedal. In the case you do, it would probably be best to get yourself a decent used 50w+ combo amp. In case you plan to only practice in your room and don’t want to invest in pedals, get yourself a modeling amp, maybe a Fender Mustang LT-25.

Effect Pedals

Pick yourself at least a distortion pedal, more precisely a Boss DS-2 (which is what Kurt used in his later years). Add to that an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus, which is what Kurt used to create that ‘wobbly’ effect on “Come As You Are”, and during verses on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Strings, Picks

Grab yourself a pack a set of Dean Markley Heavy strings (as these were most likely what Kurt used himself), and a pack of Dunlop Tortex .60mm picks.

List of Guitars, Amps, Effects, and Accessories used by Kurt Cobain

Electric Guitars

Lindell Electric Guitar

This was Kurt’s first electric guitar. As the story goes, in 1981, on his 14th birthday, Kurt was presented with a question from uncle Chuck about whether he’d prefer a bicycle or a guitar as his birthday present. Kurt, of course, chose the latter. 

Most people seem to think that Kurt’s first guitar was a 1976 Ibanez Explorer. This is most likely based on a photo of Kurt sitting with a guitar that resembles a Destroyer, taken sometime around late 1982 at his aunt Mari-Earl’s home in Washington. It is important to note here that this guitar was Kurt’s second guitar – the one he bought after taking lessons with Warren Mason, his first guitar teacher.

Kurt Cobain's with his second electric guitar, 1982.
Kurt Cobain’s with his second electric guitar, 1982.

Teisco FB-29M/Ibanez Destroyer

This was Kurt’s second electric guitar- the one he bought after taking lessons with Warren Mason, his first guitar teacher, sometime in 1982. As the story goes, Warren saw Kurt’s first electric guitar, deemed it hard to play, and recommended that Kurt should buy an Ibanez instead.

The first thing Warren had to deal with was Kurt’s guitar—it was more suited for showing off at school than playing. Warren found Kurt an Ibanez, for $125.

Heavier Than Heaven: The Biography of Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain’s with his second electric guitar, 1982.

1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3

This is one of the first guitars (possibly the first electric guitar) that Kurt ever owned. To try and figure out when exactly Kurt acquired and used the guitar, we mostly have to draw clues from photos shown below, which unfortunately have no official dating, so we’re left to theory craft.

Kurt Cobain’s Univox Hi-Flier

On close inspection of those photos we see a few concert flyers on the wall behind Kurt; there’s one of the band ‘Dr. Know’ who played at Downtown Tacoma (around 2 hours drive from Kurt’s place) on September 27th, 1986, and another one of Meat Puppets and Black Flag. We also know that the picture was taken at his house in Aberdeen, WA, not in his actual room but in the hallway connecting the rooms on the top floor (see Tour of Kurt Cobain’s Childhood Home). Kurt lived in that house from 1983 to 1984 when he was kicked out by his mom for dropping out of high school. He then went on to live with his friends until September 1986 when his mom loaned him money to move into another house with Matt Lukin from the band Melvins.

So although one can’t say for sure just from these clues, it seems that the photo of Kurt holding his Univox Hi-Flier was taken in late September 1986, in a room that was most likely set up as a temporary place for Kurt to sleep before he moved on.

Fender "Greco" Mustang

This Mustang first appeared in late 1988, and it directly replaced a Univox Hi-Flier that Kurt smashed on October 30, 1988, in Olympia. It appears to be the first left-handed guitar that Kurt ever owned, and one that he modified pretty extensively.

Kurt allegedly bought the Mustang at Guitar Maniacs shop in Tacoma, WA. However, the shop’s owner is only quoted saying that Kurt bought a bunch of Univoxes from him, so take this piece of info with a grain of salt as there doesn’t seem to be an actual source behind it. Also, based just on the looks of it, it seems that this guitar is just something Kurt picked up possibly even for free, and worked on it himself until he made it playable.

He often appeared onstage with other models, including a sunburst left-handed Greco Mustang copy that he bought from Guitar Maniacs. The Mustang copy allegedly was destroyed on July 9, 1989, but it may have experienced some form of reincarnation since a similar guitar is seen in photos of Nirvana on January 6, 1990.

Guitar World The Life & Genius of Kurt Cobain, By Guitar World

Furthermore, although there’s popular lore that Kurt did own a Greco Mustang, probably originating from the quote above, there’s really no telling whether the guitar was actually a Greco. More likely, this guitar was a Fender, or at least the body was, based on all the evidence (see comments). But the fact that the Greco myth does exist, and people are likely to search for the information on it, “Greco” will be left in the title of this page.

1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3 (Maple neck)

Right as the Greco Mustang disappeared around April 1989, another Univox Hi-Flier took its place. Chronologically looking, this should be the second or the third Univox that Kurt ever laid his hands on, and the first one to feature a maple neck. The first time Kurt was seen playing this guitar was on May 26, 1989, at Green River Community College, Auburn, Washington.

What is interesting however is that in June that same year (see footage of Nirvana (live concert) – June 23rd, 1989, Rhino Records Westwood, Los Angeles, CA) Kurt started using another Univox guitar, which looked pretty unusual, to say the least. It had a red sunburst finish (compared to the natural yellowish color on the old one) which didn’t look professionally done at all, and what is even more strange  – the burst effect was present even on the headstock. As far as one can tell from various sources online – this type of a finish wasn’t available on factory models, so it’s likely that Kurt had done the paint job himself – which shouldn’t be a surprise at all considering he experimented on guitars prior to this.

So, based on this, and the fact that the two guitars never overlapped chronologically, it seems that this was actually the same exact guitar, which sometime prior to June 1989 Kurt sprayed some red paint on to achieve the sunburst effect. The assumption that the original guitar was repainted becomes even more likely after one looks at the more recent photos of the guitar, from the 2016 auction (more on this later).

1973 Fender Mustang

Kurt was seen playing this guitar only on one occasion, at The Sonic Temple, Wilkinsburg, PA on July 9, 1989. This raises questions such as where was the guitar before this, why was it never used, and when did Kurt actually acquire it in the first place. To remind you, prior to using this guitar, Kurt had played a maple neck Univox Hi-Flier, which according to most sources, he destroyed on July 13, 1989 – which was two gigs after the one on July 9th.

The most basic possible explanation would be that the Mustang was used on July 9th just so Kurt could have something to destroy at the end of the gig. It is, however, unknown why he didn’t just use the Univox, since he ended up trashing that guitar just a few days later, and ended up not having a guitar to play on during Nirvana’s gig on July 15, 1989, in Boston.

The band’s first Hub gig was at Green Street Station on July 15, 1989, a show notable in its own right: Cobain, who broke his guitar the night before, performed the entire nine-song set without one.

Boston remembers Kurt Cobain

To look for clues, note that the source above, as well as Sluggo Cawley, with whom the Mustang ended up, claimed that Kurt destroyed it in New Jersey, the night before he played in Boston, which would be July 14th. However, according to most sources, Nirvana played no gig on the night of the 14th. They did play on the 13th at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ, so this was likely just a case of missing a date.

1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3 (White)

This guitar was a gift from Kurt’s girlfriend at the time, Tracy Marander. Kurt had received the guitar while on the road, probably around July 6th or 7th, 1989. Prior to using this Univox, Kurt had used a maple neck Hi-Flier which he ended up destroying upon receiving the new guitar.

I really like Univoxes, and that’s what I play all the time. But they are hard to find because they are Mosrite copies that were made in the late 60 and the early 70s. You just have to find them by chance in pawnshops, and I’m just gonna keep breaking them every time I get one.

Luckily, Matt brought me another one from Seattle that my girlfriend bought for me, and I made sure I had the new one in my hands before I break this one (talking about the old maple neck Univox).

Nirvana – Interview 07/14/89. Interviewer: John Robb

The first time the new white Univox was used live was probably around July 18, when Nirvana played a gig in Pyramid Club (New Music Seminar), New York.

Hagstrom II F-200

Kurt played this Hagstrom for a few gigs during Nirvana’s first European tour in late 1989, but it was acquired before the band departed for Europe, as it was seen sitting on a stage on a gig played on September 30, 1989 at Cabaret Metro, Chicago.

Kurt’s Ibanez Firebird and Hagstrom guitars sitting on stage. September 30, 1989, Chicago.

However, the guitar didn’t return to the US, as it was destroyed relatively quickly during the European tour, on November 27, 1989, at Piper Club, Roma, Italy. For the rest of the tour, Kurt relied mostly on a black Washburn Force 31.

Ibanez/Greco Firebird

This guitar was seen sitting on stage behind Kurt on a gig played on September 30, 1989, alongside a red Hagstrom. As opposed to the latter, which was used in November/December 1989, the Firebird was never actually played live.

Based on this single photo, the guitar is either an Ibanez Firebird copy or a Greco FB 900. Both of these guitars look exactly the same, so without actually seeing the logo on the headstock, it would be impossible to know. The color seems blue, but it could be that the light is playing a trick and that the guitar is actually black – which seems to be a much more common finish on these guitars.

Washburn Force 31

This guitar was used by Kurt for a brief period of time in late 1989, and it seemed to have directly replaced his Hagstrom guitar, as that one was destroyed on November 27th, while the Washburn was used on Nirvana’s next gig, on November 29th. This guitar was then used for five gigs total before it was destroyed on December 3rd, 1989 at Astoria Theatre, London – which was the last show of Nirvana’s European Tour.

Based on the photographic evidence, the guitar featured a black finish with a matching headstock color, rosewood fretboard, and a humbucker pickup in the bridge position.

What was left of Kurt’s Washburn was auctioned through Christie’s in 2003, the closing price being $1,975. As part of the auction, coupled with Kurt’s guitar, there were some pieces allegedly belonging to Courtney Love’s guitar. These are the pickguard and the bridge sitting to the left in the photo below.

Hondo 737 Les Paul Copy

Based on a receipt that was recently auctioned through Julien’s Live, Kurt purchased a Hondo 737 on December 20, 1989. The guitar was purchased at a pawnshop in Tacoma, WA called Top Kick Jewelry & Loans for $140.

Around the time Kurt purchased this guitar, the only other guitar that he had was a janky Gibson SG, which was barely playable. It seem then that the Hondo was purchased out of necessity, and based on photos, used only three times, between January 6th and January 12th – when Kurt smashed it at the Satyricon, Portland (see LiveNirvana for photos).

1970s Gibson SG

Kurt played this guitar only for a few gigs in early 1990, starting with January 6th, before he ended up smashing it beyond repair in Tijuana, Mexico on February 17, 1990. However, at that point, he already had the guitar with him for almost half a year.

This Gibson SG originally belonged to Sluggo Cawley, the guitarist of the band The Grannie. Sometime around July 8th, Kurt gave him his 1973 Fender Mustang in exchange for this Gibson SG, which at the time was hanging on Sluggo’s wall

Kurt asked me if he could have the smashed Gibson SG I had hanging on my wall. (..) So I said, “Sure, but now I won’t have one for my wall.” Kurt replied, “I’ll be right back.” He went out to their van and presented me a 1973 Fender Mustang that he deemed beyond repair. He had smashed it at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey the night before the Green Street show with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth watching. In sort of mock guitar hero worship, I asked him to sign it for me.

FEATURE: Kurt Cobain: Still Taking Care of His Friends

Epiphone ET270

This guitar was used in early 1990, the first time probably on January 20th at Legends, Tacoma, WA – at least based on the photos from LiveNirvana.com. It was then used regularly until Kurt smashed it on April 26, 1990, at Pyramid Club in New York. The guitar was also partially featured in the Sub Pop In Bloom music video (2:20-minute mark).

The ET270 model was manufactured in Japan from 1972 to 1975, so Kurt’s guitar obviously must’ve been bought second-hand, likely sometime in early 1990 around Seattle. The guitar featured a hardwood cherry red body with a bolt-on hardwood neck and rosewood fingerboard, as well as two single-coil pickups.

Custom Mustang (Pink)

This Mustang was played on the last three songs during the set that Nirvana played at Bogart’s, Long Beach, CA, on February 16, 1990. At the end of the gig, the guitar was smashed, resulting in the neck popping off, and the body is split in half.

The only other time this guitar was seen was at the beginning of the show played on February 12, 1990, at Cattle Club, Sacramento.

In the video below, Kurt starts the gig off with the Mustang but switches to an Epiphone before the first song is even played – potentially meaning that the Mustang wasn’t properly set up yet at that point. So what makes the most sense then is that he managed to fix it and get it in playing shape by February 16, the night of Bogart’s gig.

Custom Mustang (Green, Jesus pickguard)

This Mustang was used by Kurt on February 14th, 1990, at Kennel Club, San Francisco, CA. The guitar was destroyed at the end of the gig, leaving the neck cleanly broken from the body.

Based on the appearance, this was one of a number of homemade guitars that Kurt and the band put together using various parts. This guitar, in particular, seemed to have a Mustang-style body finished in surf green, and a brand new neck with the headstock painted black. It also had a custom-made pickguard, with a photo of Jesus on the front.

(Kurt:) We even built a bunch of Mustangs at one time. We bought some necks, and took pieces of wood and cut out the bodies and put necks on – and they were completely out of tune. But we did a pretty good job.

(Krist:) We had this little assembly line in the garage, where we -incomprehensible- painted them.

(Kurt:) Those were all destroyed in one tour. That was about like four years ago, probably. At least.

Kurt Cobain – Nirvana Interview Seattle, August 10, 1993, by Edgar Klüsener

Kurt with the “Jesus” Mustang. Photo credit unknown.

Custom Mustang (Blue, In Bloom)

This Mustang was put together by Kurt sometime in early 1990 to serve as a disposable guitar/something he could destroy at the end of a show. It could also be that this is the same guitar that Kurt used in February that year – a pink Mustang that aside from the finish, looked identical to this guitar, but based on an interview that Nirvana did in 1993, they were likely all different guitars.

(Kurt:) We even built a bunch of Mustangs at one time. We bought some necks, and took pieces of wood and cut out the bodies and put necks on – and they were completely out of tune. But we did a pretty good job.

(Krist:) We had this little assembly line in the garage, where we -incomprehensible- painted them.

(Kurt:) Those were all destroyed in one tour. That was about like four years ago, probably. At least.

Kurt Cobain – Nirvana Interview Seattle, August 10, 1993, by Edgar Klüsener

It’s obviously not 100% that Kurt and Krist are talking about these exact Mustangs, but given the time frame and the fact that these looked very hand-made, it’s probably somewhere around 99%. Kurt remember that being four years ago, so going from the fact that the interview was filmed on August 10, 1993, February 1990 – which is when these guitars were used, sounds about right.

Aria Pro II CS-350

Kurt started using this guitar around mid-1990 during the latter part of the Bleach club tour, and it was first photographed on May 2nd, 1990, at the Milestone, Charlotte, NC (while the tour ended up on 17th). From then on, Nirvana went on a break until August, by which time Kurt seemed to have obtained a Mosrite guitar, which he used as his main, while the Aria popped in only occasionally, and was eventually destroyed on September 22, 1990, at Motor Sports International Garage, Seattle.

Based on the photos, Kurt’s Aria Pro II featured an ash body with a walnut finish, a maple neck with rosewood fretboard, and two Protomatic V humbuckers. Kurt removed most of the control knobs – leaving only bridge pickup volume control, pickup selector, and one of the two-phase reversal switches.

The guitar, or more precisely – what’s left of it, was seen on a few Nirvana-themed exhibits organized by the EMP Musem (now Museum of Pop Culture). It is unknown how exactly the museum acquired the body.

The smashed-up body of Kurt’s Aria Pro II CS-350. Photo by: OnceAndFutureLaura/Flickr

Mosrite Gospel Mark IV

This was one of Kurt’s few actual Mosrite guitars, as all of the guitars prior to this were all cheap Univox knock-offs. According to info posted on the auction of the Mosrite decades later, the guitar was purchased by Kurt at Real Guitars in San Francisco in the fall of 1990 (no official page seems to be online, but you can search cached pages for source).

Apparently, aside from being Kurt’s guitar, this Mosrite is unique on its own for being the only Gospel with a Mark IV style body.

Kurt had only one Gospel, and this is beyond a rare guitar. Loretta sent me a nice letter (…) she had sent me some sales literature of another Gospel but could find no history of ever having made one based on the Mark IV guitar. Kurt’s Gospel had a letter from Mosrite with it, that was written to the person it was built for.

kurtsequipment.com

Based on photos, Kurt’s guitar featured a sunburst finish, a white pickguard, two single-coil pickups, and a Bigsby tremolo. Kurt painted the markers on the fretboard himself, as the original guitar didn’t have dot inlays, and removed the Bigsby spring and replaced it with a wood screw.

Fender Stratocaster (White, "K" Sticker)

This was Kurt’s first left-handed Fender Stratocaster. It was allegedly Japanese-made (source needed), and Kurt likely picked it up in October 1990 in the US, shortly before the band flew to the UK. The first time he was ever seen playing it was on October 25th, 1990, at Leeds Polytechnic, Leeds, United Kingdom (video below).

The guitar was finished in white and featured a rosewood neck. It had two single-coil pickups (likely original), and an angled humbucker in the bridge position – presumably installed by Kurt himself. The model and the brand of this third pickup are at this point unknown.

Memphis (Matsumoku) Stratocaster

This guitar was seen only on one occasion, at the “No More Wars” benefit concert in Olympia, WA on January 18, 1991. Kurt played most of the concert on the white Stratocaster with a black humbucker in the lead position but switched to this guitar prior to the last song. 

At the end of the show, Cobain picked up a hammer and completely smashed the Memphis Strat – which explains the broken pickguard seen on some of the photos online.

Although the majority of the footage from this gig appears to be black and white, there is at least one color film (thanks Beany), which shows the guitar finished in a darker shade of red. Nothing on this guitar seems customized or special, so it is most likely that Kurt picked it up for the sole purpose of destroying it.

Fender Stratocaster (Black, smashed during “Endless, Nameless”)

In early 1991 Kurt started playing a black left-handed Stratocaster with a white pickguard and a full-sized humbucker in the bridge position. The first time the guitar was photographed appears to be March 8, 1991, at Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Canada.

Kurt had this guitar with him when the band entered the studio for the second time to finish up the album, in May 1991, during which they recorded most of the songs that ended up on the final release of Nevermind (“Polly” was recorded a year earlier). Kurt used guitar during the sessions, but had problems with it and ended up destroying it during the recording of “Lithium” (photo). Allegedly, the mistakes that Kurt made during the recording of that song, ended up becoming riffs for the hidden track on the album called “Endless, Nameless”, which begins after 10 minutes of silence following “Something in the Way”.

1965 Fender Jaguar

This guitar is probably one of the most recognizable guitars used by Kurt, probably because it was used extensively during the ‘Nevermind’ tour. Although it’s impossible to say for sure just based on photos, it seems that Kurt didn’t use it live until the start of the European tour, circa mid-August 1991.

I own a ’66 Jaguar. That’s the guitar I polish and baby—I refuse to let anyone touch it when I jump into the crowd. [laughs]

Kurt Cobain Talks Gear and More in His Final Guitar World Interview

Kurt allegedly acquired the Jaguar through an ad published in LA’s Recycler magazine, and at that point, it was already heavily modified by the previous owner. The original single-coils were replaced with two DiMarzios – a PAF in the neck and a Super Distortion in the bridge, and the stock bridge piece was replaced with Gibson’s Tune-O-Matic. It was also fitted with additional volume control, and the original pickup selector switches were replaced with a single toggle switch. The stock control knobs were also replaced with chrome ones, identical to those fitted on Telecaster guitars.

Fender Stratocaster “Vandalism”

This is perhaps Kurt’s most widely known and most recognizable Stratocaster. The first time it appeared seems to be sometime around June 1991, and at that time it was used alongside another black Stratocaster, but with a white pickguard. Given that this is the first guitar that Kurt played live following the Nevermind studio sessions, it is possible that he used it on the album to some extent.

When the guitar first appeared in mid-1991, it was fitted with a humbucker (either a DiMarzio H-3 or more likely a Seymour Duncan JB) in the bridge position, and two white stock single-coils, likely stock. A couple of months later around August, Kurt decorated the guitar with a bumper sticker from the Feederz ‘Teachers in Space’ LP. It read “Vandalism: As beautiful as a rock in a cop’s face”, and in small letters underneath “Courtesy of Feederz: Office of Anti-Public Relations”.

Embed from Getty Images

1969 Fender Competition Mustang

This guitar is undoubtedly best known for its appearance in the music video for the song Smells Like Teen Spirit, filmed on August 17, 1991. Given that this is the first time chronologically that Kurt ever used it, it is likely that the Mustang was purchased approximately somewhere around that same time.

To try and get the more exact date – there’s a quote from Krist that states that Kurt got a left-handed Mustang, and wrote a bunch of songs on it.

If Kurt ever got a new guitar, he would just get infatuated with it. There’s like ten songs, right there! He would be playing it all the time, and it’s like – look at all these tunes, because he liked this new guitar.

We bought this left-handed Mustang, we went to this party at the Evergreen State College, and we bought it for like fifty bucks off this dude. […] So he was compelled, there was this drive, he had a gift as an artist, expressive, he was compelled to do it. Because he never like chores. If it was a chore, he’d have nothing to do with it.

EMP|SFM Oral History Live! series, Krist Novoselic

Fender Stratocaster (White)

This was one of Kurt’s ‘disposable’ guitars, often used at the end of the shows, in case the band felt like smashing their equipment (which they often did). The guitar was first used during Nirvana’s second European Nevermind tour, which started in early November 1991 (see photos from Astoria, November 5, 1991), and it was at that time used alongside Kurt’s 1965 Fender Jaguar.

Based on photos, this white Stratocaster was destroyed just a few weeks later, on the night of November 23rd, 1991, in Ghent, Belgium. Kurt and Krist battled with their guitars at the end of the show, at which point the neck snapped of Kurt’s Strat, and the body was handed to the audience. It is unknown whether the body is now accounted for or not.

However, after that, it seems that the body was retrieved by the guitar tech, who carried it off from the stage. It is possible that the guitar was then reassembled and used at a later date, but that part of the story is just an assumption at this point.

Fender Stratocaster (Black, SD Hot Rails)

This black Stratocaster first appeared on December 5, 1991, at gig played in London’s Kilburn National Ballroom. At that time, it was used alongside Kurt’s 1965 Fender Jaguar (main guitar), and another black Stratocaster with a ‘Vandalism’ sticker on it. From that point on, since the Vandalism Strat was destroyed on December 5, 1991, this black Stratocaster became Kurt’s main ‘disposable’ guitar – the one he would feel free to break at the end of the show.+

Most notably, this black Strat was used during Nirvana’s Saturday Night Live performance that aired on January 9, 1992. Note that Kurt played the first song (Smells Like Teen Spirit) on the Jaguar, and switched to the Strat on the second one, which ended with the total destruction of the set, as per usual.

Fender Telecaster "<3 Courtney"

This guitar first appeared live at the Hordern Pavilion gig in Sydney, Australia on January 25, 1992, and it was seen during the Come as You Are music video, which was filmed around that same time – January 1992.

The Telecaster originally styled a 3-tone sunburst finish, but Kurt sprayed the whole body with blue latex paint and carved out a heart and Courtney’s name on it. It also originally featured two single coils pickups – but the bridge pickup was replaced with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails – something Kurt would often do on his guitars.

Kurt playing the Telecaster during Come as You Are. Thanks Joseph Uliano for the photo.

Kurt played this Telecaster regularly during the Oceania tour in January/February 1992, after which it for some reason disappeared. It appears that he didn’t mush at all until the infamous gig in Rio on January 16th, 1993 (considered by some to be one of the band’s worst), when he broke the guitar’s neck and threw it into the audience. Allegedly one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers crew members picked up the neck, while the body is probably in the hands of a collector somewhere.

Fender Stratocaster (White, MIJ)

Kurt was first seen using this white Fender Stratocaster with rosewood fretboard on February 14, 1992, in Osaka, Japan. He destroyed the guitar that same night, snapping the neck in half, but the body was left relatively undamaged. It seems that the guitar was fixed by February 22nd when it was used during Nirvana’s show in Honolulu.

Given that the guitar was first used when the band was in Japan, it is likely that this was a MIJ Strat (Made in Japan). Also, it’s impossible to know whether Kurt fixed his old guitar, or had purchased more than just one Strat at that time – but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll regard it as one guitar.

The main thing one should focus on identifying the guitar is the white Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in the bridge position, and a small burn mark on the bottom portion of the pickguard (would be nice to know where this burn mark originated from).

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Ferrington Custom

This guitar was custom built by Danny Ferrington, who allegedly met with the band backstage during the SNL gig in January 1992. He kept in touch with Kurt while the band went on tour in Australia, and he was sent drawings from Kurt via fax on how he imagined this guitar to look like.

The Ferrington guitar is modeled after a Fender Mustang for the most part but features a few important differences. It holds three pickups compared to Mustang’s two. The bridge pickup is a humbucker, while the neck and middle pickups are single coils, with the middle one being angled. They are made by a company called Bartolini, and the humbucker had a coil split – giving Kurt more control over the tone. The guitar was also fitted with a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic bridge and tuners.

Although it is very hard to actually see the guitar just from the video recording of the show, it appears that Kurt did play the guitar live at least once in Dublin at Point Depot on June 21, 1992. The cable does seem to come out at an angle when compared to Mustang models, and Kurt’s didn’t really have a similar-looking Mustang around that time as far as one can tell.

Fender Stratocaster (Sunburst, Reading Festival)

This guitar was first used Reading Festival in Reading, England, UK, on August 30, 1992. Kurt started off the set with his 1965 Fender Jaguar but switched to this Stratocaster at around the 30-minute mark, and played it for most of the gig, aside from a few songs on which he used another black colored Strat.

The guitar was most likely brand new since it was the first sunburst Strat that Kurt ever used, and the only modification that he had done to it seems to be the added Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickup in the bridge position.

Kurt used the Strat to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” among others during the Reading Festival gig.

Fender Stratocaster (White, Seattle Coliseum)

Based on photos and videos available, this guitar was used only once, on September 11, 1992, at Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle, WA. At the end of the gig, the guitar was apparently smashed, and years later ended it up on an exhibit organized by EMP/MoPoP museum in Seattle.

The guitar was most likely pieced together from various parts, as Kurt used at least one more white Stratocaster around this time – but this was the only one with a black colored Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickup in the bridge position. Interestingly, Kurt destroyed a black Stratocaster just around a week earlier, on August 30, 1992 (Reading Festival) – which also had a black Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in it – meaning that the pickup could’ve originated from that guitar.

Kurt’s Fender Stratocaster at display at the EMP/MoPoP in Seattle. Photo by: OnceAndFutureLaura/Flickr

1970s Telecaster Thinline (Sonic Youth)

Kurt borrowed this guitar briefly to join Mudhoney on stage for The Money Will Roll Right In, on September 26th, 1992. The guitar actually belongs to Lee Renaldo from Sonic Youth. Regardless of the fact that the guitar didn’t belong to Kurt, it’s perhaps best to list it here, for anyone who might see the concert and wonder what the guitar was.

Kurt Cobain playing a Thinline Telecaster

This guitar actually has a pretty interesting story on its own. It was stolen from Sonic Youth in 1999 and returned completely refinished in 2005. To learn more, visit SonicYouth.com.

1960s Univox Hi-Flier Custom

This guitar was first seen on October 3, 1992, at Carver Gymnasium in Bellingham, Washington. Given that the band wasn’t performing much around this time, compared to late 1991 and early 1992, it is likely that Kurt purchased this guitar and worked on it himself in his free time, doing all the mods, with the goal to make something the would fit his needs perfectly.

To remind you, Univox Hi-Flier is the first known electric guitar that Kurt ever owned, so it makes sense that he would buy another one now that he had money, and try and make it better.

The guitar featured a sunburst finish, rosewood fretboard, and a red tortoiseshell pickguard and truss rod cover. Based on the specs, the raised plastic “Univox” logo on the headstock, and the two rocker switches – this was a Phase One Custom model, that was originally shipped with two P90-style pickups.

Ibanez Les Paul Copy

Kurt owned an Ibanez copy of a Gibson Les Paul guitar, likely acquiring it sometime towards 1993. He was never seen using it, but based on a couple of somewhat reliable sources, he did indeed own it.

The first source is the old Kurt Cobain fan website on GeoCities (it’s the place where most of the info from kurtsequipment.com seems to have originated from). This website (now down), reads the following:

Ibanez Les Paul custom copy, cherry sunburst, Dimarzio X2N pickups, 2 coil tap mini switches (installed when bought), lefty, set neck, flame in top, black pickguard and pickup rings, pickguard may have been removed. Black or gold speed knobs. This was a great lefty guitar but Kurt wouldn’t play it live because he said it looked too much like Jimmy Page! Earnie may have sent this for the “In Utero” recording.

www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Palladium/4356/1kurteq.htm

Fender Mustang 'Oranj-Stang'

This guitar was first seen on July 23, 1993, at Roseland Ballroom, NYC. At that point, the guitar was mostly stock, and it featured a fiesta red finish and had a red tortoiseshell pickguard with two white single pickups, one of them being a Seymour Duncan JB Jr.

This guitar was one of the four Fender Mustangs that Kurt acquired prior to the ‘In Utero’ tour, with three of them being finished in blue. All of them allegedly had nicknames, with this one being called ‘Oranj-Stang’, while the other three were all ‘Sky-Stangs’. It is unknown at this time whether these names were given by Kurt himself, or by his guitar tech.

Sometime between July and October – when the Mustang was next seen, the guitar was extensively modified (as is the case with the other three Mustangs, more on this here – Kurt Cobain’s Fender Mustang ‘Sky-Stang I’ (Sonic Blue)). The body was routed out to fit a full-sized humbucker in the bridge position, and the choice fell on the Seymour Duncan JB – which Kurt was already familiar with from his Univox Custom.

Univox Hi-Flier Phase 4 (Heart Shaped Box)

This is the guitar that Kurt most famously used during the ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ music video. It is presumably the only Phase 4 Univox that he owned (nearly all the previous ones were Phase 3s), and likely the last one that he ever acquired.

According to Anton Corbijn (Dutch photographer and video director), the video was shot sometime in September 1993 – so chronologically looking, that was the first time this guitar was ever seen. The only other time Kurt was seen with the guitar was on October 21, 1993, at Kansas City Memorial Hall.

It was in 1993. I think it was August for the photoshoot and September for the video. Before In Utero was released. Kurt heard from Courtney about videos I did for Echo and the Bunnymen because Courtney had lived in Liverpool for a while. Then Kurt asked me to send those videos to him, and I guess he liked them enough because he sent his ideas for this new video back to me.

How Nirvana Shot the ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ Video

Fender Mustang 'Sky-Stang I'

This guitar was one of the four Fender Mustangs that Kurt acquired sometime prior to the ‘In Utero’ tour. It was first seen in the photographs taken on October 23, 1993, in Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, and based on the frequency of use, this was likely Kurt’s favorite among the four. The rest of the guitars included a red Mustang nicknamed ‘Oranj-Stang’, and two more blue Mustangs nearly identical to this one (more on this later).

On the earliest photos of the guitar, the Mustang seemed to already have been modified, with a white full-sized humbucker pickup sitting in the bridge pocket instead of the original single-coil, and what looked like a Gotoh Tune-o-Matic bridge.

It is unknown what this pickup exactly was, but the most likely possibility is the Seymour Duncan JB Model, which Kurt used in both his red Mustang and his Univox Custom. The only issue is that the pickup was white, and there doesn’t seem to be any info online on whether Seymour Duncan sold these pickups in that color in the 90s as they do nowadays (if you happen to know, be sure to leave a comment).

Fender Competition Mustang (right-handed)

Kurt Cobain was photographed sitting on stage next to this guitar backstage at the Mecca Auditorium in Milwaukee on October 26, 1993 (photos taken by Kevin Mazur – see source below).

He was just sitting there, having a moment, and I started taking pictures, He looked at me and said, ‘You know what? Not now. Sorry.’ I left him alone after this.

Kurt Cobain by Kevin Mazur

Based on the photos, the guitar was right-handed and even strung for right-hand use. Therefore, there is a low chance Kurt had anything to do with it. Most definitely, this Mustang actually belonged to Steve Turner from Mudhoney, who opened the show that night.

And, just to clear the waters for people who may have come here following a different story – yes, there is an identical-looking guitar that can be seen hanging on a wall at the Hard Rock Cafe in Oslo. Allegedly, that guitar was sold to HRC by Courtney, and based on the photos, there’s Kurt’s autograph on it. Although the two guitars do look identical, there is very little chance they have anything in common. Also, there’s a low chance that that HRC guitar ever touched Kurt’s hands.

Fender Jag-Stang

Sometime around early 1993, Kurt came up with an idea to make his own guitar, or more precisely, to produce a completely new model of a guitar. The first drawings were done by Kurt himself (these were later published in the book “Journals”), with the design being based on a mix of a Mustang and a Jaguar model.

Based on the photographs published in “Journals”, Kurt seemed to have figured out the shape of the body quite quickly – but struggled somewhat with the headstock, eventually ending up with a standard Fender shape. He came up with the body shape by taking a Polaroid picture of a Mustang and a Jaguar, and cutting them so that the lower portion of the body was basically Jaguar, while the upper and the lower horns were from a Mustang.

What I did is I took a picture of a Mustang, a Polaroid picture of a Mustang and a picture of a Jaguar and then cut them in half and glued them together and told them to build that. So that’s what it is. It’s the Jag-Stang.

Nardwuar vs. Nirvana pt 3 of 3

Fender Mustang 'Sky-Stang II'

This was the second of the three blue Fender Mustangs that Kurt acquired sometime prior to the ‘In Utero’ tour, and one of the four Mustangs in total he used around that time – the fourth one being a red one. All four guitars were modified in a similar way sometime between July and October 1993 – with their bodies being routed out in order to fit a full-sized humbucker in the bridge position.

As noted, this guitar was fitted with a humbucker in the bridge position – most likely a Seymour Duncan JB model, which Kurt used in many of his guitars. Aside from that, the only change seemed to have been replacing the stock bridge with a Gotoh Tune-o-Matic.

Although Kurt mostly used his first blue Mustang – the ‘Sky-Stang I’, this guitar too was seen occasionally during the latter part of the ‘In Utero’ tour. […]

Fender Mustang 'Sky-Stang III'

This is one of the four Fender Mustang that Kurt allegedly acquired sometime prior to the ‘In Utero’ tour, and had them all routed out so they could fit a full-sized humbucker pickup in the bridge position. Compared to the other three guitars, this one seems to have been either used very rarely or not at all.

The guitar was set up in the exact same way as the others – with a black Seymour Duncan JB pickup instead of the stock single-coil, plus a Gotoh Tune-o-Matic bridge.

It is very hard to determine whether this guitar was ever used live, due to the fact that it looks nearly identical to the ‘Sky-Stang II’. The only visual difference between the two seems to be the pattern on the Tortoiseshell pickguard – this guitar had a small orange blotch between the pickups, while the ‘Sky-Stang II’ had a similar-looking blotch below the bridge pickup.

1990s Fender Telecaster Custom

Kurt allegedly received this guitar from Fender in 1994 as a replacement for his light blue Telecaster. He never used the guitar live, and received it fully customized only two weeks before his death. According to some quotes attributed to Ernie, Kurt really liked the guitar and considered it his favorite at that moment.

The Telecaster was heavily modified by Earnie Bailey. The original tuners were replaced with Gotoh’s, and the bridge with Stew-Mac with individual saddles. Both of the stock pickups were also replaced. Earnie installed a Gibson PAF in the neck position and a Seymour Duncan JB in the bridge.

The pickups, bridge, and tuners were changed at one point, as this was a common practice with Kurt’s guitars. This was done by Earnie Bailey, Kurt’s guitar tech. This comes with a letter from Earnie detailing the complete modifications done to this guitar.

RockStarGuitars.com (now deleted)

Fender Stratocaster MIM (Black)

Kurt played a few (possibly even up to twenty) different MIM Fender Stratocaster in late 1993, few of which were destroyed, some were given to fans, and some perhaps never even got a chance to be played live. One of those guitars ended up in the hands of one of GroundGuitar’s visitors, Guillaume.

Guillaume according to this own words, attended Nirvana’s gig in Rennes, France on February 16, 1994. What follows is his personal statement.

It was at the end of the show, the lights had been switched back on and people were starting to leave. I was stuck against the railing of the front row, so I had to wait, when suddenly Kurt came back onstage on his own carrying this guitar, which was not played during the show as it was one of those half-dozen black & white Mexican Fender Stratocasters that he had for destruction, (but no destruction jam occurred that night). As you can see it’s been played, smashed and pieced back together (new neck for once).

Anyway, he came down straight to me and handed it over. There was a huge crowd movement of course, people trying to snatch the guitar or touch him, and he seemed a bit scared. Eventually he took it back, realizing I would get beaten up and that everybody would leave with a string or a tuning key lol, and asked the nearest security guy to lift me up above the rail, which he did, and I was then given the guitar backstage, but not by Kurt who had already fled…I waited a few minutes for my friends to come pick me up at the back exit and protect me. It was one of those nights!

Although it is widely agreed (and even confirmed by Kurt’s guitar tech Earnie Bailey) that Kurt was using precisely Mexican Strats around this time, Guillaume did some research on his own and discovered some interesting facts about his own guitar –

Acoustic Guitars

Harmony Stella 12-string

Kurt bought this guitar at a pawnshop for around $30 in late 1989. It was a 12-string model, but Kurt strung it with only five nylon strings, and he allegedly never changed them since. The guitar barely stayed in tune, and apparently had duct tape holding tuning pegs in place.

This guitar was used on all of the acoustic songs on Nevermind (Polly, Something in the Way), and it supposedly even appeared on In Utero album, but only after the issues have been addressed. It was also carried regularly on tour but was mostly used just as a warm-up instrument.

Embed from Getty Images

A fun fact – one of Kurt’s favorite musicians, Lead Belly, played a similar guitar so that probably played some part in Kurt’s decision to buy and play this exact model.

1953 Martin D-18 “Grandpa”

This guitar was given to Kurt Cobain by his then-girlfriend Mary Lou Lord, sometime before the Nevermind tour in 1991.

In 1991 I met and befriended Kurt Cobain. […] My friendship with Kurt turned romantic almost immediately. It was really an amazing time for me. I was with Kurt nearly every day during the first part of that tour, and we were deeply in love. It was during this time that I learned he was in need of an acoustic guitar. I told him that I wanted to give him the best gift in the world – my Martin…which by now, he had also fallen in love with. He said that he would take the guitar under one condition, that if he ever got big he would either find another one, or he would keep this one and buy me another.

The Story of Grandpa

According to Mary, Kurt carried the guitar with him during the US tour, and Mary accompanied him during the first part of it. After Mery returned home, the band continued touring, and apparently, this was when Kurt met Courtney, and things got complicated. Mary and Kurt ended their relationship, but the guitar remained with Kurt. Sometime later, he returned it to Mary, arguing it wouldn’t be fair of him to keep it anymore.

Ibanez PF5L

Kurt used this guitar for Nirvana’s performances at Tower Records, New York, on September 27th, and Northern Lights, Minneapolis, on October 14th, during their Nevermind tour in 1991.

1950s Kay Archtop K6868

This guitar was featured in the music video for the song Come As You Are, released in 1992. The guitar belonged to Kurt, which is based on the fact that it was seen at Kurt’s home – but it was never really used live or in any other public setting. It was most likely just a guitar that Kurt found interesting and unique, and for the most part, just kept at his house.

The guitar was seen in the 2011 documentary ‘Montage of Heck’, around 1:22 hour mark. The footage was most likely from around late 1991 when Kurt lived with Courtney in LA.

Based on the video footage, the guitar seems to fit the specs of a 50s-era Kay archtop. The slim (maple?) neck profile, pickguard position, the bridge setup, and the black stripe following the contour of the body are all present on the models made in this time period. One of these guitars, which seems nearly identical to the one Kurt used, recently appeared on Reverb.com [Kay Archtop 1950’s Blonde]

Kramer Ferrington KFT-1

This guitar was seen briefly in the 2015 documentary Montage of Heck, during which it was smashed. The scene was filmed in a bathroom, likely in Kurt’s and Courtney’s Fairfax apartment, sometime in 1991/1992.

Guitar as seen in the 2015 documentary Montage of Heck.

One thing that is evident from this footage is that Kurt’s Kramer Ferrington KFT-1 had a replacement neck installed on it. The original neck would’ve had a more pointy headstock, and the fretboard wouldn’t have dot inlays but tear-shaped ones.

The other thing worth noting is the writing on the top of the body. Based on a more recent photo of this guitar, taken by photographer Geoff Moore [Kurt Cobain’s Personal Archive: See Intimate Photos From New Exhibit], these are the lines from the song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” from In Utero.

1960s Epiphone FT-79 Texan

This guitar was first seen at the Castaic Lake Amphitheatre, Castaic, CA on September 26, 1992, when Kurt joined Mudhoney on stage and played a couple of songs (video below). At that point, the guitar seemed to have been completely stock, but by July 23, 1993, when Kurt was next seen using it, a sticker reading ‘Nixon Now’ was added on the top of the body, just behind the bridge.

Less obvious, but probably more important to point out, the guitar had Schaller Tuning Keys and a Bartolini 3AV sound hole pick installed.

Based on the looks, Kurt’s Epiphone was either an early 60s model or older (some sources claim it’s a 1961 model). By the mid-60s the design of the model changed dramatically, with Gibson taking over Epiphone, to feature fewer curves, similar to Gibson’s J-45 model. Furthermore, no Epiphone logo on the pickguard, and the rectangular bridge, all matches models made no later than 1960/61. Also, opposed to popular belief, this is not a “Texan” model (see comments for explanation).

Martin D-18E

This Martin D-18E Kurt bought in early 1992 at Voltage Guitars in Los Angeles for $5,000 [Julien’s]. It became one of his best known and most iconic guitars after he was seen performing with it during the MTV Unplugged in New York live album.

Kurt’s Martin is actually a pretty rare guitar produced only for a year in the late 50s, and it was one of the earliest Martins to feature electric pickups.

Kurt’s guitar, serial number 155864, was just number 7 out of 302, according to Julien’s. Also, the guitar originally came equipped with two DeArmond pickups.

Amps

1960s Fender Twin Reverb

Kurt used a Fender Twin Reverb to record Bleach album. That particular amp, however, wasn’t owned by him, but by Jack Endino, who produced the record.

When they recorded Bleach, Kurt’s Randall was in the shop so they borrowed my amp, which was a Sixties Fender Twin. I’m a tube nut, so everything was tweaked and up to spec on that amp, but it didn’t have speakers because I had fried them. Kurt brought in a little closed-back 2×12 cabinet with two Celestion [speakers], most likely 70-watt models.

The Definitive Kurt Cobain Gear Guide

Following the release of the album, Kurt went on to use his (repaired) Randall for a few months. By later October 1989, and Nirvana’s European tour, Kurt acquired a Fender Twin Reverb of his own.

Randall RG-120 Commander

Kurt was first seen using this amp around July 1989 (search for Nirvana, Hoboken, NJ, July 13, 1989, on Google) – which was just after the release of the Bleach album (June 15, 1989). However, according to Jack Endino, who produced Bleach, the Randall amp was used even prior to that.

When they recorded Bleach, Kurt’s Randall was in the shop so they borrowed my amp, which was a Sixties Fender Twin. […] Kurt brought in a little closed-back 2×12 cabinet with two Celestion [speakers], most likely 70-watt models.

The Definitive Kurt Cobain Gear Guide

From Jack Endino’s statement, one can conclude that Kurt used this amp until June 1989, at which point it was broken. Unfortunately, photos from around early 1989 and late 1988 are scarce, so it’s hard to determine when exactly Kurt started using it.

Be that as it may, it seems that Kurt repaired the amp and used it at least until the end of the North American Bleach tour, or around October 1989. After that, the band went to Europe, and at that point, Kurt seemed to have switched to a Fender Twin Reverb.

Fender Combo Amp

Kurt was seen using an unknown Fender amp around the time when the band released Bleach, circa May 1989.

Based on this photo – Nirvana in Auburn, WA, May 26, 1989, it seems that the Marshall on top with the “Nirvana” was Jason Everman’s, while the Fender combo sitting underneath it was used by Kurt. The amp on the right, sitting on top of a red cabinet, was Krist’s bass amp.

However, it could also be that this Fender amp was used by Jason and that Kurt’s amp was sitting somewhere on the right of the stage (less likely).

At this point, the exact model of the amp is unknown. Based on the white line around the speaker grill, it could be something like a Fender 75. However, that amp seemed to only have a single speaker, while Kurt’s has dual.

Fender Twin Reverb Silverface

This amp was seen behind Kurt on stage starting with Nirvana’s European tour in late October 1989, in support of Bleach. However, the amp belonged either to TAD or Mudhoney with whom Nirvana toured, and there was never a cable going into the amp while Kurt was performing – meaning, he likely never used it himself.

Kurt playing through a Fender Twin Reverb amp at Live at Kapu, Linz, Austria, 11/20/89. Photo source: stateyourrights / Nirvana – Live at Kapu, 1989, Full (MATRIX)

Sunn Beta Lead Head

Kurt was seen using these amps towards the latter part of the Bleach tour – circa February/March 1990 (for photos see Kurt Cobain’s Sunn amp). They were used up until May 1, 1990, when they were trashed at a concert at Cat’s Cradle, Chapel Hill, NC, and replaced the day later with a Mesa Boogie Studio .22.

I was at this show and bought one of Kurt´s Beta Leads.

Nirvana – 5/1/90 – Cat’s Cradle, Chapel Hill, NC – comments, S.Williams

The band trashed an amplifier during their set

05/01/90 – Nirvana @ Cat’s Cradle, Chapel Hill, NC

Mesa/Boogie Studio Preamp

This was Kurt main pre-amp, used for live performances ever since May 2, 1990. According to several sources, Kurt trashed his Sunn amps the day earlier, on May 1st at the Cat’s Cradle, Chapel Hill, NC, and bought the Mesa Boogie on May 2nd before playing at Milestone in Charlotte.

I was at this show and bought one of Kurt’s Beta Leads.

Nirvana – 5/1/90 – Cat’s Cradle, Chapel Hill, NC – comments, S.Williams

Nirvana plays two shows in North Carolina: May 1 is in Chapel Hill an May 2 is at Milestone in Charlotte, where Kurt buys a new guitar amp. […] His guitar amp crapped out and we had enough money to go to a music store and buy him another Mesa Boogie, a fairly nice setup…that he used the whole rest of the time.

Craig Montgomery – Nirvana: The Day by Day Eyewitness Chronicle, Thunder’s Mouth Press 2000, p. 57 by Carrie Borzillo

Kurt Cobain’s amp setup during Live at Paramount gig. Photo source: YouTube Screencap

Crown Power Base 2 Amplifier

This was Kurt’s main guitar amp prior to Nevermind studio sessions and during the album tour. For most of the tour, the amp was seen sitting in a rackmount case, underneath a Mesa Boogie Studio .22 Preamp. This same exact setup was allegedly used during the studio sessions, plus some other amps provided by Butch Vig.

Kurt had a Mesa/Boogie, but we also used a Fender Bassman a lot and a Vox AC30 on Nevermind.

The Definitive Kurt Cobain Gear Guide

Crown Power Base 2 was used from around late 1990, to around January 1991. At that point, and for a brief period of time, Kurt’s rackmount case held the Mesa Boogie Studio .22 Preamp, a Carver PM-1200 dual-channel Magnetic Field power amplifier, and one more unit that is unknown at this time. If you happen to recognize it (see photo below, it’s the unit at the very bottom), make sure to leave a comment.

Marshall JCM800

Kurt used this amp on a few occasions in June 1991, more precisely on June 17 at Crest Theatre, Sacramento, CA, and on June 14 at Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles, CA.

It’s hard to tell from the photos, but the amp was either a JCM800 or a JCM900 model. 1991 was the last year that the Marshall made JCM 800 amps, and JCM 900 came out in 1990 – so it could’ve been both.

However, based on the fact that the input cable on Kurt’s amp was all the way to the right, JCM800 (Model 2210) is a more likely option (on a JCM900 it would’ve been closer to the middle).

Carver PM-600/900 Power Amplifier

Please note that this amp was previously falsely identified as the PM-1200. Thanks, Ronald for clearing things up.

Kurt Cobain used this rack unit very briefly in 1992. More specifically it was seen during the Saturday Night Live gig in January 1992, during which it was paired with a Mesa/Boogie Studio .22 Preamp, and another unknown unit.

Carver PM-600/900 Power Amplifier seen in the middle, sitting underneath Mesa/Boogie Studio .22 Preamp. (Saturday Night Live 1992)

On Nirvana’s next show, on January 24, 1992, at the Phoenician Club, Sydney, Australia, Kurt was seen using a Crest 4801 Power Amp instead. So it appears that the Carver was only used for one gig total.

Crest 4801 Power Amp

Kurt used this amp from around January 1992 (as confirmed in the comments, it was first used on January 24) for the majority of Nirvana’s live performances. The amp was used together with a Mesa/Boogie Studio .22 Preamp – both of which were mounted on a rack shelf often seen sitting behind Kurt on stage.

Kurt Cobain's Amp setup during Reading Festival gig.
Crest 4801 Power Amp seen used during the Reading Festival.

Prior to January 1992, Kurt used a Crown Power Base 2 power amp instead of this amp.

Effects

Boss DS-1 Distortion

The Boss DS-1 could arguably be considered one of the key elements of Kurt’s sound since he used it as his main distortion pedal basically throughout the Bleach and Nevermind era. At some point during the Nevermind tour, he did make a switch to a DS-2 model, but it’s hard to determine when exactly this happened due to the lack of photos.

Also worth mentioning is that most of what is known about this pedal, and Kurt’s preference in regards to pedals, mostly comes from other sources and not Kurt himself. If you happen to come across an interview where Kurt talks about pedals, and which ones he preferred, be sure to forward it.

According to Jack Endino, who produced ‘Bleach’, during the studio sessions Kurt was playing through a Boss DS-1 pedal. Based on this, it is also likely that the pedal was used on the following tour between June 1989 and May 1990.

EHX Small Clone

Kurt started using this pedal probably around early 1990, just before the band started working on Nevermind. It’s unknown to what the extent the pedal was actually used on the record, and how much of the chorus effect was added during the mixing process, but nonetheless, this pedal was used extensively during the Nevermind tour and therefore played a key role in Kurt’s sound.

First of all, in case you’re unfamiliar with what Small Clone does to the sound, this is basically what one would call a chorus pedal, and it creates a sort of a wobbly or shimmery “water” sound. This effect can be heard all over the Nevermind – and paired with a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal, and a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker is essential to Kurt’s sound from this period.

The specific tracks from the album on which the effect was used, are as follows:

EHX Big Muff Pi

According to Butch Vig, who worked as a producer on Nevermind, Kurt used this pedal on Lithium. However, it is important to note that whenever he played live, he would either use a Boss DS-1 or a DS-2 distortion pedal instead.

We used an Electro- Harmonix Big Muff fuzz box through a Fender Bassman on ‘Lithium’ to get that thumpier, darker sound.

Nirvana: Super Fuzz Big Muff

Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion Pedal

Kurt started using this pedal sometime after the release of Nevermind, switching from the older model – the DS-1. The DS-2 was first seen on September 28, 1991, at the Marquee, New York, NY (thanks Sebastian).

This, of course, means that both Bleach and Nevermind were recorded with the DS-1, and the DS-2 was only used on tours – at least in regard to those two albums.

[more to be added]

EHX EchoFlanger

This pedal was used extensively during the ‘In Utero’ era, including the studio sessions for the album. According to Kurt’s guitar tech Ernie Bailey, depending on the day, Kurt would use either this or a PolyChorus for live performances. [Nirvana: Super Fuzz Big Muff]

An important thing to note here is that the Echo Flanger and (vintage) PolyChorus are actually pretty much identical, as they share the same circuitry. Therefore, whether Kurt used this or the PolyChorus on ‘In Utero’ is a point really not worth debating.

The pedal was also brought to MTV Unplugged rehearsals, but apparently, it created unwanted buzz/hum. You can actually hear Kurt strum his guitar at around 0:34 in the video below with the flanger turned on, and stating – “they hearing some kind of buzz from this.” (thanks Sebastian). This is also confirmed by Kurt guitar tech, Ernie Bailey.

The Echoflanger was also brought to the rehearsal [of MTV Unplugged] but it wasn´t used because they created too much 60-cycle hum.

Ernie Bailey – kurtsequipment.com

Tech 21 SansAmp

Allegedly, Kurt used a Tech 21 SansAmp as his main distortion pedal in the In Utero era. However, it is important to note that at least during the live performances, he also had a Boss DS-2 on stage.

This means that the SansAmp was likely used just on In Utero songs, while the Boss DS-2 was there for songs from Nevermind and Bleach.

EHX Polychorus

Used during the ‘In Utero‘ studio sessions and for the following tour, more precisely on Heart-Shaped Box (solo), Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, and Scentless Apprentice. The unit used in the studio actually belonged to Kurt’s guitar tech Earnie Bailey, who received his pedal back only after sending Kurt another one well into the In Utero tour. The second Polychorus is now owned by Eric Erlandson of Hole.

DOD Grunge

Used most notably during the ‘Live and Loud’ gig in 1993. A couple of weeks after that, on December 29th, 1993, Kurt threw the pedal into the audience, and that was the end of it. Kurt most likely didn’t actually take the pedal seriously, and based on how short it was used – it was possibly used as a joke.

Just recently, the pedal appeared on History channel show titled “Pawn Stars”, followed by a litter from Cobain’s guitar tech. The owner asked $5,000 for it but was offered only $500 (it’s Pawn Stars after all).

Strings

Dean Markley 2502 Guitar Strings

According to a recently published receipt from the 1990s, Kurt purchased these strings from a shop called Music 6000 in Lacey, WA.

The DM 2502 is a light set of strings (9-42), while Kurt is mostly known for playing heavy strings, which is confirmed by various sources to be Dean Markley 2504s (10-52). But, based on this receipt, Kurt did at some point at least experiment with a lighter set.

Some further research is needed on figuring out the date on the receipt. If you happen to know anything, leave it in the comments.

Receipt showing Kurt Cobain buying Dean Markley 2502 Strings from Music 6000 shop in Lacey, WA
Kurt Cobain receipt from the 1990s. Photo source: Unknown

Dean Markley 2504 Guitar Strings

Kurt most likely used Dean Markley 2504 (10-52) strings for the most part throughout his career. He did use a different set at one point, a Dean Markley 2502 which is the lighter, 9-42 set. But, this was likely either very early on, or it was just something he was experimenting with.

On the subject of strings – there has been a rumor regarding the strings that he used that originated from an interview from the Musician magazine, in 1992. In the said interview Kurt mentioned that he’s using actual piano strings for low E and A.

I use piano wire for guitar strings, ’cause it’s a lot thicker. I buy it in bulk, in these big long tubes, and just cut it to the length of the guitar. They’re thicker than the thickest guitar gauge that’s available. I don’t know what the thickness of ’em is anymore – I can’t remember. I use a really thick E string, and then a smaller size A. A few of the others are guitar strings – I think I use Dean Markley because they’re the cheapest.

The Year’s Hottest New Band Can’t Stand Still, Musician, January 1992

But, this was most likely just a joke that over the years developed into a legend. Piano strings would be impossible to fit on most of the guitars that Kurt was using at the time, and if he indeed wanted thicker strings, there were easier ways to achieve that.

Accessories

Dunlop Tortex .60mm Picks

Based on photos and videos, it seems that Kurt mostly used orange Dunlop Tortex picks, which are .60mm thick. However, photographic evidence mostly dates back from the ‘In Utero’ tour, so it is possible that Kurt used a different brand/model during the earlier years.

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