Kurt started first started playing on a Univox Hi-Flier guitar – which is a cheap replica of the more expensive Mosrite Gospel model. He played a few of these Hi-Fliers in his early days, including 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, such as the blue Gibson SG, pieced together by Kurt himself, and a Greco Mustang, which went through at least two different reincarnations.
By the time Nevermind was out, Kurt was mostly playing Stratocasters, 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 that same time, he also acquired a 1969 Fender Competition Mustang, which he used most famously during the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video.
In Utero era was mostly marked by four different Fender Mustangs, three of which were blue, and one of which was red. All of these Mustangs were customized to Kurt’s own liking. The body on each was routed out to fit a full-sized humbucker in the bridge position – more precisely a Seymour Duncan JB, and the stock bridge piece was replaced with a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic.
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. Also, worth mentioning is the Harmony Stella 12-string, which Kurt played on “Something in the Way”, and a 1961 Epiphone Texan that styled a “Nixon Now” sticker on the top of the body.
Regarding effects, Kurt used a Boss DS-1 and DS-2 distortion pedals, the latter of which replaced the former around the time of Nevermind release. He also used an EHX Small Clone Chorus pedal on a number 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.
Kurt Cobain Equipment Guide
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.
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 anyways, and add distortion with a pedal. In tha case you do, it would probably be the best to get yourself an 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.
Pick yourself atleast 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."
Chronological list of Guitars, Amps, Effects, and Accessories used by Kurt Cobain
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Kurt Cobain's Electric Guitars
1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3
This is one of the first guitars (likely the first electric guitar) that Kurt ever bought. To try and figure out when exactly Kurt acquired and used the guitar, we mostly have to draw clues from these photos, 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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
Kurt was seen playing this guitar only on one occasion, at The Sonic Temple, Wilkinsburg, PA on July 9, 1989, which of courses raises many 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 […]
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 […]
Kurt played this Hagstrom for a few gigs during Nirvana’s first European tour in late 1989. The guitar was most likely acquired around mid-November, while the band played around West Germany, and it was destroyed relatively quickly, on November 28, 1989, at Piper Club, Roma, Italy. Based on photos, the guitar featured a red finish, two single-coil pickups, and a stop tail-piece (usually these guitars seem to have a tremolo bridge). Based on […]
This guitar was used for a very brief period of time in late 1989, and it seemed to have directly replaced Kurt’s Hagstrom guitar, as that one was destroyed on November 28th, while the Washburn was used on Nirvana next gig, on December 2nd. But, while the Hagstrom at least lasted for a few gigs, the Washburn was destroyed the very next day, on December 3rd, 1989 at Astoria Theatre, London. Based […]
Kurt played this guitar only for one or two gigs in early 1990, 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 […]
This guitar was likely put together by Kurt sometime in early 1990 to serve as a disposable guitar / something he could destroy at the end of a show. The Mustang was first used sometime in February 1990, likely on the night of 12th, at the Cattle Club, Sacramento (if you watch the video below, he starts the gig off with the Mustang, but switches to an Epiphone before the […]
This guitar was used from the very early 1990, the first time probably being sometime around February 12th, and it was used up until Kurt smashed it on April 26, 1990, at Pyramid Club in New York. It 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 […]
Kurt started using this guitar around mid-1990 during the latter part of the Bleach club tour, and it was first photographed on May 6, 1990, at the Masquerade, Atlanta, GA (while to 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, […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 “K” sticker on it, but switched to this guitar prior to that last song. At the end of the show, he allegedly picked up a hammer and completely smashed the Memphis Strat (which explains the broken pickguard seen on the photos). […]
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. Nevermind Studio Sessions 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 […]
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 […]
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 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 few important […]
This guitar is undoubtedly best known for its appearance in the music video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, filmed on August 17, 1991. Given that this is the first time chronologically that Kurt ever used it, it assumed that the Mustang was purchased somewhere around that same time. The first time that Kurt used the guitar for an actual live gig appears to be at Beehive Music & Video store in Seattle on […]
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. It is however very likely that he acquired it at least a few weeks prior to this. I own a […]
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, that 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 […]
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 […]
This guitar first appeared at Hordern Pavilion gig in Sydney, Australia on January 25, 1992. It 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 from this point on. Kurt played […]
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, […]
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 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 […]
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 – […]
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 […]
This guitar was first seen on July 23, 1993, at Roseland Ballroom, NYC. At that point, the guitar was completely stock, and it featured a fiesta red finish and had a red Pearloid pickguard with two white single coil pickups installed in it. Allegedly, this 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 […]
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 […]
This guitar was one of the four Fender Mustangs that Kurt acquired sometime prior to the ‘In Utero’ tour. It was first seen on 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 […]
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. The Design Based on the photographs published in “Journals”, Kurt seemed to have […]
This was 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 […]
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 […]
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 – […]
Kurt bought this guitar at a pawn shop 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 […]
This guitar was featured in the music video for the song ‘Come As You Are’, released in 1992. The guitar did belong 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 […]
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. […]
This guitar is certainly Kurt’s best-known acoustic since it was used during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged concert. Embed from Getty Images Kurt bought this Martin in late 1993, so just a few months prior to the Unplugged gig. It 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. The stock DeArmond pickups didn’t sound very good […]
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 […]
Kurt was first seen using this amp around July 1989 (search for Nirvana, Hoboken, NJ, June 13, 1989, on Google) – which was just after the release of 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 […]
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 […]
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 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 […]
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, […]
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 […]
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 […]
Kurt used this amp from around January 1992 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. Prior to January 1992, Kurt used a Crown Power Base 2 power amp instead of this amp.
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 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 […]
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. Usage on Nevermind, Specific Tracks First […]
According to Butch Vig, who produced ‘Nevermind’, Kurt used this pedal on ‘Lithium’. However, it is important to notice 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]
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. […]
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, […]
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.
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.
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 […]
The only piece of information in regard to strings coming from Kurt himself comes from one of the interviews from the Musician magazine, in 1992, where 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 […]
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. Embed from Getty Images