Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 – c. April 5, 1994) was an American singer-songwriter, musician and artist, best known as the lead singer and guitarist of the grunge band Nirvana. He formed Nirvana with Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Washington in 1985, having its debut album Bleach released on the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989. After signing with major label DGC Records, the band found breakthrough success with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from its second album Nevermind released in 1991. During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin addiction and depression. He also had difficulty coping with his fame and public image, and the professional and lifelong personal pressures surrounding himself and his wife Courtney Love. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, the victim of what was officially ruled a suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.
As far as the Kurt’s gear goes, he had a pretty high tolerance level towards what kind of a guitar he happened to be playing. It needed to have proper tuners and a humbucker in the bridge, preferably a Seymour Duncan JB, and it needed to be cheap and inefficient. A couple of guitar do stuck out from the bunch though – like his 1965 Fender Jaguar which was used extensively in the Nevermind era, and his sonic-blue Mustang which became main instrument on the album In Utero.
This is one of the first guitar Kurt ever bought. Looking at these photos – which as far as we know don’t have an official dating, we see Kurt playing a Univox guitar. But, since we don’t have a clear date on the pictures were taken, let’s try and figure it out.
On further inspection of those photos we see a couple of 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, but 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 highschool. 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 it is almost sure that the photo of Kurt holding a Univox Hi-Flier was taken in late September 1986, in a room which was most likely set up as a temporary place for Kurt to sleep before he moved on.
Now to the actual guitar,
Kurt’s Univox was a model called Hi-Flier, and it was most likely manufactured sometime between 1974 and 1977. Main guide in determining these dates are the two humbuckers on the guitar which didn’t appear on this model until 1974, and it’s white pickguard which was replaced with a black one on sunburst models in 1977. It was basically a cheap alternative to the Mosrite Ventures model, a guitar Kurt used later on in his career.
Kurt played this guitar presumably from mid 80s to around 1988 on all of the early Nirvana gigs in 1987. He painted the pickguard pink, and had a ton of stickers on the body. He then ended up smashing it at Washington’s Evergreen State College in October 1988. This is assumed to be the first time he ever destroyed a guitar on stage.
It is important to note that another sunburst Univox Hi-Fliers appeared in early 1988. Although identical spec-wise, this one had absolutely no stickers on it and the pickguard wasn’t painted pink – so it appears to be a different guitar. Toward late 1988 this guitar too was decorated with some stickers, and the neck pickup was removed most likely to be placed in the Greco Mustang (mentioned below).
What seems weird is that after Kurt trashed his first Univox in October 1988, he didn’t go back to this one but went for a completely different guitar. Both guitars (assuming they are different guitars) disappeared towards the end of 1988.
This guitar appeared in late 1988. It was his first left-handed guitar, and it seems that Kurt modified it pretty heavily.
Kurt bought the guitar at Guitar Maniacs shop in Tacoma, WA. He probably wanted to build something of his own, so he sanded down the logo on the headstock and gutted out all the electronics. He used a piece of his old Univox for a control plate, and he installed a single humbucker in the bridge – which also seems to be originating from the same Univox. A hole for the single-coil in the neck was also carved out but left empty.
Two main visual characteristics of this guitar are the Soundgarden sticker which was placed just above the bridge, and Kurt’s choice of the material he’d use for a pickguard. Although photos available of this guitar are really blurry and it’s hard to say for sure, but it seems that Kurt used a vinyl record of a Christian sermon dubbed “Where Are The Dead?” published by Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Towards mid 1989 Kurt completely sanded down the body (or repainted it in a very bright color, it’s hard to tell on b/w photos), and replaced the improvised vinyl pickguard with a proper white plastic one.
Now, we assume that Kurt had two Univox Hi-Flier guitars prior to this guitar which he could’ve salvaged for the parts. The first one was destroyed in October 1988, while the second one was used to record Bleach. Going from there, one of the possibilities is that Kurt used the neck pickup from second guitar on this Greco Mustang – or in the case he actually bothered to pick up the pieces after he destroyed the first Univox (which we don’t really know), he used the parts from that one.
Right as the Greco Mustang disappeared in mid 1989 (probably trashed on one of the concerts), another Univox Hi-Flier with maple neck and natural finish took it’s place.
What is interesting is that in June that same year Kurt started using another Univox guitar, which looked pretty unusual to say the least. It had a red-sunburst finish, which didn’t look professionally done at all, and what is even more strange – the burst was present on the headstock too. As far as we know – that type of a finish wasn’t available on factory models, so our guess is that Kurt had done it himself – which shouldn’t be surprising at all considering he experimented on guitars previously (Greco Mustang).
So in June 1989 this Univox with natural finish gets a red-sunburst treatment done by Kurt himself – and they are not two guitars, but one exact same one.
Month later Nirvana plays at Maxwell’s in New Jersey, and Kurt ends up splitting the instrument in two pieces – which then couple of decades later ends up on an auction (photos available here – Kurt Cobain’s Univox lot at Sotheby’s).
Now – if we compare the guitar that was auctioned to the guitar Kurt played at Maxwell – and then compare those two pictures to one taken in June 1989 , we can clearly see a line going horizontally from one side of the body to the other on all three photos, and the headstock finish slowly going off with it being completely gone on the most recent photo taken at the auction. Not only that, but on the newest photo there’s also a rather clear sign that the guitar originally featured natural finish (look at the top horn where a piece of duct tape was once present, and at the area behind the bridge).
These details are pretty consistent, and we’re pretty sure that the guitar auctioned off at Sotheby’s actually started off as a Hi-Flier with natural finish. But as always, we leave the question open to whomever ends up reading these lines and becomes obsessed with the goal of demystifying the subject as we are at the very moment.
This was Kurt’s first Fender Mustang. He used it only for few gigs in 1989, during which he damaged it couple of times – and finally trashed it beyond repair in July 1989 at Maxwell’s in New Jersey. That same night he destroyed his other guitar (Univox Hi-Flier) so on the next gig he only sang, with Jason Everman playing all the guitar parts.
The guitar was a regular right-handed model, and featured three tone sunburst finish, rosewood fretboard, and white pearloid pickguard. Kurt installed a Univox humbucker in the bridge position, and got rid of the neck pickup altogether.
Kurt traded this Mustang with Sluggo Cawley, the guitarist of the band The Grannie, for an SG which was hanging on Cawley’s wall in two pieces. Kurt though that the SG was easily repairable, so it seemed like a good deal.
Full story about this guitar and it’s current whereabouts can be read here – Kurt Cobain: Still Taking Care of His Friends).
Another Univox Phase 3 Hi-Flier appeared right after Maxwell gig when Kurt destroyed some of his guitars. This one was white, and featured two humbuckers and rosewood fretboard.
Allegedly he had some problems with the guitar and ended up leaving it aside and started using a red Hagstrom instead.
Kurt played this Hagstrom for couple of gigs in Europe in late 1989. The guitar was most likely bought in Germany, and it featured red finish, two single-coil pickups, and a stop tail-piece.
Kurt smashed this guitar in November 1989 in Italy.
This guitar was used for a very brief period of time in the late 1989. It was built in Japan and featured black finish with a matching headstock color, rosewood fretboard, and a humbucker in the bridge position.
Kurt smashed it on December 3rd, 1989 at Astoria Theatre.
Kurt played this guitar only for only couple of gigs in early 1990. He ended up smashing it beyond repair in Tijuana, Mexico in February.
The guitar originally belonged to Sluggo Cawley, the guitarist of the band The Grannie. Kurt gave him his 1973 Fender Mustang in exchange for this Gibson SG which at the time was hanging on his wall. He painted the guitar light blue, and fitted it with a humbucker in the bridge from one of his Univox guitars.
This guitar was used from the very early 1990, up until Kurt smashed it on April 26, 1990 at Pyramid Club in New York. It was 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 must’ve been bought second-hand. The guitar featured hardwood cherry red body with a bolt-on hardwood neck and rosewood fingerboard, as well as two single coil pickups.
This guitar was likely put together by Kurt or someone close to him to serve as a replacement for the Epiphone ET270 which was trashed on April 26, 1990. The Mustang was first used on the 27th in Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and it was seen last on the 30th. The next couple of gigs between 1st and the 5th of May all lack any photographic material, so it is unknown whether this guitar was trashed at one of these shows. Based on the history of his guitar, this is very likely.
Based on the photos, the guitar is a hybrid featuring a Mustang body, Startocaster-style neck with painted headstock, a Shaller non-tremolo bridge, and a what appears to be a Maxon pickup in the bridge position – likely taking origin from one of Kurts’ old Univoxes. However, the bobbins on the pickup are black, which doesn’t seem to fit the description of any of his older guitars, so it is more likely that the parts were acquired separately.
Kurt started using this guitar in mid 1990 during the US tour. It was first seen on May 6, 1990 at the Masquerade, Atlanta, GA,
The Aria Pro II featured ash body with walnut finish, 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 two phase reversal switches.
The guitar was destroyed on September 22, 1990 at Motor Sports International Garage, Seattle
This was one of Kurt’s few actual Mosrite guitars, as most of them were all cheap Univox knock-offs. It was allegedly one of his favorite guitars.
Kurt bought this guitar in San Francisco sometime in mid 1990, and played it for the first time at Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood on the 17th of August. The guitar featured sunburst finish, 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.
Kurt ended up selling the guitar to a pawn shop in LA. After his death in 1994 the guitar ended up on an auction, and reached $75,000. It was sold once again in 2004, when it brought $117,500, and finally sold for a third time in 2006 for $131,000. It was coupled together with a case that had “NERVANA” and “F**k Elvis” written on it.
This was Kurt’s first left-handed Fender Stratocaster. It was Japanese-made, and he probably picked it up in the UK – as the first time he ever played it was at Goldwyn’s Suite, Birmingham in October 1990.
The guitar was finished in white and featured rosewood neck. It had two single-coils and an angled humbucker in the bridge presumably installed by Kurt.
He also added a “K” sticker behind the bridge as a reference to an independent record label in Olympia, Washington. He had the same design tattooed on his left hand.
The guitar made it into 1991, but it is unclear what exactly happened to it.
This guitar had a really short appearance at the No More Wars Benefit concert in Olympia, WA in January 1991. Kurt played most of the concert on the white Stratocaster mentioned previously, 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.
All the pictures that we could find are black and white, so the actual color of the guitar is hard to be determined for sure. General consensus is that the guitar was red, so we’ll go along with that.
In March 1991 Kurt started playing a black left-handed Japanese made Stratocaster with white pickguard and a full-sized humbucker in the bridge position.
Kurt still had this guitar when the band entered the studio for the second time in May 1991, during which they recorded most of the songs that ended up on the final release of Nevermind (Polly was recorded year earlier). Kurt did use this guitar during the sessions, but he had problems with it and ended up smashing it during the recording of “Endless, Nameless” (photo). It was by no means the only guitar he had used on Nevermind – he also had his Jaguar, blue Mustang, and his Mosrite Gospel at the time.
The guitar was repaired and appeared once again in June, but with humbucker no longer being angled and a Tune-O-Matic bridge installed instead of the stock Fender tremolo. Kurt kept using it occasionally up until October 1991, when it was finally destroyed at the end of the set at Cabaret Metro in Chicago. The band played “Endless, Nameless” for their closing song, during which Kurt took Dave’s place behind the drums. After the show ended they completely demolished Dave’s drum set, reportedly using this guitar as their main tool of destruction.
Years later a black Stratocaster body split in two was displayed at the EMP Museum in Seattle. According to them, that was the body of the guitar that Kurt smashed during recording of Nevermind.
This is perhaps Kurt’s most widely known Fender Stratocaster. As most of his Starts, this one was also made in Japan, and featured black finish, rosewood fretboard, and a black pickguard.
When the guitar first appeared in mid 1991, it was already fitted with a humbucker (DiMarzio H-3 or Seymour Duncan JB ) in the bridge position, and two white stock single-coils. Couple of months later, 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”.
This guitar was used extensively in the late 1991, most notably during the Reading Festival on August 23rd, 1991. It was trashed a couple of times, and styled few different necks in between the repairs. Ultimately, Kurt smashed it into pieces at a Paris show the following spring in 1992.
After Kurt’s death, his guitar tech Earnie Bailey ended up putting the guitar back together. It is currently kept at EMP museum in Seattle.
This guitar appeared just around the the time band started recording Nevermind in summer of 1991. Over the years the instrument became one of Kurt’s most iconic guitars.
Kurt got this ’65 Jaguar through an ad published in LA’s famed Recycler magazine. The guitar 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 an additional volume control, and the original pickup selector switches were replaced with a single Gibson-style toggle switch. The switch was in the direct path of Kurt’s hand movement, so in order to deal with this he tapped it over presumably in the bridge pickup position to avoid accidental toggles.
Just recently, the guitar’s original owner might’ve been discovered by tdpri forum member Blazer (all information can be read here – The Mystery of Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jaguar’s former owner solved?). It is assumed that the original owner was Martin Jenner, guitarist for Cliff Richard and The Everly Brothers. The main difference between the two guitars is the neck, so if this was indeed originally Jenner’s guitar the neck must’ve been replaced at some point prior to when Kurt acquired the Jag. What is interesting about the neck is that there’s a reasonable chance that it wasn’t a genuine Fender neck, since the logo on the headstock looks like a reproduction of the decal, and is slightly misplaced.
Kurt is quoted for saying that this was one of his “babies”, and that he took special care of the guitar. This doesn’t seem to be in line with what was actually happening, as he did smash it against the stage atleast couple of times. But he did seem to control himself to some degree when playing the Jag, as he would leave it on the ground in contrast to when using some other guitars – where he would basically use them as a tool to destroy everything that was in the reach.
The guitar was allegedly damaged in Rio in 1993, and the bridge pickup had to be replaced with a Seymour Duncan JB. But beside that, the Jag is one of the few to come out of 1991 and survive well into Nirvana’s very last gig. After Kurt’s death it was allegedly given to Eric Erlandson of the band Hole, although this isn’t necessarily true.
This guitar is undoubtedly best known for it’s appearance in the music video of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. It was allegedly obtained just prior to Nevermind in June 1991, and Kurt first played it at Beehive Music & Video store in Seattle in September 1991. This was a very light gig so it was probably a sort of a test for the guitar, and it seemed that Kurt avoided using it for bigger concerts at least in the early days. This makes sense since Mustang was Kurt’s favorite model, and this was only the second to come into his possession.
Despite all that, he did use the guitar during the infamous gig at Trees Club in Dallas on November 19th 1991. After Kurt finished singing ‘Polly’ he got pissed off and smashed a monitor console that was on his left side, costing the band a total of $5000 and severely damaging the Mustang. As the story goes he then switched to his Jaguar, and jumped into the crowd while the band was playing ‘Love Buzz’ couple of minutes later. While trying to get back on the stage, Kurt punched one of the bouncers right in the face with the Jaguar, leaving him with an open wound. The bouncer’s name was Turner Scott Van Blarcom, and he wasn’t gonna let this go without some sort of retaliation. He waited for the band to finish outside the club, and caught up with the cab that the band was rushed in while leaving the scene. Van Blarcum allegedly broke the cabs windshield and got to Kurt but fortunately he was pulled off by the rest of the guys.
Kurt’s Mustang was finished in lake placid blue with matching headstock, and was equipped a black single coil pickups in the neck and in the bridge position. It also styled Gotoh Tune-O-Matic bridge, which was allegedly Kurt’s favorite.
Courtney gave the guitar to a friend after Kurt’s death, and it has been often lent to the EMP Museum in Seattle.
Another black Stratocaster appeared in very late 1991, and survived all the way to the Reading festival in August 1992 when Kurt used it for couple of songs. After the gig ended, Dave Grohl picked up the guitar and smashed it. The pieces were later collected, and the guitar ended up encased in a glass frame at Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.
The guitar was a left-handed model, most likely made in Japan. It featured a black Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickup in the bridge position, and it was fitted with a Kramer neck in mid 1991 – probably following a recent breakage.
This guitar first appeared at Hordern Pavilion gig in Sydney, Australia in January 1992. It originally styled 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.
The guitar was a Japanese-made model, and originally featured two single coils pickups – but the bridge pickup was replaced with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails.
Kurt played this Telecaster regularly until the infamous gig in Rio on January 16th, 1993 (considered by some to be one of band’s worst), when he broke the guitars’ neck and threw it into audience. Allegedly one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers crew members picked up the neck, while the body was recently featured on an episode of the TV show “Californication” – meaning that the body is probably in the hands of a collector somewhere.
Kurt used this guitar during the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards show on September 9, 1992, at the end of which he threw at Dave’s drum kit. Nonetheless, the guitar survived that gig and made another appearance at the end of a gig played in Buenos Aires, Argentina in October of 1992. At the end of the last song of the set Kurt fiddled with the guitar on stage for couple of minutes, and finally picked it up from the floor and started smashing it until the neck broke of.
This Stratocaster was most likely Japanese made as most of Kurt’s other guitars. It featured white finish, rosewood neck, and two stock single-coil pickups. The original bridge pickup was replaced with a white Seymour Duncan Hot Rails.
This guitar was custom built by Danny Ferrington, who 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 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 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 similarly looking Mustang around that time as far as we know.
But even if that was the case, that was the only show he ever used the Ferrington. He allegedly said that the guitar was going to be his main recording instrument, but he was also allegedly little unhappy with it and didn’t used it much.
This guitar is best known for it’s appearance on Reading Festival in 1992. Kurt played the guitar for most of the gig, and at the end of the concert walked out to the crowd gave it to a random person from the audience.
The guitar appears to be one of the early 90s MIJ ’62 reissue Stratocasters fitted with a white Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in the bridge, and presumably Gotoh tuners.
This guitar first appeared in October 1992. It was presumably one of the last Univox guitars Kurt ever purchased, and it was also allegedly one of his favorite.
The guitar featured sunburst finish, rosewood fretboard, and a red tortoiseshell pickguard and truss rod cover which separated this model from the usual Univox line. The stock pickups were replaced with Seymour Duncan 59 and JB set, and Ibanez Gibraltar bridge was fitted on the guitar instead of the original.
As said this was one of Kurt’s favorite Univox guitar, and perhaps the one that sparked the interest for the Seymour Duncan JB humbucker which he would use on nearly all of his guitars following this one. It is very likely that he used this guitar to record some of the stuff on In Utero, but due to lack of photos take that with a grain of salt.
The guitar was first seen during a gig in Buenos Aires, Argentina in late 1992, and it was used until the Saturday Night Live gig recorded in September 1993.
Also one of the latest Hi Fliers that Kurt purchased for himself, and presumably the only Phase Four model that the owned.
Hi Flier Phase Four is the last model introduced in the Hi-Flier series that began in 1968. It is identical to the previous model, with the exception of a hardtail Gibson style fixed bridge which replaced the vibrato and roller bridge setup on the older guitars.
Kurt’s guitar featured white finish on a plywood/poplar body, two full-sized humbuckers, and a Bolt-on maple neck. He used the guitar in the later part of his career, most notablly in the music video for the song “Heart Shaped Box“.
This guitar was first seen in July 1993. It featured fiesta red finish, and it originally had a red pearloid pickguard and two white single coil pickups.
Sometime between July and October the guitar was rooted out to fit a full sized humbucker in the bridge position. The choice fell on the Seymour Duncan JB which Kurt was already familiar with from this Univox Custom. The other modification included the pickguard which was replaced with a white pearloid one, the white neck pickup cover was replaced with a black one, and the stock bridge piece was replaced with a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic.
Kurt used this guitar for couple of gigs in late 1993 before switching to his sonic blue Mustang, although he did go back to it occasionally.
This guitar is essentially the same as the previously mentioned fiesta red Mustang, except that it featured sonic blue finish, red pearloid pickups, and had white pickup covers. Although that was the first sonic blue Mustang that Kurt picked up, in reality there were actually few more of them.
In the early 1994 another nearly identical guitar appeared most likely as a spare, but featured a regular red pickguard instead. There’s a story of a third one which Courtney gave to a kid named Bobby Costello after he allegedly sent her a letter saying how sad he was to hear that Kurt died. That guitar is currently owned by Jeff Gold of Recordmecca, and it was on display at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame museum at some point.
Kurt played these guitars pretty much on all Nirvana gigs until the very last one – occasionally going back to the red Mustang. It became a synonym for the “In Utero” guitar, and Kurt obviously did like it very much and it sort of reflected what he actually wanted from a guitar. All the Kurt’s ‘signature’ marks are on it – from the Gotoh Tune-O-Matic bridge and tuners, to the sonic-blue body finish and the indispensable humbucker in the bridge.
The guitar eventually inspired Fender to start a line of Kurt Cobain Signature Mustang guitars, which is now highly seeked by Nirvana fans.
In mid 1993 Fender found out that Kurt had an idea for a guitar. They sent out a couple of guys to talk with Kurt at his Hollywood home, and they agreed to start working on what would eventually become the Jag-stang. Kurt essentially wanted to make some sort of a crossover between a Mustang and a Jaguar, which is an idea he came up with by cutting polaroid photos of the two guitars in half, and then trying to stick them together to come up with a more pleasing shape.
The finished product featured light blue finish on alder body, and a 24-inch scale maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. The neck pickup was a single-coil Fender Texas Special, and the bridge was fitted with a DiMarzio H-3 Humbucker.
Fender finished the prototype later that year, and Kurt played it for one gig in in December of 1993. He allegedly didn’t like the guitar that much, and immediately after receiving it replaced the Dimarzio humbucker with a Seymour Duncan JB, and installed a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic bridge on the guitar. The guitar was seen once again during a concert in Roma in 1994 on the song “Rape Me”, so it is possible that Kurt actually liked the guitar but decided to keep it safe by limiting it’s use during live gigs.
After his death this prototype ended up with Peter Buck of the band REM. The second prototype which was supposed to address the issues was on the way to be delivered, but unfortunately Kurt died before he got the chance to try it out.
Few Stratocasters might have been intentionally skipped in this list, due to the fact that they purely served a purpose of a disposable guitar intended for trashing after concerts. If you think that we skipped an important one please send us a message using the form below the article, and we’ll address the issue.
Kurt played a couple (some say 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.
Recently we’ve been contacted by Guillaume, who had the chance to be given one of these guitars after a gig in in Rennes, France on 02/16/1994. 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 an interesting fact about these guitars:
(Guillaume:) Fender was busy trying to launch their line of right-handed MIM Strats in the early 90s that they couldn’t bother to launch a production line for lefties. So from 1991 to 1996 the leftie Mexican Strats were made in Japan with Asian componentry and specs! As to the reason why — it’s typical Fender shenanigans, but my bet would be that it allowed them to get rid of the low-end leftovers from Japan. It’s always about the cost with them.
Guillaume was also kind enough to send us some photos of the guitar:
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 apperently 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.
One of Kurt’s favorite musicians Lead Belly played the same guitar, so that probably played some part in Kurt’s decision to buy and play this exact model.
This guitar was featured in the music video for the song Come As You Are, released in 1992. Given that this is such an unusual instrument, it is most likely that the guitar was used just as a prop, meaning that it didn’t belong to Kurt.
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 countour 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 Tiger Stripe w/ Hardshell Case]
This guitar was first seen in late 1992, when Kurt joined Mudhoney on stage for couple of songs (link to the video). Kurt played it occasionally until his death, although it did seem to be a more of a house instrument than the one he would take on tour.
Sometime in 1993 Kurt added a sticker from Richard Nixon’s 70s presidential campaign, reading ‘Nixon Now’.
This guitar is certainly Kurt’s best known acoustic since it was used during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged concert.
Kurt bought this Martin in late 1993, so just couple of months prior to the Unplugged gig. It is actually a pretty rare guitar produced only for a year in late 50s, and it was one of the earliest Martins to feature electric pickups. The stock DeArmond pickups didn’t sound very good with bronze-wound strings that Kurt was using though, so the guitar was fitted with yet another pickup – a Bartolini 3AV.
– Peavey Combo
This was allegedly Kurt’s first guitar amp. He played on it in the mid 80, and even offered it to Krist at some point as an incentive to join him in forming a band.
– Randall RG120PH
Used in the Bleach era, although not on the actual recording of the album.
– 1960s Fender Twin Reverb
Used to record Bleach. Amp didn’t belong to the band, but to Jack Endino who produced the album.
– Mesa/Boogie Studio Preamp & Crown 800W Power Amp
Bought prior to Nevermind, and used in the studio and the following tour. The Crown ended up being hard to deal with, so it was soon replaced with a Crest 4801 power amp which proved to work better with the Mesa/Boogie.
– Fender Bassman
Used during the studio sessions of Nevermind.
– Fender Twin Reverb
One of Kurt’s favorites. Used to record In Utero, and played on the MTV Unplugged gig. This might actually be the exact same amp which he used on Bleach, although that’s a blind guess.
– Marshall JMP 50
Although Kurt is usually known for hating on Marhalls, he did use a small 50w combo to record ‘You Know You’re Right’ in early 1994.
As for cabinets, in the early years Kurt mostly played through Peavey 4×12 cabs and supposedly even through some cheap Radio Shack speakers. Towards the later part of his career he migrated to Marshall cabs with the logos covered by tape.
– Univox Superfuzz
Used in the very early days, before Bleach was even recorded.
– Boss DS-1 Distortion
This could arguably be considered one of the key elements in Kurt’s sound. It was used from the very first album, and on pretty much all of the live gigs.
– Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion
This is essentially a DS-1 with some additional features and more different sounds to choose from. Kurt made a switch to it after the release of Nevermind.
– Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi
Used on the studio recording of “Lithium”, and possibly some more.
– ProCo Rat
Allegedly used on “Territorial Pissings” from the album Nevermind [LiveNirvana – Sound City Studios Sessions]
– Electro-Harmonix Small Clone
This was the other essential key to Kurt’s sound. It was used on nearly all of the biggest hits, including Smells Like Teen Spirit and Come as You Are. This was usually the one of the two pedal he’d have with him on stage during the Nevermind era, next to the Boss distortion of course.
– DOD Grunge
Used most notably during the Live and Loud gig in 1993. Couple of weeks after that on December 29th 1993 Kurt threw the pedal into the audience, and that was the end of it. Just recently, the pedal appeared on History channel show titled “Pawn Stars”, followed by a litter from Cobain’s guitar tech. The owned asked $5,000 for it, but it ended up not being sold.
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.
– Electro-Harmonix Echo Flanger
This pedal was used in the late part of the Nevermind tour. Kurt allegedly had only one unit, which eventually became unreliable so he had it replaced with a PolyChorus borrowed from his guitar tech. The Echo Flanger was allegedly repaired, and remained in the possession of Kurt’s wife Courtney after his death.
– Electro-Harmonix 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.
– Tech 21 SansAmp
Used for distortion on In Utero, although not exclusively.
Electric – On electric guitar Kurt used Dean Markley Blue Steel .010-.052, although he switched to GHS towards the later part of his career.
Acoustic – Only thing that is known about Kurt’s acoustic strings is that they were bronze-wound. If you’re looking for a recommendation – something like D’Addario EJ11 80/20 would do the job.
Kurt was most often seen using Dunlop Tortex .60mm orange picks.
– NirvanaGuide.com – used as the basis for this list; features detailed info about every Nirvana gig.