Kurt Cobain’s Guitars and Gear

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.

1969 Fender Mustang Played By Kurt Cobain in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Video, Aug. 17, 1991 Seattle, Washington, January 30, 2015

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.

Kurt played his 1950s Martin D-18E during MTV Unplugged show.

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

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 - bacause 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 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.

Effect Pedals

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."

Strings, Picks

Grab youself 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.

Chronological list of Guitars, Amps, Effects, and Accessories used by Kurt Cobain

Electric Guitars

access_time 1986

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 […]

access_time 1988

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 […]

access_time 1989

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, […]

access_time 1989

1973 Fender Mustang

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 […]

access_time 1989

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 […]

access_time 1989

Hagstrom II F-200

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, […]

access_time 1989

Washburn Force 31

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 […]

access_time 1990

1970s Gibson SG

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 […]

access_time 1990

Unknown Mustang

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, […]

access_time 1990

Epiphone ET270

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 […]

access_time 1990

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 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 […]

access_time 1990

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 […]

access_time 1990

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 […]

access_time 1991

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 “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 […]

access_time 1991

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 […]

access_time 1991

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, […]

access_time 1991

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 Australia, and he was sent drawings from Kurt via fax on how he imagined this guitar to look like. The Ferrington […]

access_time 1991

1969 Fender Competition Mustang

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 […]

access_time 1991

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. It is however very […]

access_time 1991

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, that started in early November 1991 (see photos from Astoria, November 5, 1991), and it was at […]

access_time 1991

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 […]

access_time 1992

Fender Telecaster "<3 Courtney"

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 […]

access_time 1992

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 […]

access_time 1992

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 30-minute mark, and played it for most of the gig, aside from a few songs on which he used another black colored Strat. […]

access_time 1992

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 […]

access_time 1992

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 […]

access_time 1993

Fender Mustang 'Oranj-Stang'

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 […]

access_time 1993

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 […]

access_time 1993

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 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 […]

access_time 1993

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 […]

access_time 1993

Fender Mustang 'Sky-Stang II'

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 […]

access_time 1994

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 […]

access_time 1994

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 […]

Acoustic Guitars

Amps

Effects

access_time 1989

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 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 […]

access_time 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 […]

access_time 1990

EHX Big Muff Pi

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 […]

access_time 1992

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. […]

access_time 1993

EHX Echo Flanger

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 […]

access_time 1993

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 […]

access_time 1993

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 […]

Strings

Accessories

Providing the Feedback

In case you notice anything wrong with the information posted here, or you have knowledge of something that you would like to share, you can provide feedback on each piece of equipment's dedicated page.

In case you want to talk to me directly, please use the mail_outline Contact Form and I will get back to you as soon as possible. (Dan)

Contributors: Guillaume, Crispin, carlballa, marcdoane02, Matt Parrish, Griff, Scott, Steven, h3rtzgaming, jcacchiani, i.bowen, rhoadsbrady, Martin Simpson