Kurt Cobain’s 1950s Kay P4 Archtop Blonde

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.

The Model

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]

Today

Based on the photos published in [original source needed], this guitar is currently kept at the secretive Kurt Cobain vault – an undisclosed place somewhere in Seattle that houses some of Kurt’s belongings, including a few of his old guitars.

On the photos (which hopefully will be availiable here at some point), the headstock is no longer attached to the neck on the Kay, which means that Kurt obviously smashed this guitar at some point.

The other Kay

At the filming of Come as You Are video, apparently, there were two Kays present. According to Joseph Uliano (info provided via email), who produced the video together with Kevin Kerslake, one Kay was left in storage after the filming was done and was kept there until recently.

I produced the video with Kevin Kerslake in the early ’90s and Kurt used this guitar in the video, even though, evidently he has another of that model. […] This could have been a prop as Kurt left it behind on set. Which is where I got it, from the art director.

Joseph Uliano via email

Unfortunately, it’s unclear which Kay of the two was actually used during the recording. Some clues seem to point towards the same Kay photographed at the Kurt Cobain vault, while some other seem to point towards this newly discovered second Kay.

The first noticeable difference between the two guitars is the fact that the first guitar (from the vault) has Kay logo embedded on the pickguard, while the second one doesn’t. It’s important to point out here that the guitar used during Come as You Are, appears to have no logo, so the odds favor the second guitar as being the one.

The second Kay (left), and the Come as You Are Kay (right). Note that both guitars have no logo on the pickguard. Also note that while the headstock plaque seems to be different, it’s likely that the black color just rubbed off over the years. This appears to be the case on many of these old Kays. Photos provided by Joseph Uliano

At a first glance, it looks like a mystery solved, but when you go deeper and look at the pattern on the maple top, you begin to notice something rather interesting.

Note that the “tiger” stripes on the wood marked with blue are missing on the far right guitar. Also note that the large gap on the right guitar marked with a red arrow is missing on two guitars on the left.

So it appears that the wood pattern of the guitar used in Come as You Are video actually matches pretty good with the guitar that was photographed in the vault. So the only thing that doesn’t match is the pickguard logo. Could’ve it been replaced? Maybe, who knows, but the mystery still remains.

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joseph Uliano
joseph Uliano
4 months ago

can you site where in COBAIN Unseen this photo is located, I can’t find it anywhere.

Joseph Uliano
Joseph Uliano
3 months ago

I spoke with the author. He doesn’t have a photo

Joseph Uliano
Joseph Uliano
3 months ago

Thank you.

JR Torres
JR Torres
1 month ago
Reply to  joseph Uliano

That picture was taken when they lived in the their Los Angeles apartment off Spaulding ave.

The headstock is not shown but it is actually a 60’s model.

The 50’s and 60’s Blonde Archtops were the same except for the headstock logo. The pickguards were the same. The one pictured here is a 50’s model. The one Kurt actually had was a 60’s model because it had the “scroll” headstock logo.

7657E548-2A3D-4BB0-8E8E-154C064EB319.png
Last edited 1 month ago by JR Torres
JR Torres
JR Torres
1 month ago

I googled and there are indeed, pictures available for the blonde Archtop P4 model with the Kay logo in red ink on the headstock.

I cant remember where I came across the information between the 50’s and 60’s model but I am still looking.

One thing’s for sure, Kurt’s Arcthop had the scroll headstock as indicated in the attached picture. He did not have 2 Archtops as far as I can tell so he never had the one with the Kay logo in red ink that is listed on this website.

Jose Uliano
Jose Uliano
1 month ago
Reply to  JR Torres

Thank you. I have the 50’s model that he is holding that was used in the video , its always been a mystery to me if it was his or a prop for the video as he left it on set and we tried to return to no reply ?

JR Torres
JR Torres
1 month ago

Kurt’s was a 1960’s Kay Archtop actually. I bought the same model not knowing there were different variations (50’s, 60’s etc.).

But if you google the Come As You Are video shoot, you’ll see Kurt has tge Kay Archtop with the “scroll” headstock Kay logo. That scroll headstock 6868 Archtop is the 60’s model, not 50’s.

https://images.app.goo.gl/Goj2GkjCx2yP2i8X9

JR Torres
JR Torres
1 month ago

The headstock logo. The guitar itself is the same whether 50’s or 60’s.

Its just the logo on the headstock that’s different.

joseph uliano
joseph uliano
1 month ago
Reply to  JR Torres

The 1950’s model from the video, I believe was a prop supplied to the shoot or either he had a second one that he left on set. I produced the music video with Kevin Kerslake the director and I ended up with it, we tried to return it, but no reply.

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Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 7.05.08 PM.png
JR Torres
JR Torres
1 month ago
Reply to  joseph uliano

Interesting. I suspected Kurt had 2 and there are different models with varying headstock designs.

I posted a question on a Facebook group and got limited responses but someone posted this picture here from the old catalog.

715D40B4-F81A-454D-AEEA-2E4207EB2C40.jpeg
JR Torres
JR Torres
1 month ago
Reply to  joseph uliano

Wow thats awesome you are able to provide insight here Joseph. I checked and you have an extensive resume working with various music groups so I feel you are legit.

Thanks for chiming in. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana continues to be a huge inspiration to me and millions around the world.

We still miss him greatly!!!

Joseph Uliano
Joseph Uliano
1 month ago
Reply to  JR Torres

Thanks, yes I’ve worked with Mr. Grohl since that day. Many years , we’ve done most the FOO concert films and videos

JR Torres
JR Torres
1 month ago
Reply to  joseph uliano

Joseph, what happened to the one Kurt left on set? Was it sold?

I’m just curious because I’ve always wondered if perhaps it made its way back onto the market and maybe someone here in Los Angeles purchased it?

Were there any identifying marks on it that would stand out?

Thanks.

Joseph Uliano
Joseph Uliano
1 month ago
Reply to  JR Torres

I’ve had it stored since 1992.

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