date_range 1991

Kurt Cobain’s 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 likely that he acquired it at least a few weeks prior to this.

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]

Mods and the Origin Story

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.

As far as the mods that Kurt did himself, it appears that all he did was add some duct tape over the toggle and top selector switch, in order to avoid accidental toggles while playing. Both of those were presumably set in the ‘bridge’ position.

A stock 1965 Fender Jaguar compared to Kurt Cobain’s Jaguar (replica made by Fender, not the actual guitar)

The interesting thing is, according to Ernie, the Jaguar also came with an Anvil flight case (those large sturdy boxes that most touring musicians use for their equipment) which means that the guitar was obviously used by a professional musician who traveled with it. This, coupled with the fact that it had some unique mods done to it, obviously done by someone who knew what he was after, makes one wonder who the original owner might be.

On that subject – just recently, a tdpri forum member Blazer [The Mystery of Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jaguar’s former owner solved?] discovered a similarity between Kurt’s guitar, and a Fender Jaguar used by Martin Jenner, guitarist for Cliff Richard and The Everly Brothers. Both guitars have the exact same mods, which is just too big of a coincidence for them not to be one same guitar (you can see the guitar played by Martin in this video – Cliff At Chichester [1980]; skip to 5:20).

This theory was also somewhat confirmed by Krist Novoselic, who replied to a tweet about the discovery made on the tdpri forums.

Neck Discrepancy

The main issue with this theory is that the neck on Martin’s and Kurt’s Jaguar(s) is different. On the video footage of Martin playing the guitar, one can clearly see the block inlays on the fretboard, while Kurt’s Jag has Pearloid dots inlays. Furthermore, although the neck on Kurt’s guitar is a proper 24-inch-scale (like all of the factory Jaguars from around this period), the headstock shape is that of a Stratocaster model (which has a 25 1/2-inch scale, meaning it was not simply Strat neck on a Jag body). Lastly, the headstock on Kurt’s Jag has a spaghetti-style Fender logo, which was never used on factory Jaguar models.

To bring even more confusion into this, even the neck that was on the guitar when Martin played it isn’t period correct. If this is indeed a 1965 Fender Jaguar (no official source appears to exist on this, and Kurt himself refers to the guitar as a ’66 Jag), the guitar would’ve had a neck with dot inlays. The block inlays didn’t appear on models made prior to late 1966 [GuitarHQ – Block fingerboard inlays replace dots by late 1966]

This all leads to the conclusion that the guitar had at least three different necks on it. The first one was, of course, the original dot inlay neck, the second one was a 1966/67 with block inlays seen with Martin, and the third one was the one that was on the guitar when Kurt acquired it. This third neck was likely custom-made, or a heavily modified Fender neck.

Jaguar on the Road

As said in the opening paragraph, this guitar was first used live during Nirvana’s European tour in August 1991. At first, it was seen only ocasionally, since Kurt used his black Vandalism Stratocaster more often, but over the next few months, the Jaguar slowly became his main guitar of choice. By September/October, Jaguar was the guitar that Kurt usually used for most of the set, and at the end, he would usually switch to a random Stratocaster, which he would then destroy.

From that point on it was used on various concert dates during the Nevermind tour in 1991/92, most notably at Saturday Night Live on January 11, 1992, at Live at Reading on August 30, 1992, and at Rock in Rio on January 1, 1993.

Kurt continued using the guitar in 1993, although very sparsely, and it was last seen on August 6, 1993, at the Seattle King Performance Center, which was Nirvana last gig before they went started on ‘In Utero’ tour.

There are some rumors that the guitar was at that point damaged, and that the bridge pickup needed to be replaced. However, even if this is true, it doesn’t seem that Kurt ever used it with the new pickup installed, which again as rumors say, was a black-colored Seymour Duncan JB.

After Kurt’s Death

Although this is far from official or confirmed, it seems that Kurt’s Jaguar ended up with Hole’s guitarist, Eric Erlandson. This speculation is based on the fact that Eric played it during the music video for the song “Doll Parts”. Note that the pickup in the bridge position is black on Eric’s guitar, which somewhat confirms the theory that Kurt’s replaced his DiMarzio Super Distortion, which was of course white.

Replica made by Fender

In 2011, Fender started the production of the Fender Jaguar ‘Kurt Cobain’ model, which is of course based on his original 1965 Jag. The guitar features the exact same set of pickups, a DiMarzio DP103 PAF 36th Anniversary in the neck and a DP100 Super Distortion in the bridge, as well as the custom toggle switch, Adjusto-Matic bridge, and Gotoh sealed tuners.


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