Kurt Cobain’s 1969 Fender Competition Mustang
This guitar is undoubtedly best known for its appearance in the music video for the song Smells Like Teen Spirit, filmed on August 17, 1991. Given that this is the first time chronologically that Kurt ever used it, it is likely that the Mustang was purchased approximately somewhere around that same time.
To try and get the more exact date – there’s a quote from Krist that states that Kurt got a left-handed Mustang, and wrote a bunch of songs on it.
If Kurt ever got a new guitar, he would just get infatuated with it. There’s like ten songs, right there! He would be playing it all the time, and it’s like – look at all these tunes, because he liked this new guitar.
We bought this left-handed Mustang, we went to this party at the Evergreen State College, and we bought it for like fifty bucks off this dude. […] So he was compelled, there was this drive, he had a gift as an artist, expressive, he was compelled to do it. Because he never like chores. If it was a chore, he’d have nothing to do with it.EMP|SFM Oral History Live! series, Krist Novoselic
It is possible that Krist is referring to this exact Mustang in this quote, so that would mean that Kurt used this guitar to come up with most songs that were later recorded on Nevermind. It’s however also possible that he’s referring to the other Mustang that Kurt used on Bleach, since the origin story of that guitar is far from well established.
Be that as it may, the first time that Kurt used this guitar for an actual live gig appears to be at Beehive Music & Video store in Seattle on September 16, 1991, which was right after the band returned from the European tour and was about to release their second album, Nevermind, on September 24. After the release, the album slowly started climbing the Billboard Top 200 list, achieving #144 in the first week, #109 second, #65 third, #35 fourth, and then went #17, #9, #4, and finally hit #1 on January 11, 1992, losing a few rankings in between. At that point, the album was selling around 300,000 copies a week.
Nevermind tour, In Utero studio sessions
It seems that Kurt used the Mustang only occasionally during the Nevermind tour, as it was seen only on a few odd gigs early on – for example, at a gig played at First Avenue, Minneapolis, on October 14, 1991, and at Trees Club on October 19th. By early November, Nirvana went on a European tour, and it seems that Kurt didn’t carry the guitar with him, and relied mostly on his 1965 Fender Jaguar finished in sunburst.
The next time the Mustang guitar appeared on stage seems to be around October 1992 (see photos at Crocodile Cafe, Seattle, October 4, 1992), and it was used a few times around that period, ending with a concert played on April 9, 1993, at San Francisco’s Cow Palace (Bosnian Rape Victim Benefit). From what one can tell based on photos and videos, that was the last time Kurt was ever seen with the guitar.
But, before that, Kurt wrote most of the material for Nirvana’s next album, In Utero, which band recorded between February 12th and 26th, 1993 at the Pachyderm Recording Studio. Given that the Mustang was one of the guitars that Kurt favored at that time, it is highly likely that he used it at least to some extent during the studio sessions.
Kurt’s Favorite Guitar?
According to an interview that Kurt gave to Guitar World magazine in February 1992, this ‘Competition’ Mustang was his favorite guitar at the time, alongside his 1965 Fender Jaguar. The statement from Kurt also explains why we didn’t get the see the Mustang more often during the gigs – because Kurt didn’t want anything to happen to it.
Out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite. I’ve only owned two of them. They’re cheap and totally inefficient, and they sound like crap and are very small. I (also) 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] Lately, I’ve been using a Strat live, because I don’t want to ruin my Mustang yet.Kurt Cobain Talks Gear and More in His Final Guitar World Interview
Kurt’s Mustang was finished in lake placid blue with matching headstock and was equipped a black single coil pickup in the neck and a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails bridge position. The only other custom thing on it appears to have been the Gotoh Tune-O-Matic bridge, which was allegedly Kurt’s favorite.
After Kurt’s Death
Allegedly, Courtney gave the guitar to a personal friend after Kurt’s death, and it was since then seen on a few different EMP/MoPop exhibits organized in Seattle.
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