Kurt Cobain’s 1969 Fender Competition Mustang

access_time First seen circa 1991

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 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.

Kurt’s 1969 Fender Mustang on display at the MoPoP in Seattle, WA. Photo by: prophead/Flickr

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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 likely that he acquired it at least a few weeks prior to this. I own a […]

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, it is possible that he used it on the album to some extent. When the […]

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 owner is only quoted saying that Kurt bought a bunch of Univoxes from him, so […]

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 inspection of those photos we see a few concert flyers on the wall behind Kurt; there’s […]

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 Rails – something Kurt would often do on his guitars from this point on. Kurt played […]

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 prior to the ‘In Utero’ tour, with three of them being finished in blue. All […]

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 the second time to finish up the album, in May 1991, during which they recorded most […]

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. The guitar was most likely brand new since it was the first sunburst Strat that […]

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 – with their bodies being routed out in order to fit a full sized humbucker […]

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 Grannie. Sometime around July 8th, Kurt gave him his 1973 Fender Mustang in exchange for this […]

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