Kurt Cobain’s Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

access_time First seen circa 1989

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 to the lack of photos.

Also worth mentioning is that most of what is known about this pedal, and Kurt’s preference in regards to pedals, mostly comes from other sources and not Kurt himself. If you happen to come across an interview where Kurt talks about pedals, and which ones he preferred, be sure to forward it.

Bleach, Nevermind

According to Jack Endino, who produced ‘Bleach’, during the studio sessions Kurt was playing through a Boss DS-1 pedal. Based on this, it is also likely that the pedal was used on the following tour between June 1989 and May 1990.

Kurt brought in a little closed-back 2×12 cabinet with two Celestions, most likely 70-watt models. He was using a little orange Boss DS-1 distortion pedal and these Univox guitars [Hi-Flyers] that looked like Mosrites.

The Definitive Kurt Cobain Gear Guide By Chris Gill

By the time the band started recording ‘Nevermind’ in April 1990, Kurt most likely continued using the pedal. However, Butch Vig, who produced the album, and was interviewed in a 2005 documentary ‘Classic Albums: Nirvana – Nevermind‘, does not mention which pedal Kurt used exactly.

Furthermore, every single article from a well-known magazine that lists the Boss DS-1 as the pedal used on Nevermind doesn’t list their source, and always seems to quote Butch indirectly. If you by any chance happen to come across an interview from Butch (or from Kurt for that matter), where there are specific pedals mentioned, be sure to forward it.

DS-1 on Tour

As noted in the opening paragraph, the pedal was used for the entirety of the Bleach tour, and for the first couple of months of Nevermind. To see the photos, check out our Pinterest board at Kurt Cobain’s DS-1 on Pinterest.

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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 and therefore played a key role in Kurt’s sound. Usage on Nevermind, Specific Tracks First […]

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. The DS-2 was first seen on September 28, 1991, at the Marquee, New York, NY (thanks Sebastian). This, of course, means that both Bleach and Nevermind were recorded with the DS-1, and the DS-2 was only used on tours – at least in regard to those two albums. […]

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 thumpier, darker sound. [Nirvana: Super Fuzz Big Muff]

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 appeared on History channel show titled “Pawn Stars”, followed by a litter from Cobain’s guitar […]

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 and (vintage) PolyChorus are actually pretty much identical, as they share the same circuitry. Therefore, […]

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 owned by Eric Erlandson of Hole.

access_time 1993

Tech 21 SansAmp

Allegedly, Kurt used a Tech 21 SansAmp as his main distortion pedal in the In Utero era. However, it is important to note that at least during the live performances, he also had a Boss DS-2 on stage. This means that the SansAmp was likely used just on In Utero songs, while the Boss DS-2 was there for songs from Nevermind and Bleach.

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