Kurt Cobain’s Dean Markley 2504 (Light Top/Heavy Bottom) Guitar Strings

Kurt most likely used Dean Markley 2504 (10-52) strings for the most part throughout his career. He did use a different set at one point, a Dean Markley 2502 which is the lighter, 9-42 set. But, this was likely either very early on, or it was just something he was experimenting with.

On the subject of strings – there has been a rumor regarding the strings that he used that originated from an interview from the Musician magazine, in 1992. In the said interview Kurt mentioned that he’s using actual piano strings for low E and A.

I use piano wire for guitar strings, ’cause it’s a lot thicker. I buy it in bulk, in these big long tubes, and just cut it to the length of the guitar. They’re thicker than the thickest guitar gauge that’s available. I don’t know what the thickness of ’em is anymore – I can’t remember. I use a really thick E string, and then a smaller size A. A few of the others are guitar strings – I think I use Dean Markley because they’re the cheapest.

The Year’s Hottest New Band Can’t Stand Still, Musician, January 1992

But, this was most likely just a joke that over the years developed into a legend. Piano strings would be impossible to fit on most of the guitars that Kurt was using at the time, and if he indeed wanted thicker strings, there were easier ways to achieve that.

One of them would, of course, be to just use a heavier set – which is most likely what he did. Based on the photos, and a statement from Ernie Bailey, Kurt actually used Dean Markley LTHB set (.010, .013, .017, .030, .042, .052).

For strings, he used .010-.052 Dean Markley’s (the red pack).

A receipt from Music 6000 dated July 18, 1990, shows Kurt purchasing a set of Dean Markley 2504 guitar strings.
A receipt from Music 6000 dated July 18, 1990, shows Kurt purchasing a set of Dean Markley 2504 guitar strings.

In case you’re looking to buy the same set, unfortunately, it’s no longer being made (more about this in the comments). If you want something similar from Dean Markley, their Blue Steel heavy set (10-52) should do a pretty good job (same principle as the original – Light Top/Heavy Bottom)


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4 years ago

“Kurt actually played both sets. He started off with the Nickel Steels and then moved to the Blue Steel.
As far as sounding as close to him as possible, use the Nickel Steel (Signature Series). This is what he used most often and what he preferred.”
DM USA Customer Service – my inquiry with Dean Markley, 2018


“For strings, he used .010-.052 Dean Markley’s (the red pack).” – Earnie Bailey,

Back then, “the red pack” was the Dean Markley 1974 LTHB .
See left in the suitcase:
comment image

These original DM strings that Kurt used to play, have long been discontinued.
In 2008 Dean Markley won the Best New Accessory category at NAMM for a Vintage Reissue of these strings, with the same, old packaging, called:
“Dean Markley Vintage Reissue Nickel Plated Round Core Electric Guitar String”.
These nickel plated steel strings are hand wound over a round core.
They also have been discontinued.

I contacted Dean Markley about what they suggest and they told me, that the Vintage Reissue strings have not been discontinued, they have been renamed to the Signature Series strings with new packaging.

The current DM signature (Nickel Steel) series are very different from the Vintage reissues.

If you wanna come close to the strings Kurt used, I recommend either
for 24″ scale (Jag/JS/Mus) Ernie Ball Rock n’ Roll Pure Nickles, Pyramid Nickel plated steel or GHS Boomers LTHB.
For 25.5″ scale (Strats) wit Hot Rails, nothing sounds like Reading92 than DM Blue Steels !

edward burns
edward burns
4 years ago
Reply to  Sebastian

Who is the guy with Kurt in the pic above?

4 years ago
Reply to  edward burns

Big John Duncan from the Exploited i think ( he toured as 2nd guitarist with nirvana for a bit..)

2 years ago
Reply to  guest

He was also one of their touring guitar techs

Last edited 2 years ago by Someone