Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jag-Stang

access_time First seen circa 1993

Sometime around early 1993, Kurt came up with an idea to make his own guitar, or more precisely, to produce a completely new model of a guitar. The first drawings were done by Kurt himself (these were later published in the book “Journals”), with the design being based on a mix of a Mustang and a Jaguar model.

The Design

Based on the photographs published in “Journals”, Kurt seemed to have figured out the shape of the body quite quickly – but struggled somewhat with the headstock, eventually ending up with a standard Fender shape. He came up with the body shape by taking a Polaroid picture of a Mustang and a Jaguar, and cutting them so that the lower portion of the body was basically Jaguar, while the upper and the lower horns were from a Mustang.

What I did is I took a picture of a Mustang, a Polariod picture of a Mustang and a picture of a Jaguar and then cut them in half and glued them togeather and told them to build that. So that’s what it is. It’s the Jag-Stang. [Nardwuar vs. Nirvana pt 3 of 3]

The pickguard shape, control layout, and the tailpiece were all taken directly from a Mustang model.

Chronology, First Prototype, and Tryouts

Based on a quote from Larry Brooks, a Fender Custom Shop master builder who worked on the guitar, Fender sent out a prototype to Kurt which he used for a while, before sending it back with a request to change some of the stuff.

It was his concept, and we detailed and contoured it to give him balance and feel. He was really easy to work with. I had a chance to sit and talk with him; then we built him a prototype. He played it a while and then wrote some suggestions on the guitar and sent it back to us. The second time around, we got it right. [Cobain’s Brainstorm: The Jigsaw Story of the Jag-Stang]

It is, however, unknown whether this prototype model was the exact same guitar used later by Kurt, just modified, or a completely different guitar. Based on photos, each time Kurt used the Jag-Stang between December 1993 and March 1994, the guitar was always exactly the same. Based on this, the former seems more likely, otherwise, we would obviously see some changes on the guitar.

So, whatever this first prototype model was, Kurt likely didn’t use it live. He did however at least try it, which was likely sometime in the summer of 1993, which would give Fender enough time to finish the final prototype and ship it to Kurt by November 1993, which is the first time the guitar is ever mentioned, chronologically looking (more on this later).

Specs

As far as specs, the final prototype which Kurt used himself featured light blue finish on an alder body, and a 24-inch scale maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. The neck pickup was a single-coil Fender Texas Special, while the humbucker bridge that was originally shipped with the guitar was a DiMarzio H-8.

There has been some confusion related to the model of the humbucker, as Fender’s director of artist relations, Mark Wittenberg apparently made a mistake in one of the interviews. Furthermore, all of the photos of the guitar clearly show a Seymour Duncan JB pickup,

Mark Wittenberg stated somewhere that Kurt’s JS came stock with a H-3, but it was actually a H-8. I swapped it out for a white Duncan JB the day before the did “MTV Unplugged”, along with Kurt’s other blue Japan Mustangs. [DO YOU HAVE ANY INFO ON THE DIMARZIO H-3 OR H-8? – Jag-Stang.com]

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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 1991

1969 Fender Competition Mustang

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 […]

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 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 […]

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 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 […]

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