Kurt Cobain’s Fender Stratocaster “Vandalism”

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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 guitar first appeared in mid-1991, it was fitted with a humbucker (either a DiMarzio H-3 or more likely a Seymour Duncan JB) in the bridge position, and two white stock single-coils, likely stock. A couple of months later around August, Kurt decorated the guitar with a bumper sticker from the Feederz ‘Teachers in Space’ LP. It read “Vandalism: As beautiful as a rock in a cop’s face”, and in small letters underneath “Courtesy of Feederz: Office of Anti-Public Relations”.

Embed from Getty Images

Nevermind Tour

This guitar was used extensively during the early Nevermind tour, until late 1991, most notably during the Reading Festival on August 23rd, 1991, and Live at the Paramount on October 31, 1991. It seemed to have gone out of the rotation by the time the band returned from Europe in September 1991 and remained behind the scenes until October 25th, when it was used during the gig played at The Palace, Hollywood. At this point of time, the guitar had a replacement neck with a Fernandes logo on it (meaning that Kurt broke the old one at some point prior to this), and it had duct tape around the strap button on the back.

From that point on, it seems that Kurt carried the guitar with him during the second European Nevermind tour that lasted from October to December 1991, but for some reason, based on the photos and videos from around that time, it appears that he didn’t use it at all until November 25th at Paradiso in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Again, based on the photos, at this point, the guitar had a new replacement neck on it, identical to the previous one, but without the Fernandes logo on the headstock.

The guitar was then seen again on November 27th, during the infamous “Top of the Pops” gig, during which Nirvana protested having to mimic the studio track, instead of actually playing their instruments, by making it clearly obvious that they are not playing live. Dave was basically seen going batsh*t on his drums, Krist swung his bass around and danced around the stage, and Kurt held his hand a few inches away from the neck the whole time, and sang the whole song an octave lower.

Replaced by the Jaguar

The guitar that directly replaced the Vandalism Strat as Kurt’s main was a 1965 Fender Jaguar, which Kurt started using occasionally from around mid-August 1991. By September/October the Jaguar became the main, while the Vandalism still popped up occasionally, until around early December.

It seemed like when he first got [the Jaguar], Earnie explains, “he used it as a backup; he was mainly playing that black Vandalism Strat around the time. And then the Vandalism Strat got smashed in France – it was destroyed at that point – and then the Jaguar moved into the number-one slot.

The story behind Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jaguar

The gig that Ernie is talking about is most likely the one played on December 7, 1991, in Rennes, France. It doesn’t seem, however, based on how often it was used, that the Vandalism Strat was Kurt’s main guitar up until that point – the Jaguar was used way more often.

Current Whereabouts

Years after Kurt’s death, his guitar tech Earnie Bailey was involved in putting the guitar back together – fitting it with a Fender branded neck, and it was since then seen on various EMP Museum exhibits. The line of ownership, and what exactly happened to Kurt’s Vandalism guitar after his death is at this point unknown.

If you happen to visit one of the exhibits and discover any new information regarding this, please be sure to leave a comment below.
Kurt’s Vandalism Stratocaster on display at the EMP Museum, next to the cardigan that he wore during the MTV Unplugged gig. Photo by: OnceAndFutureLaura/Flickr
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Ronie Pacini
Ronie Pacini
1 year ago

I don’t think it’s a Fender he used on the show. It’s the stratocaster model, but I don’t think it’s a Fender, I couldn’t identify the name in the video. The Headstock name and format are different.

Ronie Pacini
Ronie Pacini
1 year ago
Reply to  Ronie Pacini

I found the name. It is a Fernandes guitar.

Juan konami
Juan konami
5 months ago

That was polite way of saying “did you fuckin read!?!?

Justin Driscoll
Justin Driscoll
1 year ago
Reply to  Ronie Pacini

It’s a 1991 Japanese Fender Strat. The neck was just a replacement

Zach Davis
Zach Davis
11 months ago
Reply to  Ronie Pacini

its a fender body with a Fernandes neck

GuitarMan Nick
GuitarMan Nick
9 months ago
Reply to  Ronie Pacini

i could have swore he used a Yamaha don’t tell me i bought the wrong guitar today

Ethan Moat
Ethan Moat
8 months ago
Reply to  Ronie Pacini

no its a Stratocaster but Kurt replaced the neck and head-stock with a Fernandes neck and head-stock

Mikey
Mikey
1 year ago

Ernie Bailey stated that he had a box of Fernandes necks laying around to replace the broken necks that occurred almost every show, so those Fernandes necks were plentiful during the tour.

khristore
khristore
10 months ago

Hi there,
Thank you for that great website. If you guys are interested, i make replicas of that iconic guitar on my website or on eBay!
khristore.com

Last edited 10 months ago by khristore
Ronald
Ronald
2 months ago
Reply to  khristore

Get a better website. Takes more than 30 seconds for pages to load. I was potentially interested, but I am not going to painfully wait on a slow website to spend my money.

khristore
khristore
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronald

OK, thanks for the info. I’m also on eBay and Etsy.
Cheers

khristore
khristore
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronald
Nameless
Nameless
9 months ago

Are we sure of the humbucker listed here? I’ve seen he had a Seymour Duncan ’59 in it.

David
David
7 months ago
Reply to  Nameless

I heard it was Seymour Duncan 59 neck

Poodle Noodle Soup
Poodle Noodle Soup
25 days ago
Reply to  Nameless

Highly likely it was a 59 Neck, for several reasons:

If you look at the photo close ups you can see the pole pieces don’t line up with the strings at the bridge, and by a significant margin. Even more so than if it was a non-Trembucker/F-spaced model.

The JB was never made as a neck pickup, so it would have to be something else.

His love for the JB came just before the In Utero tour, when he had the Blue and Red Mustangs made for him. He had a JB installed in his Jaguar in Mid-93, but oddly he rarely played it again after this was done.

Of the Nevermind tour era guitars, very few of them had the same pickup in the bridge, whereas all of his In Utero tour Mustangs had JBs in them.

So if you were to make an educated guess based on these assertions, the 59 Neck is a good candidate. The tone of that guitar when you listen to the Paramount and Paradiso shows is very bright and clear too, so a weaker humbucker than a JB makes sense.

Knuckle Sandwich
Knuckle Sandwich
20 days ago
Reply to  Nameless

Yes, it was a ‘59 bridge..he didn’t touch the stock single coils

Yann
Yann
3 months ago

Hey there,
I really need to know, which wood they used for the guitar.
Greets Yann