Kurt Cobain’s Fender Stratocaster “Vandalism”

access_time First seen circa 1991

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”.

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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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