Kurt Cobain Equipment FAQ 2.0
Kurt's favorite guitar was quoted as being a Mustang. One of the most note-worthy of the assorted lefty Mustangs he used was Lake Placid Blue and of the "competition" series. This is the guitar from the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video; however, Kurt had been seen using one during shows (2). Fender began producing the Mustang competition series in 1969 and they are easily identifiable by the three racing stripes on the body. They were available in either red, orange, or white. Kurt's was a custom color, lake placid blue, with matching headstock. It had two black, single coil sized pickups with a white mother-of-pearl pickguard. He destroyed this guitar (whether or not he had more than one I don't know) during the infamous Tree Club show (2). This may be the "medium blue with mother-of-pearl pickguard" Mustang mentioned in Mr. Smith's page from the "Hollywood Rock" festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1993, but I have not seen the footage (1).
Another guitar of long-standing was his tobacco-sunburst '66 Jaguar with red-swirl mother-of-bowling-ball pickguard. There are humbuckers in both bridge and neck positions, extra knobs to make three knobs on the guitar, the lower switches taped over with duct tape - especially seen on tours circa 1991. The replacement pickups were supposedly DiMarzio Super Distortion and Seymour Duncan "Custom" humbuckers.
A $20 pawnshop "Stella" acoustic guitar which was supposedly used to record "Polly."
There were occasional Stratocasters (Japanese preferred, because of lower price and smaller frets ); an all-white and an all-black have been seen in photos. Kurt also used black Strats with white pickguards, as seen on the ending on Liveand Loud on MTV. Occasional Telecasters (not often, apparently). Also various random, cheap guitars. In the video for 'Heart-Shaped Box' Kurt is "playing" a right-handed Mosrite Ventures guitar or a Univox copy of a Mosrite Ventures guitar).
The MTV Unplugged appearance was done with an acoustic/electric Martin guitar from the late 50s or early 60s; perhaps a model D-18E ("E" for electric) or a D-28E. Its a right-handed guitar; the pickups (DeArmonds), control knobs and switch were stock, even though they look like a home-brew job. This is a rare guitar only like 500 or something were made. They stopped makeing them years ago, Kurt didn't know that.
The luthier Danny Ferrington made a custom guitar for Kurt in 1992, based on the Fender Mustang.
"Kurt is left-handed, and he really likes the Fender Mustang he's been playing for a few years. But his playing style is so rough, and left-handed Mustangs so rare, that it was beginning to look as if his favorite guitar was going to break apart right out from under him. I'd talked with Nick Close, one of Nirvana's roadies, about trying to find replacement necks for the Mustang, but finally Kurt called me to talk about ordering a new custom guitar.
"Nirvana left for Australia a few days later, and Kurt faxed me a great little picture showing where he wanted the pickups to be and what shape to use for the body. It was the first time I'd collaborated by fax, and I thought it was real fun to be designing a guitar by long distance using such a modern communications technology.
"I built his guitar to be a lot like that old Mustang, except we used a Gibson-style bridge that's better at keeping the guitar in tune, and I made the neck a little straighter so that it won't be so apt to break when Kurt plays it hard. It's tricky making left-handed guitars, though, because everything on a left-handed guitar is counter-intuitive for me. Right off the bat I made a few mistakes on Kurt's guitar, so finally I took to labeling all the parts 'This Side Up' to remind myself that I needed to do everything backwards.
The guitar turned out real well, and a few months later Kurt came by with his wife to pick it up. Just after he started playing it he stopped dead in his tracks and said, 'This is like my dream guitar!' His wife asked, 'Honey, are you gonna trash this one too?' but Kurt got this horrified look on his face, and in a solemn voice he said, 'No, this one's going to be my recording guitar.' I was tickled to death, and it was incredibly satisfying to hear that I'd hit the nail right on the head.
The Ferrington guitar is distinguished by several features. It has heart-shaped fretboard "dot" inlays, a stylized "f" (for Ferrington) on the peghead, three pickups (which look like single coil neck and middle pickup, and a humbucker bridge-position pickup), and an almost-Mustang pickguard where the plastic continues right down to the control knobs (this section is chrome on actual Mustangs). The Mustang slide switches are replaced with a toggle switch where the input jack would be. The actual input jack is a Stratocaster- style jack mounted below the pickguard.
The body is basswood, with a maple neck and rosewood fretboard. Its finished in what Fender calls sonic blue, with a red-swirl mother-of-bowling-ball pickguard. I don't know of any pictures or footage of Kurt playing this guitar, but this could be because it was used only as a "recording guitar."
Another custom collaboration was with Fender, and was again based on the Mustang.
"Cobain worked with the Fender Custom Shop to develop the "Jag-stang," a very functional combination of Jaguar and Mustang design.
"'Kurt always enjoyed playing both guitars,' says Fender's Larry Brooks. 'He took photographs of each, cut them in half, and put them together to see what they'd look like. 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.'
"The guitar features a Mustang-style short-scale neck on a body that borrows from both designs. There's a Dimarzio humbucking pickup at the bridge, and a Texas Special single coil at the neck, tilted at the same angle as on a Mustang. Cobain was quite satisfied with the guitar.
"'Ever since I started playing, I've always liked certain things about certain guitars but could never find the perfect mix of everything I was looking for. The Jag-stang is the closest thing I know. And I like the idea of having a quality instrument on the market with no preconceived notions attached. In a way, it's perfect for me to attach my name to the Jag-stang, in that I'm the anti-guitar hero - I can barely play the things myself.'"
The "Jag-stang," was seen starting in mid-to-late 1993. An early Jag-stang or a modified Mustang w/ humbucking pickups in the bridge position is shown on the MTV New Year's Show. Its body closely resembles a Mustang and it doesn't look like the Jag-stang shown in the Fender magazine. But, the headstock only says "Fender", no "Mustang". Perhaps this was an early iteration of the Jag- stang? It's "Sonic Blue" - a robin's egg blue - with a red- swirl mother-of-bowling-ball pickguard. A reviewer for Guitar Shop saw a "cross between the Jaguar and Mustang, the Jag-stang features a sonic blue Jag body with white pickguard and Mustang bridge." He went on to mention that Kurt's main axe that evening was a Mustang - again, was it a Mustang with humbuckers or another Jag-stang?
As most of you know, the Jag-Stang has hit the stores some time ago. A great, detailed article on it can be found at Guitar World Online, soundcheck (4).
Vist Matt Halls Jag-Stang Page great page for further detail and pictures.
This pedal was used extensively throughout a good portion of Kurt's career. It is visable in most any concert footage which catches a glimpse of the floor by Kurt's feet. Before Kurt started using a wider variety of pedals and stomp boxes in the latter part of his career, to his right foot was his Boss DS-2 distortion and to his left foot was his Small Clone chorus. One of the best pictures of it I've come across is the insert in the In Utero cd. It's visable on the black-and-white side under the track listing "6 Dumb 2:29" (8).
I can't be sure which phase shifter pedal(s) Kurt used. In the SNL practice footage it *appears* to be a large stomp box with several large knobs on it (5). It is also noted that he used an EH Small Stone (1)(9).
"Nevermind" was recorded at the following studios: Sound City, Van Nuys and Devonshire, North Hollywood. It was produced by Butch Vig and NIRVANA. According to Vig, his guitars were "a late-Sixties Mustang, a Jaguar with DiMarzio pickups and several new Stratocasters with humbuckers in the bridge posutions." His main effects were a Boss DS-1 and the aforementioned Small Clone. A ProCo rat distortion pedal was also probably used on some songs. His main amp was a Mesa/Boogie Studio .22. He also used a Fender Bassman on about four songs and a Vox AC30 for some clean tracks. Four microphones were used to mike Kurt's speaker cabinet (he would pick which one he liked best for each song and its signal was sent through the Neve console at Sound City): a Shure SM57, an AKG 414, a Neumann U87, and occasionally a Sennheiser 421. According to Vig, the Small Clone was the key to "the watery guitar sound you hear on the pre-chorus build-up of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and also 'Come As You Are.'" An Electro-Harmonix Big Muff fuzz box was used on "Lithium" for that "dark, thumpier sound." Vig recalls using the U87 mike on "Lithium" because it wasn't so bright and had a "heavier sound." "Polly" was recorded at Vig's Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin during demo sessionsfor "Nevermind." The guitar had only 5 strings which had never been changed. Butch Vig says, "It was tuned down about a step and a half down from E. I recorded it with an AKG 414. The same guitar is on 'Something in the Way.'"
This is a section of things I'm NOT sure on that I think others out there can help with.
Kurt used a type of guitar during the "Hollywood Rock" concert; it wasn't a Fender. The same type of guitar (although a different color) appears to have been used during the second SNL performance. It sounds like the same guitar was used to record "Dumb" from the John Peel Sessions 1990-1991 (NOT Dumb recorded on In Utero). What kind of guitar is this? A Univox?
The all-black Strat Kurt used (may have had the sticker, "Vanalism..."). I think Kurt used this same guitar but kept replacing the neck. I've seen this same beat-up guitar many times on Live! Tonight! Sold Out! and elsewhere but with different necks. Once it was Fender, once Epiphone, and another time it had no visable name on the neck. It's my guess that he destroyed the guitar's neck during the last song and then replaced the neck instead of buying a new guitar. But again, don't know for sure. Anyone?
I just recently saw an article in a guitar magazine which I regretfully didn't buy. It had a collector who purchases guitars who were used by musicians. They showed a picture of two guitars Kurt supposedly used. One was a pieced back together Strat-type guitar. It looked like the all-black Strat just mentioned. The neck had no name or logo on it as far as I could see-- and it wasn't a Fender-style headstock. The other guitar was a Jazzmaster which was signed by Kurt. The caption read something to the basic effect of, "Kurt's trademark Jazzmaster." Anyone who knows Kurt's guitars knows he used a Jaguar. I don't know of Kurt EVER using a Jazzmaster. Anyone see this magazine??
1). Chris' "Kurt Cobain's Equipment" FAQ Version 2.0 and Ralph Smiths 1.3 and Brian Habermans 1.1 all combined.
2). The infamous Trees Club show video footage shot in Dallas, Texas on 10/19/91.
3). MTV Studios performance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Polly," and "Territorial Pissings" taped in New York, NY 1990.
4). Guitar World Online, soundcheck. Web address is: http://www.guitarworld.com/jan96/soundcheck/scfeature1/sft.page1.html
5). Saturday Night Live rehearsal footage. 1993 NBC.
6). "Guitar World" magazine. May 1996.
7). MTV's New Year's "Live and Loud" concert footage taped 12/17/93 at Pier 47 in Seattle, WA. 8). In Utero, 1993 DGC.
9). "Musician" magazine. January 1992.
10). Discussions through e-mail with various people.
Nirvana were offered a Gibson endorsement, but Kurt couldn't find a Gibson he liked.
I've almost always seen pictures of straps, in solid black or solid white.
Kurt claimed to use a Radio Shack burglar alarm and Radio Shack speakers. Its sounds like he's kidding, though you never know. He also claimed to use strings made out of piano wire, shipped in long boxes, as he couldn't find guitar wire thick enough for his taste.
Hole's "Doll Parts" video has guitarist Eric Erlandson playing a left-handed Jaguar guitar (with neck position humbucker pickups) strung so a right-handed guitarist can play it. It looks like Kurt's '66 Jaguar. Peter Buck plays a sonic blue lefty Jag-stang of Kurt's (upside-down) in the video for R.E.M.'s "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"