KURT COBAIN/NIRVANA EQUIPMENT TUTORIAL
VERSION 1.0 12/24/96
WRITTEN BY CHRIS LAWRENCE (email@example.com)
My current tutorial is up on several sites, but this one is from scratch. Earnie Bailey, Nirvana's guitar tech, read my tutorial and
replied. He said that he liked it, but it contained some incorrect information and also was missing plenty of important details. So
he sent me, via mail, a 20 page document on Kurt's equipment. Nearly all of the information on this page comes straight from
that document. I would sincerely like to thank Earnie for taking the time to write that and hope that everyone appreciates it as
well. He wants to see this information set straight. I hope to assist in doing that.
Okay, this is split into several sections:
IV.Recording of Bleach
V.Recording of Nevermind
VI.Recording of Incesticide
VII.Recording of In Utero
VIII.Recording of Unplugged
Please remember that this is 99% fact and is almost positively true. I would love to receive e-mail with your comments,
Since "come as you are" is the most popular (and best!) nirvana book out there, all my page quotes in here come from that
book. If I have used another book for reference, it will be identified.
Guitar-wise, Kurt went thru a lot. In the earlier days, he played mainly cheap Epiphones and Univoxs, but soon became a
Fender addict. He liked guitars with short necks, light bodies, and heavy strings. For strings, he used .010-.052 Dean
Markley's (the red pack).
His favorite guitars were Fender Mustangs. Please read the interview section to see why.
1. 69 Blue (Lake Placid?) Mustang. Pearloid pickguard. Has competition stripe. Used in Smells Like Teen Spirit, and several
concerts around the Nevermind era. also used in Rio, January 1993. This is the guitar he "babied", except for at Dallas,
10/19/91. Kurt was pissed about the crappy sound so he smashed the monitor board with this guitar. The neck joint broke and
it received lower edge damage. The stock (stock means the part that it commonly, originally came with) bridge pick-up was
replaced with a black Seymour Duncan hot rail. It was also fitted for a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic bridge (Kurt's favorite) before the
Argentina trip. Had a painted headstock.
2. Fiesta Red Mustang. Used for In Utero tour. Fender sent out 4 Mustangs for the In Utero tour. This one, and 3 Sonic Blue
ones. This guitar was received just before the 1st Roseland show. It began with a tortoise shell pickguard, then Earnie replaced
it with a Pearloid pickguard from Chandler. It was used on the In Utero tour most often with the pearloid pickguard. This guitar
was the first Mustang that Earnie routed for a full size Seymour Duncan J.B. Humbucker (obviously one of Kurt's favorites).
Kurt later wanted all of his Mustangs routed for these pickups, EXCEPT for the 69 Competition Mustang (#1). This guitar may
have gotten black pickups with the pearloid pickguard.
When Fender sent out the 4 Mustangs, they were totally stock Fender Japanese lefty Mustangs. They were then modified by
First, they had to be cut for the heavy strings.
Then, the necks were shimmed for a better bridge angle.
Then, Gotoh tune-o-matic bridges (from Stewart MacDonald, a mail-order guitar hardware company) were installed.
Then, Earnie had to modify the tailpieces (large cylinder-shaped objects that the ball end of the strings sit in). He removed the
two springs (for the vibrato bar) and added washers underneath to the posts beneath the bridge plate, which locked it down to
the plate. Earnie sent me a diagram, but it's hard to explain. Basically, this procedure made it solid like a stop tailpiece. This
meant that you couldn't use the vibrato bar, which Kurt detested anyways.
Last, Earnie flipped the tailpiece around, so instead of having to put the strings thru under the bridge, you could stick them right
in normally. The ball ends could then fit in the recesses.
3,4. Sonic Blue Mustang (maybe Daphne blue?). There were two of these. They are hard to tell apart, but one had a Tortoise
shell pickguard, and the other had a matte red pickguard. Both were set-up exactly like the Mustang above; humbuckers,
tune-o-matics, tailpieces reversed. Kurt used the one with the Tortoise shell pickguard for the MTV Live and Loud show.
These guitars tend to look white in the light. They are definitely blue though, and Kurt never had a white mustang.
Fender had sent out 3 blue Mustangs for the In utero tour. The 3rd one stayed at Kurt's house and was never modified or
5. Early 60's Mustang, Sonic/Daphne blue, used in DGC's In bloom video. Kurt bought it in LA at the time of the video shoot.
This guitar never toured. Earnie remembers seeing it at Kurt's house and it was really clean. No body contours, stock
Oh, and that's Earnie's Ampeg bass in the video.
6. Ferrington Mustang. Designed by luthier Daniel Ferrington for his book, Ferrington guitars. I don't have this book, but if
someone does, I'd appreciate them sending me a copy of what was written for this guitar in the book to add to the next update
of this FAQ.
This is what was written about it in the March 1995 issue of Guitar World:
"[Kurt] hooked up with Danny Ferrington via Richard Thompson's guitar technician, who was friendly with Nirvana roadie
Nick Close, who was desperately searching for left-handed necks to replace the ones that Kurt had destroyed onstage."
"'Kurt called me from the backstage of Saturday Night Live when Nirvana was doing the show,' Ferrington narrates. 'We
talked for a long time about what he wanted. Basically, he loved Fender Mustangs, but he also hated them because you
couldn't tune them. And it's hard to raise the action. He thought you could improve on it. He essentially wanted a more
sophisticated Fender Mustang. So we talked about the features he wanted. Then the band went to Australia, Kurt faxed me
over a little drawing that he'd done, with the pickup placements and other little notes.' The instrument Ferrington built is
depicted in his book. In body shape and headstock, it's closely modeled on a Fender Mustang, but it has a Gibson-style
Tune-O-Matic bridge and three Bartolini pickups. The bridge pickup is a humbucker, while the neck and middle pickups are
single coils. The middle pickup is angled. The bridge pickup, Ferrington further explains, 'has a coil tap, so you can get series,
parallel, and single coil. Kurt said he wanted a lot of switch options.'"
"The bridge pickup variations are governed by a small toggle switch located below the guitar's two knobs (a tone and a
volume). There's also a Strat-style pickup selector. The instrument's body is made out of basswood, with a maple neck and a
rosewood fretboard. The baby blue body colour and tortoise shell pickguard were Cobain's choices, as were the heart-shaped
After receiving this guitar, Kurt said that it would be his recording guitar. However, as much as Kurt loved the look of this
guitar, he didn't like the Bartolini humbucker or the overall weight. It was really heavy! But the guitar looks great. It does look a
lot like a Mustang, except the input jack is like a Strat's, and the pickguard goes down around the knobs. Brian's site should
have a picture of it.
7. No-name Mustang. Used in Sub Pop In bloom video. I still have no information on this. It's blueish greenish white. No
pickguard. Anyone have info on it?
8. Unpainted Mustang. Sanded down early 60's Mustang. No contours, no decal. Unusual hardware. Soundgarden sticker on
it. Used when Jason Everman was in the band. Easily visible in Incesticide tab book. Or Come as You Are p. 95-96.
9. sunburst Mustang, mid-70's. Black pickguard, black hot rails, rosewood neck and rusty parts. Earnie says that this was used
for the Encore in Rio, yet I have the Rio video and Kurt plays a Univox. Although, there is some confusion as to what the Rio
concert was. Most believe it is the Hollywood Rock Festival, January 23rd, 1993. Aneurysm and Dive from Live, Tonight,
Sold Out were taken from this show. However, the LTSO book lists this as being in Sao Paulo, while Come as You Are says
otherwise. I'm confused about this, so...but Earnie says that Kurt played this guitar, so I guess he had it at some point in time.
Kurt's main guitar around the Nevermind era was his Jaguar.
1. '65 Fender Jaguar. In an interview first published in a Guitar world spin-off magazine titled "Nirvana and the Seattle Sound"
(which features tabs for 6 Nirvana songs, a Pearl Jam song, and an alice in Chains song, not to mention interviews with eddie
Vedder, Chris Cornell, and a guitar lesson from Pearl Jam - I can't remember when I bought this, but it was sometime in 1992.
The cover picture is from the Crocodile Cafe, October 1992, I think), Kurt says that it's a 1966, but Earnie says otherwise.
This interview is hilarious. Kurt lies so much in it, but I think it was all in fun. I've included it, so read it! Kurt also says that this
is the guitar he polishes and babies, but Earnie says that's not true.
According to Earnie: "He NEVER polished this thing! It was disgusting. "Lithium" video it hits the stage hard. In Rio it gets
soaked in cantaloupe juice and seeds, then dropped onto camera rails when Kurt is spitting on camera."
The guitar was sunburst, with the red in the finish faded out. It was already modified when Kurt bought it. He found it on the
"L.A. Recycler" (available on the net at http://www.recycler.com). There was an incorrect decal UNDER the lacquer. This
guitar had 2 volume knobs, and 1 tone, and a black chrome Schaller bridge. There was tape covering the on-off and phase
switches. There was a Dimarzio PAF in the neck, and a Super Distortion in the bridge, until the In Utero tour when the bridge
pickup was switched to a black Duncan JB. This had an anvil type flight case for a while. Played by Eric Erlandson in Hole's
Doll Parts video.
This guitar was used SO often during 91-92, but I'll cite several pages in CAYA it can be seen. p.240 and 273.
2. Framos Jaguar copy. Used as a prop in the photo shoot that is used for the Alternative Guitar issue one cover. Don't know
what year this picture is from, probably 1992. This was probably just a photo shoot guitar.
3. 60's Sunburst Jaguar. Apparently Kurt had another one. Had a dot neck, once had Dimarzio pickups but were returned to
stock by Texas guitar shop (Airline Vintage) where it was bought. It was a lefty, had a bad repro pickguard, and wasn't the
same as his 65 Jaguar. They paid about $500 for it in Fall 1992. I've never seen this, or at least realized that it was different
from his main Jaguar. If anyone knows where he used this, please e-mail me.
Kurt had a lot of Strats. He liked the Japanese ones over the american ones, or so he said in the interview I mentioned earlier.
He mainly used them for smashing, cuz they're cheap. I can't list them all, cuz he had so many identical ones. But I'll try:
1. Black Strat. Possibly a Strat Special? Had 2 white single coils, an a black humbucker. Black pickguard. Easily recognized
by the bumper sticker reading "Vandalism: As Beautiful as a Rock in a Cop's Face" and "Courtesy of the Feederz: Office
of Anti-Public relations". According to a trusty informee from alt.music.nirvana, this sticker comes from an album by the
Feederz. Or something like that. Anyways, the guitar was used as early as Reading 1991, with Sonic Youth. Used in 1991:the
Year Punk Broke video. Neck had to be replaced several times. Began as a Fender (the guitar is a Fender to begin with), then
switched to a Fernandes neck for 10/31/91 show at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. It was broken off again there, and then
switched again. The guitar was smashed in Paris in spring 1992 or Winter 1991.
2,3. White Fender Japanese Strats. Kurt had 2 of these. One was used at the MTV 1992 Video Music Awards, when they
played Lithium. Both were played live often. They were never routed for humbuckers, but the pickups went from stock to
Seymour Duncan hot rails, white or black at any given time (these pickups damaged easily). Both of these saw several different
necks. One was smashed at Seattle Center in 1992, the other was smashed at Argentina.
4. White Strat. Kurt had this one before the two above (3 and 4). This one had a big black humbucker and a K records sticker
on it. Visible on the back of the teen Spirit single, and on the cover of the Screaming Life book.
5. Black Strat. White pickguard. Black humbucker. This had a stop chrome tailpiece, a chrome Tune-O-Matic, and a chrome
ring around the humbucker. Visible on pages 166 and 177 of the Come AS you Book. It was smashed while recording
endless, nameless for Nevermind. After being fixed, it got a black pickguard and black pickups. It looked like Strat #1 but with
a Gibson bridge set-up.
6. Sunburst Strat. Used at Reading 1992. Earnie built this for Kurt out of Stewart MacDonald parts. Bridge and pickguard
assembly were leftovers. He put an aftermarket Fender decal (illegal?) on it. It was smashed in Florida. p.273
7. Black Strat. Set up same as #3 and 4. Also from the same period. Had a black hot rail in the bridge position. Dave smashed
this at Reading 92 (see page 274 of Come as You are). Japanese.
8. Candy apple red strat. Paid 200 bucks for this one. Originally had maple neck and white single ply pickguard. Earnie
switched it to a rosewood neck (Kurt like rosewood better). There was an early style white Seymour Duncan hot stock
pick-up in it. It was a Japanese '57 reissue. Smashed during east coast leg of In Utero tour.
Kurt also got 5 or 6 Mexican strats for the In Utero tour. They were used mainly for destruction. They had black bodies with
white pickguards, black hot rails in the bridge, and were smashed and pieced back together quite constantly. One was used for
Live and Loud.
Kurt only had a couple of these.
1. Sunburst Fender Telecaster. Used in Come as You Are video. Kurt used latex house paint to paint it blue, then scratched
off a heart and the word "Courtney", which are visible in red (the red sunburst underneath). Visible on the back of the "Nirvana
and the sound of Seattle" book. Smashed in Sau Paulo. The neck was broken into an "S" shape!
2. Sunburst Telecaster Custom. In Earnie's words:
"Fender sent this out for the In Utero tour to replace the blue one (#1). Stock pickups were very shrill. After Kurt's coma in
Rome, I thought modifying this guitar would make it a workhorse and get him away from the Mustang-Jaguar image. Hopefully
get him perked up. I put on new tuners (Gotoh's - his favorite). A Tele bridge from Stew-Mac with a Humbucker cut-out and
individual saddle for each string. In the bridge, I put a Duncan JB - black, and in the neck, and new Gibson PAF, potted with a
Chrome cover. He got this 2 weeks before he died, and said it was his new favorite. He used it for the home recordings he was
making with Pat."
This guitar sounds incredibly cool and I would have loved to have seen Kurt play it.
1. The Jag-Stang. You all know about this one by now, but in case you don't:
This is taken from Guitar World, March 1995:
"'I was able to track down what they needed,' says Fender Director of Artist Relations Mark Wittenberg, 'so they could keep
his guitars up and running. Then we were contacted and told that Kurt had an idea for a guitar -- something that he had in his
mind's eye but wasn't really seeing out there in the real world. His favorite guitar was a Mustang, but there were things about
the lines of the Jaguar that he really liked too.'"
"Wittenberg and Fender master builder Larry L. Brooks journeyed to Cobain and Love's Hollywood apartment to discuss the
guitar. The couple were just in the process of moving out. Like Ferrington, the Fender guys were impressed with Cobain's
courteous manner. 'He was very soft-spoken and very gentle' Brooks recalls. 'As it turned out, we'd gotten him out of bed.
He'd been out or played the night before, so he was still a little tired. But as we started talking about the guitar, the adrenaline
started flowing. He was very easy to work with. He knew what he wanted, but at the same time he was able to say "You're the
builder, so you know the best way to accomplish what I'm after." He was very open-minded that way.'"
Kurt took Polaroids of the Jaguar and Mustang and cut them in half. He then pasted them together in a way that combined the
upper half of a Mustang body with the lower half of a Jaguar. Brian's site should have this picture, by the way. Kurt called this
hybrid the "Jagstang". Fender cut a body and sent it to Kurt, and Kurt sent it back with some slight suggestions. He then sent
out one of his favorite necks for them to copy. Pretty soon, the prototype instrument was created.
"The resulting instrument has an alder body, plus a 24-inch scale maple neck with a rosewood fretboard and vintage-style
fretwire. at Cobain's request, Brooks used stock Mustang hardware from Japan, where the guitars are still produced.
(according to Nirvana guitar tech Earnie Bailey, the bridge was later changed to a tune-o-matic). The neck pickup is a
single-coil Texas Special, which was originally designed as a bridge pickup for Fender's Stevie Ray Vaughan model. The
bridge pickup is a Dimarzio H-3 Humbucker."
"'The Texas Special is a little hotter than most single coils,' Brooks explains. 'With a humbucker at the bridge, the Texas Special
in the neck position really helped to balance things out so that there wasn't such a drastic drop in volume and output going from
one pickup to the other.'"
"'Kurt requested two guitars' says Mark Wittenberg, 'one in Solid Blue and one in Fiesta Red.' The blue instrument was
delivered to Cobain, who used it on Nirvana's 1993 tour. 'We were just finishing the Fiesta Red one,' Wittenberg continues. 'In
fact, we were literally ready to deliver it when we received word of his death.' The red guitar has been earmarked the Fender
museum which is being planned."
Well, the Jag-Stang is now available from Fender. Unfortunately, it's in poor form. Kurt forgot to have Fender do the contours
for the arm and the stomach. Kurt and Earnie (Sesame street?) also discussed reshaping the body for a more traditional Fender
look. Earnie told Mark Wittenberg about these changes (also, the fitted bridge). He was interested in them, but Mark passed
away also. So Fender released that Jag-Stang in the way Kurt received it. Kurt very rarely played the Jag-Stang, but I have
one picture of him using it (thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll pass it along to Brian for his site.
Oh, Courtney gave the Jag-Stang to R.E.M. after Kurt died. Peter Buck plays it in the What's the Frequency, Kenneth? video,
and Mike Mills plays it live on Let Me In.
2. Fender Electric 12-string. Mid 60's, Dot neck, right-handed, sunburst with cherub stickers. Courtney had a matching one,
but both were damaged in the Spring 1992 bathtub incedent (Kurt felt that if his house was robbed, burglars wouldn't look in
the bathroom, so he hid some songbooks, tapes, and guitars in the bathtub. Unfortunately, something went wrong and the
bathtub filled up with sewage). Kurt's was damaged more. The body split and warped, and was water stained about halfway
up. Kurt was really depressed about this. Earnie offered to build him a new body but Kurt didn't think it was worth saving. He
wrote "Serve the Servants" on this.
During the early days, Kurt could almost always be seen with a Univox Mosrite copy guitar. In fact, his first guitar was
probably one (well, maybe not his first guitar).
1. Univox Mosrite copy. Actually called "Hi-Flyers". on p.116-117 of Rolling stone's Cobain book. White pickguard, maple
2,3. White Univox. Not custom made. Used in Heart-Shpaed Box video. Maple fingerboard. Had a B.C. Rich made Badass
bridge. Smashed in Kansas City 1993. There is another one just like it that survived. It had different string trees than the one
used in the video. Earnie sent him this guitar to use in the video when he couldn't find Mustang #1 (1969 competition Mustang),
which turned out to have been under his bed the whole time!
4. Sunburst Univox Custom. Used on SNL 1993. It had a nailed on logo that said "Univox Custom". This was his favorite
Univox. This was the first guitar that had a Duncan JB installed in it. Kurt loved the sound of this "plywood beast". Earnie
bought it for him for $150. The previous owner was a Minister in everett, washington. This had an Ibanez Badass bridge
installed. Same as p.286-287?
5. Univox Hi-Flyer. Had a Mahogany Neck and stock single coils at Sao Paulo show. Kurt liked this one too. Later got a
humbucker in the bridge. I think Earnie meant the Rio show. Hollywood rock show, anyways. Encore.
6,7. Natural Univox Hi-Flyer. He had 2 of these, in Fall 1993. They had stock humbuckers (he liked these pickups a lot),
Badass bridges (stock humbucker models had single-piece bridges, while P-90 single coil models had Jazzmaster type
bridge-tail piece units). He had a friend paint one of these in a Van Gogh style. These had maple necks and fingerboards.
8. Black Univox Les Paul Custom copy. Given to Kurt by Publicist Anton Brooks on Europe tour 1991. Bolt-on neck, stock
hardware, painted Flipper fish over logo in white, and had a Witchypoo sticker on the body.
9. Univox, with pink and green stickers all over it. Also had Monkees sticker and "WASP: We are scary posers" written on it.
First ever smashed guitar. p.61, 116.
Obviously, Kurt had more Univox guitars, but these are the ones I know about. If you know any more, e-mail me!
1. Black Epiphone Les Paul, used for Nevermind underwater photo shoot.
2. Vantage orange Les Paul copy, bolt-on neck. Bought day of Motor Sports show, smashed at the show as well.
3. Mosrite Gospel. He loved this guitar. Used at Motor Sports show. sunburst, with white pickguard. P.34 of Nirvana and the
Sound of seattle book. Also in Screaming Life.
4. Gibson SG Standard with pickups taped in. Blueish color, used in Tijuana, where it's smashed in half and it's neck is broken
off. Reappears at Raji's, taped up beyond belief. p.131
5. Epiphone, red, ET270 model (according to email@example.com). Tom Brabson also says that it is made in Japan by
Aria for epiphone. He also mentions that they make Univox guitars, too. So thanks for the help! This guitar was used in the Sub
Pop In Bloom video and was his main guitar around the Bleach era. p.132
6. Blonde F-hole Archtop Harmony. Used in Come as You Are video. It had fake painted flame maple on the sides and top.
Also had a maple fretboard. This sat in Kurt's doorway to his home with a broken headstock. Kurt said he liked it that way.
7. National Map Body. Seafoam Green, right-handed, tremolo, small body fiberglass model, 2 pickups, not a big Glen Wood,
strung lefty, but strap button not moved. Never toured.
8. Hagstrom blue glitter 3/4 size Les Paul copy. He got this in December 1992, paid $500, a lot for that model at the time. Had
a pearloid fingerboard and back.
9. Lefty Rickenbacker 4001 Bass. Natural, he loved this bass.
10. Ibanez Les Paul custom copy, cherry sunburst, Dimarzio X2N pickups, 2 coil tap mini switches (installed when bought),
lefty, set neck, flame in top, black pickguard and pickup rings, pickguard may have been removed. Black or gold speed knobs.
This was a great lefty guitar but Kurt wouldn't play it live because he said it looked too much like Jimmy Page! Earnie may have
sent this for the In Utero recording.
11. Blue Mosrite Mark IV. Damaged in bathtub incedent, Kurt gave this to Pat at SNL 1993.
I know that Kurt played more guitars, so if you know of ANY others, please e-mail me and I'll add them in a further update!
1. Martin D-18E. Read more about it in the "Recording of Unplugged section". This was cool looking, but rotten sounding. So
much metal bolted to the spruce top that it sounded more like a banjo than a Martin. Used by Courtney for Doll Parts and
hungry Like the wolf on Hole Unplugged.
2. Has cutaway in body, played at radio show where Kurt is wearing a leather jacket. This guitar (along with the Dolphin bass
that Chris is playing) is a rental, and was not owned by Kurt. The band wasn't too happy about pictures being circulated of
them playing such "modern" instruments.
3. Ibanez Vantage (or is it Vintage?) guitar, used for Tower Records in-store performance, picture in Nirvana and The Sound
of Seattle book.
4. Epiphone Texan, probably a 1961. Has Nixon Now sticker on it. It's adjustable bridge was replaced with a lefty flat-top
bridge. Earnie claims that it's one of the best sounding acoustics he's heard, and definitely Kurt's best. Kurt wouldn't play it at
5. Stella 12-string, strung with 5 nylon strings. I have a photocopy of the receipt for this guitar. It was bought at Edgewater
Pawn Shop and sheridan Jewelry, on 10/12/89, when Kurt was still living in Olympia. It reads: Stella Harmony Guitar, $29.00.
Plus $2.23 tax, coming to $31.23. This guitar is visible on the table of contents page of the October 1996 issue of Guitar
World. It had a floating wood bridge (glued down), was flattop, is sunburst, had a white screw-on pickguard. Kurt recorded
Polly, Something in the Way, and the demo version of Lithium on this. This got new strings (finally!) and tuners for In Utero. It
was probably used on Dumb, Pennyroyal Tea and All Apologies on In Utero. It was right-handed. Butch Vig says that it was
tuned down pretty far from E.
6. Harmony 12-string. Identical to #5, except natural finish.
If anyone knows of any others, e-mail me!
That's it for guitars, as far as I know. I'm sure there are more, so send me whatever you have.
Amp-wise, Kurt was pretty versatile. His favorite studio amp was his Fender Twin Reverb. Live, he like Marshall cabinets, but
would probably play just about anything.
1. Fender Twin Reverb. 80's blackface. "Ultra Linear" model. Was 120 watts instead of 85. Very clean. Originally it had two
Peavey 6L6's in it. Kurt didn't understand how it would still work with only 2 output tubes, but thought that was the secret to its
great sound. He told Earnie never to fix it. However, it was only running at 60 watts with the two tubes missing. Earnie knew
that it would sound incredible with 4 matched power amp tubes, so he put in new ones for the rehearsals of the In Utero
recording. He told Kurt that he had cleaned the pots, and Kurt said it sounded better than ever. So then Earnie told him what
he had really done and that he had tricked him.
2. Mesa Boogie Studio Two (Tube?) preamp, Crest 4801 power amp. Pretty straightforward. Powered 8 cabinets. For
speakers he had 25 watt Greenbacks, then 75 Watt Celestions, and finally Vintage 30's, which Kurt liked best. This was his
live rig for most of the Nevermind tour.
3. Randall head was used very early on to power cabs.
4. Sunn Beta-Lead head driving Peavey 4X12 cabs was the setup for the Bleach tour.
5. 70's Peavey Vintage 2X12. First amp when he was growing up in aberdeen. It was the tube model with the fake vinyl
tweed. His dad gave it to Goodwill, and Kurt was very upset about it. He often cited this as his favorite amp and always was
looking for another one.
6. Fender Champ. Come as you are, p.58.
The Marshall Ministacks with the red trim were for laughs only. Once Kurt said to the crowd "I guess you want to see me
smash something, right?" and then threw the mini-stack across the stage. They weren't plugged in ever.
If anyone has anything else to add, please e-mail me.
Ah...the fun area. Kurt loved his effects, especially towards the end.
Early on, he had very few effects, but soon found some bizarre stuff.
1. BOSS DS-1. Used for Bleach and most of Nevermind. Was his main fuzzbox for the whole Bleach era. p.95
2. BOSS DS-2. He switched to a DS-2 for the Nevermind tour and played one from then on. By Dave's foot: p.274
3. Arion Stage Tuner. Crappy plastic tuner, broke while on tour. Used in the Bleach era to tune up. Lower right corner of
Incesticide liner picture, p.146
4. ProCo Rat. Used for some fuzz on Nevermind. I don't know if Kurt used one but I know that Krist used it for Breed and
Endless, Nameless, and also Turnaround. He played it on Floyd the Barber at the 10/31/91 show.
5. Electro-Harmonix Big Muff. Used for some fuzz on Nevermind.
6. Univox Superfuzz. Kurt said that he had one before Bleach but that someone swiped it from their practice space. Maybe
they shared a spot with Mudhoney...hehe. Earnie built him a handwired duplicate in a silver metal box labelled "Yung-Mann
7. Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus. Used for the chorus effects on Nevermind and Aneurysm. Visible easily on the
Nevermind tour. His chain then simply went Guitar--DS-2--Small Clone--Amp. Used on Unplugged too. Visible in In Utero
booklet under "Dumb" and on cover of Wishkah.
8. Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory AC Unit. He didn't like this one as much as the Small clone. He broke it.
9. Electro-Harmonix Echoflanger. He had only one of these, contrary to what was written in Guitar World. He used it on "The
Priest they called him" and the Brazil shows. It acted up from time to time. For the In Utero recordings he took Earnie Bailey's
Polychorus as a spare. He ended up using the Polychorus on In Utero instead. I have a photocopy of Kurt's handdrawn
settings for the Polychorus on In Utero. It has the settings for the Heart-Shaped Box solo, RFUS and Scentless apprentice. I'm
sure he also used this on Gallons of Rubbing alcohol Flow thru the Strip. It may have been used on Kurt's guitar-line for the
Melvins' "Sky Pup".
10. Electro-Harmonix Polychorus. Used for In Utero. Read #9. for the In Utero tour he took both of them out with him. Earnie
found another Polychorus and sent it out to Kurt in hope of getting his back! The second one broke (Eric Erlandson has it now
and got it fixed, so be prepared for some cool sounds on the next Hole album). Earnie got his back after Kurt had stuck velcro
to it and painted his settings on it in nail polish! Courtney now has his Echoflanger. Supposed to be used on Unplugged, but
since it's an AC unit, it was giving Scott Litt too much 60-cycle hum in the control room. Visible on cover of Wishkah.
11. Orange MXR Phase 100. Used for Curmudgeon. Probably owned by the studio where the recorded it, as Kurt never used
a Phaser again. On the live version of Curmudgeon, Kurt doesn't use any effects.
12. DOD Grunge pedal. Bought as a complete joke, Kurt hated it. He threw it out into the crowd on the last tour.
13. Tech 21 Classic Sansamp. An Amp/Cab simulator that Kurt used for distortion. Visible on cover of Wishkah next to
That's it for pedals, as far as I know. The DOD pedal on Live and Loud was the Grunge pedal, not an FX75 Stereo Flanger.
Towards the end, Kurt got increasingly "effects-happy". He began using the Small clone for solos like School, About a Girl, In
Bloom, Serve the Servants, etc. when he wouldn't have before. He also used the Polychorus a lot for live noise jams. Check
out its awesome effects on the Live and Loud destruction. He used it on a couple other tunes live, I know. I know he used it
for the "solo" on You Got No Right.
To clear some things up:
Kurt DID NOT use a Rotovibe for In Utero, or LIVE!! He only used one ONCE! In January 1994, Nirvana recorded at Bob
Lang's studio in North Seattle. Kurt forgot his pedals and ended up using a pedalboard that Earnie had. It had on it: A
Rotovibe, a BOSS Flanger, a BOSS Vibrato, a BOSS Delay, and an Ibanez Supermetal. He only recorded one song: You
Got No Right (Known as On the Mountain to people who can't hear properly). On that, he used the Supermetal, and maybe
the Boss Flanger. The Rotovibe was a mistake for the people who tabbed In Utero. I am positive about this.
Kurt DID NOT use a Small Stone Phase Shifter. Never. Any "phasing" effects except Curmudgeon were created thru another
Sometime later, I will add a guide to the effects used on each song, including what effects were used on what live (like the solos
on the In Utero tour). Also, I'll add what songs Krist used his Rat on. I know there's more than the 4 mentioned here.
Well, I figured that this shouldn't be entirely Kurt-oriented. I'll add what I do know about Krist and Dave's stuff, but there's not
much. I would REALLY appreciate any information that you can provide for bass and drums.
There is a Krist Novoselic Bass FAQ circulating now, and although it's in its baby years, it looks to be pretty good once the
creator finishes it up.
I'll add Krist's bass info for the recording of each album.
If anyone has a copy of Dave's Modern Drummer interview/profile, whatever it was, I'd appreciate if you typed it up and sent it
to me. I know Dave liked Tama drums, but don't know the measurements of his cymbals, etc. He uses crash cymbals for
hi-hats, and plays with his drumsticks upside down.
IV: RECORDING OF BLEACH
Bleach was recorded in 3 different sessions, I believe. The first was the 1/23/88 session done with Dale Crover which Floyd
the Barber and Paper Cuts came from.
It is most likely that Kurt used his DS-1 on this, and a Univox, most probably #9. Kurt PROBABLY used a Peavey amp
(p.45, come as you are). Pictures from this era rarely depict an amp.
Chris had a Hohner bass that he borrowed from Greg Hokanson and a PMS amp, but appeared to be using a black w/white
pickguard Fender Jazz Bass at the time. Unless that Fender is really a hohner...?
The next sessions were the Love Buzz 7" sessions of 6/11/88. These sessions provided Love Buzz and Big Cheese to Bleach
(and also spank thru on Sub Pop 200, and Blandest).
Kurt, once again, probably used a Univox thru his DS-1, and probably into a Randall head driving some crappy cab.
By then, Chris had his Ibanez Black Eagle and may have used his Twin reverb.
Chad had a huge North drum kit with flared fiberglass shells.
The final sessions began on 12/24/88 and ended on 1/24/89 or so. These sessions produced Blew, About a Girl, School,
Negative Creep, Scoff, swap Meet, Sifting, and Mr. moustache.
Kurt probably had the same set-up he did for the Love Buzz 7" sessions, except may have used his favorite Bleach era guitar,
(other guitars #5) the red epiphone. I'll check my Bleach era videos to see what he was using, but I know he used this
Epiphone and his Gibson SG at the 1989 Tijuana show (whatever the date is for that).
Krist and chad both had the same set-ups.
V: THE RECORDING OF NEVERMIND
NOTE: This article was taken straight from Guitar World magazine:
The watery depths of open-string anguish, the toxic mixture of wattage plus aggression...Kurt Cobain's guitar
sound on Nirvana's Nevermind set the tone for Nineties rock music. The basic elements of this potent formula
were simple. Cobain's axes for the Nevermind session were a late-Sixties Mustang, a Jaguar with DiMarzio
pickups and several new Stratocasters with humbuckers in the bridge positions. His principal effects were a Boss
DS-1 distortion pedal and an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus, and his main amp was a Mesa/Boogie
"We also had a Fender Bassman that he used on about four songs and a Vox AC30 that we did some clean
tracks with," producer Butch Vig recalls. "I basically recorded the band live, and then we went back and doubled
some rhythm guitars and overdubbed some riffs and other things."
Vig used four mikes on Cobain's speaker cabinet: a Shure SM57, a Neumann U87, an AKG 414 and,
occasionally, a Sennheiser 421. For any given song, he'd select the best-sounding mike of the four and send its
signal through the Neve console at Sound City. The aforementioned Small Clone, says Vig, 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.' I believe we also used a ProCo Rat distortion pedal on some songs. We used an Electro Harmonix Big
Muff fuzz box through a Fender Bassman amp on 'Lithium,' to get that thumpier, darker sound. As I recall, we
used a U87 mike on that. We wanted something that was not so bright-a heavier sound."
Although it's not credited on the album, the hugely influential acoustic song, "Polly," was recorded at Vig's own
Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, during demo sessions for Nevermind. Cobain recorded "Polly" using a
very cheap no-name acoustic that had just five strings. "He'd never changed the guitar's strings," Vig recalls. "It
was tuned 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.'"
THAT IS THE END OF THE ARTICLE.
The "no-name" acoustic mentioned is Kurt's Stella (#5 on the acoustic guitar list). Krist used the Rat pedal for Breed and
When I have the time, I will update this and add my best guess at what guitars were used for what songs.
VI: THE RECORDING OF INCESTICIDE
Since a lot of Incesticide is pieced together from different sessions, a lot of them time it would be hard to tell what was used
when. I can try, though.
Dive: Recorded at Vig's Smart Studios at the same time Polly was. This was done in April 1990, so either a Univox or his
trusty Epiphone were used. Chad didn't use his North drums on this, so if anyone knows what drum kit he got after the Blew
sessions, please tell me. Krist probably used his Black Eagle on this. Same set-up as Bleach, almost.
Sliver: Done on July 11, 1990, with Danny Peters on drums. The band used Tad's bass, drums, and guitar for this song, so it is
pointless to mention.
Stain: Recorded at the Blew EP sessions. Chad's North kit was falling apart and this is the last time it was used, ever. Chris's
bass was trashed, and Kurt's guitar was also falling apart (probably the Epiphone, it wasn't around much longer).
Been a Son: Recorded in 1991 at a BBC session with Mark Goodier, Kurt had a Strat by then, but it may be a Univox. Dave
had joined, and probably used Tamas, and Krist may have used a Gibson Ripper bass, or that other Gibson (?) he had at that
time. If you know, e-mail me. Kurt was using Marshall cabs by then, too.
Turnaround: Recorded at a Peel session, October 1990. Probably done with almost identical equipment as Dive, but maybe
not. Krist used his Rat pedal FOR THIS SONG ONLY (not Molly's Lips or Son of a Gun).
Molly's Lips: Same as Turnaround
Son of a Gun: Same as Turnaround
(New Wave) Polly: Same as Been a Son
Beeswax, Downer, Mexican Seafood, Hairspray Queen, Aero Zeppelin: Same as the 1/23/88 sessions for the Bleach
Big Long Now: Session unknown. Done with Chad before Jason joined, so probably done at Bleach sessions. If so, same
equipment as the final Bleach sessions.
Aneurysm: Same as Been a Son. Small clone used for intro.
VII: RECORDING OF IN UTERO
Kurt stuck with his Jaguar for most of this album, but may have used the Ibanez Les Paul, if Earnie sent it to him. Doubtful,
though. his main effects for this were his DS-2, his Small Clone, is Echoflanger and Earnie's Polychorus. NO ROTOVIBE!
Kurt's main amp was a twin reverb, and for the acoustic guitar lines on Dumb, Pennyroyal Tea and All Apologies, Kurt used
the Stella, after it was fixed up. Chris used his Ripper thru a 200-watt Hi-Watt head (converted to accept KT90 tubes) into a
Marshall cabinet. Lots of mics were used on this album, especially on the drums. The pre-mixes (especially of Heart-Shaped
Box) are very rough, and were probably tweaked a bit (Scott Litt remixed Heart-Shaped Box and All Apologies, and later
Pennyroyal Tea) after recording.
VIII: RECORDING OF UNPLUGGED
THIS ARTICLE IS TAKEN FROM GUITAR WORLD MAGAZINE, MARCH 1995:
The images have already been burned into some deep, tender part of rock's collective consciousness: Kurt
Cobain, slumped over his Martin acoustic, his tattered librarian sweater and basketball sneakers, the clusters of
lillies, the subaquatic blue light...
Who can say why MTV chose to air Nirvana's Unplugged performance over and over, like a tape loop, in the
hours and days following the discovery of Cobain's lifeless body on April 8, 1994? Many fans might have
preferred some bracing footage of Nirvana fully amped up and defiantly live before a seething mosh pit. Instead,
there was Nirvana Unplugged, taped just five months before Cobain's death, and designated as the wake which,
through its repeated showings served to diffuse the rock community's grief and shock. The recent release of
Nirvana's MTV Unplugged In New York, the CD version of the television concert, was a mournful déjà vu
experience for many. It has become impossible to hear this music outside the context of Cobain's terrible end.
Seen, again and again, in the hours after the artist's death, the somber MTV gig had an oddly lulling effect. It may
have helped some viewers find a calm, quiet way to resign themselves to Cobain's violent departure. But the effect
was pretty spooky, too. It was as if the guy was singing at his own funeral. Or singing to us from some tranquil,
blue world beyond our own.
An eerie coincidence? Probably. But of the six cover songs Cobain chose to sing that evening, five mention death
in some way. And the lilies, candles and heavy drapery that adorned the Unplugged set that night were all chosen
by Cobain. In fact, when Unplugged producer Alex Coletti showed the Nirvana leader some preliminary sketches
for the stage set, Kurt called for more flowers, more candles.
"You mean like a funeral?" Coletti asked.
"Yeah," replied Cobain.
"I don't want to read too much into it," says Coletti in retrospect, "but that memory sure spooked me out a couple
of months later."
Apart from any of the show's real or imaginary morbid overtones, for Cobain, the opportunity to do MTV
Unplugged may well have meant the confirmation of his arrival as an important rock songwriter. "I'm embarrassed
saying this, but I'd like to be recognized more as a songwriter," Cobain told Details magazine in November of '93.
"I don't pay attention to polls and charts, but I thumb through them once in while and see, like, Eddie Vedder is
nominated number-one songwriter in some magazine, and I'm not even listed."
From its debut broadcast back in January of 1990, MTV Unplugged has always been a songwriters' forum. The
show gives tunesmiths an opportunity to strip away the high decibels and big production values and let their
compositions stand on their own melodic and lyrical integrity. In 1993 Nirvana had begun working some acoustic
numbers into their live set, "just to wind things down," Nirvana bassist Chris Novoselic told MTV News. "But
people still manage to writhe around and throw shoes and land headfirst over the barrier and crack their heads
Unplugged gave Nirvana a chance to test its acoustic mettle under slightly more favorable conditions. "I was
surprised but delighted when they said yes to doing the show," says Alex Coletti. Coletti had work-ed with
Nirvana once before. On January 10, 1992, when Nirvana were in New York City to do Saturday Night Live, he
had videotaped a live set with the band, "Various clips from that have been aired on MTV," Coletti notes, "but
never the whole thing. There were 10 or 11 songs, and there's stuff like `Molly's Lips,' `Stain,' and other great
stuff that's never been seen."
The January '92 taping was an impromptu session, knocked together at the last minute, but it gave Coletti some
useful insights into the band. "That one experience of working with Kurt showed me how sensitive he was as a
person. Some bands will just walk in and it's like, `Whatever. Point and shoot. Let's do it and get out of here.' But
Kurt seemed to like to take things and internalize them. I'd heard that he was something of a visual artist. So,
beyond making sure he was happy with the stage set, since he seemed to show some interest in it, I thought it
would be good if he had some creative input into it."
Early in the planning stages of their Unplugged appearance, Nirvana tour managers Alex MacLeod and Jeff
Mason acted as intermediaries between Cobain and Coletti, passing the guitarist's ideas and wishes on to the
producer. "Kurt wanted something that would break away from just the normal, dull TV set," says MacLeod. "He
didn't want it to look like just a bare stage. He had seen a lot of Unplugged shows before, and felt they weren't
really unplugged. His feeling was that a lot of the bands would just use semi-acoustic instruments and play their
songs exactly the same way they would if they were doing a full show. He wanted to make Nirvana's Unplugged
appearance slightly different, sort of a downbeat kind of set. Really laid back. To just go in and play a bunch of
songs and make changes to the arrangements to some extent. They tried to stick to acoustic instruments as much
as possible. Kurt wanted to make it something that would show a whole different side of the band."
After exchanging these preliminary ideas through MacLeod and Mason, Coletti felt the time was ripe for a
face-to-face meeting with Cobain. In November of '93, a few weeks before the taping, Coletti flew up to a
Nirvana gig in a remote part of New England, somewhere north of Boston. He was armed with rough sketches of
the stage set which embodied Cobain's ideas, and with his own personal Ovation semi-acoustic bass guitar. The
latter was meant to be loaned to Chris Novoselic in the event that the Nirvana bassist didn't have an "Unplugged
bass" of his own.
"It was not a glamorous backstage by any means," Coletti recalls. "The show was in a high school hockey arena.
After the show, the band went back to this room and had a catered meal. It was nothing fancy, just franks and
beans and a bottle of wine. There were a good dozen people in the room: the band and some friends. So I just
got thrown in this room and sat down next to Kurt. No one even bothered to introduce us or anything; it was sort
of an awkward situation. So I said, `Is this a bad time? Do you want to do this now or what?' But he immediately
became very friendly, like, `Oh, oh, the MTV thing. No, let's do it now.' I was prepared to give him the whole
Unplugged spiel, which is to talk about set lists, sound equipment and things. But it just seemed like it wasn't the
right time. So I simply said, `Hey look, I've got some set drawings.'"
Like many people who worked with Cobain in a professional capacity, Coletti describes the late guitarist as a
courteous collaborator, respectful of other people's expertise and quietly hopeful of being respected in turn. "He
gave us flexibility. He was pretty cooperative," says Coletti. "He did specify that he wanted star lilies, which are
these big, white flowers."
It was at this meeting that the ominous "funeral" remark went down. But before anyone could dwell on it, Chris
Novoselic burst into the room brandishing the Ovation bass Coletti had left for him. "He was like, `Look what I
got!' Like a big kid," Coletti narrates. "Kurt just looks up and says, `That's the ugliest fucking thing I've ever seen
in my life.' Chris is like, `Oh, man, I wanna use it on the show.' Kurt said, `Well maybe if we fuck it up and bash it
up and put some stickers on it....' And I went, `Umm, you can't do that, Kurt. That's mine!' He got really
apologetic, like, `I'm sorry. I didn't really mean the ugly crack.'"
The set list was another point of discussion, if not contention, between Nirvana and MTV. There were two
potential sore points between the parties. First, the band wanted to fill nearly half of their set with obscure covers.
"Right away," recalls Alex MacLeod, "we started sorting out how many covers there would be time for, how
many songs MTV wanted them to do in total. Just general things like that.
Also disturbing for MTV was the fact that-with the exception of "Come As You Are"-the band wasn't planning to
perform any big, instantly recognizable Nirvana hits. "We knew we didn't want to do an acoustic version of `Teen
Spirit,'" drummer Dave Grohl later commented. "That would've been horrendously stupid. We felt it would be
better if we found other songs."
According to MacLeod, there was also a practical side to the band's decision not to perform many hits: "They
were like, `We'd love to do that, but a lot of those songs would be really dull if we were to do them that way.
They didn't really work acoustically.' The band just thought that there were other songs better-suited to the
The decision to do so many covers reflects a selfless (some would say insecure) desire on Cobain's part to share
the spotlight with other songwriters. He was a tireless proselytizer for bands he really loved, like the Vaselines,
Scottish buzz-pop supremos led by Eugene Kelly, who now fronts the band Eugenius. Nirvana had covered
Vaselines tunes in the past, including "Molly's Lips" and "Son Of A Gun." (These early recordings were later
collected on the Incesticide CD.)
The Meat Puppets were another of Kurt's obsessions. "He told me the second Meat Puppets album [Meat
Puppets II (SST)]was great," Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, recalled in a December '94 interview with Rolling
Stone. "I couldn't stand [the album]. Then he played [those songs] to me-his voice, his cadence and his timing.
And I realized he was right."
Thanks to Unplugged, Cobain's fans got a chance to replicate Love's experience. Kurt's performance of the
Puppets' "Plateau," "Oh Me" and "Lake Of Fire" have a ragged vulnerability that's far more personal and affecting
than any calculated run-through of "Teen Spirit" could have been. In retrospect, there was solid wisdom in
Coletti's decision to weather his MTV superiors' pressure to see Nirvana play their hits and honor Cobain's
"Kurt said he really enjoyed those Meat Puppets songs because he really had to push his voice," Coletti observes.
"Like he didn't feel good singing them. He picked them purposely because they were challenging vocally for him."
Many of the decisions about songs and arrangements went down at two day-long rehearsals held prior to the day
of taping. "They were at the SST rehearsal facility in New Jersey," Alex MacLeod recalls. "We brought our own
monitor system in. Also, because we were on tour at the time, they were working on stuff during soundcheck.
Kurt worked on his own, too."
Since the Meat Puppets were on tour with Nirvana at the time, and Cobain was planning to sing three of their
tunes, it seemed a natural move to invite the two principal Puppets, siblings Curt and Cris Kirkwood, to come
lend a hand on acoustic guitars. "Why not?" Novoselic later quipped. "We weren't learning their songs right
Back at MTV HQ, the decision to include the Meat Puppets in the broadcast was hardly greeted with jubilation.
Alex Coletti recalls: "I said to MTV, `They're going to bring some guests on.' And at first everybody's eyes lit up,
like, `Who's it gonna be?' They wanted to hear the `right' names-Eddie Vedder or Tori Amos or God knows
who. But when I said, `the Meat Puppets,' it was kind of like, `Oh, great. They're not doing any hits, and they're
inviting guests who don't have any hits to come play. Perfect.'"
Nirvana seemed intent on bringing sonic variety to their set. Along with the Kirkwood brothers, they also included
cellist Lori Goldston and former Germs guitarist Pat Smear, both of whom had been playing with Nirvana on tour.
Covering the Vaselines' "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam" gave Chris Novoselic a chance to put down
his bass and strap on an accordion. The accordion, he told MTV News, "was the first instrument I learned when I
was young. And Kurt bought one, this really neat red one. And I go, `Hey, check this out.' And I put it on and
started playing it. And then we were starting to screw around with rehearsals for Unplugged and we did `Jesus
Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam.' There's this violin or organ [on the original recording] and I go, `I know. I'll
play the accordion on in this song!' I picked it up and started playing, and it sounded really cool."
Despite the band's preparations, Alex MacLeod describes their overall mood as "nervous" as the day of the show
approached: "It was the first time in a long while I'd seen them all so nervous about doing something. Things had
gotten to the point where they'd go out playing in front of 7,500 or 10,000 people and it was just like [very
nonchalantly], `Okay, boom, let's do it.' But they were really nervous about doing Unplugged. Because they were
really leaving themselves wide open."
As Alex Coletti remembers it, Dave Grohl and Chris Novoselic were the first to turn up at Sony Music Studios, at
54th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan, on November 18th, 1993. It was around 3:00 in the afternoon, the
appointed time for Unplugged's pre-show camera rehearsal/ soundcheck. Concerned with Grohl's propensity to
hit the drums really hard, Coletti presented him with some brushes and sizzle sticks, a type of stick used in
classical percussion which consists of several slender dowels loosely wrapped and which creates a softer impact
than a solid drumstick. Since it was around the holiday season, Coletti had the sticks wrapped up in Christmas
"I figured I'd be remembered forever as the dick MTV producer," Coletti laughs. "I was afraid Dave would just
roll his eyes, like, `Oh great, the asshole from MTV is trying to be my friend.' But instead he opened the package
and said, `Cool, I've never had brushes before. I've never even tried using them.' As it turned out, he used both
the sticks and the brushes, which helped [audio producer] Scott Litt out immensely, I believe. It's nice that the
band was so amenable to trying new things."
In the end, Novoselic didn't use Coletti's Ovation bass, but rather a Guild acoustic/electric bass rented from
S.I.R. in New York-an instrument that has been used on other episodes of Unplugged. Pat Smear played an
inexpensive, red-white-and-blue Buck Owens model guitar that belongs to Novoselic and had been extensively
reworked by Nirvana guitar technician Earnie Bailey "to get it to sound like a guitar and not a kid's toy," as Alex
MacLeod puts it.
Up in the soundbooth sat noted record producer Scott Litt (R.E.M., John Mellencamp), who had remixed two
tracks from In Utero and worked with Nirvana on MTV's Live And Loud New Years' Eve show. (Litt, who was
there as the show's audio producer, went on to produce the Unplugged In New York CD.) The band and cellist
Lori Goldston were already on stage when Cobain arrived, notably unaccompanied by Courtney. "I think that
was planned," says Alex Coletti. "I think he was a little too nervous to have Courtney and the baby there."
For the show, Cobain played a Martin D-18E that he had purchased at Voltage Guitar in Los Angeles during the
fall of '93, and which had become his main acoustic. With his characteristic flair for the oddball, the guitarist had
picked up a rare misfit. The D-18E, one of Martin's earliest stabs at an electrified guitar, is essentially a D-18
acoustic with two pickups, three control knobs and a selector switch grafted on. Introduced in 1958, it was
discontinued in 1959; only 302 were ever produced. The instrument was the perfect acoustic for Cobain, a
counterpart to the trashed old Mustangs and Jaguars he favored, not to mention the thrift shop clothes and doll
parts he accumulated.
But unlike his beautifully threadbare cardigans, this Cobain cast-off had some real intrinsic value: "I don't believe
he had any idea how rare it was before he bought it," says Earnie Bailey. "Kurt was neither a collector nor a
connoisseur of rare guitars. I think he saw the D-18E as an oddity, hoping it would sound as good as it looked.
Unfortunately, the instrument's DeArmond pickups were designed with nickel strings in mind, so hearing it with
bronze-wound strings was pretty disappointing. Our solution was to attach yet another pickup-a Bartolini model
3AV-to the top of the Martin. Kurt first became interested in that pickup when he saw Peter Buck using one and
really liked the sound."
While the usual Unplugged procedure is for acoustic guitars to run direct, Cobain insisted on putting his Martin
through his trusty Fender Twin Reverb amp and his usual array of effects boxes.
"Maybe I shouldn't give this secret away," Alex Coletti says with a laugh, "but I built a fake box out in front of the
amp to make it look like a monitor wedge. It was Kurt's security blanket. He was used to hearing this guitar
through his Fender. He wanted those effects. You can hear it on `The Man Who Sold The World.' It's an
acoustic guitar, but he's obviously going through an amp. There's no trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. I
actually fought pretty hard to leave that song out [of the final edit of the show], because I felt it wasn't as genuine
as the rest of the songs. But I'm a huge Bowie fan, so I couldn't fight too hard against the song."
As a concession to the Unplugged aesthetic, Earnie Bailey did modify the amp for the show: "To keep the Twin as
clean as possible, I switched the 7025 power tubes to 12AX7's and substituted the 12AT7 phase inverter to a
12AU7. By the time Kurt showed up, everything was pretty much dialed in, right down to listening to the pickup
balance from the control room."
It is standard Unplugged procedure to videotape the camera rehearsal/soundcheck for each show. Nirvana's
Unplugged rehearsal tape is packed with revelations. More than anything else, Cobain looks tired. His face
reflects that unmistakable road weariness that takes hold of musicians after months and months of dealing with
strange places, strange situations and even stranger people. Throughout the rehearsal, Cobain's mood varies from
low-keyed bitchiness over technical foul-ups to a kind of deadpan, humorous take on the whole proceeding. He
calls the second number of the rehearsal, "About A Girl," to an abrupt halt, demanding, "How many more times is
that fuckin' feedback gonna happen when I turn my head to the left?" Later on he calls for Finger-ease to help him
smooth out the song's solo: "You know that goofy-ass stuff? It's like anal gel." He later explains that he'd never
used the fretboard lubricant before, but that his "country and western aunt" used to do so. He nevertheless knows
enough to specify that he wants the roll-on rather than the spray. "God, I'm being picky today," he says with mock
The whole band seem mildly amused at receiving the superstar treatment from MTV. "Uh, my candle went out.
Can somebody please light it?" Dave Grohl demands at one point with stagey hyper-professionalism. "This
fucking sand is ridiculous," Cobain says of the substance in which the candelabra and vases were anchored.
What also comes across unmistakably on the videotape is the extent to which Cobain was in charge of Nirvana.
He tells Dave Grohl when he's singing flat and directs him to play louder at several junctures. He directs Pat
Smear not to keep changing his amp volume. And although he is known for the punkish nonchalance of his guitar
approach, the rehearsal tape shows that Cobain could be quite obsessive about tone and guitar equipment. He
enters into a lengthy debate with one technician over the various qualities of his two Electro-Harmonix Echo
Flangers. Later he asks about the feasibility of acquiring replacement machine heads for his Martin. "These aren't
good machine heads," he sadly observes.
As the rehearsal progresses, the trouble spots in the set soon become obvious. One is the aforementioned "The
Man Who Sold The World." Cobain can't seem to get past the first chorus without blowing the chord changes.
"Sorry," he tells the others. The band tries the song again and again, but never manages to get all the way through
it. In the end they decide to move on.
"What should we do next, Scott?" shouts Cobain into the darkness above his head. Of all the people on the set,
Litt is the only one to whom he seems to defer. The band moves on to a flawless performance of "Polly" and get
halfway through "Dumb" before a monitor snafu again brings things to a halt. "MTV Poltergeist," Cobain quips.
Trouble rears its ugly head once more when they move on to "Pennyroyal Tea." Pat Smear persists in resolving his
chorus harmony vocal to a flagrantly wrong note. Again, the band attempts the song repeatedly, with no success.
They try it with Grohl playing Smear's guitar so he can concentrate on his harmony. That doesn't work either. The
situation grows increasingly tense, before the band again decides to move on without resolving the problem.
"Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam" comes off infinitely better. But Cobain still seems uneasy. He calls out
for someone named Amy (perhaps the Amy Finnerty mentioned in the Unplugged CD liner notes): "Amy, can you
sit in the front when we play?" Cobain asks. "You and Janet and everyone I know? [Presumably Janet Billig, from
Nirvana's management company.] 'Cause I hate strangers."
The onstage arrival of Cris and Curt Kirkwood, "The Brothers Meat," lightens the mood considerably. Their three
numbers go well, and the rehearsal closes with a confident reading of "All Apologies." Nirvana leave the stage
having assayed 11 of the 14 songs in their set.
According to Alex MacLeod, the post-soundcheck vibe was fairly tense: "They were still like, `Oh my God, we
haven't rehearsed enough. Oh shit, we're gonna blow this totally.'" After leaving the stage, the band retired to a
room upstairs at the Sony facility for a two-hour dinner break. Over the meal, the delicate question of the set list
again presented itself. Alex Coletti narrates: "There was this whole subtext of `try to get Kurt to do more hit
songs' that prevailed throughout the day among myself, my boss and management. The other thing was we were
really pressuring Scott Litt, like, `Hey, see if you can get more songs out of them, or better songs.' Again, I'm not
saying it was the right thing to do. I think what we got was great. Kurt just chose to take a different road with it. I
guess it wasn't the road we were all in synch on. Not that he went in a bad direction at all."
At 8:30 that evening, the audience was "loaded in," as they say at MTV. As it turned out, many of the front row
seats were given to New York-area Nirvana fan club members-probably not familiar faces to Cobain, but far
from hostile ones. Taping began at nine. Somehow, magically, the rough spots from soundcheck seemed to simply
vanish. "I guarantee you I will screw this song up," Cobain nervously announces before starting "The Man Who
Sold The World." But he doesn't. The "Pennyroyal Tea" problem resolves itself nicely too. "Am I doing this by
myself or what?" Cobain demands. "Do it yourself," Dave Grohl calls out, deftly seizing the moment. This
impromptu arrangement decision contributed greatly to the show's informal, intimate vibe. Cobain turns in a
memorable performance of a song that was always one of his most affecting statements about his own ailment and
From here on in, Cobain seems to grow more relaxed and confident. One of the recurring themes of jokes during
soundcheck-MTV's "superstar treatment"-winds up working well during the show too. "Aren't we, like, a rich
rock band?" Cobain cracks as everyone waits for one of the Meat Puppets' guitars to be brought out. "Shouldn't
we have a million guitars?"
Despite the informal, jokey vibe, Coletti recalls that the Nirvana Unplugged shoot was remarkably tight and
hassle-free. "With most Unplugged's, we tend to run through the set, have a chat and then do a few songs over
again. But this was truly one take-every song, straight through, in one hour. We didn't have to change tapes,
which is a rarity. Usually we have to stop and put up a second load of audio and video tapes to get the last few
songs. But this was really tight-something like 56 minutes from start to finish."
Cobain pulled out all the stops on the final song-a riveting version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," a
traditional tune recorded by another of his musical heroes, the American folksinging archetype Leadbelly. Having
done pained, screaming justice to the death-haunted ballad, Cobain left the stage, never to return.
"I really tried to get him to do an encore," Alex Coletti remembers. "I had Dave, Chris and Pat ready to do it. But
Kurt just wasn't into it. I was just doing my job for MTV at that point, trying to get that one extra song in the can,
to see if the night could produce one more gem. The pleading went on for about five minutes. Finally Kurt said, `I
can't top that last song.' And when he said that, I backed off. 'Cause I knew he was right."
IX: ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS
I have added several articles and interviews to this. All are guitar-oriented, and most are, if nothing else, a humourous read.
Kurt enjoyed playing around with the guitar interviewers, but I do believe that on this first one, especially, the interviewer was
going along with it too. Jeff Gilbert writes the hilarious "Metal Detector" column for Guitar World, and was probably going
along with Kurt for the interview. At least, I hope he was.
SMELLS LIKE TEEN IDOL
Kurt Cobain explains why Nirvana, third hand guitars and all, is suddenly the hottest band in the country. By Jeff
From: Guitar World Presents: Nirvana & The Seattle Sound Interview originally from Guitar World February
"We're just musically and rhythmically retarded" asserts Kurt Cobain, guitarist,
vocalist and chief songwriter for Nirvana. "We play so hard that we
can't tune our guitars fast enough. People can relate to that."
Seems reasonable enough, considering that Nevermind, the Seattle trio's major label debut, has
become one of the hottest out-of-the-box albums in the country. Fueled by the contagious hit single,
"Smells Like Teen Spirit," the spirited album turned gold a mere five weeks after its release, and
leaped past both volumes of Guns N' Roses Illusions just one month later. But their sudden,
platiunum-bound popularity probably has more to do with the bands infectious, dirty riffs and wry
lyrical hooks than with their roughly played, out-of-tune guitars, of which Cobain is so proud.
"We sound like the Bay City Rollers after an assault by Black Sabbath." continues the guitarist in his
nasty smoker's hack. "And," he expectorates, "we vomit onstage better than anyone!"
Nirvana began their career with 1989's Bleach (Sub Pop), an intensely physical melange of untuned
metal, drunk punk, and Seventies pop, written from the perspective of a college drop-out. The
album's other notable distinction was that it was recorded in three days for $600. Nevermind,
costing considerably more than six bills, is Nirvana's major-label, power-punk/pop masterpiece,
awash in slashing, ragged guitar riffs, garbled lyrics and more teen spirit than you can shake a Kiss
Guitar World: MTV thinks Nirvana is a metal band.
Kurt Cobain: That's fine; let them be fooled! I don't have anything against Headbanger's Ball, but it's strange to
see our faces on MTV.
GW: Kirk Hammett is a huge Nirvana fan.
Cobain: That's real flattering. We met him recently and he's a real nice guy. We talked about the Sub Pop scene,
heavy metal and guitars.
GW: Speaking of guitars, you seem to favor low-end models.
Cobain: I don't favor them-I can afford them. [laughs] I'm left-handed, and it's not very easy to find reasonably
priced, high-quality left-handed guitars. But out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my
favorite. I've only owned two of them.
GW: What is it about them that works for you?
Cobain: They're cheap and totally inefficient, and they sound like crap and are very small. They also don't stay in
tune, and when you want to raise the string action on the fretboard, you have to loosen all the strings and
completely remove the bridge. You have to turn these little screws with your fingers and hope that you've
estimated it right. If you screw up, you have to repeat the whole process over and over until you get it right.
Whoever invented that guitar was a dork.
GW: It was Leo Fender.
Cobain: I guess I'm calling Leo Fender, the dead guy, a dork. Now I'll never get an endorsement. [laughs] We've
been offered a Gibson endorsement, but I can't find a Gibson I like.
GW: Is the Mustang your only guitar?
Cobain: No, I own a '66 Jaguar. That's the guitar I polish and baby-I refuse to let anyone touch it when I jump
into the crowd. [laughs] Lately, I've been using a Strat Live, because I don't want to ruin my Mustang yet. I like to
use Japanese Strats because they're a bit cheaper, and the frets are smaller than the American versions.
GW: The acoustic guitar you play on "Polly" sounds flat.
Cobain: That's a 20-dollar junk shop Stella-I didn't bother changing the strings. [laughs] It barely stays in tune. In
fact, I have to use duct tape to hold the tuning keys in place.
GW: Considering how violently you play the guitar. I have to assume you use pretty heavy-duty strings.
Cobain: Yeah. And I keep blowing up amplifiers, so I use whatever I can find at junk shops-junk is always best.
GW: What was the last amp you blew up?
Cobain: A Crown power amp that was intended for use as a PA, but which I used for a guitar's head because I
can never find an amp that's powerful enough-and because I don't want to have to deal with hauling 10 Marshall
heads. I'm lazy-I like to have it all in one package. For a preamp I have a Mesa/Boogie, and I turn all the
mid-range up. And I use Radio Shack speakers.
GW: How reliable is this setup? It doesn't seem like it would be that durable, especially in view of all the touring
Cobain: It works out okay. The sound changes with every club we play in, but I'm never satisfied. I think the
sound I get is mainly a result of the Roland EF-1 distortion box I use. I go through about five a tour.
GW: Ever get the urge to use a twang bar?
Cobain: No. Anybody that plays guitar knows that only Jimi Hendrix was able to use the standard tremolo and
still keep it in tune. Those things are totally worthless. I do have one on a Japanses Strat, but I don't use it.
GW: Your first album, Bleach, was recorded for $600; how much did Nevermind run you?
Cobain: [laughs] I don't remember, I've got Alzheimer's. Please don't ask us how much our video cost; that's a
hell of an embarrassment. We definitely could have used some film student, who would've done just as good of a
END OF INTERVIEW
Along with this interview is a picture of some of Kurt's guitars at the time. Very cool. It has his Jaguar (Jaguar #1), the
Ferrington Mustang, a white Strat with a hot-rail, a sunburst strat with a hot-rail, his 69 competition Mustang, his painted blue
Telecaster, and Krist's Ibanez Black Eagle bass.
THIS IS AN INTERVIEW FROM FENDER FRONTLINE MAGAZINE:
Tribute to a Reluctant Guitar Hero
By Chuck Crisafulli
The music world suffered a tremendous and untimely loss this April when Nirvana's Kurt Cobain took his own life
at the age of 27. The guitarist, singer, and songwriter was a troubled and fragile soul, but he was also an inspiring
and talented artist, and his small, powerful legacy of work will no doubt continue to shape the sounds of rock for
years to come.
A few weeks before his death, while the band was still on their last tour in Europe, Cobain agreed to answer
some interview questions for Fender Front line. Understandably, Kurt wasn't all that eager to submit to interviews
at the time, but the idea was to get away from prodding him about any of the more sensational rumors swirling
about the band and to just let him speak frankly about his music. He graciously consented. He was also beginning
to experiment with special hybrid 'Jag-Stang' guitars -half Jaguar, half Mustang- that he had helped design, so he
was asked about his experiences with the new instrument.
Even the most jaded chart-watchers are going to have to concede that Nirvana made some thrilling sounds in its
short history. Bleach, Nevermind, and In Utero hold up as potent, original works that, at their finest moments,
deliver all the exhilarating thrills that rock and roll is supposed to. It is unfortunate and deeply saddening that
Cobain chose to leave us so soon. He will be missed.
CHUCK: Nirvana has become a Big Rock Story, but the music still seems to be the most important part of the
story. How proud are you of the band's work?
KURDT: It's interesting, because while there's a certain selfish gratification in having any number of people buy
your records and come to see you play - none of that holds a candle to simply hearing a song that I've written
played by a band. I'm not talking about radio or MTV. I just really like playing these songs with a good drummer
and bass player. Next to my wife and daughter, there's nothing that brings me more pleasure.
CHUCK: Is it always a pleasure for you to crank up the guitar, or do you ever do battle with the instrument?
KURDT: The battle is the pleasure. I'm the first to admit that I'm no virtuoso. I can't play like Segovia. The flip
side of that is that Segovia could probably never have played like me.
CHUCK: With Pat Smear playing guitar in the touring lineup, has your approach to the instrument changed much?
KURDT: Pat has worked out great from day one. In addition to being one of my closest friends, Pat has found a
niche in our music that compliments what was already there without forcing any major changes. I don't see myself
ever becoming Mick Jagger, but having Pat on stage has freed me to spend more time connecting with the
audience. I've become more of a showman. Well maybe that's going too far. Let's just say that having Pat to hold
down the rhythm allows me to concentrate on the performance as a whole. I think it's improved our live show
CHUCK: On In Utero and in concert, you play some of the most powerful "anti-solos" ever hacked out of a
guitar. What comes to mind for you when it's time for the guitar to cut loose?
KURDT: Less than you could ever imagine.
CHUCK: Krist [Novoselic] and Dave [Grohl] do a great job of helping to bring your songs to life. How would
you describe the role of each player, including yourself, in the Nirvana sound?
KURDT: While I can do a lot by switching channels on my amp, it's Dave who really brings the physicality to the
dynamics in our songs. Krist is great at keeping everything going along at some kind of even keel. I'm just the
folk-singer in the middle.
CHUCK: You're a very passionate performer. Do you have to feel the tenderness and rage in your songs in order
to perform them?
KURDT: That's tough because the real core of any tenderness or rage is tapped the very second that a song is
written. In a sense, I'm only recreating the purity of that particular emotion every time I play that particular song.
While it gets easier to summon those emotions with experience, it's a sort of dishonesty that you can never
recapture the emotion of a song completely each time you play it.
CHUCK: It must be a very odd feeling for Nirvana to be performing in sports arenas these days. How do you get
along with the crowds your attracting now?
KURDT: Much better than I used to. When we first started to get successful, I was extremely judgemental of the
people in the audience. I held each of them to a sort of punk rock ethos. It upset me that we were attracting and
entertaining the very people that a lot of my music was a reaction against. I've since become much better at
accepting people for who they are. Regardless of who they were before they came to the show, I get a few hours
to try and subvert the way they view the world. It's not that I'm trying to dictate, it's just that I am afforded a
certain platform on which I can express my views. At the very least, I always get the last word.
CHUCK: Do you see a long, productive future for the band?
KURDT: I'm extremely proud of what we've acomplished together. Having said that however, I don't know how
long we can continue as Nirvana without a radical shift in direction. I have lots of ideas and ambitions that have
nothing to do with the mass conception of "grunge" that has been force-fed to the record buying public for the last
few years. Whether I will be able to do everything I want to do as a part of Nirvana remains to be seen. To be
fair, I also know that both Krist and Dave have musical ideas that may not work in the context of Nirvana. We're
all tired of being labeled. You can't imagine how stifling it is.
CHUCK: You've made it clear that you're not particulary comfortable being a "rock star", but one of the things
that tracks like Heart-Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea on In Utero make clear is that you're certainly a
heavyweight when it comes to songwriting. You may have job sometimes, but is the writing process pleasurable
and satisfying for you?
KURDT: I think it becomes less pleasurable and satisfying when I think of it in terms of my "job". Writing is the
one part that is not a job, it's expression. Photo shoots, interviews...that's the real job part.
Having trouble figuring out the guitar that Kurt Cobain was sawing away at on stage? You're not suffering from
double vision - or half vision for that matter. 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 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
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 attatched. 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".
END OF ARTICLE
I would have also added the interview from Guitar World October 1996, but they talk very little about guitars and it would be
unnecessary. If anyone has the interview with Musician magazine (where Kurt says he plays with piano strings), could you type
it up and send it to me, or at least find a copy on the web? I'd appreciate it. Thanks.
X: CLOSING COMMENTS
This is what I know. I am always eager to receive more information. Please don't hesitate to send me something which you
think may be important. I will update this constantly. I will watch my videos, see what amps/guitars were used at what shows. I
have little knowledge of bass guitar models, so if you know what bass is which model, please tell me (give a reference,
example: p. 163, Come as you are, Gibson Ripper). however, if you pester me with comments saying that Kurt used a
Rotovibe or a Small Stone, which I have already proven to be false, then I will not answer you. Big deal, huh?
I hope that this will be used as a guide to what was used, and people will appreciate the effort I put into it (not all of this info
came from Earnie, honest!). I will add more, so send suggestions as to what you would like to see in it. Because I have no web
page, it is difficult to update this, then send it out AGAIN, so please send this to every page you can find.
DO NOT, however, use anyone of this information on a file of your own without FIRST e-mailing me, then giving me credit. I
am not trying to be greedy about this, I'm not trying to hog the glory (hehe..whatever), I simply would like to have sufficient
credit given for my effort and time.
I cannot stress how much I want to receive e-mail about this. Please, send me your thoughts, corrections, additions, anything.
Helping to keep the music alive and Kurt in our hearts.
)                   ( geocities.com/sunsetstrip