Nirvana Equipment FAQ v1.3


Kurt Cobain's Equipment


Version 1.3
Last Updated: 27-Nov-94


Compiled by, and copyright 1994 by Ralph Smith (ralphclysmic@delphi.com or 76156.164@compuserve.com).

I'm sure this is document is incomplete, but its a start. Anyone with more information can contact me at the above addresses. If you do, _please_ cite your sources for all information - I'd rather have facts than opinions. Thanks.

This document is posted to alt.music.nirvana, alt.music.alternative, rec.music.makers.guitar, alt.guitar, and the data library of the Rocknet forum on CompuServe.

Guitars

Kurt played guitar left-handed, mostly using left-handed guitars, but sometimes using a right-handed guitar strung for a lefty and played "upside-down." If a right-handed guitar is mentioned in this document, it was being played this way.

He favored assorted Fender Mustangs; [8] including a medium blue with mother-of-pearl pickguard [1], red with red-swirl mother-of-bowling-ball pickguard. [2] He said that his favorite guitar was a Mustang. [7]

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 four knobs on the guitar, the lower switches taped over with duct tape - especially seen on tours circa 1991. [6,10] The replacement pickups were supposedly DiMarzio Super Distortion and Seymour Duncan "Custom" humbuckers. [12]

There were occasional Stratocasters (Japanese preferred, because of lower price and smaller frets [10]); an all-white and an all-black have been seen in photos. Occasional Telecasters (not often, apparently). Also various random, cheap guitars. [3,8] 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). [17]

A $20 pawnshop "Stella" acoustic guitar [8] which was supposedly used to record "Polly."

The MTV Unplugged appearance [9] 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. [9,19]

The Ferrington Guitar

Master 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. [18]

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."

The Jag-Stang 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.'" [4]

The "Jag-stang," was seen starting in mid-to-late 1993. [4] An early Jag-stang or a modified Mustang w/ humbucking pickups in the bridge position is shown on the MTV New Year's Show. [5] Its body closely resembles a Mustang and it doesn't look like the Jag-stang shown in the Fender magazine. [4] 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." [13] 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 of this writing, there are tentative plans for Fender to mass-produce Jag-stangs in Mexico. They may be introduced at the NAMM show in January 1995. [20]

Guitar Destruction

An often unnoted aspect of Nirvana's equipment destruction was that Kurt often switched to a (presumably) expendable guitar for the last song, then trashed it. It would be wrong to think he didn't like certain guitars. He even spoke of the '66 Mustang as a guitar he "babys" and won't let anyone else touch.

In the MTV New Year's Eve show, he switched to a black Stratocaster for the last song/destruction. [5]

"On tour, they'd find cheap guitars at pawnshops -
sometimes fans would give them a guitar or in a pinch
Jonathan Poneman [from SubPop records] would Fed Ex one
out to them - and string them left-handed and smash
them that night." [14]

I've seen Courtney Love of Hole switch guitars for the encore (she played only one guitar up until that point), then stage-dive with the "encore" guitar.

Effects

* Roland (BOSS) DS-1 distortion pedal [7] - Kurt always referred to these as "Roland" pedals, rather than BOSS
* Roland (BOSS) DS-2 Turbo distortion pedal [6,8] * "Roland EF-1 distortion" (probably a transcription error for the DS-1) - "I go though about five a tour..." [10]
* Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phase shifter [7]
* A silver-gray DOD pedal with blue lettering and four knobs on top. Best guess: the DOD FX75B (or similar model) Stereo Flanger [5]
* Tech 21 SansAmp amp-simulator box [5]
* DOD Phase shifter pedal [12]
* Dunlop Rotovibe [12, 15]

Kurt probably didn't use much chorus, but I'm not sure about that. [12]

Amplification

* MESA/Boogie preamp [7,8,10] - he turned "all the midrange up" [10]
* 4 Crown 800W power sources (power amps) [7,10]
* Carver power amp [8]
* Mesa/Boogie Mark III heads and 4x12 cabs [12]
* Small, red vinyl Marshall head and cabinet, along with several large black Marshall cabinets [5]

Miscellaneous

Nirvana were offered a Gibson endorsement, but Kurt couldn't find a Gibson he liked. [10]

I've almost always seen pictures of Kurt using Ernie Ball straps, in solid black or solid white [3]

Kurt claimed to use a Radio Shack burglar alarm [7] and Radio Shack speakers. [10] 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. [7]

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. [11] 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?" [16]

Thanks to:

Joe Hartley, Mark Saucier, The Rev. Justin A. Redd, and John Dee.

End Notes

1. Concert video: "Hollywood Rock" festival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1993
2. Still photographs: Roseland new music seminar performance in NYC, 24-Jul-93
3. Various still photographs
4. Magazine: 'Fender Frontline,' Fall 1994 (Vol. 14)
5. Video: MTV's New Year's 'Live and Loud', taped 17-Dec-93 at Pier 47 in Seattle, WA, shown on 31-Dec-93
6. Still photographs: 'Nirvana' (Suzi Black, Omnibus Press) 1992
7. Magazine interview: 'Musician,' January 1992
8. Magazine interview: 'Guitar Player,' February 1992
9. Video: 'MTV Unplugged,' Fall 1993. Audio: 'MTV Unplugged in New York' (DGC, DGCD-24727) 1994
10. Magazine interview: 'Guitar World presents Alternative Guitar,' Spring 1994 (interview seems to date from the period right around when Nevermind was released)
11. Music video: "Doll Parts" by Hole (DGC Video) 1994
12. Email discussion with various people
13. Magazine: 'Guitar Shop,' Summer 1994. A review of the 15-Nov-93 show at the New York Coliseum, NYC.
14. Book: 'Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana' (Michael Azerrad, Doubleday) October 1993
15. Sheet music book: 'In Utero' (Hal-Leonard pub.) 1994
16. Music video: "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" by R.E.M. (Warner Bros. Video) 1994
17. Music video: "Heart-Shaped Box" (DGC Video) 1993
18. Book: "Ferrington Guitars, Featuring the Custom-made Guitars of Master Luthier Danny Ferrington" (HarperCollins and Callaway Editions) 1992
19. Magazine: 'Vintage Gallery: Collectable Guitars & Amps,' October 1994, p. 47
20. Telephone conversation with Fender Musical Instruments, 4-Nov-94. Its not yet decided whether the Jag- stang will be commerically produced. If you wish to encourage Fender to produce the Jag-stang, write a letter to:
Dan Smith
Vice President of Marketing
Fender Musical Instrument Corp.
7975 N. Hayden Rd.
Suite C100
Scottsdale, AZ 85258