Geek magazine hacker daily blog

1 year, 11 months ago
Discussion: As Kurt Cobain modified the guitarRecently I began to listen to Nirvana group and noticed that the sound of guitars in their songs differs from what can usually be heard in modern groups. It is especially noticeable at the beginning of the song "Rape Me".

I not really understand music and I will be very grateful if somebody explains how Kurt Cobain modified the guitar to receive such unique sound?

Whether other participants of group, except Curt did, similar modifications with the tools for achievement of such effect? If yes, that what?

Mathew Russell (Matthew Russell): For a start to be necessary to note that the most part of the existence of Nirvana was unknown and poor group. Therefore they tried to save as much as possible on purchase of the equipment. Their tools were good, but not impressive quality and, most likely, second-hand.

For the life Curt used different guitars. It could be noticed often with a guitar of Stratocaster released the Fender company (one photo higher).

Jaguar guitar:

Discussion: As Kurt Cobain modified the guitar

Mustang guitar:

Discussion: As Kurt Cobain modified the guitar

… and the most known guitar of Jagstang which combined qualities of guitars of Jaguar and Mustang. It is represented in drawing lower which was made by Cobain:

Discussion: As Kurt Cobain modified the guitar

Also he used also other guitars, for example, of Univox, the copy of Mosrite. It proves that any guitar can sound as Kurt Cobain's guitar if on it Kurt Cobain plays. Guitarists often say that everything depends only on the one who plays the guitar, and to some extent it is the truth.

Guitars of Jaguar and Mustang at that time were not really popular as all groups tried to imitate such giants as Van Halen or Guns &Roses; which used absolutely other brands of tools. For this reason the supported guitars of Fender could be purchased at very low price.

Installation of a hambaker, instead of standard singles was the main modification which Curt made for the guitars. The sound received by means of hambaker normally more powerfully, more volume and has the expressed emphasis on mid frequencies. They are twice more than singles (compare the size of a black hambaker on Stratocaster'e to two normal white sound pickups on pictures above) therefore to put the hambaker on the guitar intended for use of singles was required to remove upper protective part from a sound board of a guitar or even to cut a sound board.

Such modification was done with Curt's Jaguar'om (on the picture above), but not it did it, and the previous owner of a guitar. Sometimes Curt used sound pickups of Seymour Duncan Hot Rails - it is the hambaker reduced to the single sizes. They could be set on Fender guitars without special problems. He also used sound pickups of Seymour Duncan JB if construction of a guitar allowed to make it.

To receive such sound, Curt modified not only guitars, but also other equipment. I found information that Cobain trifled with the choice of the equipment and used very different components. During rounds the preamplifier of Mesa Boogie and separate amplifiers of low frequency were its normal equipment. This system caused many problems to command of technicians who despaired to convince Curt to use something more reliable.

Also he used BOSS DS-1 and DS-2, pedals of effects of Distortion, and the chorus-pedal of Electro Harmonix Small Clone which is let out in 1970. With their help he tried to obtain a "floating" sound, such as, in the song "Come As You Are". Pedals of effects of Distortion are foot switches which usually turn on between a guitar and the amplifier.

They are used for sharp transition from a silent "pure sound" to a loud aggressive "dirty sound", as in the introduction of the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Also they can be used for receipt of a permanent "dirty sound", regardless of to what amplifier the guitar is connected.

The pedal of BOSS DS-1 can be noticed in the photo foreground below. I can explain to you as Curt achieved such guitar sounding, but I do not know as he does this rack on the head, at the same time playing on one of the modified Stratocaster'ov.

Discussion: As Kurt Cobain modified the guitar

The different acceptances used during a sound recording played the role too. For example, location of the microphone in studio, could affect sound quality. Steve Albini (Steve Albini) who helped to write an album "In Utero" wrote groups one double – they played indoors where there were several microphones. Such technique allows to receive "cruder" sound which cannot achieve by other methods, for example, when participants of group write separately.

The technician of game Curt, or rather its absence, influenced the end result too. It returns us to the theory that everything depends only on the guitarist. Cobain was capable of a lot of things, but he was not a masterly guitarist. It put more feeling, than ability in the game: it strongly beat strings, receiving a unique sound. He did not try to play in one tonality with other members of group or to get constantly to notes – all this was reflected in a sound of its guitar.

Cobain used the "wrong" equipment and played very aggressively. He was inspired by such styles as the punk and alternative, and also fate popular at that time therefore he did not want that its guitar sounded "purely", without any defects. He used the equipment which could not reproduce a quality sound even if Curt would like that. Cobain worked together with the producer who was not interested too in a "good" sound therefore he helped the musician to strengthen aggressive sound of a guitar, using different write methods.

Leon Levngton (Leon Lewington): There is an excellent interview in which Curt explains how he received such unique sound: "Kurt Cobain about the equipment and many other in its last interview for the Guitar World log.

Nobody in group turned special attention to how their tools are configured. All simply adapted to the guitar Curt. He did not worry concerning a status of its guitars too: how they are configured or in what status there are strings.

Dylan Nobuo Littl (Dylan Nobuo Little): If to speak in brief, then by such unique its music was done by several factors. First, he used the guitars which are not intended for such game (Curt preferred Fender'Y which were not created for a punk rock and pedals of Distortion, and Jaguar with which often associate Cobain it was created for a surf fate).

Secondly, the unique sound was created by tonalities in which it played, and more powerful hambaker (they accept mid frequencies better, and their sound is considered warmer and complete). Also the sound was influenced by the used equipment and style of game of Curt (which were very atypical). Now we will pass to the description of all guitars which he played (in a chronological order), and other equipment which he used.

Curt was a lefthander, and in spite of the fact that pravoruky guitars are cheaper and them it is easier to find, he tried to play the levoruky guitars as they were suitable for its aggressive style of game more as often as possible. However from time to time he used the modified pravoruky guitars with the changed order of strings, especially when Nirvana still was garage group, and it was difficult to them to get the necessary equipment.

During this period Curt used a lot of the different second-hand equipment (generally copies of Fender and Gibson), including Mosrite Gospel, Epiphone ET-270 and Aria Pro II Cardinal which became its spare guitars. Univox Hi-Flyer, the copy of Mosrite Mark IV which had the small weight and a unique form of a sound board which Curt continued to use even was the most known guitar of this period when Nirvana became popular group. For all the career it purchased and modified a set of guitars.

Discussion: As Kurt Cobain modified the guitar

Since about 1991, Curt preferred to play Fender the guitars. After release of an album "Nevermind" he acted with strongly modified Fender Jaguar guitar 'the 65th sanbyorst colors which had a red motley pad on a sound board. Now Jaguar guitars and similar to them of Jazzmaster, cost very much, but at that time these American models could be purchased at quite low price. Curt purchased the guitar approximately for $500 in LA Recycler pawnshop.

It was already modified by the previous owner (Martin Jenner (Martin Jenner) from Cliff Richard and The Everly Brothers). He put on it double hambaker of Dimarzio (the nekovy PAF sensor and bridzhevy Super Distortion), the bridge of Tune-o-Matic from Schaller, as on Gibson guitars, and the second volume control.

He got used to such item collection and continued to modify in the same key the guitars of Fender. Then it replaced the standard switch of the choice of sound pickups (3rd the position switch) with the push-button switch with three modes. Before it stuck the switch with an insulating tape accidentally not to replace its provision as he generally used a bridzhevy sound pickup.

Later, after a recording of the album of "In Utero", it replaced a hambaker of Super Distortion with the darling Seymour Duncan JB. Also It should be noted that he never used levers of a tremolo and fixed their tailpieces, raising susteyn and tuning sharpness of a guitar. Moreover, all its guitars had fastenings for a Schaller belt, and belts of Ernie Ball firm were black or white.

It near at hand always had several guitars of Fender Stratocaster (generally they were white or black color, however one was sanbyorst colors, and another red), which broke during the well-known concerts of group. They were brought together either in Japan, or in Mexico, and were cheap alternatives of the American models.

On all these guitars he put a hambaker of JB. Sometimes it was Seymour Duncan '59 or when on a sound board of some Strat'the big hambaker – Hot Rails was not located. After Strat'Y broke, from their parts collected new guitars ("Franken-Strat"). Completely black guitar of Strat (with a black sound board, a pad, a sound pickup ’59 and regulators, and also Feederz sticker) with a signature stamp from Fernandes Strat can be an example of such guitar (the original signature stamp was broken).

This signature stamp held on only a month, and it was replaced with a signature stamp from Kramer (the group constantly carried them with itself for repair). Most likely, they were pleasant to Curt more than Fernandes signature stamps (though was to get them the easiest). All other signature stamps of its Fender'ov were with a pad from a black rosewood which were pleasant to it more than maple.

During round with an album "In Utero" Fender Mustang was the main guitar of Curt. It had several such guitars: one colors "Fiesta Red" with a spare pad of white nacreous color and black sound pickups and two other colors "Sonic Blue". They differed only in appearance – one had a red motley pad and white sound pickups, and another a pad on a sound board of opaque red color both white and black sound pickups.

Standard bridges were replaced with Tune-o-Matic from Gotoh, and a sound pickup near them – with Seymour Duncan JB. As well as in a case with Jaguar guitar, he did not use nekovy sound pickups (except some studio recordings) and tremolo levers. Springs of a tremolo were replaced with normal washers, and the tailpiece is fixed so that strings passed through it directly. Such system is more characteristic of Gibson guitars.

Discussion: As Kurt Cobain modified the guitar

Curt also began to cooperate with the Fender company for creation of a guitar of Jag-Stang – a combination of guitars of Jaguar and Mustang which combined its favourite qualities: bridge of Tune-o-Matic, bridzhevy hambaker, small length (short 24 inch menzura) and unique form of the guitar. However he used this guitar some time already closer to the end of the career – Curt remained is correct to Mustang guitars. It should be noted that all group configured the tools below on half-tone.

For acoustic performances Curt used or a guitar of Epiphone Texan with a removable sound pickup of Bartolini 3AV (she could be recognized easily on a sticker of "Nixon Now"), or very rare guitar of Martin D-18E of 1950. It can be heard in an album "Unplugged In New York", but as electroacoustics (with Bartolini 3AV sound pickup, but already built in a guitar) which it connected through pedals and a mixer therefore it is impossible to call it purely acoustic.

Both of these guitars were the modified pravoruky models with the changed order of strings. Amusing the fact that the guitar which he played during writing songs "Polly" and "Something In The Way" from an album "Nevermind" was in very state of disrepair, however it did not modify it in any way and even did not change a string on it. It was 12-string Stella Harmony which he purchased for 30 dollars in a pawnshop. It had only 5 nylon strings, and the bridge kept on glue.

As the true collector, generally old, unusual and cheap tools, Curt consciously avoided purchase of the new equipment. I did not mention a huge number of other guitars which he played: couple of modified guitars Telecaster and other guitars of Mustang (generally model '69, known on the emergence in the clip "Smells Like Teen Spirit"). Guitars of Mosrite Mark IV and Fender XII (both are destroyed together with house records and diaries which Curt hid in the bathroom to save from robbers – them filled in with water).

P.S. From stories about interesting features of the musical industry and finds of cult musicians we passed to business and started the thematic section "Musical Instruments and Equipment". Now we work with 19 types of goods (from MIDI keyboards to guitar loudspeakers), but on it we, of course, will not stop. Wait for innovations :)

This article is a translation of the original post at
If you have any questions regarding the material covered in the article above, please, contact the original author of the post.
If you have any complaints about this article or you want this article to be deleted, please, drop an email here:

We believe that the knowledge, which is available at the most popular Russian IT blog, should be accessed by everyone, even though it is poorly translated.
Shared knowledge makes the world better.
Best wishes.