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
( or

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.guitar,
and the data library of the Rocknet forum on CompuServe.


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).

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 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
  "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

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] 


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. 


* 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.


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