Kurt Mo F’in Cobain. Where do I start? This guy pretty much change my life. Why? Because it was when I was given Nevermind on cassette tape, that I became hooked on learning to play guitar.
I’m 13 years old, I’ve had my guitar for about a year and although I had bought myself a Jimi Hendrix tab book and taught myself Purple Haze, I really couldn’t play much else, especially if it involved rhythm. I was pretty frustrated with playing guitar at this point and trying to learn Hendrix as a beginner doesn’t fill you much confidence of your future playing guitar.
Then a girl in my class Martha, hands Nirvana’s Nevermind on tape.
Have you ever been given a DVD or an album that a friend or colleague hands you telling you to listen to it and you gratefully accept but deep down you’re like, urgh I’ve got to actually listen to this.
The day I was given Nevermind, I was going to my Dad’s and we have this old but decent stereo player in mine and my brother’s room. I rewind the tape ( some of you youngsters have probably never had to rewind something ) and pressed play.
WOW! What is this! I couldn’t believe I had never heard this song before. The Smells Like Teen Spirit riff is just guitar perfection and the Nevermind recording of the album is just perfect in it’s sound in every way.
I must have played Smells like Teen Spirit 20 times that night. I could not wait to get home to my mums to pick up my guitar and try and play something. That Weekend I went to my local guitar shop and the Nevermind TAB book.
This is when I really learnt how to play guitar.
Ted Ed Fred was one of the names that the Band had before the now Infamous “Nirvana” was decided. In the early days there was a couple of band member changes. Although Chad Channing is most commonly known as the original Nirvana drummer but Kurt and Krist had The Melvin’s Dale Crover drum from them in the Ted Ed Fred days.
How Did Nirvana Form?
So Nirvana as we know it, Kurt, Krist and Dave formed on September 21 1990. The day Kurt and Krist invited Dave to Seattle.
Why? Kurt had been in the audience when he saw the band Scream perform, their drummer at the time was Dave Grohl. Dave had been doing the rounds in various bands and it was this chance event, whilst performing in a relatively successful band that he was pinched.
Nirvana would never have been had it not been for the final piece of the puzzle, Dave Grohl. It becomes so apparent how great a drummer Dave is when you hear the demo tapes of songs like Drain you and Lithium.
We can hear Chad came up with the main beats that we know from the album but Dave certainly honed it and took out all of the noise, shall we say.
Come on, you definitely know the answer to this. Yep, Nirvana brought “Grunge” to the masses. Although they would credit their influences, Nirvana were the gateway for all of the other bands that were emerging from the Seattle scene, to get some exposure.
One of those influences was The Germs who’s guitarist Pat Smear who later joined the band and went on to play with the Foo Fighters.
When Nevermind realeased in 1991, Record companies started trying to find the next Nirvana. The charts were now flooded with alternative rock.
Being a Lefty, one of Kurt’s earliest guitar’s was what you’d fine most lefty’s with and that is a right handed guitar that has a almost symmetrical body type. Although the controls are for a right handed player, the double cutaway’s means that a left can flip the guitars to play left handed.
This guitar for Kurt was the Mosrite Gospel. A cheap 60’s guitar that has now reached rare status because of Kurt and Johnny Ramone.
You’ll see Kurt playing his Mosrite Gospel in the Bleach album cover and plays homage to the guitar in the Heart Shaped Box video.
As you start earning some money, you can afford to buy better guitars. This is when we start to see Kurt playing a left handed Fender Stratocaster with slightly chopped headstock, with a black on black body and pick guard.
Although he played multiple colour combo strats ( they were usually played at the end of the gig and got put through Dave Grohls drum kit ) It is this Strat that was one of his signature guitars, mainly because of that sticker that he slapped along the body.
When I was becoming a Nirvana fan, there was no internet as we know it and for years I didn’t know exactly what it said and required a strip of duck tape when on British Television. But here you go, it says.
“Vandalism. Beautiful as a rock in a cops face” which came from the band The Feederz as quoted in the sticker, with the small print being ” Courtesy of the Feederz: Office of Anti-Public relations”
The guitar itself is a Japanese Fender Stratocaster ( MIJ ) and had multiple necks in it’s life. Kurt also fitted a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker pick up at the bridge. This guitar is used throughout the 1991 Reading Festival live performance.
Unfortunately/ Beautifully, Kurt smashed this guitar up around 1991/92.
This leads us on to one of Kurt’s other main guitar’s, arguably the Nirvana Guitar, the 1965 Fender Jaguar.
Something that confused me in the early days of being a Nirvana fan was that when you looked at Fender Jaguar’s, they had single coils and the Jazzmaster had space in the pick guard for humbuckers.
Kurt, never used a Jazzmaster and the guitar he used was a modified Fender Jaguar with Seymour Duncan Humbucker JB pick ups.
The Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar were a bit of a selling flop when released by Fender in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the later 1980’s they became the popular thanks to the Grunge scene, with bands like Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth favoring Jazzmasters and Jaguars.
Fender finally got around to making the Kurt Cobain Fender Jaguar and they did it two types, New and Road Worn. The Road Worn guitars are dinged and scratched and “road worn” just like Kurt’s.
You can’t get these “Road Worn” versions from guitar dealers anymore, you’re gonna have to hope that one comes up on eBay. Here’s what’s available on eBay now.
You can get the Kurt Cobain Jaguar in a NOS ( New old stock ) state which is basically a brand new Jaguar with Kurt’s pick up choice.
Then we have the Fender Mustang’s that Kurt started to use regularly for the In Utero tour 1993/94. He’s actually using a Mustang in the Smells Like Teen Spirit and In Bloom Videos. His Sonic blue one used on the In Utero live shows was labelled “Mustank” on it’s guitar case.
Fender has released Kurt Cobain Signature Mustang with the modified Seymour Duncan JB pick up at the bridge. You can get these in the Smells Like Teen Spirit design, Fiesta Red and Sonic Blue.
Kurt Cobain’s real Signature guitar
Yeh, all the guitars mentioned above are Kurt Cobain Signature guitars but when the biggest guitar company in the world asks you to actually design your own guitar, not give your take on one of the company’s already successful guitars such as Stratocaster or Gibson asking for your spec Les Paul which, many of the great guitarist’s have had the honour of, Kurt actually got to design his own guitar.
The Jag-Stang, this is Kurt’s very own design, it’s his Jaguar and Mustang Fusion and probably why Fender went ahead with it. It’s an awkward looking guitar, certainly not the most elegant but it’s Kurt’s, it couldn’t have looked any other way.
These are quite rare now. They were mass produced in the late 90s with limited numbers being made in Left handed. Unfortunately, Kurt didn’t get to play his own guitar for very long.
The Jag-Stang is only going to go up in value.
Licks & Riffs
How To Sound Like Kurt Cobain
Best Live Performance
Over the years, more and more footage has started to appear of the band. From one of their earliest recordings in Radio Shack, to one their last performances in Rome.
A lot of us see and have learned about Nirvana through what the media showed us. Because of Kurt’s death time in which they were performing is only a short window. This creates and frozen moment in time and now that more of the later stuff is emerging, people find it difficult to see Nirvana in that light.
What we have to remember is that Nirvana formed in the late 80s and it all came to an end in April 1994. Although such a short period of time, yet for those of you that were alive then, the late 80s was a lot different than the mid 90s.
I saw a comment on one Nirvana’s last performances that Kurt didn’t wear beanie hats. And this is what I mean. We’re so accustomed to Nirvana being a grunge band that we can’t accept them being anything else.
The reason why Nirvana saw past the Nevermind album was because Kurt continued to evolve. You’ve only got to listen to Bleach and then In Utero, to hear the vast difference in sound. It’s still Nirvana but not the Nevermind Nirvana we’ve been bombarded with.
This reflects in the live performances too. Could you imagine playing the same songs night in night out and expect the same level of enthusiasm?
This why in the late 80s vids you’ll see the raw emotion and projection Kurt wanted to release to the later live performances where it was apparent Kurt wanted to get off the merry go round.
The sweet spot for me is the 1992 Reading Festival. They had played there before in 1991, when to the UK, they were the new big band. By 1992 They had fully established themselves.
You can tell Kurt was free to do what he wanted and there was probably no pressure to play a certain song to please the producers, which the later TV performances in Europe seemed to be.
Although Smells like teens spirit was no doubt being overplayed by this point, the guys do start the song by singing the lyrics to the song More Than A Feeling, as a dig at the law suit that was taking place at the time.
Other than that the song is played well and to it’s entirety which I think is proof that they were enjoying this gig. Interpretive dancer Tony, even got to perform for them once again.