Kurt Cobain Vandalism Strat Build

The first guitar build for FretGods and a first for me too.

I’d have to say that hearing Nirvana for the first time at 13 years old, was the catalyst to finally learning how to play guitar.

There’s a few guitars I could have chose from to release my inner Cobain but there’s one that you just can’t get unless you build it yourself.

Fast forward 20 years I’m finally in the position to be able to build my own “Vandalism” Strat, a guitar that I’ve wanted ever since I heard the Smells like teen spirit guitar riff.

Now that I’m in the process of building this I’ll go through all the costs to get it as close to the guitar Kurt Cobain played, so that you can build your own. 

Sorry mines not for sale.

Kurt’s Vandalism Strat

Fundamentally Kurt’s Strat is a Left Handed Fender Stratocaster made in Japan. 

Finding a Japanese, Left Handed, Black Body with rosewood neck is a little tricky and when they do come up they fetch good money, so a Japanese Strat will most likely be out of reach.

Kurt’s Strat had multiple necks in it’s time, the most notable is the Fernadez neck ( I had always thought back in the day was a chopped Strat headstock )

This formation of the guitar i’d say got the most coverage. Although, thanks to Youtube, more and more rare footage of Nirvana is sprouting up. You can see when Kurt first got this guitar and it’s early outings.

The Fernandez neck can be seen on the British Top of The Pops television show where they were asked to mime their instruments.

I will not be looking for a Fernandes neck as Kurt’s guitar did originally have a Fender neck.  Finding a left handed Fernandes neck will almost be  impossible too.

What makes this such a unique Strat

The colour combo is one. A black body with black scratchplate is not a common Fender combo, especially with which pick up covers.

The biggest modification to Kurt’s guitar was the humbucker pick up replacement at the bridge position….

…changing another visual characteristic of the Strat, from your usual 3 single coil, to now a “SSH” set up

What Pickup Did Kurt Cobain Use In The Vandalism Strat?

A Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Pick Up is placed in the bridge position in the Vandalism Strat and he also modified his Fender Jaguar with these pick ups too.

There is one Strat that Kurt used at the 1992 Reading Festival that had a Sunburst body with a single coil hot rail humbucker at the bridge position.

The Finishing Touch

When I found Nirvana at 13 years old, there wasn’t any Youtube or internet as we know it now.

I never knew what that sticker said. It is the defining feature of the Vandalism Strat and also where the guitar get’s it’s name.

The Sticker is from the band The Feederz.

It says Vandalism: Beautiful as a rock in a cops face. Courtesy of The Feederz Office of Anti-Public relations ; in the small print.

This will be finishing touch that I will place on the guitar.

My Build

Here we go!

Finding a Guitar

First up I need to find a guitar. Luckily for me I’m left handed so the build  will look just like Kurt’s. I have a choice of which guitar to get.

I could go for a Japanese strat, but it will probably mean waiting a long time for a left handed black with rosewood neck to come up. Not to mention the cost.

Japanese left handed Strat with rosewood neck would cost around £700 to £1000

A quick eBay search and there were none available anyway. 

After starting my build a Japanese Strat came up that had been “Vandalismed” The asking price $1500! It didn’t even have the correct pick up in it! 

It sold for $1095.

Squire Stratocaster used, £100 with most likely some accessories.

My next route would be to purchase a Squier Stratocaster.

It’s pretty easy to get one in Black with a Rosewood neck.I could also “Vandalise” this guitar without a care.

I’ve had Squier’s and they’re cheap for a reason. Now there’s some vintage Squiers from Japan that are probably no different than a real strat, if Japanese craftsmanship is anything to go by. But generally Squier’s are made a cheaply as possible.

Whilst in the process of building my Vandalism Strat, this Squire came up that had already been turned in to Vandalism rep!! What are the odds?

Yeh, it’s right handed but it looks right doesn’t it?!

So I bought it. : )

My build wasn’t done as I want to build a lefty so this is going to demonstrate how you can build your very own Vandalism Strat on the cheap. 

The guitar itself is actually pretty good. It’s a Chinese Squire Strat which is put together surprisingly well. The machine heads move freely and the action is pretty good.

It definitely looks the part too!

I got this for under £100 which I’m really happy with.

If I had this 20 years ago when I was starting to play guitar I would have been Kurt Cobain every time I had got home from school.

I’m going to make a few tweaks to this guitar to give it a little a extra. The sticker is going to be roughed up a bit, I’ll add the ductape and I’ll also give this guitar away on Instagram @fretgods . I’ll get a white Ernie Ball Strap for it too.

I don’t know what the strings are but they feel huge and old, these will get swapped out too.

The previous owner rubbed out the Squire logo, which I might leave. I’m not going to bash the body, I’ll let the new owner to do this.

To find out how to win this, follow me on Instagram @fretgods.

So what’s my next option now that a Japenese Start is out of the question and a I’ve already got a Squire?

Mexican Fender Stratocaster £200 to £400 used depending on condition and accessories

A Mexican (MIM) Fender Stratocaster, which in my opinion are the best of all three manufacturers.

I’ve had all 3 Strats, USA, MIJ, MIM and my White Mexican is the one I kept and love the feel of the most.

Yeh the pick ups lack some volume but these can be changed if you really wanted to or I could throw in a set of USA pickups and still have a Strat far cheaper than a USA. Anyways.

I do a search and there’s only one available on eBay.

They want £399, no case and it has a ding on the body ( this doesn’t bother me ).

There’s no way it’s worth £399 with it’s lack of case and ding on it’s body.

What’s weird though, is the shop selling it is one that I used to visit when I first started playing guitar. I hadn’t been there in over 15 years. It still looks pretty much the same now.

Some negotiations later, I am the new owner of a  Black Body Rosewood Neck MIM Fender Stratocaster.

The cost? £270

I get it home and have quick strum, hoping that it isn’t as good as my other Strat, another MIM. Unfortunately it is, it feels really good, the action isn’t the greatest throughout the neck but that’s it’s only fault.

It’s noticeably louder ( Un Amped ) than my White Strat. It could be down to the new strings, the higher action or the rosewood fret board. Basically it packs a punch already.

I amp it and everything works as anticipated.

Hardware

It’s now time to get the parts that will transform the look of the guitar.

I search for a Black Left handed scratchplate with humbucker bridge cut out. If you use the keyword SSH ( Single Single Humbucker ) for your search you might find more options.

In my search it appears I could only order mine from China on eBay, with an estimated delivery time of over a month. It actually arrived a week later!

This will instantly transformed the look.

I then purchased a Tone Tone Volume Switch Tip and Tremelo arm tip replacements in black. I got these on eBay too and they were delivered to me the next day. Fantastic Service.

 

I then needed to get hold of a Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB pick up. I anticipated that I would have to buy this brand new and it would be last to be ordered but luckily at the time I was searching on eBay to get an idea of the price (£110 new) there was used one finishing on an auction in 30 minutes.

£40 I won the auction!!

I now have everything to transform the guitar minus the sticker.

I’m almost there but I got to some how get that sticker. This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought.

The Sticker

When I purchased the Squire Vandalism Strat, I asked the seller where he had got the sticker from. He said he’d made the guitar some time ago and it was just from eBay.

Great, another easy purchase. Wrong. There were only 2 sellers on ebay. One from Russsia and one from Germany.

The one From Russia looked right, so I bought it. It took some time to get here but when it arrived it was completely the wrong size. ( The sticker laying on the strings )

I went and bought the ones from Germany without taking any notice of the listing. Again Completely wrong, even worse than the one from Russia. ( The small stickers in black and white. )

I then had to scour the internet to find the correct one. (The sticker that I have stuck to the guitar )

This is when I found axetremecreations.com

They’re the only one’s selling the correct sized sticker. I bought 2 so I had one as a spare just in case I ever needed to take the scratchplate off again in the future.

Let The Build Commence

The build itself is pretty simple and if you can handle a soldering iron, you should be able to do this build too.

First of you’ll need to remove your strings.

Then undo all the screws for the scratch plate.

Leave everything attached for now on the scratchplate.

You’ll then want to pull up the wiring diagram from Seymour Duncan to wire in the JB SH-4 humbucker.

This was pretty easy

 Once the pick up is wired in, you’ll then want to undo everything from your white scratchplate.

You’ll now want to screw everything in to the black scratchplate and fit this to the body. Careful not to pinch any wires or have them in a position where over time they could wear.

Before screwing everything back in, now’s a good time, to plug the guitar in your amp and make sure your JB is playing as it should and that you’ve wired it to the right part of the 5 way selector.

It’s also good to give your wiring a little yank to make sure they’re firmly connected. The last thing you want is the wire to pop once everything’s back together.

If everything’s all good, now it’s time to tighten everything up.

The Chinese scratchplate isn’t the best fit it’s slightly off, just. But the holes are for a Stratocaster, if you bought a Squire the screw holes are different on the 3 lower screws. 

Et Voila!

Finishing touches

There’s a few things left to make your build better than your average “Vandalism” build. They are a White Ernie Ball strap ( Something I wanted when I was a teen but were nowhere to be found locally ) the silver ductape and his steel blue strings.

I find a seller selling White Ernie Ball guitar straps! This is probably my favourite purchase of the whole build, as I’ve wanted one for so long. 

The Ductape can be got at in my local hardware shop and the Blue Steel strings, again, online.

This build took a total of 1 month to get all the parts, the sticker causing the longest delay and took me an afternoon to put together.

20 years later I finally have…….

My Kurt Cobain Vandalism Strat