Nirvana: Super Fuzz Big Muff
Vincent says that Cobain would take care of the settings on all of his pedals, sometimes changing them between songs. “He knew all the sweet spots really well,” says Vincent. To help get the sounds he wanted more quickly, Cobain marked the different settings on the Echo Flanger and Poly Chorus pedals with nail polish.
Before the band went on tour, Fender sent Cobain one Fiesta Red and three Sonic Blue Mustangs and a variety of Mexican Stratocasters fitted with humbuckers. Bailey installed Gotoh Tune-OMatic bridges and Seymour Duncan JB humbuckers on the Mustangs, cut the nuts for heavier strings, shimmed the necks, flipped the tailpieces so the strings could be inserted without going under the tailpiece and blocked the tailpieces so the tremolo bar wouldn’t work.
“One of the blue Mustangs never came out of the box and was unmodified because we were waiting until the other ones were broken,” says Vincent. “The blue Competition Mustang from Nevermind was in storage because Kurt really liked that guitar.” However Cobain had dusted off a few of his Univox Hi-Flyers, and these showed up onstage occasionally.
The Mexican Strats were mainly there for sacrifice to the distortion god at the end of the set. “We had a predetermined black Mexican Strat that we would give to Kurt to smash,” says Vincent. “Sometimes he’d want one of the Mustangs, but we wouldn’t give him one. Then he’d go, ‘Yeah, all right. I don’t want to break that guitar because it feels really good.’ ”
Photos taken at various shows give the impression that Cobain had an endless supply of Mustangs and Stratocasters, but Vincent says this is misleading. Kurt’s techs were constantly recycling parts from the guitars that he destroyed, and they often pieced instruments together. “Some of these Nirvana gear web sites list a million guitars,” says Vincent. “According to Earnie, most of those guitars are the same, only the pickguard, pickups or neck might have been changed.”
After completing In Utero, Cobain became more interested in acoustic instruments, and he looked for a replacement for his Stella. Before the tour, Cobain bought an early Sixties right-hand Epiphone Texan, and Bailey replaced the guitar’s adjustable bridge with a left-hand bridge and a standard saddle. In the fall of ’93, he bought a Martin D-18E electric- acoustic flat-top from Voltage Guitar in Los Angeles. An extremely rare late- Fifties model (only 302 were produced), the D-18E is essentially a D-18 with two DeArmond pickups installed at the Martin factory. “Unfortunately, the instrument’s pickups were designed with nickel strings in mind, so hearing it with bronze-wound strings was pretty disappointing,” Bailey said in the March ’95 GW. “Our solution was to attach yet another pickup—a Bartolini model 3AV—to the top.” This guitar became his main acoustic guitar for the In Utero tour and for Nirvana’s appearance on MTV’s Unplugged.
Taped on November 18, 1993, and aired about a month later, Nirvana’s Unplugged performance proved to be the ultimate coda to Cobain’s musical career. Cobain insisted on bringing the Martin to the taping, even though Bailey thought the Epiphone sounded much better. The D-18E was connected to a Small Clone and DS-2 (in a photo on the CD insert, the DS-2 can be seen slightly above the DGC logo) and run into a Twin Reverb, which was used only as a monitor. The Echo Flanger and Poly Chorus were also brought to the rehearsal, but they were not used on the taping because they created too much 60-cycle hum.
In early ’94, Fender sent Cobain a sunburst Telecaster Custom. Bailey installed a Duncan JB in the bridge position and a Gibson PAF in the neck position. According to Bailey, this was Cobain’s new favorite guitar. He used the guitar for a March 1994, recording session in his basement with Pat Smear and Hole’s Eric Erlandson. This may be the last guitar that Cobain played before he took his own life.
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