How to Sound Like Kurt Cobain

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Rock guitar was headed in a dangerous direction shortly after the dawn of the early Nineties, riding on a lame-ass wave of hairspray, codpieces and wanky solos. With one fell swoop, Kurt Cobain put the emphasis back on riff-based songwriting and in the process made players consider the merits of battered second-hand instruments. While Cobain claimed he didn’t care much about his gear—and quite often closed shows by smashing his guitar—he was actually an avid collector of bargain basement, pawnshop guitars. Cobain even partnered with Fender to produce a custom guitar, sending them spliced together photos of Mustang and Jaguar guitars, as well as suggestions for pickups and a request for a short-scale neck and thin frets.

The resulting Jag-Stang became available to the public shortly after the Nirvana front man’s dramatic 1994 suicide. A few years later, however, it was out of production, sending secondhand prices for the guitar skyrocketing. Today, you can snap up a Squier Standard Jagmaster for a meager $415.99, although it doesn’t have quite the same pickup quality as Kurt’s original, which contained a Fender Texas Special Single- Coil ($64.99) in the neck position and a DiMarzio Super Distortion ($99.00) in the bridge. As an alternative, Fender’s ’69 Mustang is a little more expensive at $899.99 but will get you similarly close to Cobain’s unrefined racket. It’s worth remembering that the Nirvana frontman was prone to customizing (and trashing) his guitars as the mood took him, so these two models are probably as close as it gets.

Most of Cobain’s effects are still available. The Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal costs a mere $97, while the DS-2 Turbo Distortion—heard on Nirvana’s unplugged version of “The Man Who Sold the World”—can be had for $127. The Big Muff, used by Cobain on “Lithium,” is available from Electro-Harmonix for $116, while the Electro- Harmonix Small Clone chorus—heard on the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the pedal perhaps most integral pedal to Cobain’s distinctive sound—is still available for $126.