KURT COBAIN - Real Guitar Hero - Guide to The World's Best Guitarists

Guitar God Kurt Cobain

Whether you adore him or despise him, there's no disputing the fact that Nirvana's very own guitar hero Kurt Cobain had a profound impact on a generation. Bands like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains would never have made it into the mainstream if it hadn't been for Nirvana's groundbreaking 1991 album, Nevermind. Seattle's "grunge" sound, and the ensuing "alternative rock" movement that took radio waves by storm in the 1990's, all trace their roots back to Mr. Cobain and the single that kicked it all off, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Sadly no longer with us, Cobain was undoubtedly one of the world's best guitarists for at least a while.

Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana

Kurt Cobain - Guitar Legend

(c) edi /tion at Flickr.com
(c) edi /tion at Flickr.com

Kurt Cobain's Early Life

The young Kurt Cobain's influences were wide and varied, and his childhood was deeply affected by his parents' divorce when he was eight. Anything from the Beatles to The Melvins to R.E.M. to Pixies was fair game for his listening material, with a deepening interest in the Seattle punk scene as he grew older.

With the choice of a guitar for his 14th birthday, Kurt set himself on a course that he would never look back from, learning songs by a few popular bands like AC/DC and The Cars, and even beginning to write his own songs.  This path would in time lead him to become one of the real guitar heroes of an entire generation.

Though he was briefly in a number of other bands the most successful of which was named Fecal Matter, Kurt was really unable to gel with anyone else until bassist Krist Novoselic agreed to join him to form the beginnings of Nirvana. After the release of their first album Bleach in 1989, they seemed destined to join the ranks of little-known Seattle punk bands playing occasional clubs and small venues. But it was not to be. Dave Grohl, the drummer for a hardcore punk band known as Scream, would soon shift to Nirvana after the band's split, which happened to be around the same time Cobain and Novoselic attended one of their shows.

An Unexpected Success

What was it about this album that made it such a hit?  The lyrics are at best esoteric (some would unintelligible) on most of the songs.  But the power of Nirvana's music lies not in the lyrics—it's in the raw emotion expressed in the characteristic sound of quiet verses matched with cranked-to-the-max distortion choruses.  Kurt Cobain had unknowingly tapped into the teenage angst of a generation that had grown up without a voice—and now found it with a vengeance.  For the rest of its existence, Nirvana would be torn between Kurt's belief that they should sound no different than the average Seattle underground band while at the same time having more money than they could possibly have imagined at their disposal.

Recorded on a budget of only $65,000, the list of effects and equipment for Nevermind is fairly simple. According to Wikipedia, Cobain used "a 60's Fender Mustang, a Fender Jaguar with DiMarzio pickups, and a few Fender Stratocasters with humbucker bridge pickups."

He pushed these various guitars through pretty much the same setup he would use live, a Mesa/Boogie Studio .22 Preamp with a Crown power amp linked to several Marshall 4x12 cabinets.

For sure, he used a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal and Electro Harmonix Small Clone chorus pedal; it's possible he used some other effects as well, like an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff box for "Lithium,"and another EH effect, the EH EchoFlanger, on "Heart-Shaped Box." The Clone chorus pedal can be heard as the "underwater" effect on the guitar in "Come As You Are" as well as the bridge to "Smells Like Teen Spirit".

Cobain seemed to delight in finding the most beat-up, cheap guitars and putting them to use in the studio. For example, the acoustic used for "Polly" and "Something In The Way" was famously a Stella 12-string Harmony with only five strings that he purchased for $31. Other equipment included Japanese-made Stratocasters he had a penchant for destroying at the end of a show, and a Martin D-18E with a Bartolini AV3 pickup for the famous 1993 MTV Unplugged performance. According to guitargeek.com, Kurt liked to use 10 gauge Dean Markley strings with red Dunlop Tortex picks (.50 mm).

The End, My Friend

Because of his relatively short career, Cobain never really had a lot of signature equipment manufactured in his name. Perhaps that's the way he would've wanted it, because the more commercial Nirvana became, the more Kurt felt misunderstood.

Nonetheless, there was a Fender JagStang issued in Cobain's name in 1994, with Kurt's prototype featuring a Fender Texas special pickup in the neck and a DiMarzio H-3 pickup in the bridge. The production Jag-Stang was more generic, with a "vintage style" single coil pickup and one "Fender Santa Ana" humbucker in the bridge.

Production was cancelled in 2001, only to be reissed in 2003 by Fender Japan because of demand. If you can find one of the original Jag-Stang issues, it's well worth hanging on to as a collector's item, since relatively few of them were ever made.

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Comments 5 comments

A.M. Gwynn 7 years ago

Very nice piece on Kurt Julie-Ann. Thank you for it.


Dirk Gwent 7 years ago

Well, Kurt was one of the greatest song writers of all time. Crap at guitar though. Far from a guitar hero. Rock star yes, guitar hero, no way!


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angela_michelle 6 years ago from United States

This is a really good hub on Kurt Cobain. I decided to make a link to my celebrity deaths hub to it. Good job!


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amymarie_5 5 years ago from Chicago IL

Thanks for writing such a great hub on Kurt Cobain. I've always been a huge fan.


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TheHeavyReview 4 years ago

Incredible hub on the great Kurt Cobain! He was a great guitar hero in the fact that he could write such incredible riffs. Not a very technically advanced player, though. One of the best singers too!

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