Kurt Cobain was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century and was one of the godfathers of the grunge genre. His playing style used feedback and distortion to create a unique sound that defined his band, Nirvana. Cobain was fairly simplistic when it came to the gear he used. He generally only had 2-3 pedals on his pedalboard and was not overly flashy with the guitars he used.
That being said, if you want to imitate Kurt Cobain’s legendary sound, using the same gear he used is an excellent place to start. In this article, I will break down all the equipment that Kurt Cobain used, from his effects pedals to his guitars and even his string gauge. Let’s dive in!
Cobain didn’t use a wide variety of effects pedals and primarily used various types of distortion.
Boss DS-1 Distortion
The Boss DS-1 was Kurt Cobain’s favorite pedal and was used on almost all recordings and live performances until 1992. He used this pedal throughout the albums “Bleach” and “Nevermind” This is a simple yet great-sounding distortion pedal.
Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion
The Boss DS-2 has a similar distortion pedal to the DS-1 but has another “turbo” mode that boosts the mid-range distortion. Cobain used this pedal frequently from 1992 till his death in 1994.
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Fuzz
The Electro-Harmonix Big Muff is an iconic pedal of the early 90s. This fuzz pedal functions differently from distortion and creates an utterly unrecognizable sound. Cobain did not use this effect nearly as much as the Boss distortion pedals, but it was used for heavier parts, such as in the song “Lithium”.
Electro-Harmonix Small Clone
Cobain also used the Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus for several songs. The most famous use of this song was in “Come As You Are”. He also used this pedal for a few of his famous guitar solos, like in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “In Bloom”.
Kurt Cobain’s favorite electric guitars during his career were his Fender Mustang and Jaguar. Later in his career, he also had a custom-made Fender Jag-Stang. However, he rarely used it for live shows.
Kurt Cobain was left-handed, so he was very limited in the quality guitars he had access to. His 1969 Lake Placid Fender Mustang with a racing stripe was likely his most famous guitar. In fact, this guitar recently sold for $4.5 million at an auction, making it one of the most expensive guitars ever sold. He used this guitar in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video.
Kurt Cobain also favored Fender Jaguars. He used a 1965 Fender Mustang with Humbucker pickups. Cobain used this guitar throughout the “Nevermind” tour and on many recordings.
1959 Martin D-18E
The Martin D-18E was the acoustic guitar that Kurt Cobain used on the live MTV Unplugged album in 1993, which was released more than 6 months after his death in 1994. This iconic acoustic guitar is the most expensive guitar ever sold at $6,000,000.
Kurt Cobain used many different amps throughout his career, but his favorite was his Mesa Boogie Tube amp paired with a Crest 4801 and a Marshall 4×12 speaker cabinet.
Mesa Boogie Pre-amp + Crest 4801 Power-Amp
Cobain frequently used a Mesa Boogie tube amp head as his pre-amp and a Crest 4801 power amp together to get the best sound. He barely used any gain in the amp settings, as he preferred to maintain a clean tone and kick it into heavy distortion using his pedals.
Marshall 4×12 Cabinet
Kurt Cobain used large 4×12 Marshall speaker cabinets due to their ease and accessibility. These speakers were also loud enough for the huge shows Nirvana played. However, Cobain did not care for the corporate structure of Marshall and would tape over the logo during his shows.
Kurt Cobain almost always used Dean Markley Electric Guitar Strings with the string gauge 10-52. These “light top/heavy bottom” gauge strings are iconic for the grunge sound because they have bassy low strings and trebly high strings.
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana had an everlasting effect on the music industry, so it’s no wonder that his gear is some of the most sought-after items for music collectors. If you want to sound like Cobain, the best place to start is to mimic the effects, strings, guitars, and amps he used.
If you want me to go over the gear of another musician or have any other questions, feel free to reach out!