Why Kurt Cobain ONLY Played “Crap” Fender Guitars…

What Guitar Did Kurt Cobain Play
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Kurt Cobain’s favorite guitar was the Fender Mustang – but not for the reasons you think…

When Nevermind dropped, Kurt Cobain’s money worries were over. He was a career musician that, unlike 99.9% of his peers at the time, was able to make a handsome living writing and playing music. From his humble beginnings in Aberdeen, this was more than he could have ever hoped to achieve. By the time Nevermind dropped, Nirvana was one of the biggest bands on the planet.

In fact, the mid-1990s grunge era was predominantly a byproduct of Nirvana’s success and Cobain’s wide appeal. Nirvana paved the way for other bands in this niche – bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and even the Melvins. And while Nirvana might not have been the “best” grunge band of the era, it is certainly the most enduring. Just last week, I saw a teenager rocking a Nirvana t-shirt. In 2022. This is an incredible feat for a band that hasn’t released an album since the 1990s.

It was Nirvana’s Nevermind album that turned the band into a global phenomenon, propelling the small, Seattle-based grunge band from outsider status to one of the biggest-selling artists on the planet. No one, including Cobain, ever expected this to happen. I think this was part of the reason he fell prey to drugs and mental health issues – he just wasn’t cut out for life under the microscope.

What Guitar Did Kurt Cobain Play
Out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite. They’re cheap and totally inefficient, and they sound like crap and are very small” – Kurt Cobain

One of the coolest things about Kurt Cobain, however, was his complete disdain for gear worship. He didn’t like fancy guitars, fancy amps, or even tuning his guitar properly. He preferred to create nasty sounds spiked with melody, and he did this with the least amount of gear possible. Nirvana was about taking stuff away, not adding things. It was about making a noise that you’d remember. And it was refreshingly punk rock in this regard.

What Guitar Did Kurt Cobain Play?

Over his short career, Kurt Cobain pretty much exclusively used Fender guitars. He used Stratocasters, Mustangs, and Jaguars, as well as his hybrid Jagstang guitar that was part Mustang, part Jaguar. Now, most modern guitarists play Fender guitars because they sound great and play wonderfully. Not Kurt. No, he played them because they were, in his words, “cheap” and “sounded like crap”.

Kurt was a Fender man, sure. But he did have a favorite Fender model. And that was the Fender Mustang. Check out the quote from Kurt below – he explains EXACTLY why he loved the Fender Mustang so much.

Out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite. They’re cheap and totally inefficient, and they sound like crap and are very small.

Kurt Cobain

All The Fender Models Used By Kurt Cobain

As I noted earlier, Cobain played a range of Fender guitars during his Nirvana days. The one he is most well known for playing is the Fender Mustang – he had several of these in different colors, including a 1969 Fender Competition Mustang, and he customized them heavily, adding in Seymour Duncan JB pickups and a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic bridge.

Here’s a breakdown of all the guitars Kurt Cobain used while he was making and recording music with Nirvana.

  • Fender Stratocaster – By the time Nevermind got released, Cobain was using Strats quite a lot while touring the album. The most well-known one was, of course, the Strat with the “Vandalism” sticker.
  • Gibson SG – During Nirvana’s Bleach era, Kurt used a Gibson SG that he built himself. This guitar was known to be extremely problematic, seldom work, and sound pretty awful. It didn’t last long, basically.
  • Fender Jaguar – Cobain also used a Fender Jaguar quite often while touring both Nevermind and in the run-up to the release of Heart Shaped Box. Of all the guitars he used, the Jaguar is perhaps the one most people associate with Cobain the most.
  • Fender Mustang – Cobain used his 1969 Fender Competition Mustang in the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit. For this express reason, and the fact that the video has been watched a billion times, the Mustang is, again, also heavily associated with Nirvana and Kurt Cobain.
  • 1950s Martin D-18E – Kurt played this guitar during Nirvana’s now-iconic MTV Unplugged session, back when MTV was an actual music channel and not the propaganda wing for everything unholy and wrong on planet earth.

Does Fender Still Make Kurt Cobain’s Guitar?

Kurt called the Fender Mustang “cheap” and “crappy sounding”, not something you’ll ever see on Fender’s marketing material. But, yes, Fender still makes both the Mustang and the Jaguar. In fact, both of these models are extremely popular in 2022. You can pick up Squier versions of them too for a very reasonable price as well – well under $300 in most cases.

In fact, if you want to take Kurt’s ethos and approach to guitar, you should AVOID Fender’s more expensive models and go with its cheaper Squier alternatives. You can then do what Kurt liked to do and start modding the guitar with new pickups and improved locking tuners. As noted above, Kurt used Seymour Duncan JB pickups on most of his guitars.

In fact, you can now pick up a Squier Bullet Mustang with two humbucking pickups for just $179.99. That is a price Kurt would approve of, but he would probably take issue with the way the guitar plays nowadays – Squier guitars are now very, very good options. And they play and sound beautiful, especially with double HH pickup configurations.

If you want the ACTUAL guitar Kurt played, you’ll need slightly deeper pockets. A proper Fender Mustang or Jaguar will set you back the best part of $1400. But if Kurt were alive today, you know he’d be playing Squier guitars.

Why? Because they’re “cheap” and “sound crappy” compared to Fender’s main guitars. And that makes them way more punk rock. And Kurt was all about being punk rock.


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