Unbelievably, Nirvana’s In Utero is Twenty years old – in recognition, we look at Kurt Cobain’s Gear
Nirvana’s 3rd album, ‘In Utero’ is twenty years old in a few months time. Though ‘Nevermind’ is Nirvana’s best known work, it could be argued that ‘In Utero’, the band’s final studio recording, is the album that has stood the test of time the best of all.
Far more dissonant, and less ‘slick’ than both the Butch Vig produced ‘Nevermind’ and debut, ‘Bleach’, it’s a powerful, emotive and bruised record that rejects the sensibilities of its predecessor, and in the process becomes far more a timeless creation.
This is in no small part to Steve Albini’s involvement in its recording, but also Kurt’s personal circumstances at the time.
In recognition of ‘In Utero’ s 2nd decade, we thought it might be fitting to take a look at some of the gear Kurt used to forge Nirvana’s sound.
Initially, Kurt’s favoured guitar was the Univox Flyer, which he used during the recording of ‘Bleach’, and regularly smashed to pieces.
The guitar that Kurt is most closely associated with is perhaps the Jaguar, however. This arrived when the band signed to Geffen, and had money to spend on equipment for the first time. He described his ’66 Jag as the one he likes to ‘baby’ and not let anyone touch.
His favourite guitar, however, was the Fender Mustang (famously used in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video). Why? Because they were cheap and sounded trashy.
He also played Japanese Strats live, but this was because he didn’t want to ruin his Mustangs, according to interviews.
All were left handed, of course, and Kurt tended to modify his guitars to provide considerably more gain. Fender’s tribute Jag and Mustang models pay homage to this modification. He also swapped the tremolo bridges on his Mustangs for fixed, Tune-o-matics.
In terms of acoustics, Kurt’s choices veered from one extreme to the other. ‘Polly’ featured a $20 Stella that barely stayed in tune, but he was known to play a far more pleasant Martin D-18, too…
During the recording of ‘Bleach’, Kurt played through a solid-state Randall head, and a BFI cabinet. Before recording ‘Nevermind’, this was switched to a Mesa-Boogie pre-amp, Crown Power amp and Marshall 4×10 cabinets.
Kurt used to buy effects regularly, often just to mess around with. One constant from the ‘Bleach’ recordings, through to ‘In Utero’ was his Boss DS-1 pedal. This classic distortion was the basis of many of the heavier tones used live and in the studio.
Alongside this, favourite pedals included the EHX Small Clone Chorus (used on ‘Come As You Are’ s famous guitar hook, and the phasey, distorted guitars in the background that lead into the chorus of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’), EHX Big Muff, ProCo Rat, MXR Phaser and Distortion, and it’s said that he once bought Digitech Grunge pedal as a joke…
Like all guitarists’ gear lists, this will only take you so far. Technique is everything, and here, you’re emulating a guitarist who Chuck Berry once described as have a ‘touch that guitarists would kill for’.
However, cranking up the gain, and tearing through some Nirvana riffs is about as satisfying as playing the guitar gets.
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