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Music

Kurt Cobain once named his favourite guitar of all time

@SamWKemp

Kurt Cobain was a unique guitarist. Whereas the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck are celebrated because of their virtuosity and reverence of their instruments, Cobain is celebrated for his wonderfully scuzzy guitar riffs and an utter disregard for skill. His talent lay in his ability to remind his audience that what he was playing was little more than an electrified plank of wood. Like Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine), Cobain is a sort of guitar anti-hero, an outsider whose playing completely redefined the role of the guitar in contemporary rock music. Here, we join Cobain as he discusses what he looks for in a guitar and names his favourite.

Speaking to Guitar World in 1992, a year after the release of Nirvana’s seminal grunge album Nevermind, Cobain made his group’s approach to musicianship perfectly clear: “We’re just musically and rhythmically retarded,” he began. “We play so hard that we can’t tune our guitars fast enough. People can relate to that.” Like punk groups such as The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, the simple brilliance of Nirvana’s sound lay not in their virtuosity, but in their vitality; their raw and unrestrained assaults on modern rock.

Cobain went on to explain that in order to make the kind of music Nirvana play, it’s necessary to jettison any reverence for the guitar and ignore the image of the guitar as a status symbol. But, as Cobian clarified, his taste for cheaper models was always more a necessity than it was a preference: “I don’t favour them – I can afford them,” he laughed. “I’m left-handed, and it’s not very easy to find reasonably priced, high-quality left-handed guitars. But out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favourite. I’ve only owned two of them.”

What the Jazzmaster is to Kevin Shields the Mustang is to Kurt Cobain. Today, the model is so tied to the Nirvana frontman’s legacy that it’s not uncommon to walk into a guitar store and hear them being referred to as ‘Kurt guitars’. But let’s not forget that Cobain had a love-hate relationship with the Mustang. He liked them because they were cheap (they’re not anymore), but understood that they were pretty poorly designed and completely inefficient: “They sound like crap and are very small,” he said. “They also don’t stay in tune, and when you want to raise the string action on the fretboard, you have to loosen all the strings and completely remove the bridge. You have to turn these little screws with your fingers and hope that you’ve estimated it right. If you screw up, you have to repeat the process over and over until you get it right. Whoever invented that guitar was a dork.” Wow, no wonder Cobain never took an endorsement from Fender.

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