Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was a guitar hero, no matter what people might tell you about his “sloppy” playing style. The man had a penchant for a riff like no other, and by imbuing his punk-inspired sound with sugary pop melodies, he managed to create a whole new way forward for rock music, inspiring legions in the process.
Whilst he wasn’t one to dazzle with technical peacocking, Cobain served the song just as his heroes John Lennon and Neil Young and gave fans many timeless moments on the six-string, including ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Heart-Shaped Box’. His fuzz-drenched style remains iconic and will continue to be so for a very long time.
Given that he was Generation X’s guitar hero, when Cobain was at his creative zenith in the early 1990s, every muso on the planet wanted to understand his artistry better. In November 1991, the week Nirvana’s seminal record Nevermind was released, Guitar World conducted their final interview with Kurt Cobain and questioned him about his guitar playing and one of the models of guitar that he is most synonymous with, the Fender Mustang.
At one point, the interview focused on why Cobain favoured “low-end” models of guitars, to which he responded: “I don’t favour them – I can afford them. [laughs] I’m left-handed, and it’s not very easy to find reasonably priced, high-quality left-handed guitars,” he said. “But out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favourite. I’ve only owned two of them.”
The interviewer then asked what facets of the guitar worked for the Nirvana leader, and he replied in his typically surreal sense of humour: “They’re cheap and totally inefficient, and they sound like crap and are very small. 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.”
Then it got really hilarious. Cobain was told that the dork in question was, in fact, Leo Fender, the man who founded and gave his name to the ubiquitous company and the designer of their most iconic models. After the revelation, the Aberdeen, Washington native said: “I guess I’m calling Leo Fender, the dead guy, a dork. Now I’ll never get an endorsement. [laughs] We’ve been offered a Gibson endorsement, but I can’t find a Gibson I like.”
Closing the section, Cobain was asked whether the Mustang was his only guitar, and Nirvana fans will guess his answer straightaway. He then namechecked the model that he is most famous for, The Fender Jaguar. He explained: “No, I own a ’66 Jaguar. That’s the guitar I polish and baby – I refuse to let anyone touch it when I jump into the crowd. [laughs] Lately, I’ve been using a Strat live, because I don’t want to ruin my Mustang yet. I like to use Japanese Strats because they’re a bit cheaper, and the frets are smaller than the American versions.”
It’s no secret that Kurt Cobain was a fan of the Fender Mustang, even if the reasons he gave for using it in this interview are utterly nonsensical. However, he would quickly realise that there were elements of both the Mustang and Jaguar that he loved and needed, so he would eventually design the Fender Jagstang in 1994, a hybrid of both that was made specifically for his unmistakable sound, and is now used by a whole host of alternative rock legends.
Watch Kurt Cobain perform ‘Drain You’ on a Fender Mustang below.