Kurt Cobain at MTV unplugged

The 7 iconic guitars of Kurt Cobain

Almost all of Kurt Cobain’s guitars have become iconic. This is because of the artist’s now legendary status. This has meant that as time has passed since Kurt Cobain’s untimely death, his guitars have become more and more sought-after. Everyone now wants a piece of Nirvana history in their collection. Let’s go through the catalogue and see 7 of his most impressive models, and if we can, see where they are now.

Kurt’s Smells Like Teen Spirit Fender Mustang

Kurt Cobain and the Smells Like Teen Spirit MustangImage credit: Kevin Mazur Archive 1/WireImage

The first guitar we have to talk about is the 1969 Competition Fender Mustang. This guitar was the one Kurt Cobain used in the music video to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, therefore making it the guitar most people will probably associate with Kurt. While not frequently used by the guitarist, this model was an excellent option for Kurt to get his signature sound. For starters, it came in a left-handed version, and it was easily customisable. Then, when you add on the fact that the guitar was incredibly cost effective, it makes it an even better option. It looks amazing, too, which is probably the reason it was used in the music video. A dark blue body and painted headstock combined with a lighter blue stripe on the body, it is breathtaking.

Since his death, this guitar has moved around, initially spending a lot of time in the MoPOP Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, before being listed for auction in 2022. The guitar sold for $4.5 million and now holds the title for the most expensive electric guitar of all time. It was sold to Jim Isray, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who is a keen guitar collector. Some of the proceeds went to mental health charity Kicking the Stigma.

Kurt Cobain’s Mosrite Gospel

It is often assumed that Kurt Cobain used a lot of Moserites, although this is untrue. He actually only ever owned two. The majority of the models Kurt used were actually Univox knock-offs. This guitar is incredibly unique, with it being the only Gospel having a Mark IV body in existence. This guitar was mainly used in the run-up to the album ‘Nevermind‘, making this guitar in use from 1990 to 1991.

In the video below, you can see Kurt using the guitar in a practice for the song  ‘On a Plain’:

The guitar was actually sold by Kurt to a pawn shop not long after this period, for what is rumoured to be $150. Afterwards, it was purchased for a small profit to the shop. After years, and only when the person who purchased it passed away, did the new owners family ask for the history of the guitar to be traced. After finding out who it belonged to, it went up for auction twice, once in 2004 and again in 2006. The final price it went for was $131,450. After this, the guitar spent time within the MoPoP Nirvana exhibit. The guitar is still accounted for, however, the current owner is unknown.

Read our deep dive on Kurt’s Moserites.


The MTV unplugged Martin D-18E

This may be the guitar I associate the most with Kurt. This is because the MTV performance is the one that made me fall in love with the Nirvana frontman (and it made me want to play the guitar)! And blimey, this one has a long story!

Kurt Cobain’s Martin D-18E was constructed in a time when companies were still trying to perfect the electro-acoustic guitar in the 1950s, hence why it featured two DeArmond pickups.

The guitar was purchased by Kurt for $5000 in early 1992. After being in possession of the guitar and equipping it with bronze-wound strings, Kurt began to dislike the sound of the DeArmond pickups. This was due to the fact they were poor at accentuating his performance. He would eventually replace these pickups with a Bartolini 3AV sound hole pickup. This modification is what gives the guitar its incredibly individual tone. With tone controls for each pickup, Kurt would eventually tape down the dials to avoid knocking them while playing.

You can see the Martin D-18E in use here:

Kurt’s daughter Francis Bean Cobain ended up inheriting this guitar, although during a divorce it ended up in her ex-husbands possession. Shortly after the guitar went up for auction, selling for an astounding $6 million, making it the most expensive guitar of all time, and with so much admiration, you can see why. This guitar may be the definitive  “Kurt Cobain guitar.”

Kurt’s Fender Jaguar

Kurt’s Fender Jaguar is so unique that Fender created their own signature model for the artist. This model proved so popular that it is still made today. But what made it so special? Well, for starters, the guitar was a 1960s Jaguar, but instead of the traditional single-coils, the guitar was equipped with two DiMarzio humbuckers. These consisted of a PAF at the neck position and a Super Distortion at the bridge.

These weren’t the only modifications. Others included, an additional volume control, a single pickup selector switch, and a Tune-O-Matic bridge. These changes gave the guitar a grittier, thicker sound and because of this, it brilliantly accented Kurt’s distorted tone. Kurt didn’t make any modification himself apart from his usual, which is taping the controls down.

As for what happened after his death, no one is quite sure. Some believe it ended up in the possession of the guitarist from Hole. Others (including Krist Novoselic) thought the model ended up belonging to Martin Jenner, the live guitarist for Cliff Richard.

Kurt’s Fender Stratocasters

When you think of iconic Nirvana performances, 1992 at Reading may be one that jumps to mind. The reason this performance may be the one you think of is because it was released in dvd format in 2009. During this headline gig, Kurt played a sunburst Stratocaster. Well, he did mostly. This sunburst Strat was modified in only one way, which was the adoption of a Seymour Duncan pickup at the bridge. This mod gives the guitar that higher-octane grunge tone.

Kurt had used Stratocasters previously to this, mostly in the recording of ‘Nevermind‘, although the album is rumoured to be recorded with the famous ‘Vandalism’ Stratocaster, which is named after its decals. This makes the Stratocaster important to Kurt, but he never really gave them a second thought, because not many survived.

What happened to Kurt’s Strats? Well, some were destroyed, but for most, their whereabouts are unknown. We do know that the Vandalism Strat was phased out by the Jaguar as Kurt’s favourite, and now no one knows where it is. The Reading Strat, however, was given to the crowd, although it is rumoured to have found its way back to Kurt, but the model that claimed to be this guitar is slightly different. This claimed model is in the MoMoP in Seattle too.

Kurt’s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 4

This guitar is unlike the other Univox’s that Kurt used. This is because it was the only Phase 4 he owned. The rest Kurt had were Phase 3s. The unfortunate thing for Univox was that the company was defunct before they could see a legendary artist pick up their models. The use of this guitar, however, was fairly limited. It appeared in the Heart Shaped box music video and a few live performances after that. Since this video was filmed in September 1993, there was very little time it was in use.


These guitars are no longer in use, as they were phased out by Korg. Although some manufacturers now make copies of the models. Again not much is really known of this guitar after Kurt’s death. All we do know is that it lives on for both him and the company in the ‘Heart Shaped Box‘ video.

Kurt’s Fender Jag-Stang

Now for the guitar Kurt Cobain created himself. The Fender Jag-Stang was an idea conceived in Kurt’s brain. This was the idea to mix the Fender Jaguar, and the Fender Mustang in order to create the ultimate guitar. This guitar had the bottom half of a Mustang, and the top half of a Jaguar. This decision left the guitar with a single-coil at the neck position and a humbucker at the bridge, while also having the short-scale playability of the Mustang.

The Fender Jag-Stang
Credit: Fender

The creation of the Jag-Stang was archived in the release of Kurt’s journals.  So we know now the idea was put forward with two polaroids of each guitar cut in half and then stuck back together. This then, with conversation between Kurt and Fender, led to the creation of a prototype. Kurt played with the guitar for a while before delivering his feedback. The guitar was then completed and sent to Kurt.

Unfortunately Kurt had passed away before the production of the final product. With approval from his estate, Fender was allowed to complete the production of the model and it was released. The guitar has been brought back intermittently by Fender, with the last release in 2022 to celebrate 30 years of ‘Nevermind’. As a guitar created by Kurt himself, this could be the definitive Kurt Cobain guitar.

If you want to read about another alt rock artist head here!


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