Kurt Cobain and the Smells Like Teen Spirit Mustang
Deep Dives

Was Kurt Cobain Left-Handed? True or Myth?

Kurt Cobain, the legendary frontman of Nirvana, left an indelible mark on the world of rock music. Apart from his powerful lyrics and distinctive voice, there’s a long-standing question among fans and enthusiasts: Was Kurt Cobain left-handed? The truth is that he played guitar with his left hand, but wrote with his right hand!

In this blog, we will delve into the intriguing world of Kurt Cobain’s handedness, exploring why he ended up playing the guitar with his left hand…

The Truth behind why he was ambidextrous

Someone writing with their right hand.

Kurt Cobain’s left-handedness was obviously not a result of a conscious choice or external factors but rather a natural inclination. The reason behind his right-hand writing however is due to the fact he was educated to use his right hand to write. This at the tome was seen as the correct way to write. 

But this forced right-handedness also had an effect on his performance, and of course, his guitar playing. Undoubtedly the way a left-handed guitar is played plays a pivotal role in defining an artist’s unique musical style. From a lack of guitars available to modifying right-handed guitars, these minute factors create nuances in performance. 

How do we know Kurt was left-handed

Well, the answer here is simple… We have tonnes of photographic and video evidence, as well as, a bunch of personal recounts of his performance. 

To witness Cobain’s left-handed guitar playing in action, you just have to watch any of Nirvana’s performances and music videos. Footage from their iconic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video, for instance, showcases Cobain passionately strumming his left-handed guitar. It’s these performances that solidify the fact that Cobain was unmistakably left-handed.

However, if you still aren’t convinced, put on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance, then you cannot deny it. 

The musical impact

Now for the more intriguing bit, the effect being left-handed has on a guitar player. So, the thing is being left-handed certainly impacts the way you play the guitar.

For starters, as left-handed guitars are harder to come by, many left-handers would buy right-handed guitars and string them in a way which suited their dexterity. This means the guitar’s pickups are then reversed with their voicing, resulting in a distinct sound. This certainly could have contributed to Cobain’s signature style during the Bleach period, something that could have helped them stand out in the Seattle scene.

Another reason that Kurt being left-handed may have affected his playing is through his chord progressions. Left-handed players often approach chord progressions and fingerpicking patterns differently. 

This is something we can infer from Nirvana’s music. Kurt often played with unconventional chord progressions, and his ambidextrous background certainly shines in the strength of his strumming. 

Southpaw style

As we can see, Kurt Cobain’s left-handed guitar playing contributed to the unique sonic signature of Nirvana. His use of power chords, unconventional strumming patterns, and raw energy were all intertwined with his left-handed approach to the guitar. 

If we look at specific examples to accent this section, songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are” showcase Cobain’s distinctive guitar work. Shown by the fusion of melody and dissonance, energetic and unique chord patterns, and a more expressive strike. Kurt’s playing is a testament to how a musician’s handedness can become an integral part of their artistic identity.

His impact on the perception of left-handed players

Kurt’s guitar playing was pivotal for all guitarists but it did a lot for the perception of left-handed guitarists. Prior to Cobain’s rise to fame, left-handed guitarists were relatively underrepresented in the mainstream music world, and they often faced logistical challenges when it came to instrument availability and accessibility.

This fact was corrected by Fender, who helped Kurt make certain models of guitars more available. To this day sell his signatures in both left-handed and right-handed variants. This combination was so iconic in the grunge scene that his left-handed Fender Mustang became emblematic of the alternative rock movement in the 1990s. See their collabs here! 

His prominence as a left-handed guitarist shattered the notion that left-handedness was a hindrance in the world of music. Instead, he demonstrated that it could be a unique asset, working it into his unique style and adopting multi-handed tendencies into his playing. 

Predecessors success

Just to clarify, I am not saying that Kurt is the best left-hander of all time, that is down to personal preference. What I am saying, however, is he undoubtedly, belongs among the greats like Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Tony Iommi, and Albert King. These iconic left-handed players have left an indelible mark on music history, each with their distinct styles and contributions. 

The brilliance of Cobain’s left-handed guitar playing doesn’t diminish the remarkable achievements of his fellow lefty guitar legends but rather solidifies his place, and the position of left-handers, in the history of modern music. 

Left-handed modifications

Kurt Cobain's Univox

As mentioned above Kurt often modified his guitars to accommodate his guitar playing. This included flipping the guitar, restringing it and relocating the bridge and tailpiece to suit his left-handed orientation. Of course, this made playing the guitar a whole lot easier. There were numerous guitars that underwent this treatment, from Fender Mustangs to his iconic Uni-voxs. 

The reversed strings and components contributed to the distinct, raw quality of his playing. This is something that became synonymous with Kurt. To suit Kurt’s left-handed mods, he occasionally would change the pickups on his guitars ensuring that his playing style was perfectly accented.

See more about Kurt’s guitars here!  

The left-handed genius

So yes Kurt was left-handed and as you can see it impacted his playing, forming part of his unique playing style. Don’t get us wrong it’s not the whole reason, as the majority of that is down to Kurt’s unique creativity that couldn’t be recreated by any left-hander. 

What is clear, however, is the fact that Cobain’s left-handed guitar playing has left a lasting impact on encouraging discussions and fascination about the relationship between handedness and musical talent.

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