Nirvana Gear Guide: Kurt Cobain's Bleach-era Sound

'Nevermind' made their name. 'In Utero' was their masterpiece. But it was 'Bleach' that defined Grunge, so here's our guide to Kurt Cobain's guitar gear during that period.

Nirvana live

Picture: Kurt Cobain live with Nirvana in 1990, playing his Mosrite Mark IV "Gospel" now a new Eastwood Custom Shop project!

Alongside Mudhoney's 'Superfuzz & Big Muff', it was Nirvana's debut 'Bleach' (famously recorded by Jack Endino for just $600) which helped to define the "Grunge" sound. More than 27 (!!!) years later, it's still an inspiration for many guitarists who like their rock music dirty & simple!

Kurt Cobain used a Randall solid-state head and 4x12 cab at the time, but for the album, Kurt used Endino's Fender Twin Reverb, and the only pedal he used was a Boss DS-1 Distortion. As simple as it was effective - and anyone can pretty easily replicate this setup, since Kurt's distortion sound had more to do with the cheap Boss than anything else. 

Boss DS-1

In 1990, after the recording of 'Bleach', Kurt Cobain got the pedal that supplied some of the most memorable moments in his career - the Electro-Harmonix Small Clone chorus. So, Kurt was using it pre-'Nevermind' but only with this album it became really inseparable from his sound - hard to imagine songs such as Come As You Are without it!

Kurt Cobain & the Univox Hi-Flier 

Kurt Cobain and a white Univox Hi-Flier

Picture: Kurt Cobain and a white Univox Hi-Flier

The most crucial thing back then (1989-1990) was Kurt's taste for cheap Univox Hi-Flier guitars. According to Rick King, owner of Guitar Maniacs in Tacoma, Washington, Cobain "bought a whole bunch of Univox Hi-Flyers—both the P-90 version and ones with humbuckers. Those pickups have huge output and are completely over the top. He broke a lot of those guitars. We sold him several of them for an average of $100 each over the course of five years." 

Even though Kurt used several other guitars onstage (Telecaster, Epiphone ET-270 etc) according to Endino he only used Univox guitars on 'Bleach'... and played quite a few different models, live.

Kurt's Smashed Univox

Picture: Kurt's Smashed Univox in Sunburst

Kurt Cobain and a sunburst Univox which has inspired many mods since

Picture: Kurt Cobain and a sunburst Univox which has inspired many mods since

One of his most interesting Univox guitars of the period is his 68 Hi-Flier Custom, in sunburst finish with tortoiseshell pickguard - which made it look quite different than the usual Univox models.

The P90s were replaced with a Seymour Duncan 59 and JB humbucker set, and it was apparently Kurt’s favorite Univox guitar - one of the few he didn't smash, and he might've used it for 'In Utero'! ( subsequently, Kurt would use the same set of humbuckers with most of his guitars.)

This model has spawned a popular mod, such as this one:

Vintage Univox modded to look like Kurt's

Picture: Vintage Univox modded to look like Kurt's

In short - these Univox models were some of Kurt Cobain's favourite guitars, and he kept playing Hi-Fliers well into the 'In Utero' phase and last tour.  Kurt chose a white one with humbuckers for the 'Heart-Shaped Box' video and subsequent tour.

Kurt Cobain and a hardtail Hi-Flier on the Heart-Shaped Box video
Kurt Cobain and a hardtail Hi-Flier on the Heart-Shaped Box video

For this reason, it's no coincidence that our own Custom Shop Hi-Flyer models are so popular - no doubt because of many Kurt Cobain fans out there:

Custom Shop Hi-Flyer Phase 4

Eastwood Hi-Flyer Phase 4

The Custom Shop Hi-Flyer Phase 4 is our tribute to the Univox model as used by Kurt Cobain in 'Heart Shaped Box'. Read more...

Custom Shop Hi-Flyer Phase 4 DLX

Custom Shop Hi-Flyer Phase 4 DLX

The Custom Shop Hi-Flyer Phase 4 DLX comes equipped with hot P90s and tremolo, and also looks like a Univox Kurt would've played! Read more...

Custom Shop Univox Hi-Flyer

Custom Shop Univox Hi-Flyer

The Custom Shop Univox Hi-Flyer is the one that closely resembles Kurt's famous "smashed Univox" which has been exhibited in Seattle and other parts of the world.

The Kurt Cobain Mosrite Mark IV "Gospel"

Kurt Cobain and his Mosrite Mark IV "Gospel"

Picture: Kurt Cobain and his Mosrite Mark IV "Gospel"

Kurt wasn't just about the Univox Hi-Flier, either. These models were cheap Japanese copies of Mosrite guitars, and Kurt indeed used at least one Mosrite model: the Mosrite Mark IV "Gospel". Kurt used this guitar on several occasions and, as far as we know, never smashed it! It's the guitar that he played at Dave Grohl's first ever Nirvana gig in 1990, at Olympia's Nortyh Shore Surf Club.

WATCH: RARE NIRVANA FOOTAGE FROM 1990

This model is the inspiration for our new Custom Shop Mark IV tribute, which is coming out in March 2018 and, once again, seems to be a popular choice with Nirvana fans!

Custom Shop Mark IV Tribute

The new Custom Shop Mark IV Tribute. Find out more...

Our Sidejack Series is also another great choice for players who love the shape of Univox / Mosrite but want more choice of colors and other specs, such as 12-string, baritone etc. 

Kurt Cobain FX Pedals & Amp Settings

This new infographic (by guitarchalk.com) is a good starting point for guitarists who own the same gear as Kurt and would like to emulate his tone.

Kurt Cobain fx pedals & amp settings

FIND OUT MORE:

Kurt Cobain Guitar & Gear

Guitar World Kurt Cobain article & guide 

 


16 comments

  • MGRD

    One baby to another says
    “Irwin should have been aborted”

  • Carolyn Donovan

    Hey you guys bet when you wrote your tacky comments you never thought about what the world would be like now, why not trying to all just getting along, and hope we live to appreciate everything Eastwood puts out in 2020. Everyone has different tastes and some of the greatest axes you’ll never get to hear or play haven’t come back around yet and you’ll miss out on that unless people request it from Eastwood. Do you remember when you picked up that one guitar that felt like it was an extension of your hands, a part of you? Well many,many people haven’t had that pleasure yet so just be kind and hope every friend you haven’t met yet has the opportunity you did and let’s share the good stuff instead of bitching about something or someone you don’t even know anything about.

  • JSitz

    Hey Irwin Rommel! Why don’t you do everyone a favor and join in on that so called “boogie”. The world really needs less cruel, nazi-like, cold people like you, so I hope that one day you know what it feels like to have an urge to blow your head off. Maybe then you won’t get so unreasonably angry over someone else’s success in music. Honestly sir I don’t even know how you typed that disgusting mess out, whether you made it up or not. What a sick mind. Long live Kurt and the idea of peace, love, and empathy.

  • Angel

    What a short,yet incredible and powerful legacy Kurt left behind,he’s the people’s champ and will never be forgotten. What a talent

  • Jimmy

    There are some sad fuckers in the world. Irwin Rommel is their postboy.


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