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Kurt Cobain's Unique Pedals and Settings

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A Little Background on Nirvana

In case you didn't know, Kurt Cobain was the singer/guitarist for Nirvana. Nirvana was formed in 1986 in the small town of Aberdeen, Washington, by Kurt Cobain and the Bassist Krist Novoselic.

After many drummers, they finally ended up with the final lineup of:

  • Kurt Cobain on guitar and lead vocals
  • Krist Novoselic on bass and vocals
  • Dave Grohl on drums and vocals (now lead singer/guitarist of the Foo Fighters)

The Boss DS-1

This pedal was used from Nirvana's forming until 1992. Additionally, it was used extensively on both the Bleach and Nevermind albums.

Kurt Cobain ds1 Settings

  • Level: Max
  • Tone: 11 to 1 O'clock
  • Distortion: Max (sometimes 1 to 2 O'clock in the studio)

(Kurt used the 1980s version of the DS-1, as it was discontinued and succeeded by the DS-2 in the early '90s. BOSS rereleased the DS-1, but without a chip crucial to the sound of the original DS-1. The DS-1's now are very different from the one that Kurt used)


The Boss DS-2

This is my personal favorite.

This one was used from 1992 up through the MTV Unplugged In New York performance.

(This pedal is very similar in sound and functionality to the old DS-1, as it was its successor. In fact, Turbo 1 was designed to sound like the DS-1.)

Kurt Cobain Settings

  • All the settings for the DS-2 are the same as the DS-1
  • Turbo: Turbo 1

The Tech 21 Sansamp Classic

This is an amp modeler and was used during the In Utero tour.

(An amp modeler simulates the sound of a certain amp or type of amp. There's a variety of amp and effects modeling systems and products, pedals and actual amps, cabinets and heads alike)

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Kurt Cobain Settings (from left to right)

  • Three Up
  • Three Down
  • Two Up
  • From there, everything is maxed except high control, which is at 12 O'clock.

The Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus

This one was used throughout Kurt's career, and it was one of his favorites. You can clearly hear it on "Teen Spirit" and "Come As You Are."

Kurt Cobain Settings

  • 12 O'clock
  • It was also rumored that Kurt used a Small Stone phaser pedal at some point, but I'm not sure about the truth in that.

The Electro-Harmonix PolyChorus

This one was used extensively on the In Utero tour.

Kinda funny with this one, this pedal wasn't actually Kurt's, but he used it a lot anyway. He lent it as a backup for an Electro-Harmonix EchoFlanger that didn't always work since the PolyChorus produced basically the same sound as the EchoFlanger. Oh yeah, don't worry, the original owner eventually got it back after Kurt wrote his settings on it and put velcro on it anyway.

Kurt used the EchoFlanger on the song Friendly Unit Radio Shifter from In Utero and used it for the "Heart Shaped Box" solo when played live.


Polychorus Settings

I'll just put up his handwritten notes.


The Proco Rat

Kurt used this pedal on the recording of "Territorial Pissings" on Nevermind. As far as I know, that is the only time he used it. I couldn't find his settings for it either.

Krist used this pedal for his distortion all the time when he wasn't using the DS-1, and Krist always used this pedal.


The Electro-Harmonix Big Muff

Kurt used this pedal subtly. It was used in conjunction with a Fender Bassman on the song "Lithium" from Nevermind.

It was also used sporadically during the In Utero Tour.


The MXR Phase 100

Kurt rarely used this pedal. Ever. He used it only one B-side from the Nevermind era called Curmudgeon.

This pedal has only two controls:

  • Intensity
  • Speed

"Curmudgeon" was a B-side from 1992 and included in the With the Lights Out box set.

What Do You Think of Kurt's Sound? Does He Deserve His Title? - I sure think he does!

JustinLCroft on November 12, 2013:

I recently bought a DS-2 from eBay. It has quickly become my most essential pedal. It is perfectly out-of-control.

Love it! Long live Kurt!

Charles_Valmont on November 10, 2013:

This is a great idea for a lens. Cobain created such a unique sound and because of that this was perfect for a lens.

EzLoanLookUp LM on May 20, 2013:

I was a big fan of Kurt's tone growing up, and although I've grown away from it, you can't deny he helped define an entire genre of guitar tone.

TanoCalvenoa on April 23, 2013:

I've always wondered how he got that sound on Radio Friendly Unit Shifter.

HomeDecorKnight on October 04, 2012:

Good lens, I like this lens.

havokxtian on September 03, 2012:

Thanks for this lens. Long live Cobain

JohnGcorner on June 14, 2012:

Wish he was still alive...

anonymous on April 13, 2012:

@Obscure_Treasures: Do you know what Pennyroyal Tea is?

anonymous on March 30, 2012:

is good

Paul Goodman from Florida, USA on February 27, 2012:

A fascinating read for electric guitar and Cobain enthusiasts alike! (I fit into both categories!)

DanielTiley on November 16, 2011:

Very cool lens!

adamfrench on October 01, 2011:

Impressive lens, thumbs up

Obscure_Treasures on July 09, 2011:

The person I inspires me the most is Kurt kobain though he is dead.I dream of having a bad like Nirvana.Great lens....Loved going through it.No matter where Kurt Kobain is now but he is sipping Pennyroyal Tea for sure...

jaysiggs (author) on May 04, 2011:

@anonymous: k, thanks man.

anonymous on May 03, 2011:

The Big Muff was used on Lithium. The amp used on that song was a Fender Bassman. Pretty sure it was a Blackface.

sushilkin lm on April 24, 2011:

Thanks for sharing nice lens! PRAY FOR JAPAN Please

jaysiggs (author) on April 17, 2011:

@Schnieders LM: Thanks a lot. he did same for me, he's a really influential guitarist.

Schnieders LM on April 17, 2011:

Awesome lens, Kurt Cobain ignited my interest in the guitar and playing in a band, as well as turning me on to old school punk rock that influenced Nirvana.

Great job bro, and great research on his settings.

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