Recording of 'Bleach'

Jack Endino says in the early days a Univox guitar (Hi-Flyer (57)) with stock humbuckers was used (54). Jack bought one of these type of stock Univox pickups from Kurt once. It was in pieces, but Jack was able to stick the wires together (57). The Univox(s) was around approximately until "Sappy" was recorded; a new guitar was seen at least by the time Jack did the "In Utero" demos which he remembers as being a small Fender guitar, "perhaps a Mustang." The Randall was in the shop when "Bleach" was recorded, so Jack Endino's '68 Fender Twin amp was used on the album. It didn't have any speakers and was run into a closed-back 2x12 cabinet loaded with 70 or 75-watt Celestions of Kurt's (54). This cabinet was Kurt's BFI Bullfrog 2x12 (59). Jack says Kurt used a bottom-of-the-line orange Boss distortion pedal ( a Boss DS-1)(54). Awah-wah pedal was used, as well ("Bleach" 34). The album was recorded close-miked with a Shure SM-58 to an Otari half-inch 8-track at 15 ips with no noise reduction. According to Endino, "Much later, for the In Utero demos, Kurt showed up with all this top-of-the-line Mesa Boogie rack gear that sounded kind of colorless and washed out - but was loud as fuck" (54).

See Jack Endino's Web Page ( for more details.
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Recording of 'Nevermind'

"Nevermind" was recorded at Sound City, Van Nuys and Devonshire, North Hollywood studios. It was produced by Butch Vig and NIRVANA. With the monetary advance for recording the album the band had more money to choose equipment; Kurt bought "a bunch" of guitars and effects from Guitar Maniacs (57).

The guitars used were his competition Mustang, his Jaguar, and a new Stratocaster(s) with humbuckers in the bridge positions (6). Kurt purchased a bunch of Japanese Strats (had humbuckers installed in the bridges) and effects for this album from Rick King of Guitar Maniacs. Just prior to recording this album Kurt apparently developed a taste for Fender guitars. It has been said his main amp was a Mesa/Boogie Studio .22 but the recording setup was really similar, if not identical, to his upcoming live setup (purchased before entering the studio): Mesa/Boogie Studio Preamp with a Crown power amp and a variety of Marshall cabinets. In live performances, his Crown power amp was eventually replaced with 2 Crest power amps, discussed in the "Amplification" section (57). He also used a Fender Bassman on about four songs and a Vox AC30 for some clean tracks. Four microphones were used to mic Kurt's speaker cabinet (he would pick which mic he liked best for each song and its signal was sent through the Neve console at Sound City): a Shure SM57, an AKG 414, a Neumann U87, and occasionally a Sennheiser 421. His main effects were the DS-1 Distortion and Small Clone. A ProCo Rat distortion pedal was also used on some songs on the album (6).

According to Vig, the Small Clone was the key to "the watery guitar sound you hear on the pre-chorus build-up of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and also 'Come As You Are.'" An Electro-Harmonix Big Muff fuzz box was used on "Lithium" for that "dark, thumpier sound." Vig recalls using the U87 mike on "Lithium" because it wasn't so bright and had a heavier sound.

"Polly" was recorded at Vig's Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin during demo sessions for "Nevermind" with his 12-string Harmony Stella. It only had 5 nylon strings on it that were never changed. Tuned down about a step and a half from E and recorded with an AKG 414 microhone (See "Guitars" section).
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Recording of 'Incesticide'

Almost all of this section is unknown and any info on it is pure speculation, simply taking into account what gear Kurt was using at the time. A few things to note. NIRVANA used Tad's equipment (while TAD was at dinner) to record the "Sliver" single. Also noteworthy is that you can hear the Small Clone chorus on the intro to "Aneurysm" (57).
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Recording of 'In Utero'

"In Utero" was recorded at Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota with producer Steve Albini (25). As for guitars, Kurt used his Fender Jaguar (57) and possibly the Ibanez Les Paul mentioned in the "Guitars, Miscellaneous" section. The Stella acoustic, after it was fixed-up with new tuners and strings, was used for the acoustics on the album (41)(57).

Kurt's Fender Twin Reverb was the main amp used (57).

As for effects, the Boss DS-2, Small Clone chorus (on what I don't know-- possibly the solo to "Verse Chorus Verse"?), Earnie's Polychorus (57), his own EchoFlanger, (41) and supposedly a Tech 21 Classic SansAmp amp-simulator effects box (32) were used. No rotovibe was used despite what it says in the tablature book ("In Utero" sheet music book 26)(41).

NIRVANA chose Steve Albini to record "In Utero" because he was able to get a sound which was "very in-your-face and real" according to Kurt (38).

Kurt said that because mics are so directional, to get a surrounding sound you need to use many tracks or use an omnidirectional microphone farther away from the instruments to pick up the reverberation from the walls. The key was to use many microphones, a technique he had been trying to get producers to do ever since they had been recording. Old, large German microphones were taped to the walls, ceiling, and floor... "all over the place" (38).
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Recording of 'Unplugged'

The acoustic guitar Kurt used on "Unplugged" ("Unplugged 21")(and his main acoustic guitar around this time) was his late 50's Martin D-18E (57, etc).
Although the standard procedure for "Unplugged" is for acoustics to run direct, Kurt insisted on putting his Martin through his Fender Twin Reverb amp; but it was only used as a monitor! To keep the amp as clean as possible, the 7025 preamp tubes (59) were replaced with 12AX7's and the 12AT7 phase inverter was replaced with a 12AU7. Alex Coletti ("Unplugged" producer) made a box out in front of the amp to make it look like a monitor (32)(57). Again, Earnie believes this amp was used ONLY as a monitor, as the guitar on the album sounds to him as if it's coming off of the D.I. box. He can't be sure, though (59).

Along with the Twin Reverb, the DS-2 distortion pedal and E-H Small Clone chorus were also used (seen 21)(57). The Echoflanger and Polychorus were also brought to the rehearsal but they weren't used because they created too much 60-cycle hum (57).

Kurt used Finger-ease on the fretboard of the Martin to smooth out the solo to "About A Girl." "You know that goofy-ass stuff? It's like anal gel" said Kurt, who knew to use the roll-on as opposed to the spray. He said that he had never used fretboard lubricant before but that his "country and western aunt" used to (32).

(For non-technical/instrumental stuff on "Unplugged," see "Guitar World/Archives"-- source 32).
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Tour Gear Summary

"Bleach"-era (and before): Mostly Univox Hi-Flyers and the Epiphone ET270. Lots of miscellaneous guitars were used, though. Usually the Randall solid-state head with a BFI Bullfrog 2x12 cab, but not a whole lot is known about these early days.

"Nevermind"-era: Initially only the 1965 Jaguar, '69 Mustang, and Japanese strats for guitars; later the sunburst Tele painted blue. Univoxes continually used occasionally. Dean Markley .010-.052 guitar strings and orange Dunlop picks. Mesa/Boogie Studio preamp, Crown power amp (evetually replaced with 2 Crest 4801 power amps), Marshall cabs (predominant speakers of this tour were Celestion 75's (59). Also tried a rackmounted wireless system for a bit. Boss DS-1 and the Small Clone chorus. Basically the same setup used for recording "Nevermind." Nick Close said everybody had the exact amount of things needed to play a show. If anything broke, they were in trouble. He tried to get them to have extra cords and pedals. Nick was always looking for a backup for his DS-1 (which opposes what Kurt said about going through 5 a tour). One time when the Crown blew up it took the speakers with it; Nick (and Kurt?) was in a music store looking for Marshall cabs and he saw the DS-2 and bought it. Kurt didn't seem to like it at first but then started using it after he broke his DS-1 in Hawaii. Nick got a small supply of replacement necks for Kurt's strats but soon he was replacing necks every night. He contacted Danny Ferrington in Los Angeles in late December of '91 to make replacement necks, but Danny instead offered to make a whole new guitar (the Ferrington). He also got an Echoflanger from Guitar Maniacs for $99 around this time (57).

"In Utero"-era: Everyone knows Kurt's usual guitar of choice was the Mustang. New sonic blue (red pickguard) and fiesta red (red swirl changed to white pearl) Mustangs used almost all of the time. The '65 Fender Jaguar was used, according to Earnie Bailey (41). A Univox occasionally. Mexican strats for destroying. GHS Boomers .010-.052 guitar strings and orange Dunlop picks (40). Same basic amp rig as the end of the "Nevermind" tour. I believe Jim Vincent told me the Marshall cabs' speakers during the "In Utero" tour were 25 watt Greenbacks (40), but Earnie says they were Vintage 30's (59). Kurt used 8 cabinets, Chris 8, and Pat 4 (32). Pat received Kurt's old 4x12's with the Celestion 75's when Kurt got his new ones with the V30's (59). Kurt didn't break any "important" equipment during this tour (40). The first Studio Preamp Kurt had was given to Pat, and Earnie ordered three more for the "In Utero" tour... two new ones for Kurt and a spare for Pat. "I kept tons of spares of everything on hand to avoid being stranded and unable to get parts, and to make sure the show never stopped due to a dead amp. I really liked the long, drawn out demolition sessions, and the more indestructible the amp rigs were, this part of the show would last as long as the guitar would, sometimes longer" (59). A small, red Marshall ministack was on stage, but it was never used. Pedals included the Sansamp Classic as Kurt's main distortion, Boss DS-2 (mainly used on the acoustic "The Man Who Sold the World." But occasionally Kurt used both the DS-2 and Sansamp at once!), E-H Polychorus & Echoflanger (whichever worked that day), and Small Clone chorus. Kurt took care of the settings on his pedals, "He knew all the sweet spots really well" (57). Martin D-18E acoustic; also the Epiphone acoustic which seems to be the only acoustic seen at the end of the tour. All the work to his new Mustangs (and Mexican Strats) was done before the band went on this tour. Sometimes Kurt would want one of his Mustangs to smash at the end of a show, instead of the predetermined black Mexican Strat, but they talked him out of it! Kurt agreed by saying, "Yeah, all right, I don't want to break that guitar because it feels really good" (57).

Kurt's guitars roadcase.

All of Kurt's techs were always recycling parts from smashed guitars, often piecing them together. Sometimes, only a pickguard or the pickups were changed (57). Kurt used lots of different straps, usually white or black Ernie Ball.
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