Kurt Cobain Jaguar Review

manufacturer: Fender date: 06/20/2014 category: Electric Guitars
Fender: Kurt Cobain Jaguar
A lot of you might not know this, but Kurt Cobain was the lead singer/guitar player for a band called Nirvana. Nirvana achieved a moderate amount of success in the 90's and Fender has decided to commemorate the achievements of the late Cobain with a thoughtful and meticulous reissue of his 1965 Jaguar, one of the few guitars he didn't destroy.
 Sound: 8.8
 Overall Impression: 9
 Reliability & Durability: 9
 Action, Fit & Finish: 9
 Features: 9.3
 Overall rating:
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reviews (4) pictures (4) 97 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 8.4
Kurt Cobain Jaguar Featured review by: UG Team, on november 09, 2012
5 of 5 people found this review helpful


Due to it being a tribute guitar, there are quite a few nice features. There's the Road-Worn aged finish and hardware treatment, which we'll get to in a minute, it has a Strat headstock, a very unique pickup wiring configuration (see the video), a really nice black textured vinyl hardshell case, and an exclusive book featuring photography by Charles Peterson and an exclusive interview with Nirvana's guitar tech. You also have the option of going with a lefty model, which is the only Jag Fender currently offers in that orientation. Sadly though, these features come at a price, which is $1299 retail, and almost $1900 list. For a Mexican-made guitar, that's kind of outrageous. // 8

Sound: The combination of the DiMarzio humbuckers and the interesting wiring schematic gives this a wholly unique sound. There isn't another Fender that can do anything quite like it. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on the player. It sure doesn't have a 'Fender' sound to it but that may be part of the attraction for some. I'd say the DiMarzio's give it a little more sustain than the company's usual signature guitars and it's versatile enough where you can push some different types of distortion besides the grunge factor. Check out the video for sound examples. // 8

Action, Fit & Finish: I'm a little conflicted about grading a relic guitar's finish because it's, obviously, supposed to look like it's in pretty rough shape. It's not as if Fender is new to this kind of thing (see the Road-Worn series) but what they did with this model is particularly impressive. You can tell that a tremendous amount of detail was given to every aspect of the build, they even jammed dirt into the grooves of the pickup screws. Despite everything they've done to make the guitar look completely beat up, it still plays and feels like a new guitar. Part of this effect I attribute to the fact that the neck has a super bright, white binding. Still, as far as mass-produced relic jobs go, it's the best one I've seen.

Playability-wise, it's exactly what we've all come to expect from any Mexican-made Fender, which is 'pretty-good-not-great'. The dings on the back of the neck do nothing to slow it down. I'm still giving it a 9 just because the relic is that good. // 9

Reliability & Durability: The best thing about having a relic-ed guitar is that you don't really need to worry too much about dinging it up. It feels very sturdy and the quality of the components is obvious. The Fender textured vinyl hardshell case is one of the best in the business so you can gig it with confidence. // 9

Overall Impression: I've never been the biggest fan of paying up to have a guitar look like it's been beat up. It seems like cheating, and believe me I've never had any problems when it comes to systematically ruining the finish on a guitar. However, this being a 'tribute' and not just a run-of-the-mill Road-Worn, there's a little more to it. Rightfully so, a lot of people will balk at the price-tag for a Mexican-produced guitar (especially when the country of origin is possibly the only inaccuracy from the original), but after picking it up and playing it, it feels like it's priced about right. Philosophically, you may or may not have an issue with Fender making a few bucks off a dead rock star who almost certainly would not have enthusiastically endorsed such a product, but I think they did a pretty tasteful job. Or at least slightly more tasteful than say... I don't know... Publishing his diary or something. // 8

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overall: 8.8
Kurt Cobain Jaguar Reviewed by: AuraFX, on june 20, 2014
2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Price paid: £ 600

Purchased from: eBay

Features: This was a bit of a conflicting purchase for me. I was about 7 or 8 when Kurt Cobain killed himself and so while I was aware of Nirvana and just really starting to get into the music, I wasn't really right there with the whole grunge movement. It was sort of later as I went through my musical awakenings that I got into Nirvana long after they'd passed into history. Strictly speaking Nirvana aren't anywhere near my favourite sound/style/guitar playing - but I respected them for being honest and conflicted and being better song writers than I'll ever be.

The Kurt Cobain Jaguar was the one guitar of his that I really got into from it's looks/style. As a kid I noticed strats and Les Pauls and the Jaguar seemed so weird and esoteric but I thought it looked perfect on Kurt. I know he ended up playing Mustangs a lot more but the Jaguar is what I think of as the "Nevermind" tour guitar and, as it turns out, quite a lot of the "In Utero" sessions as well. 

I generally dislike "relic" or "roadworn" guitars - it seems pretty stupid to purposely mess something up. I look after my new guitars pretty well and the couple of genuine older guitars that I have with battle scars are due to actual age with another player/my own abuse as a teenager who could barely play and liked to stage dive. 

The difference with this is it's not a "fake" history - it's not designed to have the finish worn where a blues players arm might have rested for 40 years of gigs or anything - it's a replica of a particular one off instrument - which is why I give the whole "artificial beating" a pass personally. YMMV. Reading the history of the guitar, it was bought prior to "Nevermind" south American tour as a backup and ended up replacing Kurt's VANDALISM sticker strat when he destroyed that guitar. It's in quite a lot of famous shots of him. The Jag was already heavily and quite mysteriously modified by it's previous owner when Kurt bought it (no-one still seems to know who this previous owner was or quite how they came to make such a unique instrument but that sort of adds to the charm). The marks on the back of the guitar occurred when Kurt threw it onto a camera track and it was nearly crushed to pieces. Apparently after that he kept it relatively safe (this seems to mean he didn't smash the hell out of it - which counts as "babied" in Nirvana terms). 

This is a Mexican made replica. It's a standard '65 Jag at heart but has a large number of mods. Ignoring for a minute the general wear and tear and chips and dents - the previous owner cut the Jaguar head into a strat shape (it's not actually a strat neck at all, just a jigsawed head - of which this replica accurately captures the slightly uneven sawed shape). The standard Jag lower plates are modified - where Jags normally have a three switch bout plate (bridge/neck pickup on/off and the "strangle" bass bleed switch) the pre-Kurt mods included a change to an up/down Gibson style pickup selector and a blanked out strangle switch. The usual one tone/one volume plate was replaced with two independent pickup volumes and a master tone in chrome.

The upper bout controls are standard Jaguar - which confuses a lot of people - it's basically a rhythm/lead circuit - originally Jags had 1 meg pots on the volume and tone and so were very shrill and brittle, but for their original Jazz purpose they also had a very dark neck only circuit for rhythm sounds. This has a separate volume and tone selector (roller switches rather than standard pots) which basically gives you two completely different sounds at the flick of a switch. Some people seem to be upset that this is included as Kurt, in the "Nevermind" tour days, put masking tape over this to stop it being used and apparently even went so far as to disconnect the electronics. Though if you read his tech's story, he points out that Kurt requested it was all hooked up again for "In Utero" recording as he had learnt to love the extra switching options on Mustangs and wanted to use more on "In Utero" (apparently this circuit was used to record various parts of songs including the verse parts on "Heart-Shaped Box"). So it's nice to still have it. 

The tuners were also changed to sealed Gotoh tuners (the replica includes the drill holes for the vintage removed tuners). The bridge again was a retrofit that Kurt had done to all of his guitars which was a tune-o-matic. This cuts down on some of the "surf" sounds you can generate with Jaguars or Jazzmasters but it does make the tuning a lot more stable and intonation is a lot easier. It's authentic to Kurt's Jag anyway. 

Kurt's model didn't have standard Jaguar single coils but is a dual humbucker. The exact configuration is actually the "Nevermind" tour set up, not the post "In Utero" set up, but I guess Fender went with the most popular choices. This is an Anniversary PAF in the neck and a Super Distortion in the bridge. 

The guitar comes with a case which is half way between the tweed expensive cases from Fender USA but more exotic than the lower model cases or bags. It's not reliced or beaten up but has a sort of "working musician" feel to it that probably suits this guitar and it's signature artist. Inside you get the trem arm (note this is a Mexican style which seems to be the only non-official part to Kurt's - not that he used the trem arm until "In Utero" anyway). You also get a detailed book with interviews with Nirvana's photographer and more interestingly Kurt's guitar tech. 

Whether you like this or not is a tough call. As I said, I don't really like the "fake history" of Relics but this is supposed to be a tribute to a particular instrument and so I let it off. To be honest I was looking at a Sunburst reissue Jag and never got on with Jag single coils (other than the bare knuckle ones in the Johnny Marr Jag) so was hoping for humbuckers - in the end this guitar had these features and so seemed like a nice choice. I wouldn't have paid full price for it and luckily, like Kurt, I bought a second hand one for a lot less than list price. // 9

Sound: The guitar is very easy to play - it's a short scale Jaguar with a very nice neck, despite the grooves and scratches. They haven't really "aged" the frets so it plays more or less like it's just been refretted if you look at it like that. As it's short scale it does still have some of the low sustain/biting edge typical to Jags but the TOM bridge and dual HB pickups make it sound pretty different. The neck pickup (on either circuit) sounds VERY Gibson-esque - it's quite a traditional bluesy/moderate rock sound - very authentic and vibey - not what you expect coming out of a Jag but it is handy to have that available if you don't play many Gibsons like me. The bridge super distortion is more obviously "Nirvana" with a very high output mids-heavy roar when you play through a valve amp. 

Obviously the humbuckers get rid of most of the annoying shrill/brittle and squeals common to Jags - but they do lose some of the higher end and it doesn't really sound much like a Jag. The dual circuit gives you the option of a kill-switch (one circuit at zero volume) or two very different sounds - one dark and bluesy and one raucous and cutting. It's quite versatile - but then Jags and Jazzmasters are.

I'm playing this through a couple of different set ups - a live and a studio one. Both based around valve amps but I'm not trying to emulate a Kurt Cobain sound particularly. It's certainly very easy to do so but I'd suggest you want a very powerful solid state Peavey amp like him and a Boss DS-1 if you're trying to "cover" entirely Kurt sounds. But if you want to do your own thing, this has a lot of thick and heavy sounds with the quick cutting sound of a Jag - it's like playing a sort of lightweight Les Paul with a Fender punch if that makes any sense. // 8

Action, Fit & Finish: This is again a bit of a tough one to rate since the guitar is purposely beaten to hell (and this is the guitar that Kurt looked after!). The actual replication of his guitar is top-notch and it's very authentic looking - none of that cheap eBay looking relic where someone has obviously run over it with a sander and chisel. The dirt and ageing are very appropriate and I doubt most people who don't know it's a Kurt Cobain model (there is no signature like most artist models)would really spot it's been replicated. Internally the controls and wiring is very high quality - better than most Mexican models and easily on par with US standard models. The set up was pretty good (though obviously I bought it second hand so the previous owner may have reworked it). One thing that does confuse some people is that the TOM bridge is back to front - this is the same as Kurt's when Fender inspected it. In reality it allows you to get better intonation while keeping the bridge lower than usual for a TOM. 

The floating trem is a standard US set up - whether you like Jag floating units is a matter of taste. I happen to love them when they are set up properly (which usually means. 11 gauge strings and spring retensions). Yes, Kurt didn't use the trem live at all (and only occasionally whilst recording "In Utero" - but I'm glad it's there as I love to use it anyway). 

Anyway, I'm rating this on how well it's done as a replica - obviously if you are expecting pristine, don't buy this (although Fender have released a pristine NOS version if you want everything shiny and new). Personally I agree with the other reviews - as it's beaten up to hell anyway, I've banged it against walls and amps and monitors and don't really care. You get a bit of Kurt Cobain's attitude thrown in - you stop caring so much! Normally if I smashed up one of my Fender models I'd be a bit annoyed, with this, I probably wouldn't be able to tell. // 9

Reliability & Durability: Again, the finish is purposely abused, so it's not looking like a new guitar. In terms of reliability the guitar is rock solid and most people who dislike Jaguars might find the alternative bridge/controls/pickups make this a lot more user-friendly. I did swap out the strap buttons for Schaller locking ones (but I do that on every guitar).

I wouldn't use this at a gig without backup, but then I don't think I've ever played a gig with one guitar ever as I hate spending ages tuning and I'm not really good enough to play round blown strings. It seems very solid and well made and hasn't had any issues so far. It looks and feels like a very good workhorse. // 9

Overall Impression: It's tough buying a guitar that is a signature model from a guy who's dead. He doesn't get to have a say, and it's not like most Fender models that are made to the artists specs (the only Fender made that way was the Jag-Stang and it sounds as if Kurt wasn't really happy with how it turned out). It's also hard to justify spending big money on a guitar that Kurt bought from a second hand recycling store as a backup. Would Kurt have endorsed this? Probably not - it's hard to know. He seemed happy enough to endorse the Jag-Stang - he wasn't against making money, but he was clearly making a point against flashy '80s guitars and all the glitz and glamour by picking up beaten up, short scale, unfashionable guitars that did what he wanted rather than looked good. 

I guess in the end you can go on and on about whether buying this is correct to the artist, but I like to think I bought it for pure reasons (sorry that sounds really pretentious). I love Jaguars and Jazzmasters and I've done a few mods to mine to make them work how I prefer. I still love brand new shiny guitars and look after mine. I'm not a punk and I'm not anywhere near as alternative as Nirvana, but I do look back to how I was at 8 or 14 when I was into Nirvana long after they were gone and remember how much I respected Kurt playing these instruments and you do feel different playing this. Maybe guitars do have some sort of vibe - and this one does conjure up some of that DIY couldn't care less as long as it works attitude. 

I wouldn't make this my main guitar - I have plenty that I probably continue to play more but, here, 20 years after Kurt Cobain killed himself, I get a real kick out of having a close replica of "his" guitar. I like that it's a bit like it's original artist - complex, mysterious, tuneful but hard to get a grip on exactly. It's a contradiction in wood and metal. I'm now just about the age Kurt was when he committed suicide so I guess I'm running out youth - but yeah, playing this guitar is a different experience. It's less of a tool of the trade and more of a nostalgia trip that puts a smile on my face - and it sounds brutal and like something a real musician would play - while not being all glitter and surface.

In short - no I wouldn't get anything instead - it's a clone of Kurt's guitar. I wouldn't, for instance, buy a Kurt Cobain Mustang - I just don't have any attraction to Mustangs, so this is probably a weird mix of my love of Jaguars and remembering Nirvana - and the changes to the guitar are "sort of" like the ones I'd have done anyway (the Humbuckers/bridge changes for example). 

I'd say this isn't just for Kurt Cobain's fan boys. It can do a lot of stuff if you let it. Of course, like Kurt before he got rich, I wouldn't pay full price and would feel a bit weird buying into Kurt's legacy without going second hand. But you'll find Nirvana fans selling these on eBay or Craigslist after they realise they don't even like playing guitar. Then you can get a great and unusual Jaguar at closer to what it should cost without selling out your bit of punk spirit. Sorry for the rambling review was somewhat drunk. // 9

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overall: 8.8
Kurt Cobain Jaguar Reviewed by: HüskerDüde, on november 09, 2012
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 824.48

Purchased from: Twin Town Guitars - Minneapolis, MN

Features: Exact identical replica of Kurt's main guitar during the "Nevermind" era. It has been cited as "the most important and notable instrument in Nirvana's history". A classic DiMarzio Super Distortion on the bridge. DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary on the neck. Both very highly acclaimed and respected pickups and they're the two that were in the original Jaguar. Big fat neck with a binding and a Stratocaster style headstock with spaghetti logo. Very physically heavy instrument, almost as heavy as a Les Paul. My Stratocaster feels like a toy next to it. One volume and tone control when the strangle switch is not engaged, two volume and one tone when it is engaged. I always appreciate having two volumes and two tones whenever I can so this is a bit limiting when that capacitor is not engaged, but it's true to the replica so therefore it's not an issue. // 10

Sound: Be aware that the Super Distortion has a lot of low end. I'm used to bridge humbuckers being more mid-heavy such as on my SG. My complaint here is that when the strangle switch is not engaged (when it's clicked upwards) there's very little tonal variety between the bridge and rhythm pickups, which is odd. It's because the Super Distortion is so bassy and the PAF is going to be bassy anyway due to its position. You'll need a good amplifier to distinguish between the two and how the PAF is slightly more open and clear while the Super Distortion is just a little more immediate. With the switch engaged (clicked downwards) they become very very distinct. The PAF sounds more like a single-coil neck pickup, bright and jangly, and the Super Distortion just gets really ballsy. It gets very biting and aggressive. You can get thrash and black metal tones, chugga chugga punk pop tones, ripping leads, etc. To me it seems like you can basically leave it on the Super Distortion at all times and use the strangle switch to go between warm and bright instead of changing pickups. The PAF is a very nice sounding humbucker though. I just wish the Super Distortion was a little bit less bassy because it makes riffs sound a bit boomy and muddy - think of the sound you get when playing through a Big Muff on high gain through a rhythm pickup. It's sludgy and heavy but not very articulate. True to form, it is a very grungy tone. Thankfully this can be tweaked instantly by hitting the strangle switch for someone interested in playing faster leads. One curiosity to note is that it has two tone controls - one for when the strangle switch is on and one for when it's off - but the one for when the strangle switch is on works when it's off as well, although in a different way from the one intended for when it's off. Confusing? They both do separate things. The tone dial that is the silver knob by the cable jack removes highs, some lows, and keeps mids. The one that is the sideways black knob on the top wing of the guitar cuts highs and drastically cuts volume. I find this knob to basically be useless and I always use the silver one by the jack. I currently play in a dark electric folk group and I've just done a few gigs with it and been very satisfied after previously using a Stratocaster which is basically the king of tonal variety. I wouldn't have bought this if it couldn't get many tones. I can be jangly, mellow, bright, loud, aggressive, all very quickly. I'm not in to one-dimensional guitars that can only achieve one sound, which might be a stigma about this guitar. It's more tonally diverse than you might think. It just has a lot of quirks to figure out but once you understand them you can get a surprising amount of tones for a guitar with two humbuckers. // 9

Action, Fit & Finish: I bought it used and it looks like it had been set up. I played a new one as well and the action was uncomfortably high. A lot of well known guitarists like Stevie Ray and J Mascis prefer high action though. Mine has action at a decent height and was intonated well. Everything seems to be set up in a solid way. I was hesitant because it is made in Mexico and although I absolutely love my 1994 MIM Stratocaster to death I'm always a little wary of the quality control. I like that it has the Tune-O-Matic bridge because you don't have to worry about the strings jumping the saddle - I tested out a Blacktop Jazzmaster (MIM as well) and its old-school style bridge was an absolute atrocity. I've been using the tremolo arm a lot which can sound very nice but does have a tendency to send it slightly out of tune so be careful when you use it - the tiniest amount of pressure will provide a nice little bend. No need to press very firmly at all. // 8

Reliability & Durability: The worn finish on this guitar was appealing to me because I don't feel bad thrashing around on it. I don't like new glossy instruments. This is made to be grunged with. Keep in mind that Kurt had a personal guitar tech around him at all times so that's why he was able to play so hard - this isn't some indestructible guitar or anything, but it is very solid. // 8

Overall Impression: I understand that this is one of the higher quality instruments from the Mexican factory. A few people have told me that with this instrument, the fact that it was made there is basically entirely irrelevant. The replica job on it is stunning. I bought this from a store that had two of them in and I compared them and they looked identical. The pickups are even slightly rusted and everything. I had a PRS SE Custom stolen from me and got $400 from the insurance company (ALWAYS INSURE YOUR GUITARS). I was in the market for a used 62 AVRI Jazzmaster in sunburst but I figured I'd be waiting an eternity before one turned up in my area for less than $1000. I had to have an offset guitar. This was used at a local store for $900 and one random day they had a sale and I got $75 off it. It was hard to convince myself to pay so much for a guitar that wasn't American made but that's largely irrelevant since the replica job was done by the best people at Fender and the electronics are DiMarzios - that's the main thing. A lot of people buy MIMs and replace the electronics with American pickups so it's essentially an American, but this has aftermarket pickups on it anyway so where it's made is much less relevant. I would say in many aspects it sits between a Fender and a Gibson. Fender feel and look, near-Les Paul tone. Lots of low end but with the flick of a switch it can get bright and go from jangly to aggressive. Yes, Nirvana are one of my favorite bands, but this is more than a collector's item. I wouldn't pay so much money for an instrument that doesn't actually serve many purposes. Even someone who isn't a big Nirvana fan should be able to appreciate this due to its iconic DiMarzio pickups paired with the Jaguar electronics which give a truly impressive amount of tones. // 9

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overall: 10
Kurt Cobain Jaguar Reviewed by: unregistered, on november 09, 2012
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: € 960

Purchased from: guitar village

Features: I bought this guitar as I am a huge Nirvana fan, and for years of playing have never quite been able to find that true Nirvana sound. This guitar does that! The price initially put me off, as it seemed crazy for a Mexican made Fender (although the factories are around 100 miles apart). This guitar is the real deal, when it arrived all the thoughts about the cost rescinded as a massive smile filled my face. Every nick and knock that Cobain's Jaguar had is there. It is like a master ART fake. I love it! // 10

Sound: The guitar is so versatile. It will do grunge amazingly, but I have been able to get good blues, metal and all else I have tried to play on it. I also own a Gibson Les Paul, but this guitar is so much better. It has so many different depths and dimensions. The after market pickups combined with the intricate wiring really make this guitar stand out from anything that Fender have ever done. In fairness it is hardly a Fender. Probably what would happen if Fender and Gibson got it on. The guitar has so many different tones. I've run it through a black heart little giant thus far, looking forward to trying it on my big Marshall cabs. // 10

Action, Fit & Finish: The finish is amazing, Not because it looks brand new, but because of the sheer craftsmanship to reproduce Kurt's guitar. I loved it that my mates wife (a take that fan) asked me if I was going to take it back as it looked damaged. Action seems fine. Even came downtuned. I have put some Dean Markley 10-52 gauge on for a true sound. // 10

Reliability & Durability: If Kurt's stood live playing this should do it! Feels solidly made. The toggles feel more secure than on a Mustang. // 10

Overall Impression: I play a bit of everything, I have been playing 16 years now, and like to play anything that is a challenge. My heart is in grunge hence buying this guitar, but it does so much more! If it were stolen I would replace it then use the replacement to kill the thieving git that pinched it. I just love how authentic this is. What really surprised me though is you can play anything on this, from Clapton, Slash, Mustaine, right down to Stevie Ray Vaughan. This guitar represents the Legend that Kurt Cobain was. Don't be put off by the price tag, far more meaty than a Strat and more versatile than my Les Paul. This is one of two guitars I own that I will ever part with. // 10

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