Want to learn to play guitar like Kurt Cobain?
Simply “Come As You Are” with your guitar and take the Kurt Cobain Player Study. This course will teach you Cobain’s signature, genre-defining style, including his use of power chords, pedal effects, and more.
Kurt Cobain was born in 1967 to a family with a musical background – his uncle, Chuck Fradenburg, played in The Beachcombers. His aunt, Mari Earle, played guitar in local bands throughout Washington state. His great-uncle was an Irish tenor.
Cobain developed a love of music at an early age. He reportedly started singing at two years old, and started playing the piano at age four, composing his first song – about a trip to a park.
For his 14th birthday in 1981, Cobain’s uncle let him choose his gift – a bike or a used guitar. Cobain picked the guitar. He learned to play some songs by Led Zeppelin and Queen before starting to write his own songs. He played guitar left-handed, despite being forced to write right-handed.As a teen, Cobain met Roger “Buzz” Osborne, singer and guitarist of the Melvins, who introduced him to punk rock and hardcore music. He formed the band Fecal Matter after dropping out of high school, before meeting Krist Novoselic at The Melvins’ practice space. Novoselic eventually agreed to form a band with Cobain, the start of Nirvana. After putting out their debut album, Bleach, with drummer Chad Channing, the band dropped Channing in favor of Dave Grohl on drums for their 1991 album Nevermind. Nevermind’s lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, catapulted the band to fame. It brought the band to the mainstream and helped bring national attention to the grunge genre.
Rather than playing with Eddie Van Halen-style speed or intricacy, Kurt Cobain mostly relied on power chords. He played on guitars tuned a whole- or half-step down, and most of his solos were plays on the song’s melody.
His gear collection was eclectic and made up mostly of budget gear. For the Bleach recording sessions, Cobain had to borrow a Fender Twin Reverb as his main amp was being repaired. The amp’s speakers were blown, so he had to pair it with an external cabinet and two 12” speakers. He played Hi-Flier guitars that were $100 each.
Cobain was playing an Epiphone ET270 at the start of their 1989 tour before destroying it on stage – as a result, their label would often have to call local pawn shops in the area to find replacements. Cobain’s first acoustic guitar cost $31.21 and the tuners were held together with duct tape, however, it sounded good enough that it was used to record “Polly” and “Something in the Way” on Nevermind.Legacy
Cobain died in April 1994. He’s often referred to as the spokesman of Gen X for his angst-fueled songwriting. His songs also helped widen the themes of mainstream rock music to more personal reflection and social commentary,
The 1959 Martin D-18E acoustic-electric guitar Cobain used for Nirvana’s iconic MTV Unplugged performance sold for $6 million in June 2020, making it the most expensive guitar and piece of band memorabilia ever sold. Two years later, Cobain’s Lake Placid Blue Fender Mustang sold for $4.5 million, the second most valuable guitar ever sold.
Once you capture Kurt Cobain’s signature style, put it to work with these Nirvana song lessons.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
The lead single from Nevermind, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is considered the “anthem for apathetic kids” from Generation X.
Cobain originally was reluctant to release “Come As You Are” as Nevermind’s second single due to its similarities to “Eighties” by Killing Joke, but when it was down to “Come As You Are” or “In Bloom”, they eventually went with “Come As You Are”.
Featured on Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, “About A Girl” was reportedly written after Cobain spent an afternoon listening to Meet the Beatles! on repeat. It debuted at an Evergreen State College dorm party in Feb. 1989.
What did David Bowie think of Nirvana’s cover of his 1970 song?
“I was simply blown away when I found that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and have always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering ‘The Man Who Sold the World'” and that “it was a good straight forward rendition and sounded somehow very honest,” Bowie said. “It would have been nice to have worked with him, but just talking with him would have been real cool.”
The Fab Four played a role in the composition of this Nirvana song. According to Cobain’s manager Danny Goldberg, Cobain played “Norwegian Wood” over and over again for hours while writing the song.