A major part of Kurt Cobain’s sound was the chorus pedal he used; an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus that he bought from Guitar Maniacs in 1990. Cobain had the depth switch on the pedal almost always up.
Eventually, his guitar tech just hard-wired it that way.
If you have the Small Clone, you’re well on your way.
If not, no worries.
Check out our updated version of Kurt Cobain’s amp settings post.
Gear Kurt Cobain Used
Fender Kurt Cobain Signature Jaguar
Boss DS-1 Distortion
EHX Small Clone Chorus Pedal
You can still get close to Cobain’s sound, with or without a vintage chorus pedal.
We’ll address the distortion settings he used as well as approximate Kurt Cobain amp settings to give you a place to start.
As I mentioned above, in a more recent version of this post (published in 2015) we’ve created a lengthy infographic with all of Kurt’s rig and settings information.
For your convenience, we’ve included it here as well:
Cobain’s distortion primarily came from a Boss DS-1 distortion, then later from a Boss DS-2 Turbo distortion. He kept the settings more or less the same for both pedals, so we’ll go through the specs on the DS-2.
Note the knobs have been adjusted.
Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion Settings for Kurt Cobain
- Level: 10
- Tone: 4-6
- Dist: 6-10
- Turbo: Position I (non-turbo setting)
If you use the DS-1, settings were pretty similar. The only thing that really changed was the distortion setting, which Cobain often cut back to six or so when he was recording.
Cobain’s amplification is hard to nail down. He wasn’t crazy about Marshall amps, partly because of their sound but also because of the ’80s hair band stigma. I’m inclined to agree with him on both counts.
Instead, he opted for an assortment of Randall, Mesa Boogie and Fender amplifiers, with a variety of different settings.
As far as getting something consistent, dialing in a basic Seattle Grunge sound is your best bet.
If you can combine that with the effects mentioned earlier and get those set right, you’ll get pretty close to Cobain’s tone, without regard to the brand of amplifier you have.
- Gain: 10 (off if you’re using a pedal)
- Treble: 8
- Mid: 8
- Bass: 6
- Reverb: Off
This is what I’ve found to get the closest to Nirvana’s sound, particularly with the more popular tracks. If your experience is different, let me know in the comments.