What The Heck: Top 10 Essential 'Grunge' Guitar Gear


The new documentary about Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck, is released today. 21 years after his death, it seems Cobain and Nirvana are as popular as ever. Maybe there's a Grunge revival on the horizon? Who knows... meanwhile, here's our list of Top 10 Essential Grunge Gear, rated by "grungeness" factor!

Grunge Guitar Gear
Grunge, as musical styles go, is somewhat hard to define. Loud and dirty, yes, but apart from a certain look that could be described as "grunge", most of the popular so-called "grunge" bands sounded quite different from one another. They had different sounds, different gear...but here's a list of the best gear you can find here at PMT online or at our PMT stores, that can help you nail that sound.

1) Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster: The Ultimate "Grunge" Guitar!

Fender Kurt Cobain guitar

Kurt Cobain's favourite guitar. What else do we need to say? It's also "the" alternative rock guitar par excellence, used by bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and grunge legends Mudhoney. Besides the Fender Kurt Cobain Signature Jaguar, there are many other Fender and Squier Jaguar models also available. Another great option is the Jazzmaster guitar, similar to a Jaguar and also used by many alt-rock bands. One of the best options is the Squier J Mascis Signature Jazzmaster, inspired by the guitar god from grunge legends Dinosaur Jr.


smiley5"Smells Like Grunge Spirit"

2) Electro-Harmonix Big Muff fuzz pedal

Electro-Harmonix Big Muff

Nothing beats a good Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi when it comes to "grungeness". Cobain only used one in the studio, but the Big Muff is a must for grunge acts. Not only it's simple and dirty (like all the best Grunge songs!) but it was also name-checked on the title of Mudhoney's seminal Grunge album, "Superfuzz Big Muff".

The classic grunge anthem 'Touch Me I'm Sick' is the perfect showcase for the Big Muff's unholy, dirty grungeness! A good fuzz pedal is one of the most essential items for getting that grunge sound, and any of the Big Muff fx pedals will be a great choice.


smiley5"Grunge as F***"

3) Fender Amps (especially Twin Reverb)

Fender Twin Reverb

There's never been a "grunge" amp. The tone of an amp was never that important in grunge - it was all about the fuzz and distortion pedal sound, usually via a loud, and clean, amp. The Fender Twin Reverb fits the bill perfectly, and was indeed used by Kurt Cobain. Other Fender users included Mudhoney and Tad. Any loud Fender amp will do, but if you're on a budget, try the Fender Champion 100, a very affordable solid-state amp that sounds great and, at 100-watts, loud enough for your grunge sound!


smiley3"As grunge as you are"Fender amps

4) DOD Overdrive / Preamp 250

DOD Overdrive Preamp

When it comes to Grunge, just one fuzz or distortion won't do - you'll need at least two, for an extra kick! The DOD 250 Overdrive / Preamp is a great option, at a great price, and was used by Mudhoney.


smiley4"Here comes sickness"

5) Electro-Harmonix Polychorus

Electro-Harmonix Polychorus

Ever since Kurt Cobain used a Small Clone Chorus on 'Come As You Are', a good modulation pedal has become a staple in Grunge, and other classics also feature a modulation effect, such as 'Nearly Lost You' by the Screaming Trees. One of the best choices is the Electro-Harmonix Polychorus, which is capable of some wild sounds, as showcased by Cobain on the intro for 'Radio Friendly Unit Shifter' from 'In Utero'.

Check the EHX Tone Tips - The Sound Of Nirvana article to find out how to get that sound using a Polychorus!


smiley4or   smiley5if you're using an old, battered model like Cobain's! "Radio-friendly unit shifters"

6) Fender Mustang guitar

Fender Mustang

Another great guitar for Grunge music. It's another Kurt Cobain favourite, and also used by other bands of the era such as the Screaming Trees. The Squier Vintage Modified Mustang has a lot of mojo, and is quite affordable. Or go for the Fender Mustang, which is even better!


smiley4"Grunge nirvana..."

7) Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion

Boss Ds-2 Turbo Distortion

The Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion is a Grunge classic, as used by Kurt Cobain at legendary gigs such as Paramount Theatre and Reading Festival. Another great option is the Boss DS-1 Distortion, which is even cheaper and was also used by Cobain.


smiley4"Grunge-shaped stomp box."

8) Mesa Boogie valve amps

Mesa Boogie Guitar head amp

Mesa Boogie guitar amps offer the power and dirty necessary for that great Grunge sound. Kurt Cobain was a user, and Dave Grohl was also a regular user of the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier during the Foo Fighters early days, when they were still very much Grunge! The downside is that they're quite expensive so not the first choice for most grunge guitarists on a tight budget...


smiley4"This is a grunge call".

9) Wah-Wah Pedal

Cry-baby Wah Wah pedal

Many people don't immediately think of wah-wah pedals when talking about Grunge, perhaps because the biggest name - Kurt Cobain, of course - never used one. However, several of the most important bands of the era used a wah pedal: Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr. Get any Dunlop Wah and you'll be fine. The new Cry-Baby Mini is great and quite affordable, too!


smiley3"Pearl jams."

wah pedals for sale

10) Fender Telecaster

Fender Telecaster

Grunge guitarists always loved a good, basic, affordable guitar. So it's no wonder Telecaster guitars were popular with Grunge bands! It appears on the cover of Nirvana's first album, Bleach, and Kurt Cobain used one sometimes, as well as other bands from the era such as Mudhoney, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. It's a basic guitar that suits many different styles, and can take a good beating... perfect for rockers trashing around the stage!


smiley3"Never mind!"


Telecaster-style guitars



Oh, and don't forget your Converses...

dirty converse trainers

Watch "Montage Of Heck" Trailer:

View a complete range of guitars and amplifiers over at the PMT website.