Here's our list of Top Essential Grunge Guitar Gear and what the legends of the genre played.
Are you wondering what's the best grunge guitar gear on the market today? With many new bands quick to adopt noisy and fuzzy sounds - it could be argued that grunge is as popular today as it ever has been. 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 grunge bands sounded quite different from one another. They had different sounds, different gear...but here's a list of the best equipment 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
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. There are many awesome Fender and Squier Jaguar models available but another great option is the Jazzmaster guitar, similar to a Jaguar and also used by many alt-rock bands. This option is often favoured by J.Mascis of grunge legends Dinosaur Jr and is a staple if you're looking for the best grunge guitar gear.
2) Electro-Harmonix Big Muff fuzz pedal
Nothing beats a good Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi when it comes to the grunge guitar gear. Cobain only used one in the studio, but the Big Muff is a must for grunge acts. Not only it's simple and dirty 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 gritty sound and any of the Big Muff fx pedals will be a great choice.
3) Fender Amps (especially Twin Reverb)
There's never been a specific 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 amp 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.
4) Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive
When it comes to grunge and guitar gear, just one fuzz or distortion won't do - you'll need at least two, for an extra kick. The Boss SD-1 is a great option, at a great price, and is an industry standard.
5) Electro-Harmonix Small Clone
Ever since Kurt Cobain used a Small Clone Chorus on 'Come As You Are', a good modulation pedal has become a staple in grunge guitar gear, and other classics also feature a modulation effect, such as 'Nearly Lost You' by the Screaming Trees. The Small Clone is capable of some awesome sounds. This is a great budget friendly way of thickening up your sound and adding a chorus effect.
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. We'll go into more depth on this near the end of the blog post when we look at which key artists played what.
7) Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion
The Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion is a truly essential piece of grunge guitar gear, 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.
8) Mesa Boogie valve amps
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 a grunge band. The downside is that they're quite expensive so not the first choice for most grunge guitarists on a tight budget. If you're after a more budget friendly amp head, the Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier is a more affordable option.
9) 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.
10) 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.
Guitars That Came To Define The Genre - Who Played What
Here we take a look at some of the guitars which helped define grunge as a genre. So, whether you’re a new guitarist wondering which options are best for capturing that raucous grunge sound, or just interested in knowing how some of your heroes developed the style we know as grunge today, hopefully you’ll find some of the answers in this post.
Kicking off in America’s Pacific Northwest in the mid-eighties, labels like Seattle’s Sub Pop cultivated a special movement of artists that helped bring a noisier garage band style hurtling towards the mainstream. That particular label continues to be a powerhouse in the alternative music world today, although they’ve never changed their ethos, sticking with the iconic slogan ‘going out of business since 1988’. When people talk about this genre in the here and now, it still conjures up thoughts of noise, distortion and havoc.
Although there have been many pivotal moments that came to define grunge and forever seal its reputation as a genre – people will always associate grunge as a guitar led genre. Here are some of the guitars that played a vital part in carving out the sound, identity and legacy of grunge.
Fender Mustang – Kurt Cobain
Which guitar did Kurt Cobain play?
Kurt Cobain was widely known for playing a Fender Mustang. Despite playing a few different guitar brands during his career he had a clear love of the Fender models across Mustangs, Jaguars and Stratocasters.
We’ve highlighted the Mustang for this list because it was an instrument he used during the era of Nirvana’s legendary second album ‘Nevermind’. Perhaps most notably, this was the guitar model which he can be seen playing in the video for their biggest hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The album itself was a massive breakthrough moment for grunge as it pulled it from being a relatively underground movement into the American mainstream.
Today ‘Nevermind’ has sold over 30 million albums worldwide which ranks it amongst some of the best-selling albums ever. Fender Mustangs followed Kurt Cobain well into Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ era where he made famous that signature blue finish.
At PMT as an authorised Fender dealer we have a strong range of Fender guitars available across the Mustang model favoured by Cobain. Whether you’re just starting out in the world of guitar or are looking to invest in a guitar that instantly propels you into the professional level market, here are two ends of the spectrum:
Top of the range - Fender American Performer Mustang RW FB Vintage White
As part of the American Performer series, this Mustang RW FB in vintage white is a professional-grade guitar, designed with the modern musician in mind, but packing all of the fun we've come to expect from a Mustang.
Budget friendly - Squier Bullet Mustang HH IL Black
An excellently built guitar with authentic Fender Mustang style but at an affordable price point accessible to beginners. The Squier Bullet Mustang is easy to play with great sound and looks, this is a great option for beginners who want to learn how to play guitar. This is true of much of the Squier bullet range, offering great quality at an affordable price. You can also browse the entire Squier Mustang range.
Gibson SG Standard - Sleater Kinney
Which guitars did Sleater Kinney play?
The dual guitar approach of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker helped Sleater Kinney hit the ground running in the nineties with their intense and fierce punk sound. But what does lead guitarist Carrie Brownstein play?
From early in her career Brownstein opted for the Epiphone SG Special. She later swapped this out and adopted the Gibson SG Standard which is probably much more commonly associated with the classic rock genre thanks to the likes of Angus Young. It’s actually the guitar that most people would probably associate with the trailblazers Sleater Kinney as it’s been a staple of their live sets over the years. Carrie once described the instrument as a ‘demon guitar with the devil horns coming out’.
We have a fantastic range of Gibson SG guitars at PMT which can suit a variety of budgets. The three price tiers would be the SG Standard for the experienced guitarists looking to keep playing, the Epiphone SG can be a great reliable model for new starters at a much lower price point. This would be ideal if you’re a complete new beginner looking to test the water then we’d recommend trying out. There's the also the Standard 61 Maestro Vibrola for those with a devout love of this model. You can be assured that these guitars will still last well into your playing years – meaning you won’t need an upgrade for a long time.
Budget friendly - Epiphone SG-Special VE Guitar in Vintage Worn Cherry
A super affordable guitar boasting the iconic Gibson design. Featuring a Vintage Worn Cherry finish, a set of Epiphone open-coil humbuckers, LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge, and a classic 1960s SlimTaper "D" Profile neck, the Epiphone SG-Special has everything you need in a first electric guitar and more.
Professional - Gibson SG Standard, Heritage Cherry
With a solid Mahogany body and a Heritage Cherry finish, a slim tapered Maple neck topped with a Rosewood fingerboard, and a pair of Gibson 490 humbucker pickups, this Gibson SG Standard offers you rock-solid stability and tone in abundance. An all time classic for experienced players.
Top-range - Gibson SG Standard 61 Maestro Vibrola, Vintage Cherry
The Gibson SG Standard 61 Maestro Vibrola Vintage Cherry is a historically accurate reissue of the original 1961 Gibson "Solid Guitar" (aka SG). With a slim, lightweight, solid Mahogany body, slim-tapered Mahogany neck, BurstBucker pickups, and vintage-style hardware, it's little wonder that this design has survived for more than half a century in an industry renowned for change.
Pearl Jam – Gibson Les Paul
Which guitars did Pearl Jam play?
You might be wondering what guitar Mike Mcready and Stone Gossard played. A true monster of mainstream American grunge rock – Pearl Jam are another band to emerge from Seattle and Washington’s illustrious scene. But what guitars did they favour?
Armed with three guitarists in the form of Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard – the band weren’t exactly short of options when it came to finding their colossal guitar driven sound. Lead guitarist Mike McCready is however probably best known for using a Gibson’s iconic Les Paul. More specifically, he opted for the Gibson 1959 Les Paul – an instrument that he hold dearly for its tone, sustain and playability. Rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard has also been seen using Les Paul’s as well as the Gibson ES-330. Fellow Seattle grunge exports Alice In Chains were also known to use Gibson Les Pauls – which were an option favoured by their guitarist Jerry Cantrell.
Much like the Gibson SG – there are a variety of options available to all budgets if you’re looking to pick up a Les Paul model. These start at the Epiphone Les Paul SL which comes from the Gibson-owned Epiphone factory. Despite being super affordable – these guitars still live up to the great all-rounder reputation of the Les Paul model.
Budget friendly - Epiphone Les Paul Special VE Vintage Worn Heritage Cherry Sunburst
One of Epiphone's best selling electric guitars, this Les Paul Special returns in a vintage edition. With this guitar, you get classic Les Paul style at an affordable price along with a beautiful new colour and great open coil humbucking pickups.
The Gibson Les Paul Standard 60s seen here in Bourbon Burst sees the return of a vintage Gibson design - a traditional early 60s Les Paul Standard. With its original-style, non-weight-relief construction, incredible PAF-like pickups, and gorgeous aesthetics, this guitar is as stylish and toneful as they come. This is currently not in stock but contact us and we can order it for you.
Shop a full range of electric guitars over at PMT Online today or call in to your local PMT store to speak to our experts about the best electric guitars for beginners. We're here to help you find your perfect beginner electric guitar based on your bespoke needs, style and sound.