Monday, March 24, 2008

Kurt Cobain: Nevermind Pedal Effects

The release of Nirvana's Nevermind and In Utero albums reintroduced guitarists to the sonic capabilities of Electro-Harmonix's lesser known effects pedals, including the SmallClone and PolyChorus. Guitar rigs stocked full of rack mounted delays and digital distortion units suddenly became unfashionable (as did spandex-clad guitarists). Whether you're a cover band playing weekend gigs, a basement jam band, or simply a PedalNut like us, it is virtually impossible to replicate Kurt Cobain's tone on Nevermind without adding the following effects to your pedalboard:
  • Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion - standard Boss pedal casing and three knob configuration (level, tone, distortion), with the added bonus of a turbo knob. Set the tone and distortion knobs near the maximum, and turn the turbo knob to "II" to zone in on Cobain's tone. Used DS-2 pedals are readily available on and for about $50.00. New pedals go for $90.00 (presently as low as $40.00 at Musicians Friend). While the DS-2 distortion is known to have been a mainstay of Cobain's pedalboard (look closely at the photographs in the In Utero liner notes), also consider buying the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff pedal which provides dirtier distortion at lower volumes;
  • Electro-Harmonix SmallClone - a must-buy pedal if you're planning on playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Come as You Are" for an audience of more than three people (your parents and significant other excluded). Set the rate knob at the 3 o'clock position and slide the depth switch down to experience the rapid, yet deep, chorus preferred by Kurt Cobain. If you're lucky, you'll find a vintage version of this pedal on, but not for less than $150.00. Vintage SmallClone's are widely considered to be more expressive, but are less reliable than the re-issue pedals from Electro-Harmonix. Also, vintage SmallClones surviving the Punk, post-Punk, and New Wave eras smell awful (and certainly nothing like teen spirit).
If you want to take your Nevermind-inspired playing to the next level, pick up a rack-mounted Mesa/Boogie Studio preamp, a Crest 4801 power amp (or two depending on your budget), and a Marshall 4x12 cabinet. Tweak the settings on the Mesa Boogie Studio preamp to dial in on the right tone, but be sure to use the clean channel with the midrange set quite high.

Comments and corrections welcome.

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