My son, Harry, and I popped into our local guitar shop yesterday (Guitar Guitar in Epsom) on the off-chance that it had taken delivery of a Kurt Cobain Mustang, newly released by Fender. Lo and behold, there it was, hanging on the wall in all its glory.
In January, Harry had spent some time in the shop playing a 1965 reissue Fender Mustang, which he’d fallen in love with. He would have been only too happy to purchase the ’65 reissue then and there. But I persuaded him to wait and try the Cobain Mustang so that he could compare and contrast. As mentioned in In my previous post about the Mustang, there are three key differences between the ’65 reissue and the Kurt Cobain modified version:
- the ’65 has a poplar body – the Cobain Mustang uses Alder
- the ’65 is appointed with 2 Mustang single-coil pickups – the Cobain has a single-coil in the neck position and a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker in the bridge position
- the Cobain Mustang has an angled Fender adjusto-matic bridge instead of the standard Mustang bridge.
Harry took a ’65 reissue and a Kurt Cobain into one of the shop’s demo rooms and ran them through the same amp we use for gigs – a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. At first he couldn’t decide which version he preferred. The 7.24 radius “C” shape neck felt fabulous. Both guitars sounded great, but they were different. In the end, after swapping guitars again and again, switching between neck and bridge pickups, and trying the pickup switch positions both in phase and out of phase, he decided that the Kurt Cobain Mustang was the one for him.
Why? From both guitars, his favourite sounds came when using only the single coil neck pickup or the neck pickup in conjunction with the bridge pickup. But there was a difference when the bridge pickup was engaged on the Kurt Cobain. The Seymour Duncan humbucker smoothed out the sound. It was more rounded and full. The twang, resonance and tone from both guitars was awesome, but Harry preferred the variety in the soundscape offered by the combination of single coil with humbucker.
When using the tremolo and bending strings, the ’65 reissue had trouble staying in tune, while on the Kurt Cobain the tuning remained rock solid. Though the two guitars use different bridges, we didn’t think that this was the cause. If the standard Mustang bridge was a major problem, someone would have noticed by now. The ’65 reissue could probably have done with a bit of lubrication in the nut slots.
Both guitars felt comfortable and played well. They were fitted with gauge .010-.046 strings – that can give a fuller sound than thinner .09 or.08 gauges – but the short scale neck meant that the strings had a nice loose feel and could still be bent easily. We’re not sure how much of a difference the bridge varieties made, but Harry preferred the setup and feel of the Kurt Cobain. The different bridges also had a subtle but significant impact on the position of the strings. The E strings on the Kurt Cobain were set just the way we like them: inset a few millimetres from the edge of the fingerboard, which remained constant all the way down the length of the neck. On the ’65 reissue, the E strings got closer to the edge of the fingerboard as the string progressed along the neck towards the bridge. I’m not a fan of this type of string positioning, because it’s all too easy to pull the high E string off the edge of the fingerboard when playing higher up the neck.
Overall, the Kurt Cobain Mustang felt right and sounded great. The Seymour Duncan JB humbucker brought a little something extra to the mix. Harry was tempted by the Fiesta Red, but went for the Sonic Blue with 4-Ply Tortoiseshell pickguard. So cool. It’s like a little sports car.