Kurt Cobain used some great microphones when recording Nirvana’s albums. Although some of the guitars he used weren’t premium instruments the mics he recorded them with certainly were. When he recorded the phenomenal Nevermind album in the very early 90s he captured his raw vocals perfectly with the use of the iconic Neumann U67 tube microphone. It’s one of the most desirable vintage microphones out there thanks to its warm tone and inviting ‘air’ in the high frequency range. It was the successor of the also popular U47 but with a more available tube and new capsule and body design. Depending on the condition you’ll be looking at between 5-15k to buy one.
You need a pretty hefty budget to buy one of these things. If you’re looking for something much more reasonable with great studio quality we recommending getting yourself a Rode NT1A Condenser Microphone.
Butch Vig spoke about recording with Kurt during a Q&A session:
“I tried using the out of phase speakers with no headphones but I didn’t like it (I could hear the weird phase bleed), so I convinced Kurt to wear headphones. We used a U67 on most of his vocals, I think it was the Neve pre, and probably an LA2A.
I was lucky if I got 4 takes. Usually 3…I would get him to do a warmup and adjust levels (and record it) and then get him to do a couple takes. He did not have the patience to do more than that, and usually blew his voice out anyway, so I would take anything I could get!
It’s funny, I can hear the vocal comp on some songs…like Lithium. The verses are really obvious between the different takes”
When Nirvana were recording the Nevermind album their producer would mic up Cobain’s speaker cabinet with four different microphones. A Neumann U87, an AKG C414, a Sennheiser 421 and a Shure SM57 (Dave Grohl still uses an SM57 to record guitar tracks for Foo Fighters’ albums). They would then together choose which version of the recording they preferred the sound of and send its signal through the Neve console at Sound City. Cobain used a Small Clone Chorus Pedal to get that watery guitar sound you can hear on the pre-chorus build-up of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and also ‘Come As You Are.’ Vig notes:
“I believe we also used a ProCo Rat distortion pedal on some songs. We used an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff fuzz box through a Fender Bassman amp on ‘Lithium,’ to get that thumpier, darker sound. As I recall, we used a U87 mic on that. We wanted something that was not so bright – a heavier sound.”
Some of Kurt’s guitar choices would be questionable to a lot of musicians and sound engineers but it’s what helped create the Nirvana sound. The track ‘Polly’ was created using a nameless cheap acoustic guitar that only had five strings. Presumably one string had snapped and he never bothered replacing them. Quite common to Nirvana it was tuned down about a step and a half and was recorded through the legendary AKG C414 microphone (one of the most popular condenser microphones for studio engineers). You can hear the same guitar being used for the track ‘Something In The Way’.
If you don’t have 1k to spend on an AKG C414 you always opt for the cheaper but still extremely good little brother AKG C214.
Quite recently on Reverb.com a few microphones used for Nirvana’s final ‘In Utero’ album went up for auction: Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ Microphones Headed to Steve Albini-Approved Auction
Studio engineer Steve Albini used an Electro-Voice PL20 and two vintage Lomo 19A9’s.
“They’re irreplaceable,” Albini said. “They stopped being microphones and now they’re artifacts. I feel like I should get them into the hands of somebody who would take care of them and not put them at risk in the hectic environment of a recording studio.”
Albini also used both Lomo microphones as overheads to record Dave Grohl’s drum tracks.