Join us for our traditional look back at the news and features that floated your boat this year. This story first appeared in October.
Best of 2023: YouTuber Aaron Rash has completed his obsessive quest to replicate Kurt Cobain’s In Utero electric guitar tone after designing and building a meticulous replica of the all-aluminium Veleno guitar that the late Nirvana frontman borrowed from producer Steve Albini.
No one knows more about Cobain’s raw, urgent and kind of feral tone on In Utero than Rash, except maybe the members of Nirvana themselves and Albini. Even then it is gonna be close. In previous videos, Rash has played through the super-rare Fender Quad Reverb that Cobain used on In Utero, even going so far as to figure out that Cobain’s featured Utah speakers, not the more typically found Oxfords – and Rash duly modded his own Quad tube amp with Utahs to nail the sound.
His search naturally focused on the guitars. And there was one, above all else, that caught his attention; the aluminium Veleno we hear on tracks such as Very Ape. Back in June, Rash shared the news that he was making a replica, and asked his audience for suggestions on headstock design.
The sound is not really like anything else. There’s a twang, a gnarly drang to the Veleno’s cleans that has powerchords scratching their way out of the speaker. Now, for most tone quests, you can simply jump online, or head down to a select high-street bricks and mortar store and seek out the gear you need. This was out of the question with the Veleno.
The price that these command on the second-hand market is astronomical. Rash cites a 1978 model listed on Reverb for $32,500. That’s a serious investment, and says only around 200 were ever made at all. There are reissue Veleno Guitars available for pre-order from the resurrected brand but they cost the best part of $9,000. “I wasn’t going to stop until I got one of these,” says Rash. “The only way I was going to get it was to build it myself.”
The all-aluminium builds of Veleno Guitars were the brainchild of John Veleno, a metal craftsman turned luthier, whose creations were played by the likes of David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan and of course Steve Albini, whose model Cobain borrowed for the recording sessions at Pachyderm Studios, Minnesota.
This endeavour has not been without personal cost. It takes time to put YouTube videos together, time spent researching, shooting, editing. Rash says he has gone into debt to fund these projects, and admits that it was all getting to him. But making this video was different. This lustrous doublecut was the light at the end of the tunnel.
“For me, as a musician, to feel like I am making the same video over and over and over again, playing all the same riffs, the same stuff, chasing the same tones, it gets old,” he says. “But then today I’m actually really excited because I have been chasing this sound for so long. It is finally here now.”
- Steve Albini – "A lot of people in my position are opposed to the home-recording of music. They feel like it cheapens what happens in the studio, but I disagree"
And it sounds – and looks – incredible. Its hollow build makes it very light. Furthermore, Rash is going to make these replicas available for purchase, and he has named this aluminium model Kurt, for obvious reasons.
“It is because of him my life took this crazy, drastic turn and so I feel like it is only right to dedicate it to him,” says Rash, who says this was a fitting way to bring his Nirvana tone obsession to a close. The Kurt will be exactly the same as the replica he made for the video, save for a different headstock. Pre-orders will be open soon. What’s next for Rash? We’ll have to wait and see.
“It’s actually bittersweet because now I’ll have to find a new tone to chase,” says Rash. Well, there is some good news on that front. There are always more tones to chase.
As any guitar player will tell you, the next obsession is just around the corner. The rabbit holes only get deeper. And you can follow him down them and learn more about Nirvana guitar tone at Aaron Rash’s YouTube channel.