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Kurt Cobain's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' guitar sells for $4.5 million at auction

The 1969 Fender Mustang electric guitar had originally been estimated to sell for $600,000 to $800,000.
Image: Kurt Cobain Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar
Kurt Cobain's 1969 Fender Mustang Competition Lake Placid Blue Finish electric guitar, which he used in the video for Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in London on April 27. Ian West - PA Images / PA Images via Getty Images
/ Source: Variety

Kurt Cobain’s mythical 1969 Fender Mustang electric guitar from Nirvana’s landmark 1991 music video, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was auctioned for nearly $5 million at Julien’s Auctions on Sunday.

It was sold to the Jim Irsay Collection of Indianapolis in a bidding war among collectors from all over the world who participated in the online and over-the-phone auction. The guitar sold for approximately $4.5 million, far surpassing its original estimate of $600,000.

Cobain considered this 1969 Fender Mustang, left-handed guitar in “competition lake placid blue” finish with matching headstock one of his favorite go-to guitars and said in his final interview with Guitar World: “I’m left-handed, and it’s not very easy to find reasonably priced, high-quality left-handed guitars. But out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite. I’ve only owned two of them.”

The guitar was also used in the recording studio during both the “Nevermind” and “In Utero” recording sessions, as well as numerous prominent live performances. It was proudly displayed at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, now named MoPOP Museum of Pop Culture, and photographed and selected for the prestigious “Guitar Collection.”

In support of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Cobain family is donating a portion of the proceeds from the guitar sale and other select Cobain items to Kicking The Stigma — the Irsays’ initiative to raise awareness about mental health disorders and remove the stigma associated with these illnesses.

“To have this legendary guitar, one of the most culturally significant and historically important guitars of Kurt Cobain and in all of rock music history return to my home state of Indiana to be part of Jim Irsay’s renowned memorabilia collection is a great honor and personal highlight of my life,” said Darren Julien, president and chief executive officer of Julien’s Auctions. “This once-in-a-lifetime auction has been one of the greatest privileges in my professional career and I’m duly pleased that the proceeds will also bring much needed attention to mental health awareness.”

When Nirvana broke out with their hit single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991, the band had no idea what kind of seismic shift they had unleashed onto the music universe. It would go on to become a cultural marker in history by heralding the alternative grunge era of the ‘90s and becoming one of the most iconic songs and music videos of all time.

The Generation X anthem off their sophomore album “Nevermind” — which recently celebrated its 30th-anniversary milestone — turned the underground Seattle-based trio of Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl into overnight sensations. The song delivered a call to arms for teenage rebellion and angst punctuated by the intensity of Cobain’s unforgettable performance style in the song’s accompanying music video.

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The video, depicting a high school pep rally that turns into a mosh pit frenzy, quietly debuted on Sept. 29, 1991 on MTV’s “120 Minutes,” and quickly went on to reach unthinkable masses as “Nevermind” went gold only five weeks after its release.

Other Cobain items that sold included (with estimates) Cobain’s 1965 “Baby Blue” Dodge Dart 170 4-door sedan­­ — which came from Kurt’s sister, Kim Cobain, who has owned the car for the last 28 years. The Dodge is the only known surviving car that was owned and driven by Kurt Cobain and it sold for approximately $375,000.

Cobain’s personally drawn 1985 Iron Maiden “Killers” skateboard deck artwork featuring the Iron Maiden mascot “Eddie” also sold with an added NFT for $35,200 and Cobain’s original artwork of Michael Jackson plus NFT accompanying the physical item sold for $87,500.

In 2020, Julien’s Auctions also sold Cobain’s “MTV Unplugged” 1959 Martin D-18E acoustic-electric guitar for $6 million — making it the world’s most expensive guitar ever sold at auction.

The list of sold Cobain memorabilia continues as Julien’s has broken records with the sales. To name a few more: Cobain’s cardigan worn on MTV Unplugged in New York, which sold for a record $334,000; his “In Utero” tour Fender Mustang guitar which sold for $340,000; a self-portrait caricature drawing by Cobain of himself playing guitar signed “Kurdt Kobain Rock Star” which sold for over $281,000; his cardigan worn on his last photoshoot which sold for $75,000 and a Nirvana paper plate set list written in Cobain’s handwriting which sold for a record $22,400.

Over 1,300 items were sold at Julien’s Auctions’ Music Icons event over the weekend at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York, which brought in a total of nearly $15,000,000. More than 100 lots featuring signature guitars, instruments, wardrobe, gear and memorabilia owned and used by rock and roll legends were auctioned with most of the items shattering original estimates.

Other highlights included: Madonna’s pink Marilyn Monroe inspired gown and accessories worn in the 1984 “Material Girl” music video for $287,500; Johnny Cash’s 1956 Martin brand, model D-21 acoustic guitar which sold for an astounding $437,500; a custom Fender Telecaster belonging to Waylon Jennings sold for $179,200; Bruce Springsteen’s handwritten lyrics to “Born to Run” which sold for $44,800 and much more.