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

Theresa Braine
New York Daily News (TNS)

The guitar played by Kurt Cobain for Nirvana’s breakout 1991 single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video has sold for $4.5 million at auction, the sellers said Sunday.

The 1969 Fender Mustang Competition Lake Placid blue finish electric guitar was expected to fetch a more modest $600,000, said the seller, Julien’s Auctions. But Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay plunked down a lot more, not least of all because a chunk of the proceeds will go toward benefiting mental illness. Cobain shot himself in 1994.

“I am thrilled to preserve and protect another piece of American culture that changed the way we looked at world,” said Irsay. “The fact that a portion of the proceeds will go toward our effort to kick the stigma surrounding mental health makes this acquisition even more special to me.”

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The left-handed guitar was Cobain’s favorite. In his final interview with Guitar World, he said: “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.”

Cobain’s family is using Mental Health Awareness Month as a springboard and will donate a portion of the proceeds from the guitar and other items to the Irsays’ mental health awareness organization, Kicking The Stigma.

It will add to the more than $16 million that has already been committed to local and national organizations expanding treatment and research, the statement said.

From left, Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana in London, circa 1992. (Aj Barratt/UPPA via ZUMA Press/TNS)

The Jim Irsay Collection won out in a bidding war among collectors the world over who participated both in-person at the Hard Rock Café in New York City, and online. The auction brought in a total of nearly $15 million.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” put Nirvana, the group Cobain fronted and which kicked off the grunge era, on the map as it became a Generation X anthem and influenced the rock scene for years.

Other iconic music collectibles sold at the Julien’s auction included Madonna’s 1984 “Material Girl” music video ensemble. Inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” pink outfit, Madonna’s getup and accessories went for $287,500. Bruce Springsteen’s handwritten “Born to Run” lyrics sold for $44,800.

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