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Kurt Cobain’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ guitar fetches £3.5 million at auction

The 1969 Fender Mustang was snatched up by U.S. collector Jim Irsay

By Joe Goggins

Screengrab from Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' video
The video has been viewed over 1.4 billion times on YouTube. (Photo: YouTube)

A guitar played by Kurt Cobain in the video for Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ has fetched £3.5 million at auction.

The Fender Mustang, a 1969 model in Lake Placid Blue, went under the hammer as part of a three-day event organised by Julien’s Auctions, with bids being made both in-person at New York City’s Hard Rock Café and online.

The winning bid came from Jim Irsay, a U.S. tycoon who’s father, Robert, built a fortune on the back of heating and air-conditioning companies. He is best known as the owner of the Indianapolis Colts NFL franchise, and is a long-time investor in iconic American cultural memorabilia; amongst his collection is Bob Dylan’s electric guitar from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, a Ludwig drum kit that previously belonged to Beatles sticksman Ringo Starr, and the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s legendary novel ‘On the Road’.

“I am thrilled to preserve and protect another piece of American culture that changed the way we looked at world,” Irsay said after placing the winning bid. “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.” Cobain’s family intend to send a portion of the proceeds to the Colts’ mental health awareness campaign, Kicking the Stigma.

The cultural legacy of the ‘Smells Like Teen Sprit’ video endures; it boasts more than 1.4 billion views on YouTube. The Mustang made famous in the clip is left-handed, as was Cobain; in a 1991 sit-down with Guitar World, he had previously sung the model’s praises. “I’m left-handed, and it’s not very easy to find reasonably priced, high-quality left-handed guitars,” he said. “But out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favourite.”

Cobain’s guitar was on public display at London’s Hard Rock Café outpost for seven days ahead of the auction. Discussing the instrument, Julien’s Auctions CEO Darren Julien said: “[It is] one of the most culturally significant and historically important guitars not only of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s legacy but in all of rock music history. Rarely do personally owned items from Kurt Cobain with this incredible and unprecedented provenance of his life and career become available for public sale.”