Kurt Cobain’s guitar from Nirvana’s legendary MTV Unplugged performance was sold at a charity auction on Saturday for a record $6 million (£4.8m).
Sold as part of the ‘Music Icons’ sale at Julien’s Auctions on June 19 and 20, the 1959 Martin D-18E used in the band’s 1993 performance was originally expected to sell for between $1 and 2 million, with opening bids at $1 million. The sale went on to break several world records, including the most expensive guitar ever sold and the most expensive piece of band memorabilia ever sold. After a total of seven bids, the guitar was sold to Peter Freedman, founder of RØDE Microphones, who plans to display the guitar in a worldwide exhibition tour. All proceeds will be donated to performing arts organizations to help struggling artists.
“It’s a big deal,” Freedman said. “I didn’t even buy it for me. I paid for it but I’m going to use it to highlight the plight of artists worldwide by touring it around and then I’m going to sell it and use the dough for that as well, later.”
The guitar, which Cobain bought at Los Angeles’ Voltage Guitars before having it customized, also came with its original hard-shell case which he had decorated with a flyer for Poison Idea’s 1990 album Feel the Darkness, three baggage claim ticket stubs, and an Alaska Airlines sticker, as well as a half-used pack of guitar strings, three picks, and a “suede ‘stash’ bag” with a small silver spoon, fork, and knife.
Auction house CEO Darren Julien said in May: “This important guitar has earned its rightful place in rock & roll history as the instrument played by one of rock’s most influential musicians and icons in one of the greatest and most memorable live performances of all time.”
But there has been quite a lot of controversy over the years regarding the guitar’s ownership. Cobain’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, and wife Courtney Love have long been involved in a legal tug-of-war trying to retrieve the guitar from Frances’ ex-husband, Isaiah Silva, who claims it was given to him as a wedding present. While it appears that Silva is the one auctioning the item, a representative for the auction house said the seller wishes to keep their identity anonymous.
The 1959 Martin D-18E guitar wasn’t the only piece of memorabilia that was sold at the auction. Other MTV Unplugged performance items included included Curt Kirkwood’s handwritten lyrics for the Meat Puppets’ ‘Oh, Me’, a typed setlist, typed-out lyrics for David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ and the Meat Puppets’ ‘Lake of Fire’, as well as a letter to Cobain from Nirvana’s management company regarding the setlist for the show.
At the same auction a day earlier, a custom guitar played by Prince at the height of his stardom in the 1980s and 1990s, the Blue Angel Cloud 2, was also sold for $563,500.
Last year, the green cardigan Cobain wore at the Unplugged performance was also sold at Julien’s Auctions for $334,000, breaking yet another record.
Check out our deep dive into Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’ here.