Kurt Cobain-signed 1973 Fender Mustang – which he smashed onstage in 1989 – goes up for auction

Kurt Cobain (left), his battered 1973 Fender Mustang
(Image credit: Julien's Auctions)

A 1973 Fender Mustang that was once owned, played and smashed onstage by Kurt Cobain in the late 1980s has hit the auction block at Julien’s Auctions.

The guitar itself was used by Cobain during Nirvana’s first-ever US tour, which took place following the release of their debut album, Bleach, in 1989. Throughout the tour, Cobain made guitar smashing a regular occurrence, with many of his now-infamous smashed guitars – such two played-and-smashed Fender Stratocasters – having already made their way to auction.

The ‘73 Mustang is an especially notable six-string, though. Played on two occasions – at the Club Dreamerz in Chicago, Illinois on July 8, and the Sonic Temple in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania on July 9, 1989 – the guitar was later exchanged for a Gibson SG when Cobain needed an instrument, after his guitar-smashing antics had left him without a guitar to play. 

Kurt Cobain's smashed 1973 Fender Mustang

(Image credit: Julien's Auctions)

As per Julien’s Auctions, Nirvana brought the July 9 show to a close with a raucous performance of Blew, which saw Cobain batter his Mustang beyond repair. Four days later, in Hoboken, New Jersey, Cobain smashed another guitar – a Univox, which was sold by Julien’s Auctions in 2016 (opens in new tab).

That meant for Nirvana’s show on July 15, Cobain was without a guitar, and had to perform the whole nine-song set in Boston without one. Jason Everman was left to play both his and the frontman’s parts.

After the show, Cobain stayed at the apartment of Sluggo Cawley, who at the time played in a band called Hullabaloo. Hung on one of walls was a smashed Gibson SG, which caught Cobain’s eye.

Cobain offered Cawley a trade: his unsalvageable Mustang for Cawley’s slightly less-battered SG. In Cobain’s mind, the Gibson would be easier to fix, and so could potentially be used for a future gig.

Kurt Cobain (right) plays a 1973 Fender Mustang

(Image credit: Julien's Auctions)

Recalling the story in 2020, Cawley wrote (via Innocent Words (opens in new tab)), “Kurt asked me if he could have the smashed Gibson SG I had hanging on my wall. I asked him, 'Why?' and he replied that it didn’t look broken too bad, and he could fix it up and smash it later. 

“So I said, ‘Sure, but now I won’t have one for my wall.’ Kurt replied, ‘I’ll be right back.’ He went out to their van and presented me a 1973 Fender Mustang that he deemed beyond repair.”

Cobain also signed the Mustang, which carries the inscription, “Yo Sluggo, Thank for the trade, If its illegal to Rock and Roll, then throw my ass in jail, Nirvana.”

At the time of writing, two of Kurt Cobain’s guitars – his Smells Like Teen Spirit Mustang and MTV Unplugged Martin D-18E – currently occupy the top two spots in the list of the most expensive guitars ever sold at auction.

While we don’t imagine it will fetch anywhere near the seven-figure sums those six-strings did – you know, on the account of it being totally unplayable – the guitar’s history will no doubt lend itself to a fairly hefty price tag.

Not only is it a right-handed Mustang that Cobain played upside down, it also heralds from Nirvana’s early days, during a time when the band were perfecting their craft and when Cobain’s guitar-smashing antics took off.

As such, Julien’s Auctions expects it to sell for somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000.

For more information, head over to Julien's Auctions (opens in new tab).

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Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.