Kurt Cobain’s 1993 Fender Mustang electric guitar – known as the Sky Stang I – sold at auction on Saturday (18 November) for more than $1.5 million.
The Nirvana frontman’s name has previously been associated with several of the highest-value guitar sales of all time and the price fetched by the Mustang comfortably places it among those ranks.
Indeed, the latest sale means that Kurt Cobain’s instruments now occupy three of the top 10 spots in the list of the most expensive guitars sold at auction. Previously, he and David Gilmour had two apiece on the list.
Cobain’s sales also eclipse that of Gilmour when it comes to value, with Gilmour’s sales worth a total of $5,790,000 – a figure that is more than doubled by the $12,147,500 raised for Cobain’s three guitars.
When we first reported on the Sky Stang I auction, we mentioned it could be a prime candidate for Jim Irsay’s billion-dollar guitar collection, but in the end the auction was won by Japan-based businessman Mitsuru Sato – who paid a final price of $1,587,500.
Irsay won’t feel too hard done by, however. A portion of the sale price has gone towards his Kicking the Stigma non-profit (which campaigns to raise awareness of mental health conditions). In addition, Irsay also scooped up Eric Clapton’s iconic 1964 Gibson SG ‘The Fool’ for $1,270,000.
The Sky Stang I is one of 10 Fender Mustangs that were ordered by Cobain in the summer of 1993. The guitars were built in Japan, by Scott Zimmerman, a luthier based at the Fujigen factory. At that point, the brand did not have the capability to produce left-handed models at their US custom shop facilities.
The instrument then became Cobain’s go-to guitar for much of the In Utero tour, seeing use in 53 of the tour’s 63 shows, including the band’s MTV Live and Loud appearance and, most poignantly, Cobain’s last Nirvana show on March 1, 1994 at Terminal 1 in Munich, Germany.
Its provenance is also unquestionable, with the distinctive V-shape mark on the scratchplate being clearly visible in numerous images and video footage from the period.
Following Cobain’s death, the Sky Stang I passed to his brother Chad Cobain, who held onto the guitar until putting it up for auction last month.
The final price fetched in this latest auction also vastly exceeds that of its sibling, the Sky Stang III, which went up for auction in 2019 and sold for $340,000. That instrument also saw use on the In Utero tour and was later gifted to a fan by Courtney Love.
However, even the Sky Stang I remains a relative minnow when you compare it to $4.5 million price fetched by the Smells Like Teen Spirit Mustang, or the astonishing $6 million fetched by Cobain’s MTV Unplugged Martin.
We’re not sure what the Nirvana frontman would have made of the extreme prices commanded by his instruments nearly 30 years on from his death, but we do know that when it comes to guitar auctions, Cobain remains the undisputed king.
For more information on the Sky Stang I, head to Julien’s Auctions.