Kurt Cobain’s Smells Like Teen Spirit Fender Mustang goes up for auction for the first time

Kurt Cobain and his 1969 Fender Mustang
(Image credit: Nirvana/YouTube / Julien's Auctions)

Kurt Cobain’s iconic Fender Competition Mustang electric guitar, which appeared in the 1991 music video for Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, is set to go up for auction for the first time in history.

The Lake Placid Blue six-string will feature in Julien’s Auctions’ three-day Music Icons event, which takes place during Mental Health Awareness Month on May 20, 21 and 22.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the guitar – and from other Cobain items up for sale – will go towards supporting mental health charity Kicking The Stigma, which was founded by Indianapolis Colts owner, Jim Irsay.

Dubbed by the auction house as “the electric guitar that changed music and the world”, the Fender Mustang helped to launch Cobain and his Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl's burgeoning popularity into the stratosphere.

The Mustang made its now-mythical debut appearance in 1991, when the music video for Nirvana’s totemic single Smells Like Teen Spirit debuted on the September 29 installment of MTV’s 120 Minutes. At the time of writing, the video has been viewed well over 1.4 billion times on YouTube alone.

In his final Guitar World interview, Cobain expressed his enthusiasm for the short-scale Mustang design. “I’m left-handed, and it’s not very easy to find reasonably priced, high-quality left-handed guitars,” he says. “But out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite. I’ve only owned two of them.”

As well as cropping up in the iconic video, the guitar was also occasionally used live by Cobain, most notably at Nirvana’s Tree Club, Dallas, show in ‘91 – during which Cobain smashed the guitar on a mixing board, resulting in a broken neck joint that needed fixing – and their 1993 Hollywood Rock Festival set in Rio de Janeiro.

For the past 12 years, the guitar has been on display at Seattle’s MoPoP Museum of Pop Culture.

Right now, the mantle of the most expensive guitar ever sold at auction belongs to the Cobain name, after his Martin D-28E – as featured during Nirvana’s immortal MTV Unplugged set – sold in 2020 for a whopping $6,010,000.

According to Julien’s Auctions estimations, though, the Mustang won’t fetch such an eye-watering sum, with the auction house instead speculating the six-string will eventually sell for $800,000. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it smash the one-million mark, though.

Alongside the guitar, an exclusive NFT documenting the historical significance of the Mustang will be up for grabs, complete with a minted narration of the story from Cobain’s longtime guitar tech, Earnie Bailey. The 360-degree digital representation of the axe will be a 1-of-1 edition, and will be stored on the blockchain.

Elsewhere in the Music Icons lot, the Fender Mustang will be joined by a wealth of other Cobain-related memorabilia, including a personally owned all access tour pass from Nirvana’s 1992 Nevermind tour, Cobain’s own schedule book from the Australian leg of that same tour and his 1965 Dodge Dart car.

An example of some original framed artwork and a custom-painted skateboard will also appear on the bill.

For more information, head over to Julien’s Auctions.

It’s the second Cobain-owned Mustang to go under the hammer after the Nirvana frontman’s 1993 Fender Mustang – used during the band’s In Utero tour – sold in 2019 for $340,000.

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Matt Owen

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.