Kurt Cobain, the iconic frontman of Nirvana, left an indelible mark on music history with his raw talent and uncompromising attitude. In the years since his tragic death, fans have clamored for any piece of memorabilia that might provide a connection to the life of this enigmatic artist. From guitars to lyric sheets to sweaters and even a paper plate, items belonging to Cobain have fetched millions of dollars at auction.
Here are some of the most interesting and expensive things of Kurt Cobain’s and Nirvana’s that have been sold at auction, providing a fascinating look into the life and legacy of one of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century.
Martin D-18E Guitar From MTV Unplugged: $6 Million
In 2020, the most valuable of Kurt Cobain’s guitar collection, a Martin D-18E, sold for a staggering $6 million, making it the most expensive guitar ever sold at auction. Cobain famously played the guitar during Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged performance in New York, which was one of the band’s final shows before Cobain’s tragic death. The performance went on to win a 1995 Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance, cementing Cobain’s status as a music icon.
Kurt Cobain’s guitar, which was the seventh of only 302 models ever built by Martin, was famously modded by Kurt Cobain, who added a Bartolini pickup to the soundhole. When it was sold at auction for a record-breaking $6 million in 2020, the guitar came with its original hardshell case, which had been personalized by Cobain with a flier from Poison Idea’s 1990 album Feel the Darkness. Inside the case, there was a half-used pack of Martin strings, three guitar picks, and a suede “stash” bag decorated with a miniature silver spoon, fork, and knife.
Rumored to be the last guitar Cobain played before his death, it was reported in 2018 that the instrument was no longer with the frontman’s family after his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, left it to her ex-husband, Isaiah Silva, as part of their divorce settlement.
Fender Mustang Guitar From Smells Like Teen Spirit: $4.5 Million
Kurt Cobain’s famous left-handed 1969 Fender Mustang Competition Lake Placid Blue Finish Electric Guitar, which he played in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video in 1991, is the second most expensive guitar ever sold at auction from the artist. It fetched $4.5 million in 2020. Billionaire Jim Irsay, who previously purchased David Gilmour’s iconic Black Strat guitar for a then world-record $4 million in 2019, was the winning bidder. Although the Mustang had an estimated value of $600,000 to $800,000, it exceeded all expectations to become one of the most valuable guitars in history.
The guitar was bought by Kurt from Lloyd Chaite of Voltage Guitars in Los Angeles around 1990-1991. Cobain used it extensively during recording sessions for both Nevermind and In Utero albums, as well as at live performances. However, it’s perhaps most famous for appearing in the music video for Nirvana’s single Smells Like Teen Spirit from the Nevermind album.
Cobain’s guitar tech, Earnie Bailey, confirms that Kurt had the bridge and bridge pickup replaced with a Stewart MacDonald Gotoh Tune-O-Matic and a Duncan Hot Rails Humbucker, respectively, and kept the original single coil bridge pickup, tremolo bar, and one of Cobain’s guitar straps in the guitar case, which also comes with the lot. Bailey further explains the modifications he made to the bridge section, which solved several problems, including disabling the tremolo system, increasing tuning stability, and reducing string breakage.
Kurt Cobain’s Guitar With Letter From Courtney: $340,000
A left-handed Fender Mustang guitar in sky blue with a red mottled pickguard, custom built for Kurt Cobain in 1993 and used throughout the In Utero tour, sold at auction in 2019. This guitar was built by Scott Zimmerman, a prototype and custom builder for FujiGen, who built all of Fender’s Japanese instruments. Zimmerman was contacted by Fender artist relations manager in 1993 because the Fender Custom shop was not equipped to build left-handed Mustangs at the time.
When approached by Fender to build Cobain a Mustang, Fujigen agreed but asked for an order of more than one, and so ten were ordered. Only six were sent to Cobain before his death, in fiesta red and sky blue. This specific guitar was shipped on October 22, 1993. Only the two guitars shipped on that date have the “Offset Contour Body Patented” decal. Cobain’s guitar tech further customized the guitar when it arrived in the United States, adding a black Seymour Duncan JB pickup instead of the stock single-coil, and a Gotoh Tune-o-Matic bridge.
Courtney Love sent this specific guitar to a fan just three months after Cobain’s death, noting in her accompanying letter that it was one of her husband’s favorite guitars. The guitar was sold with Love Cobain’s handwritten letter on her personal stationery, the original hardshell case, the original FedEx shipping document from, and images of the guitar while on exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Another fun fact – while on exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a fan stole two of the knobs off the guitar, which had to be replaced by the museum.
Green Cardigan Worn At MTV Unplugged: $334,000
The green cardigan famously worn by late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain during the band’s 1993 MTV Unplugged in New York performance sold at auction for an impressive $334,000 in 2019. The sweater’s original buyer had decided to sell it, which led to its auction. After his death in 1994, Courtney Love reportedly gave the cardigan to the Cobain family nanny, Jackie Farry. When Farry needed money for her cancer treatments, she sold the sweater after receiving permission from Love and Frances Bean.
Kurt Cobain’s fashion style, including his love for cardigan sweaters, was largely inspired by his thrift-store shopping habits and his desire for a non-conformist image. In an interview with MTV News in 1993, Cobain explained, “I like to wear a lot of [sweaters] because I’m real comfortable in them, and it’s easier to move around in them. I don’t know, it’s just kind of my image, I guess.”
Kurt Cobain Self Portrait: $281,250
A self-portrait caricature drawn by the late rock star Kurt Cobain in 1992 sold for a six-figure sum in 2021. The drawing, featuring Cobain playing a guitar and signed “Kurdt Kobain Rock Star,” was created on stationary from TNT Music Centre in Singapore during Nirvana’s Nevermind album promotional tour. It was sold for a staggering $281,250 and accompanied by the words “I don’t know how to play and I don’t give a hoot!” also written by Kurt in black felt pen.
Kurt Cobain was known to have an interest in art and had a natural talent for drawing and painting. He reportedly began drawing at a young age and continued to do so throughout his life. Cobain’s visual art style was often characterized as dark and raw, and he frequently used his artwork to express his emotions and inner turmoil.
Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal: $75,000
A Boss DS-1 distortion pedal that was once owned by Kurt Cobain has set a new record for the final sale price of a single effects box after it sold for an astounding $75,000, which is $4,600 more than Jimi Hendrix’s Octavia got in a previous auction. Cobain used multiple DS-1 pedals during Nirvana’s career, and this particular one was customized with “NIRWAHNA” written on its face and “Kurdt was here” on its side, along with a The Frogs sticker on the bottom.
This guitar pedal is considered one of the most iconic guitar pedals ever made. When looking at the grunge movement and Nirvana’s sound, the DS-1 was particularly important because it was helped Kurt dial in his signature, heavy guitar tone. He used the pedal to create the massive, distorted sound that became synonymous with the grunge movement and iconic songs off Nevermind and In Utero. The DS-1, along with other pedals and Cobain’s use of feedback, helped to create the raw, aggressive sound that defined Nirvana’s music.
1992 MTV Video Music Award Statue: $62,500
In 2017, a lucky bidder won the statue Nirvana accepted at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, spending $62,500. The award was presented to Cobain when Nirvana’s hit Smells Like Teen Spirit won Best New Artist in a Video. The 1992 ceremony was memorable for a backstage argument between members of Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana.
During the show, Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose publicly expressed his anger towards Kurt Cobain for publicly criticizing his band in the press. Later that night, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan got into a physical altercation backstage, which was quickly broken up. Despite the incident, Nirvana went on to win two awards that night, including Best New Artist in a Video for Smells Like Teen Spirit. Take a look at the video below to relive the excitement!
Sears Magnum Bass Guitar: $56,250
During his pre-Nirvana days, Cobain used a 1977 Magnum Bass Guitar Short Scale Neck J Body Jazz Maple Fretboard Block Japanese Style on two early demo recordings made at his aunt Mari Earl’s house in Aberdeen, Washington. The Sears brand guitar recently sold at auction for over $56,000. The demos were recorded under the monikers “Organized Confusion” in 1982 and “Fecal Matter” in 1985. Spank Thru, one of the songs first recorded with this bass, became a staple of Nirvana’s live set and was deemed the band’s first official song by Krist Novoselic.
In the mid-1970s, a wholesale company named Tilbien Co. in Madison Heights, Michigan began importing a variety of instruments from Japan. Among the products they imported were the Magnum brand guitars and basses, which were then distributed to retail stores across the United States. These instruments were popular due to their affordability and quality, and they gained a reputation as a reliable choice for amateur musicians and beginners. The Magnum Bass Guitar that Kurt Cobain used on his early demo recordings was one of these instruments, and it eventually played a significant role in Nirvana’s success.
Kurt’s Reading Festival Hospital Gown: $45,000
Although sources don’t have a firm number, the hospital gown’s bidding started at approximately $45,000 in 2019. The gown, which was worn by Cobain as a way to mock rumors about his health, has been in the possession of a fan who received it from Courtney Love at a Seattle vigil following Cobain’s suicide.
Nirvana’s iconic 1992 performance at the Reading Festival, which has since been released as a concert film and live album, featured Kurt Cobain wearing a hospital gown in a satirical response to rumors about his health. To complete the joke, Cobain was pushed onto stage in a wheelchair by music journalist Everett True, and he even opened the set by singing a few lines from Bette Midler’s “The Rose” before feigning collapse.
Kurt’s Angry Letter To David Geffen: $28,125
In 2016, a letter written by the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain to DGC label head David Geffen sold for for almost $30,000, was written by Cobain in response to a Vanity Fair article that suggested he and his wife Courtney Love went on a heroin binge when they found out she was pregnant with their daughter. Cobain was so upset by the article that he threatened to break up Nirvana if something wasn’t done about it. The letter was written during the period when the band was starting work on their follow-up album to Nevermind, In Utero. Cobain wrote that the article had forced him to consider breaking up the band.
David Geffen was the head of DGC Records, the label that signed Nirvana in the late 1980s. Geffen played a key role in helping the band achieve mainstream success, particularly with their breakthrough album “Nevermind.” However, there were tensions between Geffen and Cobain, particularly as Cobain became more vocal about his distaste for the commercialization of rock music and the music industry as a whole. The letter that Cobain penned to Geffen reflects some of these tensions and frustrations.
Paper Plate Set List Written By Kurt Cobain: $22,000
A used paper plate was recently put up for auction by a California-based auction house. However, this was not just any ordinary paper plate – it was the same plate that Kurt Cobain, the late frontman of Nirvana, had used to write down the setlist before a show at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. in 1990. Cobain had used the plate as a makeshift writing surface as he ate pizza, and it ended up becoming a unique piece of music history. The plate was eventually sold for over $22,000 at the auction.
Some fun facts about this show – Along with the band Loop, Nirvana opened for the death-doom outfit, Thud. Chad Channing was still on the throne at this point. And, for those who appreciate a talented bassist, Krist sang a lot of Floyd The Barber (second song) at this performance. Take a listen to the bootleg performance below.