The Guitar Kurt Cobain Played in Nirvana’s ‘MTV Unplugged’ Sold for $6M+ at Auction, Breaking Records


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Rock Cellar Magazine
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Over the weekend, a crucial piece of music memorabilia from the 1990s went up for auction — and the 1959 Martin D-18E Kurt Cobain played in Nirvana‘s MTV Unplugged performance was estimated to fetch around $1 million.

In reality, the guitar sold for $6,010,000, with CBS News reporting it went to Peter Freedman, owner of Røde Microphones, who is now the owner of a very expensive bit of music history.

Freedman has big plans for the guitar, which he does not intend on keeping cooped up in his house for private viewing. Instead, he is planning a special exhibition tour, as detailed on his company’s website:

Mr. Freedman plans to display the guitar in a worldwide tour of exhibitions to be held in distinguished galleries and art spaces, with all proceeds (including the guitar) going to the performing arts.

“When I heard that this iconic guitar was up for auction,” Mr. Freedman says, “I immediately knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure it and use it as a vehicle to spotlight the struggles that those in the performing arts are facing and have always faced.”

He continues: “The global arts industry has been shattered by the impact of COVID-19, with musicians and artists being amongst the most affected. The last few months were the straw that broke the camel’s back, and for many in the arts have brought forth the harsh reality that they work in an industry for which there is little support in times of need.”

Also sold during this Julien’s Auction was a custom guitar played by Prince during the peak of his career, which sold for roughly $560,000, as well as additional music memorabilia items from across the spectrum.

With that eye-popping selling point, Cobain’s guitar set several records, and is now the most expensive stringed instrument ever sold. Per Live for Live Music, the guitar’s auction price surpassed “David Gilmour‘s black Fender Stratocaster which sold for $3,975,000 last year, and Jerry Garcia‘s “Wolf” guitar which sold for $3.2M in 2017. It’s also worth noting that the 1957 Gibson Les Paul owned and played by The Allman Brothers Band’s Duane Allman on the Derek and the Dominos‘ classic rock hit “Layla” sold for $1.25 million in 2019 as well.”

It’s that MTV Unplugged performance that remains one of the highest points in Nirvana’s important-but-short-lived existence, having been filmed just five months before Cobain’s suicide in April 1994 and months before it would eventually air on MTV.

Via our retrospective look back at Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged:

Nirvana’s Unplugged was filmed in the fall of 1993, just months before Cobain was found dead. It aired in December on MTV and was eventually released as a live album in December 1994 — a posthumous tribute to Cobain. The band’s Unplugged performance was notable for the band’s steadfast decision to play anything but many of their hits.

There was no “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” no “In Bloom,” instead a collection of some of Cobain’s personally influential songs, like The Vaselines’ “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam,” “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” by Leadbelly and David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World,” the Meat Puppets’ “Plateau, deeper Nirvana tracks like “Something In the Way” and more.

The end result was a captivating Unplugged performance that has gone on to be considered one of Nirvana’s crowning achievements in its existence — made possible by Cobain’s refusal to just “play the hits,” a testament to his point of view as the so-called “spokesman of a generation” who rejected that title.


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