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Kurt Cobain’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ guitar sells for a staggering $4.5 million

A photo of a shaggy-haired man smiling and smoking a cigarette
A guitar belonging to the late Kurt Cobain, shown in 1993, sold at auction Sunday for much more than expected.
(Mark Terrill / Associated Press)

The owner of what one website calls the “greatest guitar collection on Earth” just shelled out millions to buy the guitar of Kurt Cobain, a late artist who famously hated everything about capitalism.

Jim Irsay, owner and chief executive of the Indianapolis Colts, went above and beyond to purchase the 1969 Fender Mustang used by the Nirvana singer in the 1991 video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The left-handed guitar was sold at a Julien’s Auctions on Sunday for about $4.5 million, leaps and bounds above the original estimate of $600,000.

Cobain, who took his own life in 1994, can be seen strumming the electric blue Fender in the video, jamming feet away from raging fans in a smoky gym. In his final interview with Guitar World, Cobain named the guitar as one of the best he’d ever played.

“I’m left-handed, and it’s not very easy to find reasonably priced, high-quality left-handed guitars,” he said. “But out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite. I’ve only owned two of them.”

It’s been 25 years since the suicide of rock icon Kurt Cobain, and his legend continues to loom large, with Nirvana inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 and a documentary about the musician released in 2015.

The guitar was also used in recording sessions for the band’s acclaimed albums “Nevermind” and “In Utero.” A portion of the proceeds from the sale will benefit Kicking the Stigma, Irsay’s and the Colts’ initiative to remove the stigma around mental health disorders.

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“Kurt Cobain was as great an artistic and cultural force as any performer in the last 30 years, and this auction celebrates his and Nirvana’s indelible contributions to rock music and popular culture,” Irsay said in a statement. “We are humbled and grateful that a portion of this auction’s proceeds will benefit Kicking The Stigma and our efforts to bring the issue of mental health out of the darkness and into the light.”

Irsay has made a habit of spending big on famed guitars. According to Guitar.com, he bought a black Stratocaster from Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour for $3.9 million, Jerry Garcia (of the Grateful Dead)'s Tiger for nearly $1 million, and Bob Dylan’s Strat for $965,000, among many others.

The 62-year-old Colts owner also plans to open a museum to showcase his collection, although a location has not yet been announced.

“History is so important,” Irsay told Guitar.com. “So much of what we’re about as a world, as humanity, is tied to music. It’s been that way ever since the cavemen were around the fire and they scrawled on the walls, they beat things — there was always this feeling of self-expression. And a deeper feeling than just having words or sign language, or hunting and gathering systems. To me, it’s really important that the museum is alive. How you experience it when you walk in? I want it to be interactive.”

Released in 1991, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is widely considered one of the greatest songs in music history. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame added the song to its exhibit “The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll,” while Rolling Stone ranked it fifth on the publication’s list of the “100 Greatest Singles of All Time.”


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