The guitar played by Kurt Cobain on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged sold for $6 million at Julien’s Auctions, the highest amount ever paid for one guitar. The previous record for a guitar sale was David Gilmour’s famous Black Strat, which sold last year for $3.8 million.
Peter Freedman of RØDE Microphones was the winning buyer of Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E. Freedman plans to take the guitar back out on a worldwide exhibit tour to shine light on the struggles faced by those in the performing arts.
Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged performance is one of the defining moments in ‘90s music, with Cobain and the band completely in the zone for the entire set, culminating in a breathtaking cover of Leadbelly’s version of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.”
The late Seattle guitarist used only one guitar for the entire performance, a 1959 Martin D-18E, which he purchased at Voltage Guitar in Los Angeles for $5000. The dreadnought guitar features two DeArmond Pickups, three control knobs and a pickup selector switch. It was then modified by his tech, Earnie Bailey, to accommodate Cobain’s needs as a left-handed player. Bailey also added a Bartolini 3AV pickup to the soundhole at Cobain’s request.
The D-18E is a rare guitar on its own, in production for just two years (1958-1959) and only 302 were produced in total. This specific model was one of Martin’s first attempts at producing an acoustic-electric guitar.
For the performance, Cobain plugged the acoustic-electric into a Fender Twin Reverb amp and several effects pedals. In addition to the November 18, 1993 MTV performance, Cobain used the guitar on several US shows in the fall of 1993 and one show overseas in Milan, Italy in February 1994.
A guitar case with stickers and flyer for Poison Idea’s 1990 album Feel The Darkness, two Alaska Airlines Fragile stickers, three Dunlop 60 mm guitar picks, a partial set of Martin & Co. Phosphor Bronze guitar strings and a small black velvet pouch containing silvertone knife, fork and spoon lapel pins each with pinbacks were also included as part of the package.
“When I heard that this iconic guitar was up for auction,” Freedman said. “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.”
“The arts, and organizations that support the arts, are remarkably undervalued and underfunded by many governments around the world, considering their cultural and economic importance. I saw buying this guitar as an opportunity to not only share it with music fans, but to do so in a way that raises awareness for the struggles that musicians and artists face every day, and lobby governments for change.”
Read more of Freedman’s comments on the company’s website.
“This important guitar has earned its rightful place in rock & roll history as the instrument played by one of rock’s most influential musicians and icons in one of the greatest and most memorable live performances of all time,” Darren Julien, president and CEO of Julien’s Auctions said.
A one-of-a-kind custom guitar used by Prince, the Blue Angel, also sold at the auction for $563,500, well above the $100-200K estimate.