The guitar — a 1969 Fender Competition Mustang in a color known as Lake Placid Blue that was owned by the Cobain family — was previously displayed as part of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay’s extensive collection of rock memorabilia prior to the auction, the Associated Press previously reported. On Sunday, it was the Jim Irsay Collection that ultimately made the winning bid at the auction to officially take ownership of the guitar, with the Cobain family donating a portion of the sale to the NFL team’s Kicking The Stigma mental health awareness campaign.
“I am thrilled to preserve and protect another piece of American culture that changed the way we looked at world,” Irsay said in a statement. “The fact that a portion of the proceeds will go toward our effort to kick the stigma surrounding mental health makes this acquisition even more special to me.”
Cobain famously used the guitar in the video for the band’s breakthrough single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The guitar is said to be among the musician’s favorite in his expansive collection — so much so that Cobain rarely used the guitar outside of a studio setting. (Footage from a September 1991 in-store performance in Seattle show Cobain playing the guitar for several songs, and numerous fan sites have documented the guitar’s use at a handful of gigs between the fall of 1991 and early 1993.)
The so-called “competition stripe” variants, which were available for both Mustang guitars and basses, are a much-coveted instrument among short-scale enthusiasts; original 1960s and 1970s models regularly sell for thousands of dollars.
Cobain was well-known for his devotion to Fender’s line of offset guitars — most notably the brand’s Mustang models, which the “Come As You Are” singer used regularly throughout Nirvana’s run. In the year leading up to the release of Nevermind, Cobain destroyed several Mustangs — which the band had pieced together and assembled on the cheap — on-stage during several live shows. (“We bought some necks, and took pieces of wood and cut out the bodies and put necks on — and they were completely out of tune. But we did a pretty good job,” Cobain recalled in a 1993 interview. “Those were all destroyed in one tour.”) He also exclusively played a series of four Fender Mustangs during the band’s In Utero Tour.
“Out of all the guitars in the whole world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite,” Cobain said in a 1991 interview with Guitar World. “They’re cheap and totally inefficient, and they sound like crap and are very small.”
In addition to the Fender Mustang, Cobain was frequently drawn to another Fender offset: the Jaguar. His love of both the Jaguar and the Mustang eventually led Cobain to collaborate with the Fender Custom Shop on the creation of the hybrid Jag-Stang in 1993 — a model that remains in production to this day.
Bidding took place at the Times Square Hard Rock Cafe May 20 through 22. Despite an estimated $600,000 value. The Associated Press reported that Irsay intended to place an opening bid of $2 million on the guitar; he ended up spending $5 million to purchase the guitar, for a good cause.