Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana ‘MTV Unplugged’ Guitar Sells for Record $6.01 Million at Auction
Peter Freedman of RØDE Microphones made the winning bid, which set a world record for the most expensive guitar sold at auction, besting the previous record holder, which was a Stratocaster owned by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour that went for $3.95 million. The item was also the world's most expensive acoustic guitar, the world's most expensive Martin guitar, the world's most expensive piece of memorabilia and the world's most expensive Nirvana memorabilia.
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 going to the performing arts.
“When I heard that this iconic guitar was up for auction, 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,” said Freedman. “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 brought forth the harsh reality that they work in an industry for which there is little support in times of need.”
He continued, “For most, access to financial and health services – particularly mental health services – is very limited. While many industries are gradually returning to normal, it’s going to take a long time before this industry can begin functioning as it was. The toll this has taken and will continue to take is enormous and requires more than just lip service. It requires action now, and I am a man of action.”
Peter Freedman With Kurt Cobain's MTV Unplugged Guitar
In addition to being played at the MTV Unplugged session, Cobain also used the 1959 Martin D-18E guitar on a handful of tour dates. The instrument had been modified for the left-handed Cobain. The guitar came with its original hard-shell case that Cobain had adorned with a flyer for the band Poison Idea’s 1990 album Feel the Darkness. Inside the case was a half-used pack of Martin guitar strings, three picks and a “suede ‘stash’ bag” that’s decorated with a small silver spoon, fork and knife. There were initially four $1 million online bids in the week prior to the auction, but Freedman easily eclipsed that total with his final bid.
“Nirvana’s Unplugged is one of my favorite records of all time,” said Freedman, “and easily one of the best live performances ever captured on film. They were a huge influence on me; the early-90s were RØDE’s formative years, and Nirvana’s music was very much the soundtrack to that time in my life and that era of the company.”
“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,” stated Darren Julien, president and CEO of the auction house.
There were other Nirvana items sold as well, with a Curt Kirkwood handwritten lyrics sheet for the Meat Puppets song "Oh, Me," which went for $5,760. A typed set list from the MTV Unplugged performance went for $10,240. Nirvana's typed-out lyrics for David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and Meat Puppets' "Lake of Fire," which Nirvana covered during the performance, sold for $5,120. A letter to Cobain from Nirvana's management company outlining potential tracks to perform at the gig went for $5.760.
As teased earlier in the week, there was also a set of photos from Nirvana's Spin 1992 cover shoot that were auctioned. The package included the camera used from photographer Greg Watermann during the photo shoot as well as the transfer of the copyright of the photos. That lot sold for $35,200.
Julien’s Auctions has broken world records with the sale of Kurt Cobain’s memorabilia, including Cobain’s cardigan worn on MTV Unplugged, which sold for a record $334,000, his In Utero tour Fender Mustang guitar which sold for $340,000, his cardigan worn on his last photoshoot which sold for $75,000 and a Nirvana paper plate set list written in Cobain’s handwriting which sold for a record $22,400.
Nirvana's MTV Unplugged Live in New York debuted at No. 1, arriving just seven months after Cobain's death. It received the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance.
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