Kurt Cobain’s Guitar from MTV Unplugged Goes Up for Auction

It’s the headline item for a Music Icons event in June.
IMAGE Screenshot from YouTube

Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged is one of the band’s most well-known performances, which is why the guitar frontman Kurt Cobain used is garnering so much interest. 

The 1959 Martin D-18E featured in the November 1993 performance is going up for auction and experts say the starting bid is likely going to be $1 million. The guitar is the headline item for a Music Icons event hosted by Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills in June, according to the auctioneer’s website.

“Nirvana’s acoustic performance that night produced one of the greatest live albums of all time, MTV Unplugged in New York, the catalogue for the lot reads. “Cuts from the album would go on to become the most celebrated and defining versions of Nirvana’s songs. MTV Unplugged in New York debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard charts and is consistently ranked among the top ten live albums of all time.

“Approximately five months before his death, Cobain chose this guitar to paint what Rolling Stone called ‘his last self-portrait,’” Julien’s Auctions said.

“This important guitar has earned its rightful place in rock‘n’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,” Britain’s The Guardian quoted Darren Julien, president of the auction house.

“This 1959 Martin D-18E guitar was the only guitar he used throughout the entire MTV Unplugged performance,” according to the catalogue. “Cobain purchased this guitar and its vintage hard-shell case at Voltage Guitars in Los Angeles. Both the guitar and its case were personally customized, by Cobain, prior to his MTV appearance.


“Cobain was known for smashing guitars on stage and wreaking havoc with instruments used by the band in their live performances,” it added. “In contrast, after driving the last song of their MTV Unplugged performance with a primal howling, Cobain held his Martin D-18E guitar with reverence. Ultimately, he placed the guitar carefully back on its stand - almost as a stand-in for himself - and left it center stage as he walked away.”

Julien’s says the Music Icons sale will also feature other Nirvana lots, including a Fender Strat used by Cobain during the 1994 In Utero tour and the silver lamé shirt he wore in the band’s Heart-Shaped Box music video.

Last year, the cardigan he wore during the Unplugged performance was sold by Julien’s Auctions for a record $334,000.

Other highlights of the auction include a custom-made 1984 blue cloud guitar used by Prince; a rare page of handwritten working lyrics for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” by Paul McCartney; Jim Morrison’s rare and historic “Paris Journal,” filled with handwritten thoughts and poems by The Doors frontman shortly before his death; Johnny Cash’s most fabled professional and personal items including his tour used Yamaha baby grand piano; a star-studded collection of jewelry and belt buckles from Elvis Presley; and Michael Jackson’s famous black loafers, an MTV VMA Moonman for “Leave Me Alone” in 1988-1989, and a custom-made Dennis Tompkins/Michael Bush black satin belted trench coat.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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