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In the music world, certain combinations of artists and instruments create magic. Such is the case with Kurt Cobain, the unforgettable leader of Nirvana, and his connection to a distinctive guitar: the 1969 Fender Mustang. This iconic guitar isn’t just famous because Kurt loved it, but also because of its standout appearance in the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” one of the defining tracks from Nirvana’s groundbreaking “Nevermind” album. However, when Kurt started using the Jaguar on tour in ’91, it gradually became his favorite, showing that his musical preferences were ever-evolving That visual of Kurt passionately strumming the Mustang in the midst of a chaotic high school gym has become an enduring image in rock history.


 

The origins and evolution of the 1969 Fender Mustang

The Fender Mustang is Fender’s take on a solid body electric guitar. Launched in 1964, it signified a redesign and expansion of Fender’s student-focused models, such as the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic. Even though it was only actively produced until 1982, its influence never really faded. Its rebirth in 1990 further amplified its charm.

Why did the Mustang gain so much attention, especially in the 90s? Well, its notable presence in alternative rock and grunge scenes played a part. And of course, it’s hard to ignore its association with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.

 

What kind of Fender Mustang did Kurt Cobain use?

Kurt Cobain’s choice of a Fender Mustang was a 1969 model, specifically tailored for left-handed players. This guitar was drenched in a Competition Lake Placid blue finish and boasted a matching headstock. Cobain pick this beauty around 1990-1991, and he got it from Lloyd Chaite of Voltage Guitars in Los Angeles. This wasn’t just a showpiece for him. Cobain played it during the recording sessions of both “Nevermind” and “In Utero” and it saw the spotlight in many of Nirvana’s significant live performances.

 

Kurt Cobain’s blue Fender Mustang sells for $4.5 million at auction

The guitar found a new home with American entrepreneur and NFL team owner, Jim Irsay. Destined to join his impressive lineup of rock and pop culture relics, the 1969 Fender Mustang was initially projected to rake in around $600,000 to $800,000. Yet, it exceeded all estimates.

Irsay initiated the auction with a bold offer of $2 million and ultimately clinched the prize with a staggering $4,550,000 bid. The Cobain family pledged a portion of the proceeds to “Kicking the Stigma,” a mental health campaign spearheaded by Irsay.

 

Which guitars did Kurt Cobain smash while Nirvana was performing live?

Kurt Cobain was renowned for the intensity he brought to his live performances. A significant part of this intensity was his appetite for smashing guitars, a ritual of cathartic release and rebellion. The Fender Stratocasters, often more affordable models, were particularly susceptible to this fate. They were sometimes acquired specifically with the anticipation of destruction at the end of a concert.

One unforgettable moment that showcased Cobain’s fiery nature was during Nirvana’s 1991 appearance on the British TV show “Top of the Pops.” The producers requested the band mime to a pre-recorded track of their smash hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Cobain’s clear disdain for lip-synching was evident as he mockingly sang in a dramatically altered, deep voice. As the performance concluded, in a raw display of unpredictability, he demolished his guitar on stage.

Interestingly, while Cobain destroyed Fender Stratocasters, another iconic musician, Jimi Hendrix, the greatest stratocaster player ever, elevated the very same model to legendary status with his unparalleled skills.

 

Other famous guitarists known to play Fender Mustangs

The Fender Mustang guitar has been the instrument of choice for numerous renowned guitarists throughout the years. While Kurt Cobain and Nirvana are often synonymous with the 1969 Fender Mustang, they aren’t the only notable musicians to embrace its unique design and sound.

Kurt Cobain remains one of the most influential figures associated with the Fender Mustang, especially the 1969 Fender Mustang. His raw, emotional performances with Nirvana brought attention to this model. However, beyond Cobain, the list of Mustang players is long and storied.

Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth also favored the Fender Mustang. Their experimental style and approach to guitar playing showcased the Mustang’s versatility and adaptability to various genres, from alternative rock to noise music.

John Frusciante, during his early years with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, occasionally wielded a Mustang. His intricate rhythms and melodious solos, paired with the Mustang, made for unforgettable live performances.

David Byrne of Talking Heads has also been seen strumming a Mustang. Known for their new wave hits and quirky approach to rock, Talking Heads offered a different perspective on how the Mustang could be employed musically.

Lastly, Graham Coxon from Blur often used a Mustang during the band’s formative years in the 90s. His jangly, British indie sound on tracks like “Song 2” demonstrated the Mustang’s breadth in tone and style.


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Kurt Cobain with his 1969 Fender Mustang in ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

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