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In the early months of 1992, Kurt Cobain, frontman of the legendary rock band Nirvana, walked into Voltage Guitars in Los Angeles and made a purchase that would become an essential part of rock history. For $5,000, he acquired a 1959 Martin D-18E, a rare and exquisite guitar.

Fast forward to 1993, this very instrument graced the stage of MTV Unplugged in New York. With Kurt Cobain’s passionate strumming, it contributed to what many consider one of the most haunting and memorable live performances ever.

The 1959 Martin D-18E, of which only 302 were made, was not just any guitar. In Kurt Cobain’s hands, it became an icon. The MTV Unplugged session, featuring tracks like “Come as You Are”, “All Apologies”, and a poignant cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”, showcased the unique harmony and depth that this guitar added to the performance.


Was the Martin D-18E the Last Guitar Kurt Cobain Ever Played?


Throughout his illustrious career, Kurt Cobain showcased an array of guitars, with the Fender Jaguar gaining immense recognition, particularly during the iconic Nevermind era. However, the Jaguar doesn’t hold the title of being the final guitar Cobain played live. Instead, that distinction belongs to the Fender Sky-Stang. Cobain strummed this Sonic Blue custom Mustang, equipped with a bridge humbucker courtesy of his trusted guitar tech, Earnie Bailey, during an encore rendition of “Heart Shaped Box” in Munich, Germany.


The Journey of Cobain’s Iconic Guitar


Following Kurt Cobain’s untimely death, his Martin D-18E was believed to have been passed on to his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. However, for a period of time, it remained safeguarded in a private vault in Seattle, amidst other personal belongings of the late artist.

In a twist, reports from TMZ in 2018 indicated that the guitar found its way into the hands of Isaiah Silva, Frances Bean’s former spouse, as part of their divorce settlement. Not long after, this historic instrument went under the hammer at Julien’s Auctions. Peter Freedman, the founder of RODE Microphones, emerged as its new custodian, having placed a winning bid of $6 million. The ultra-rare 1959 model smashed the world record, previously held by David Gilmour’s Black Strat, to become the most expensive guitar ever sold at auction.


Rumor Has It: Courtney Love Tried to Swipe the Guitar Back


For those keen on the behind-the-scenes tales of the music world, here’s a noteworthy chapter to ponder. Frances Cobain’s former spouse, Isaiah Silva, has raised some significant eyebrows with recent revelations. He alleges that Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain’s well-known widow, devised a plan in 2016 aimed at retrieving Kurt’s treasured D-18E guitar.

Silva’s narrative paints a vivid picture: an unexpected encounter at his residence, a sudden hooding, and a swift exit orchestrated by some rather unexpected figures, including Britney Spears‘ former manager and actor Ross Butler. And the most intriguing twist? Silva suggests that these actions had the backing of none other than Courtney Love herself, with an apparent agenda to ensure the guitar’s return.

This enthralling tale entered the legal arena in 2018. However, in a testament to the complexities of such disputes, it wasn’t until March 2022 that a settlement between Silva and Love was reached.


What Guitar Did Kurt Cobain Prefer?

The Fender Jaguar is recognized for its unique shape and sound and was one of Kurt Cobain’s top choices. Originally launched in the 1960s, the Jaguar was known for its bright tone, making it ideal for the raw sound of grunge. Kurt customized his Jaguar by adding a humbucker pickup to give it a more powerful sound. Notably, he often played songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come as You Are” with this guitar, showcasing its prowess on stage.

On the other hand, the Fender Mustang was another cherished instrument in Kurt Cobain’s collection. He was introduced to the Mustang early in his career and immediately formed a bond with it. Often painted in vivid shades of blue or red, Cobain’s Mustangs typically had modified bridges to produce a distinctive resonance. He preferred the Mustang for many live shows, particularly during the ‘In Utero’ tour.

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