Kurt Cobain's 'Skystang I' Fender Mustang guitar fails to eclipse his record-breaking Competition Stripe model at auction

Kurt Cobain Mustang
(Image credit: Experience Music Project)

One of Kurt Cobain's favourite electric guitars, used frequently on Nirvana's In Utero tour, has sold for $1,587,500 via Julien's Auctions in Nashville over the weekend (18 November). An auction that also saw a  pair of the late musician's Levi's jeans fetch $412,750 and an unopened pack of his cigarettes reach $5,200.

While those latter items sold for far above their estimates, the 1993 custom-made  Japanese Fender Mustang Skystang I's final figure fell within the estimated $1-2 million range, and far short of the $4.5 million that his 1969 Competition Mustang sold for to set a world record for a guitar value at auction in 2022.

The winning bidder this time was not the Competition Mustang's current owner Jim Irsay, but Japan-based businessman Mitsuru Sato.

But the Skystang I is an equally significant Cobain guitar in its own way, setting the humbucker and single-coil template that his two other similarly spec'd Skystang 1993 Sonic Blue Japanese models and Fiesta Red Mustang (dubbed the Oranjstang) would follow. 

The Skystang I differs from Skystang II and III in having a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker in the bridge with white bobbins rather than black, and a distinctive yellow triangle shape in the pattern of its red torte pickguard.

Its former owner was Cobain's stepbrother Chad Cobain, who had previously loaned the guitar for public display at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, formerly the Experience Music Project. 

It was one of the first batch of guitars Kurt Cobain ordered from Fender in 1993. These were built in the Fujigen factory in Japan by luthier Scott Zimmerman because the US Custom Shop was not able to take on the scale of the job at the time. Zimmerman had been a Masterbuilder at Fender's USA factory in the '80s before moving to work at the Matsumoto facility in Japan. 

In total, Cobain ordered ten guitars to be made; five Sonic Blue models and five Fiesta Red. Six guitars had been shipped to Cobain (in batches of two) by the time of his death in April 1994, and the remaining four were then bought by Fender Japan's distributor for the Japanese market, without any mention of the Cobain connection to them.

The Sonic Blue model dubbed Skystang I was used during 53 of the In Utero tour’s 63 shows, including the band’s iconic MTV Live and Loud gig at Seattle's Pier 48 venue on 13 December 13, 1994. Cobain also used it at what would turn out to be Nirvana's last show on 1 March 1, 1994 at Terminal 1 in Munich, Germany. 

At the same auction, Eric Clapton's famous 1964 Gibson 'Fool' SG he used in Cream (and was later owned by Tod Rundgren) sold for $1.27 million to Jim Irsay – owner of the Black Strat and Cobain's Competition Stripe Mustang. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.