Kurt Cobain’s 1973 Fender Mustang

access_time First seen circa 1989

Kurt was seen playing this guitar only on one occasion, at The Sonic Temple, Wilkinsburg, PA on July 9, 1989. This raises questions such as where was the guitar before this, why was it never used, and when did Kurt actually acquire it in the first place. To remind you, prior to using this guitar, Kurt had played a maple neck Univox Hi-Flier, which according to most sources, he destroyed on July 13, 1989 – which was two gigs after the one on July 9th.

The most basic possible explanation would be that the Mustang was used on July 9th just so Kurt could have something to destroy at the end of the gig. It is, however, unknown why he didn’t just use the Univox, since he ended up trashing that guitar just a few days later, and ended up not having a guitar to play on during Nirvana’s gig on July 15, 1989, in Boston.

The band’s first Hub gig was at Green Street Station on July 15, 1989, a show notable in its own right: Cobain, who broke his guitar the night before, performed the entire nine-song set without one.

Boston remembers Kurt Cobain

To look for clues, note that the source above, as well as Sluggo Cawley, with whom the Mustang ended up with, claimed that Kurt destroyed it in New Jersey, the night before he played in Boston, which would be July 14th. However, according to most sources, Nirvana played no gig on the night of 14th. They did play on the 13th at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ, so this was likely just a case of missing a date.

Kurt asked me if he could have the smashed Gibson SG I had hanging on my wall. (..) So I said, “Sure, but now I won’t have one for my wall.” Kurt replied, “I’ll be right back.” He went out to their van and presented me a 1973 Fender Mustang that he deemed beyond repair. He had smashed it at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey the night before the Green Street show with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth watching. In sort of mock guitar hero worship, I asked him to sign it for me.

He wrote, “Yo Sluggo, thanx for the trade. If its illegal to rock and roll, then throw my ass in jail. NIRVANA.” He also wrote “vox pick-up” with an arrow, but I have lost that piece of the pickguard. There are also two of his flowers he liked to draw on things. The guitar has a serial number on the base of the neck – 4900 1853. It is in three or 4 pieces held together by duct tape.

FEATURE: Kurt Cobain: Still Taking Care of His Friends

Luckily, Sluggo was kind enough to get in touch via email, and he explained that upon his own research he learned that the Fender Mustang that Kurt gave him was actually smashed at J.C. Dobbs in Philadelphia PA on July 12, 1989.

So that gives us a whole timeline. The guitar was first used on the 9th, it was then used again and destroyed on the 12th. On the July 13th, Kurt used and smashed a sunburst Univox, and ended up having no guitar to play on the 15th.

We still don’t know where Kurt got the guitar, and why it had such a short life span, but at least a part of the mystery is solved.

Mustang with Sluggo

As already stated, the 1973 Fender Mustang ended up with Sluggo Cawley on July 16, 1989, and in exchange, Kurt got Sluggo’s old Gibson SG.

Kurt Cobain's smashed 1973 Fender Mustang guitar hanging on a wall. The guitar had words on it written by Kurt Cobain.
Kurt Cobain’s smashed 1973 Fender Mustang. Photo credit: Sluggo Cawley
Kurt Cobain's smashed 1973 Fender Mustang guitar hanging on a wall.
Kurt Cobain’s smashed 1973 Fender Mustang. Photo credit: Sluggo Cawley

Cawley kept the guitar with him for decades, until he decided to sell in late November 2008 to Adam Sender, a New York Investor with a large private art collection for $100,000.

If you’re more interested in Cawley’s story of how he came to own the guitar, it is highly recommended that you read FEATURE: Kurt Cobain: Still Taking Care of His Friends.

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