Univox Article From Opinion Magazine

by: Rick Castronova

This article appeared in the Spring of 1998 in Opinion Magazine, an online magazine dedicated to Nirvana. I originally had a link to the article, but the magazine's site is down. Luckily Brian Haberman was kind enouhg to give me a copy of the article to put up here.

     Hi everyone, well, I've been promising to have a great article on the
history of Univox, and now I finally deliver!  A friend and I finally got a
scanner and got the blasted thing working, so you'll find some GREAT pictures
in this month's article courtesy of Rick Castronova.  Rick collects Univox
guitars and is quite knowledgeable on them; in addition, he wrote 99% of what
you'll find here (except for a bit 'o editing and stuff by yours truly).  Any
stray comments from me that are not from Rick are in parentheses with my name
by it).  The following is all based on his experiences with these guitars.  I
just want to say thank you to Rick once again for sending me those beautiful
Univox pictures, sending me a great history on the guitars, and for being so
patient with me :)

     Univox came into existence around 1967 and lasted till 1977 when they
were forced to stop producing guitars due to numerous lawsuits for making such
authentic copies of the guitars they made.  They copied Strats, Jaguars, Les
Pauls, ES-335s, and of course Mosrites.  They are also known for their amps,
and weird effects pedals which are as sought after as Electro-Harmonix pedals.
They are also know for their synthesisers which are still in production under
the name "Korg" (which I think Marshall owns-- Brian).

     Everyone knows Kurt loved the models known as "High Flyers."  Here is the
evolution of the "High Flyer."  These retailed for $89 and can be bought
nowadays anywhere in the range of $50- $500.  Although they are great guitars
(Rick even says the best he's ever played), he doesn't recomend paying over
$250; that is what he usually sees them sell for.

There were 4 phases of these "High Flyer" Univox guitars:

Phase 1: These guitars were available in sunburst and in black (black is
extemely hard to find).  The guitar came with a tortoise shell (red swirl)
pickguard, two 3-way rocker switches, two black Gibson P-90 single-coil
pickups, a Gibson-style Tune-O-Matic bridge, and a Jazzmaster-style tremelo
with a big, long tremelo bar arm.  The neck and body on this guitar are fatter
and the sunburst finish on these is a lot nicer that the later "High Flyers."
The headstock on this guitar has a nail-on logo that says "Univox" or also
supposedly "Univox Custom." 

Kurt Cobain had one of these (said to be a custom) which he said was his
favorite. The bridge single-coil pickup on his was replaced with a Duncan JB
humbucker (don't know about the neck pickup-- Brian).  (His also had a Basass
bridge on it-- Brian).  The ones with the custom on the headstock are alot
better than the ones with the plain Univox logo nailed on.  They have a skinny
neck and a thin body (like the later humbucker equiped Univox's).  The Univox
Customs are extremely rare.  Based on Kurt's choice of guitars and the fact
that it was quoted as being his favorite I would have to say it was a custom.
He can be seen playing this at SNL '93 and a couple pages in CAYA.  

The tortoise shell pickguards became too expensive so they switched to pure
white.  Despite what you may be thinking, Kurt did not have a Phase 1 "High
Flyer" like that.  Read on.

See a Phase 1 Univox! 

Phase 2:  Again, only available in a sunburst color.  These guitars had stock
P-90 pickups but the guitar was redesigned to be more cost effective. They had
white pickguards, a metal 3 way toggle switch, and a Tune-O-Matic bridge with
a Jazzmaster/ Jaguar tremelo.

The bodies on these are thinner as are the necks. They reworked the logo,
switching the logo from a metal plaque to a decal.  See pictures of the two
headstock logos. They also switched the neck plate. The neckplates on the 
first ones just say "Steel adjustable neck", and a serial #.  The phase 2 
Univoxes neckplate has a "U" sandblasted in it, says "Japan," and has a 
serial #.  Kurt had a couple of these and usually, but not always, wound
up switching the stock single coils to Duncan JB humbuckers. Can be see 
on the "Live! Tonight! Sold Out!" video.  Supposedly can also be seen
at the Hollywood Rock Festival, for example.

See a Phase 2 Univox! 

Phase 3: Now, the available colors were sunburst, black, white, and natural.
These guitars were the same as phase 2 except they changed the stock pickups
to really 
awesome sounding humbuckers, added more colors and offered a maple fretboard
for the first time. These are the most common ones and the best for that
matter. Kurt had several of each color except for the black which some reason
he never owned. This was the longest running phase.      

See a Phase 3 Univox!
See another Phase 3 Univox!

Phase 4: Same colors available as Phase 3.  This phase is the same as Phase 3
except in that they changed the bridge.  These now have a one piece stopbar
bridge (a stopbar tailpiece like on most new Gibsons but with set/raised
"lines" built-in on top for intonation-- Brian) instead of a Tune-O-Matic and
tremelo.  Available with Rosewood or Maple fretboard.   Later on these were
also available with a black pickguard.  Kurt had one of these white with a
white pickguard.  It can be seen in the Heart-Shaped Box video-- (this guitar
of Kurt's had a BC Rich Badass bridge and different string trees than the ones
use in the video-- Brian).

See a Phase 4 Univox!

Well, I hope this gives everyone some insight onto Univox guitars.  If you
want to know more about Kurt's Univoxes be sure to check out my web page, The
*New* Kurt Cobain Equipment FAQ Web Page

'Till next month, be good to each other!