So here it is, one of my first vintage electric guitars. This is the one that started it all for me. If you’ve ever read my stories you probably know that this one is special to me! Back in 1989 I saw Nirvana in Hoboken, New Jersey, and I saw Kurt playing one of these. Anyway, I got one of my own back then and I’ve never been the same since!
Many people would call this one a “Phase II” since it’s the second version of the Hi-Flier. From what I can gather the first “version” had some subtle differences with the switching and body thickness, but I’ve played all three versions and I liked them all! I don’t get too nit-picky when it comes to little things, but I will say I prefer the single toggle switch on this guitar, rather than the earlier “see-saw” switches, as I like to call them. I think the whole “Phase” thing associated with these guitars comes from an old article written by Rick Castronova back in the late 90s.
As you can see above the Univox nameplate is a raised, chrome-ish badge which was replaced around 1973 with an under-the lacquer stenciled badge. I believe the switch to hum buckers with these guitars happened even later, like 1975-6. The Hi-Flier guitars were introduced around 1968 and were listed simply as “1800 Univox Solid Body Electric Guitar.” These were the most affordable guitars in the Univox line and cost $75, and the E-11 “Economo” case was an additional $12. By 1971 these were called Hi Flier guitars (still 1800 model) and had a much more colorful description. Check it out!
Lets ya feel free…with curves where ya want ’em. Loose…flat…light. A guitar to fly with, slide with, bend with and a bass that gets funky! Both ridiculously reasonable. The guitar has a floating action vibrato tailpiece…the bass, a muster adjustable tailpiece/bridge. Each has two pickups, volume and tone controls and a 3 position toggle switch. In 3 colors: Orange Sunburst, White, and Black.
Sounds to me like they were trying to describe my first girlfriend! What I find cool about these guitars is the body contours. Often called a “German Carve” these guitars featured a really nicely sculpted body, which was all done with human hands! Remember these were before the days of CNC machines, so all the vintage guitars that had extra body sculpting was usually done by hand rather than machine. The price in 1971 raised to $89.50, but at least the economo case still cost $12! All these Univox guitars were imported to the US by Merson Musical Products, which was a division of Unicord Inc. in Westbury New York.
All versions of these guitars were produced by the large Japanese Matsumoku Instrument Factory located in Masumoto. Matsumoku Co. made a TON of Japanese guitars during the 60s through the 80s, and this neck plate is a Matsumoku “signature”. That round-edged, rectangular plate with that exact script is found on just about all Matsumoku made guitars. Even their very first electrics, from the early 1960s, had this neck plate with only slight variations. Matsumoku also made the Aria guitars which were, and still are, really popular! Other brands made by Matsumoku include Arai, Diamond, Conrad, Westminster, Westone, Epiphone, Fantom, Greco, Elk, and Vantage. The name Matsumoku comes from the combination of the Japanese Matsumoto Mokkou-jo (woodworking plant). It was established as a cabinet manufacturing facility in February 1951, and began guitar production in April 1963. Matsumoku mainly produced the necks and bodies of guitars, and electronics were added by the initial seller, or another factory. I own three very early Matsumoku guitars and they can be seen here, here, and here. The Matsumoku Co. made guitars up until the mid 80s, when I believe a fire occurred in the main factory. The original building is now torn down and replaced with a park, but there is a nice, large marble guitar embedded in the ground there as a memorial to the huge guitar giant that was Matsumoku.
Now I know many people scoff at guitars such as these, which are obvious copies of Mosrites. The Japanese people of the 1960s were OBSESSED with the Ventures (they still are to some extent), and there were many Mosrite copies coming out of Japan by the mid 60s. But I have to tell you something, these guitars are REALLY GOOD PLAYERS! Some would even say better than original Mosrites! I know, I know, it’s sacrilege so disparage the name of Mosrite in any way. Hey, I like Mosrites too! But when you’re honest, you call a spade a spade, and these Univox Hi Fliers (when they’re set up properly) are really good. The P-90s in these guitars are strong, crisp, and clear. They’re very good! They read out in the high 5k-low 6k range, and they sound just as good as any Mosrite pup I’ve ever heard! You don’t have to agree with me, or believe me, but it’s true in my mind! Now the necks on very different when you compare the two guitars, but I was never a huge fan of the Mosrite neck profile. I know, how can I say such things!
Either way you slice it, these guitars are popular now, mostly because of the Kurt Cobain association. It’s kind of dumb really, because he only used these early on in Nirvana, and only sporadically after that. These guitars used to be cheap, and for many of us that’s all that mattered at that time. Univox offered a few different guitar models in their lineup in the early 70s, including colorful names like Badazz, Mother, Gimme, Lucy, Coily, and Effie. But it’s sort of ironic that out of all these guitars, the Hi Flier has retained it’s popularity and it’s one of the models where the cost has risen considerably! Perhaps the Lucy (a lucite copy of the Dan Armstrong guitar) fetches higher prices than the Hi Flier. But when you consider that the Lucy retailed for $275 in 1972, well, you get the picture.