Jimi Hendrix’s Shin-ei/Univox Uni-Vibe

access_time First seen circa 1969

Jimi Hendrix used this effect most famously during the Woodstock festival on August 18, 1969. As far as studio use, the pedal was most famously featured on ‘Machine Gun’, released on the 1970 album ‘Band of Gypsies’.

History behind the Uni-Vibe pedal

The history behind this pedal doesn’t seem to be all that established, as different sources claim different origin stories.

The most commonly accepted version is that this pedal was designed by a Japanese audio engineer Fumio Mieda sometime in the mid-1960s, as an attempt to emulate the sound of a rotating Leslie speaker. The pedal was initially designed to work with organs, as Fumio was mainly interested in keyboard instrument. As a little side note, in 1967, Fumio was approached by Tsutomu Katoh, the founder of KORG, for whom he would build the company’s first programmable organ.

The first version of the pedal was sold as the ‘Vibra-Chorus’, under the Honey brand [WahWah Fandom.com – Uni-Vibe]

Early version the Uni-Vibe, branded as Vibro-Chorus and sold under the Honey brand. Photo source: Reverb.com Honey Vibra Chorus – Rare Uni-Vibe version

In March 1969, Honey went bankrupt and a new company named Shin-ei was formed and took over the operations. From that point on, and until around 1970, Shin-ei continued manufacturing the pedal, now branded as the “Uni-Vibe”. Also around this time, Univox started importing these pedals into the US.

Actual Uni-Vibe pedal used by Hendrix, on display at the EMP/MoPop museum in Seattle. Photo credit: Jen/Flickr

The point at which the story becomes confusing is whether Univox ever manufactured the pedal in the US, or whether they just imported them from Japan.

This is important to establish because Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek in their book “Electric Gypsy” claim that Hendrix used an American-made model. Furthermore, they note that the pedal was first manufactured in the US and that the Japanese version came later.

Since the unit which Jimi used was American-made, it ran on 110 volts. When Jimi toured Europe in August and September 1970, the Uni-Vibe effect had a much more prominent sound because there it ran instead on 240 volts

The Uni-Vibe was later also manufactured by the Shin-Ei Companion Company in Japan, made for the European markets and available in 240 volts. These Japanese units looked and also sounded identical to the original American units.

Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro, Caesar Glebbeek

While the latter claim is almost certainly incorrect, and the pedal was in fact designed in Japan, it is unknown whether Jimi actually used an American-made model.

What is known however is that the only Uni-Vibe that is confirmed to have been used by Jimi (now at the EMP/MoPoP museum, see photo above), was made by Shin-ei in Japan. We’ll just leave it there at this point.

The Modern Version of Uni-Vibe

In case you’re searching for a pedal that would recreate the sound of the original Uni-Vibe, but don’t have the fortune to spend on a vintage model, there are a few good options out there.

The main two replicas worth mentioning are the MXR M68 Uni-Vibe made by Dunlop (who actually own the trademark for “Uni-Vibe”), and Fullerton’s DejaVibe. The MXR/Dunlop’s version is more of a modern take on the pedal, while Fullerton claims to be the only manufacturer of the exact same replica of the original 1968 UniVibe.

It is worth mentioning that almost every single manufacturer of pedals seems to have some sort of a Uni-Vibe clone, so it’s perhaps best to do your own research, and decide what’s best for you.

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