date_range 1989

Kurt Cobain’s 1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3 (Maple)

Right as the Greco Mustang disappeared around April 1989, another Univox Hi-Flier took its place. Chronologically looking, this should be the second or the third Univox that Kurt ever laid his hands on, and the first one to feature a maple neck. The first time Kurt was seen playing this guitar was on May 26, 1989, at Green River Community College, Auburn, Washington.

What is interesting however is that in June that same year (see footage of Nirvana (live concert) – June 23rd, 1989, Rhino Records Westwood, Los Angeles, CA) Kurt started using another Univox guitar, which looked pretty unusual, to say the least. It had a red sunburst finish (compared to the natural yellow-ish color on the old one) which didn’t look professionally done at all, and what is even more strange  – the burst effect was present even on the headstock. As far as one can tell from various sources online – this type of a finish wasn’t available on factory models, so it’s likely that Kurt had done the paint job himself – which shouldn’t be a surprise at all considering he experimented on guitars prior to this.

So, based on this, and the fact that the two guitars never overlapped chronologically, it seems that this was actually one same exact guitar, which sometime prior to June 1989 Kurt sprayed some red paint on to achieve the sunburst effect. The assumption that the original guitar was repainted becomes even more likely after one looks at the more recent photos of the guitar, from the 2016 auction (more on this later).

A photo of Kurt’s Univox from the 2016 auction from Julien’s. It’s obvious that the red paint is much less scratch resistant, while the bottom yellow layer still holds up pretty well. This indicates that the red layer was done with simple spray paint. Photo source: Lot 347 of 403: Kurt Cobain 1989 Stage Played Guitar – Julien’s Live.

Like many of Kurt’s guitars, the Univox didn’t survive for much longer as it met its end at Nirvana’s July 13, 1989, concert at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. Luckily for him, his girlfriend at the time, Tracy Marander, had already purchased and had sent Kurt another Univox, which as Kurt explained, freed him up to destroy the old one.

I really like Univoxes, and that’s what I play all the time. But they are hard to find because they are Mosrite copies that were made in the late 60 and the early 70s. You just have to find them by chance in pawn shops, and I’m just gonna keep breaking them every time I get one. Luckily, Matt brought me another one from Seattle that my girlfriend bought for me, and I made sure I had the new one in my hands before I break this one. [Nirvana – Interview 07/14/89. Interviewer: John Robb]

After Kurt broke the maple neck Univox, he played one gig on a 1973 Fender Mustang, which he most likely destroyed that same night, followed by a gig he just sang because he apparently didn’t have a working guitar that night (it’s unknown where the new Univox was at this time), and finally picked up the new white Univox Hi-Flier on the night of July 18th.

Univox on Auction

After Kurt trashed the Univox, he completely split the neck pocket, rendering the guitar unusable. According to the letter of authenticity posted on Julien’s Live, after the show, the body was stripped of all the electronics and was then given to Jennet Billing – who worked with Carolina Records/Sub Pop (it is, therefore, unknown why the 2016 auction featured both the neck and the electronics in the body – likely just to leave a better impression on the potential buyers).

It seems that the guitar appeared for auction at least two times, first at Sotheby’s in 2014, and then at Julien’s in 2016 (the letter of authenticity was however written in 2010, meaning that the auction happened probably a few more times prior to this). The final auction at Julien’s reads that the Univox was sold for $56,250. The buyer is currently unknown.

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