Kurt Cobain’s 1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3

This is one of the first guitars (possibly the first electric guitar) that Kurt ever owned. To try and figure out when exactly Kurt acquired and used the guitar, we mostly have to draw clues from the photo shown below, which unfortunately has no official dating, so we’re left to theory craft.

Young Kurt with his Univox guitar. The photo was taken sometime in late 1986.
Young Kurt with his Univox guitar. The photo was taken sometime in late 1986.

On close inspection of the photo we see a few concert flyers on the wall behind Kurt; there’s one of the band ‘Dr. Know’ who played at Downtown Tacoma (around 2 hours drive from Kurt’s place) on September 27th, 1986, and another one of Meat Puppets and Black Flag. We also know that the picture was taken at his house in Aberdeen, WA, not in his actual room but in the hallway connecting the rooms on the top floor (see Tour of Kurt Cobain’s Childhood Home). Kurt lived in that house from 1983 to 1984 when he was kicked out by his mom for dropping out of high school. He then went on to live with his friends until September 1986 when his mom loaned him money to move into another house with Matt Lukin from the band Melvins.

So although one can’t say for sure just from these clues, it seems that the photo of Kurt holding his Univox Hi-Flier was taken in late September 1986, in a room that was most likely set up as a temporary place for Kurt to sleep before he moved on.

About the Guitar and Usage

Kurt’s Univox was a model called Hi-Flier, and it was most likely manufactured sometime between 1974 and 1977. The main guide in determining these dates is the two humbucker pickups in the guitar which didn’t appear on this model until 1974, and the white pickguard which was replaced with a black one on sunburst models in 1977. This guitar was basically a cheap alternative to the Mosrite Ventures model, a guitar Kurt used later on in his career.

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.

Nirvana – Interview 07/14/89. Interviewer: John Robb

Kurt played this guitar presumably from around the mid-80s to around 1988, which of course includes all of the early Nirvana gigs in 1987 (there are photos to prove this, but due to copyright, they can’t be displayed here; a quick Google search should give you a few results though).

As can be seen in the photos shown above, the pickguard was painted pink at some point, probably with a marker, and Kurt had a ton of stickers on the body. It’s unfortunately very hard to tell what those stickers were, so if you happen to recognize any one of them, be sure to leave a comment below.

A Second Univox?

In 1988 Kurt was seen playing the exact same model of the guitar, but without all the stickers and with the pickguard being white again. Due to the lack of photos from that time period, it is unknown whether this Univox is the same guitar restored to its original condition or a different model that Kurt bought after the first one.

Photos from around 1988, showing Kurt with the Univox. Source: twitter.com/kcobaindaily

If we’re to guess, it seems more likely that this second Univox was actually the old guitar with the stickers removed. What seems weird however is that the stickers were only gone in mid-1988, and by October 1988 when the guitar was last seen (it was smashed on October 30, 1988, in Olympia), it again had a bunch of stickers on it – obviously very different from those seen on the guitar back in 1986.

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Andreas
Andreas
7 months ago

Hello, I would like to comment about a Univox Kurt played in Rio at the Hollywood Rock Festival, January 23 1993.

This was one of the biggest shows the band ever played, and 2 of the songs are featured in the official release “Live! Tonight! Sold Out!” where you can see Kurt playing a Sunburst Univox with a white pickguard. It’s safe to say that makes it a high profile guitar, which seems to be missing from this guide.

The only Sunburst Univox with white pickguard in this guide is this one from the bedroom photo. I find it unlikely that the Rio guitar is the same guitar, although who knows.

Here’s a clip of Dive from the official “Live! Tonight! Sold Out!” DVD:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWkdccGl1qM

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Rych
Rych
1 month ago
Reply to  Andreas

The Sunburst Univox Hi-Flier Kurt is Playing on encore of the 01/23/93 Rio show is a Later model Univox Hi-Flier Phase II. (note the Black P90s which were only available on the Phase I and Phase II models). Kurt also Used the Univox Hi-Flier Phase II 6 months later on July 23, 1993 at Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY on the last 2 songs “Smells Like Teen Spirit”/”Endless Nameless”.

M8_507
M8_507
1 year ago

That Fender Sunburst Univox I guess was repaired under heavy conditions because there is an image of Kurt dressed up like an elderly woman at one point using a Sunburst Univox

Louis Anthony Medina
Louis Anthony Medina
2 years ago

Hey that girl in the back of the guitar by the monkees drawn logo, that is Quincy Jones wife! Or Rashida Jones mother. Wonder if that was a boyhood crush of his?

Alvin
Alvin
3 years ago

HE also had a musicmaster and a sears bass

Alvin
Alvin
3 years ago

Kurt cobain had a ibanez destoryer I found a picture heres the link to it.

Slochicki
Slochicki
3 years ago
Reply to  Alvin

I think this ibanez belonged to his aunt as he would go over to her house often to record.

Coco
Coco
3 years ago
Reply to  Slochicki

it was his uncles

Neil Wiger
Neil Wiger
3 years ago
Reply to  Alvin

The Ibanez Destroyer was a gift for Kurt’s 14th birthday. From from his uncle, Chuck Cobain. This was Kurt’s first REAL guitar. He turned 14 in February of 1981… So this picture must have been taken a little after his birthday….

Last edited 3 years ago by Neil Wiger
Alvin
Alvin
3 years ago
Reply to  Neil Wiger

can you put it up???

Charles Charlie
Charles Charlie
3 years ago

Pretty dope article. Thanks!!