Kurt Cobain’s 1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3access_time First seen circa 1986
This is one of the first guitars (likely the first electric guitar) that Kurt ever bought. To try and figure out when exactly Kurt acquired and used the guitar, we mostly have to draw clues from these photos, which unfortunately have no official dating, so we’re left to theory craft.
On close inspection of those photos 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, but 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 which 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 are the two humbucker pickups on 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 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; quick Google search should give you a few results though).
As can be seen on 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.
The 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.
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 in 1986.