Saturday, January 22, 2011

Univox Guitars

The Unicord Corporation manufactured electronic transformers. In the early 1960’s when everyone wanted an electric guitar and amplifier, Unicord acquired a Westbury, New York firm called Amplifier Corporation of America. Unicord began production of the Univox amplifiers shortly thereafter.

About the same time frame that CBS acquired Fender Guitars and Amplifiers, Gulf and Western purchased Unicord and were now in the profitable guitar business. The year was 1967. By 1968 Gulf and Western added guitars to their the product line.

This was accomplished due to a merger with a Westbury New York company called Merson Musical Products. Merson was a guitar importer and distributor. They distributed Hagstrom guitars from Sweden, Giannini guitars from Brazil and a cheap brand of acoustic guitar called Tempo. Unicord and Merson parted ways in 1975 and outsourced manufacturing to Japan at the Matsumoku factory.

I have previously discussed the Matsumoku company's importance in the world of imported guitars. Matsumoku was a furniture company started around 1900. In the 1920's they built sewing cabinets for Singer Sewing machine and later built affordable guitars under different labels for export.

Unicord continued using the Univox name on guitars until sometime in 1978 though guitars were still in production. In 1982 production in Japan ceased when a fire occurred at the main factory.

The manufacturing responsibility shifted to Korea. The Korean instruments were sold under the Westbury name until the Unicord Company was acquired by the Japanese firm the Korg Company in 1985.

Many Univox guitars were copies of American made instruments such as Fender, Gibson, Ampeg (the Lucite Dan Armstrong model), Guild, Rickenbacker and Mosrite.

The most famous of Univox guitars was probably the Mosrite look-a-like known as the Hi-Flier. It is a shame that Mr. Mosley’s instrument was chosen and he received only a nod of recognition.

Semie Mosley was an outstanding luthier and guitar designer, but he was not a good businessman. Subsequently he was taken advantage of and did not have money to hire attorneys to sue for patent infringement.

The Hi-Flier was a copy of the Mosrite Ventures model and appeared around 1968. Like the original it had 22 frets on a rosewood fretboard, a white pick guard with a single volume and a single tone control and a three-way toggle switch. The neck was bolt-on style, which differed from the original. The first models feature a white truss rod cover. The later ones looked more like the real thing.

The initial models of the Hi-Flier came with two P-90 style pickups encased in black and an adjustable bridge with a tremolo and came in various colours.

This guitar went through modifications through the years, such as the addition of humbucking pickups and a change in the headstock logo. Univox also manufactured a short-neck bass model. In 1969 similar Mosrite guitars were selling for $400-450 with the case extra. The Hi-Flier sold for only $82.50 plus the case. This was a big difference, especially to a kid starting out in a band.

Unicord/Univox was also known for their amplifiers which were built with tubes or solid state or even hybrid tube/solidstate. These amplifiers ranged from practice amps to 100 watt stacks.

These were not inferior amps, however due to Unicords lack of research and developement and reliance on copying other company’s amplifier designs, Univox amps developed a bad reputation.

Univox Stage Amp
The company attempted to mend this by adding a new brand called Stage. Whether the product was labeled Stage or Univox the only difference was the logo.

Univox also manufactured guitar effects, drum machines and imported electronic keyboards from accordion manufacturer Crucianelli of Italy.

There are a couple of interesting facts resulted from the sale of Unicord to Korg. Merson founder, Bernie Mersky quit after the Gulf and Western takeover.

His partner, Ernie Briefel went on to form Music Technologies, Inc., and, Music Industries Corporation, which was in business until recently as a music product importer and distributor.

Unicord was the original U.S. importer of Marshall Amplifiers and Korg synthesizers. Marshall amplifiers actually used Unicord manufactured transformers in some of their models. The relationship with Korg was probably what prompted the acquisition. Korg's USA division then became the US distributor for Marshall.

In 1988 the Matsumoku factory in Japan was destroyed by fire which shut down manufacturing for good.

In 1992 Korg acquired the Vox musical instrument company from it’s parent Rose Morris Music of the U.K. and manufacturing shifted to the Far East.

This turned out to be not a bad thing, since Korgs research and development department has redesigned the AC30 to be as close to Tom Jennings original sound only using modern construction.

As of last year, 2010, Marshall ended its relationship with Korg USA and now distributes its own amplifiers.

Eastwood Guitars currently makes a copy of the Univox Hi-Flier, which I find quite ironic since it is a copy of a copy.


Anonymous said...

I was a kid in a band and bought a Univox Hi-Flier short neck bass in 1978. It must have been one of the last. With case, I think I paid $130. It was stolen in 1981, someday I hope to find another. PS, if you have one, check under the pick guard. If there's a little slip of paper with an SSN on it, it was my guitar.

Anonymous said...

I bought a 60's univox tempo custom at a pawn shop ,love this guitar,it rips the blues.

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Ed in Texas. said...
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JLM said...

Bought a Univox Badazz in 1976-1977. Have no way of determining it's manufacture date as the serial numbers were arbitrary, although I am aware that the Badazz model was made from 1971 to 1975. I have many guitars and hadn't really touched the Univox for years but recently brought it out of storage and have been enjoying reacquainting myself with it. Very comfortable neck and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it has a 7.25" fret board radius (vintage Fender radius) which I happen to find very comfortable (just wish my strats had them). The pickups were initially very microphonic but after wax potting them they are fine and have their own character. Glad I've hung on to it for 40 plus years.

Bill said...

I bought a Univox ES 335 knock-off in 1967 because I couldn't afford a Gibson. Based on the history of the company and the guitars that I've read online, mine must be among the first made. Most of what I've read indicates that the 335 wasn't put into production until 1968 and I know I bought mine in the summer of 1967. I still have it and it's in pristine condition after 51 years! I played it a lot for close to 10 years, then "life" got in the way. Have started to play it again since retiring a little over a year ago and I'm surprised at how well it plays. I think the neck may need to be pressed so a visit to my favorite luthier is next on the list. I have no idea whether - or where - the S/N may be on the instrument. Based on what I've read, looking for it is a pointless exercise since it has no significance in terms of date of manufacture (although where my S/N falls in relation to others of the same model may provide some clue).