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Univox Hi Flyer

Legacy of the Ventures

The Ventures had a powerful impact on both the worlds of rock music and guitars, as reflected in this ca. 1973 Univox Hi Flyer (a.k.a Hi Flier).

In the early 1960s, the Ventures set the bar for instrumental rock with hits such as their rendition of Johnny Smith’s “Walk Don’t Run.” At the height of their popularity, they helped create one of the decade’s more memorable guitars – the Mosrite Ventures model designed by Semie Moseley.

Legend has it that when the Ventures approached Moseley about a special model, they wanted something like a Strat, so Semie flipped over a Fender and traced a reverse body. Of course he added other notable touches, including the German carve edge relief he’d learned about when working for Roger Rossmeisl at Rickenbacker, the trademark angled fingerboard end with the slanted-back neck pickup and the ultra-sensitive Vibramute vibrato.

Alas, during the ’60s, the popularity of the Ventures – and the guitar so associated with them – went into a decline everywhere… except in Japan, where both the Ventures and their guitar found a bountiful home. Constant touring and recording for a loyal Japanese audience kept the band going through many of its lean years and they still have a large following to this day. Not surprisingly, their signature guitar was successfully transplanted, as well. When Japanese guitarmakers increasingly began to emulate competing guitars, the Mosrite Ventures was among the earliest American designs to be imitated.

Circa 1968, the first Ventures-style guitars and basses began to appear, made by various manufacturers primarily for domestic consumption. At about the same time, two companies – Aria and Univox – began marketing Mosrite inspirations in the U.S. Whether both were made by Aria or (more likely) simply sourced from the same factory – quite possibly Matsumoku – is unclear, but they were identical. Both the Aria 1702T and Univox Hi Flyer had an overall Mosrite appearance, with a similar pickup arrangement featuring black-covered pickups, large dot inlays (unlike the mini-dots on a true Mosrite), and typical Japanese hardware, including Lincoln-hat knobs and a Jazzmaster-style vibrato.

As the copy era of the 1970s unfolded the Univox line expanded to include a range of other mostly bolt-neck copy guitars and basses. In 1973 or ’74, Univox took the unusual step of putting its own style of pickups on solidbodies – humbuckers with white bobbins visibly exposed under a sort of pinkish beige plastic cover set in a chrome housing, as seen here. These were remarkably “hot” for the time and gave Univox guitars a distinctive voice. Most Hi Flyers were produced in a high gloss, three-tone polyurethane sunburst; this natty Bowiesque all-white version seems to have been fairly rare.

The Univox guitar line, including the (by then) rather retro Hi Flyer, survived at least through the end of the copy era in 1977, when it was replaced by the Westbury brand.

Of all the Univox guitars, the Hi Flyer, with its slim neck, easy access and just plain cool looks, has remained the most popular, frequently showing up in the hands of “alternative” players who, whether they know it or not, are paying tribute to the long legacy of the Ventures.

ca. 1973 Univox Hi Flyer.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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