Dad’s Gear Spotlight: Univox Hi-Flier Phase 4, Part 2

Univox Hi-Flier Guitar

Here’s the guitar today. Note the new pickguard with the knobs in a line and the Bigsby handle on the XTrem vibrato.

In the last entry, I recounted how I completed the Xtrem vibrato conversion on my vintage phase-4 Univox Hi-Flier. I’ve had a chance to live/work with the vibrato-equipped guitar for a few months now and have also used it at a couple of gigs with my surf-rock band, The Aquatudes.

I have a few electric guitars that I’ve collected over the years. I’ve found that each of them inspires me in different ways as far as what I play on them and what new ideas come to mind while I’m playing them. Aside from band night (once a week), a lot of my playing time takes place on unplugged electric guitars (since I live with others in my house). This brings into play how each guitar sounds acoustically. Some of them sound kind of dead; some are more resonant and alive-sounding. The Univox is an example of the latter. It has a very thin body of unknown wood (some folks seem to have Univox guitars with plywood bodies, mine is solid wood) and it sounds kind of nice unplugged. There’s just something about this guitar that I like. It’s not the slickest player in my collection, but I like the look of it and I like the way it feels to play, warts and all.

Now about the Xtrem vibrato…
There are plusses and minuses here. This is the second Xtrem I’ve installed on one of my guitars. The first one was the archtop model that replaces the trapeze tailpiece on such a guitar. I put that one on my old Eko 100, which greatly improved the acoustic tone of that guitar. I also liked the vibrato action with the stock whammy arm. However, with the surface-mount version used on the Univox, I think the handle sits a bit too flat, which makes it trickier to grab while playing and can get in the way of the volume and tone knobs. I’m using 10-46 strings, so nothing too heavy there. I’m also using the stiffer of the two springs furnished with the vibrato. I replaced the factory arm with a Bigsby unit to see if that made a difference. Nope. I tried gently bending the original factory arm and it immediately snapped – so much for that. The guitar doesn’t stay in tune quite as well as my Fender Jaguar floating trem or my Electra with a strat-style trem. To be honest, the guitar was never the best for staying in tune in the first place. I’ll continue to futz with it here and there as I just play it and enjoy it. The Univox is strung with round-wound 10’s, while both of the other guitars have flatwound strings.

Use in the Real World
I used the Univox at an Aquatudes gig for a set. I have to say I didn’t detect any obvious tuning issues and I liked the sound of the humbuckers for a set. I used three guitars on that gig, one for each set we played. I had to contend with three different scale lengths (24 on the Jaguar, 25.5 on the Electra and 24.75 on the Univox) and three different pickup styles (regular single-coils on the Jag, Jazzmaster pickups on the Electra, and humbuckers on the Univox). Like I said before, there’s just something that I like about this guitar, so I’ll definitely use it in future gigs – with backups.