Retro-Rama 1968 Univox U1835 Coily

January 1, 2011
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bp0111_bn_rr1_nr.jpgFIRST KNOWN AS A BRAND NAME FOR amplifiers in the early ’60s, Univox made tube amps that were endorsed by the Doors and Led Zeppelin, and the brand’s Super Fuzz and Univibe effects pedals were favored by Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix. Univox was part of the Unicord company, which in 1967 merged with the Merson distributing company, whose various business deals spanned the globe. Unicord was also an early U.S. distributor for Korg keyboards and Marshall amplifiers.

By the late 1960s, Japanese guitar manufacturers had begun to copy popular American bass and guitar models, and Univox began selling some of these instruments. Univox’s early models included knockoffs of Mosrite, Fender, and Gibson guitars, with a variety of fairly bizarre monikers such as the Gimme, and Badazz, as if the unusual names would disguise the obvious source of design inspiration.

The U1835, known as the Coily—presumably for its single-coil pickups—was the bass version of the U1825 guitar, and is a thinly disguised version of the Gibson EB-2 bass. A side-by-side comparison shows many similarities, especially in its body shape, headstock, and pickguard designs. Major differences include the lack of boost circuitry and sustain block, and the addition of a more sophisticated bridge and tailpiece system in which individual metal saddles allow both horizontal and vertical adjustment for each string. An acoustic-style wood bottom maximizes the saddles’ contact with the body, and a steel bridge, with large disc-style height adjusters and a spring loaded rubber mute, work really well. The “trapeze”-style tailpiece is extra snazzy, with a wooden insert and metal diamond medallion.

This deep green machine was bought in a pawn shop a few years ago by Nashville session bassist Kevin Grantt—who also recently co-produced Jamie Johnson’s impressive new album—for $125, which is $10 less than it cost new in 1968! The bass is in fantastic shape, and its jade sunburst finish is awesome, giving it an otherworldly look. The action has crept up a bit over time, but the bass still plays in tune, and its 31" scale makes it easy to get around on. The mute is one of the best I’ve seen, and makes playing reggae and tic-tac bass even more fun. The classic configuration of two volume and two tone controls with a 3-way pickup selector switch provides a nice variety of tones. It doesn’t quite have the deep bottom of its Gibson counterpart, but it is full and punchy, and the Coily’s pickups have a strong output with a smooth midrange punch.

After a few boom years for inexpensive Japanese basses and guitars in the late ’60s and early ’70s, copyright lawsuits began to cut into the copyguitar business, and after changing hands a few more times, Univox stopped selling instruments under that name in 1978. Even the company’s amps came out under different names, in an effort to shake the brand’s image as being cheap. Nonetheless, Univox made its mark in the music business in the ’60s, and the Coily proves that what was once cheap, can sometimes be hip now. This bass is certainly one of those exceptions to the rule, and still shines more than 40 years later. Until next time, peace, love, and grooves to you all.

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