Aria TSB-550, TS-400
Just the colour of this review model would draw stares — a dazzling blue, conjuring visions of tropical skies set against the sandy sheen of the straight through neck. Poetic, isn't it?
The 550 is a one pickup, flat top of ash and maple, plus walnut decorative strips, featuring plenty of brass bits and a price tag under £300. The others in the family are either cheaper chrome versions, or the pricier 650 that has the brass and an extra Aria pickup and dual sound tone circuit.
But they follow the same structure; a thinned down shape, a simplicity of controls, a medium scale length of 820mm (32.37in to you), plus a basic but chunky bridge.
Let's take issue with the bridge first off, because it exhibited the most serious annoyance on this review model. The design presents four Allen key height adjusted saddles, each with a keel that slots into a groove within the bridge. The height screws were near the extremes of the travel to lift the strings for a clear action and the keels were almost popping out of their grooves. It worked fine, but without any reserve left for future adjustments.
Otherwise the TSB was well put together. The 22 frets were soundly attached to the rosewood fingerboard that hugged a full bodied neck, steeply-rounded at the back. Larger machine heads would have been an idea, since the small Aria ones looked lost on the lengthy headstock.
It played dry but fast with the strings well in from the edge of the neck. Not a bass for silky jazz or boomy heavy metal players, since the Aria's basic tone is one of twanging, brittle edged "clunk". It's a bright and crispy bass, more than amenable to the funk lines, but lacking in earthy fundamentals.
The single chrome toggle switch converts the dual coil pickup to a thinner sounding single coil one, that I didn't like. It rings with harmonics (Jaco Pastorius fans, start reading here) but lacks that certain depth.
Perhaps it's the lightweight body which, while making for a comfortable hang around the torso, doesn't bring out the lowest frequencies. But if you're looking for clean, clear and penetrating bass tones, then the TSB is a fiscal step worth considering. £220
The parents may be the same, but twin brothers they ain't.
Where the TSB is light and scratchy, the TS six string is low, rumbling and top heavy on bottom... if you see what I mean. It's far denser and bassier than say the Ibanez Blazer, and surprisingly thrummy for a Japanese guitar. The succulent bass reaches even into the coil tapped tail pickup, but there's enough treble to carry lead lines. The TS has a wealth of full blooded force behind it, on occasions too much, and you have to employ the brighter option of the coil tap switch to save your speakers.
If you have to carry a lot of the band sound on your own, then it would be a useful compatriot, but where you need to pick a space between bass and keyboards, or ride out sharply above all of them, then the TS could confuse matters.
Its finish matches the bass in accuracy and neatness, but once again the bridge is a point of doubt. It offers two methods of fixing the string ends — through the back of the body, or clipped into slots behind the stop bar, but both twist the strings through fierce angles, shortening their life and sustain.
The necks do share a certain similarity. The TS is again full, not its fast or thin as some players might like and leaning more towards the Les Paul camp than anywhere else. The frets are neatly fitted, the strings well spaced, the machines smooth and the controls close to hand.
Besides the two tones and one master volume knob are three mini toggle switches — a coil tap for each of the cream and black humbucking pickups, and an out of phase switch. They aren't quick to reach; nor attractively aligned, but they are safe from harm. £193
Review by Paul Colbert
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