Aria U60 Deluxe BBS
Aria are one of the more interesting Japanese manufacturers of guitars. They have established a solid reputation for value for money, quality guitars with a difference that appeal to both the masses and the professional musician alike.
The guitar currently under review is a solid body electric and a new addition to the popular Pro II series of guitars. It comes in an attractive turquoise blue/black sunburst finish fitted with two humbucking pickups, vibrato arm and gold-plated hardware. A red/black sunburst is also available if preferred. The double cutaway body shape is best described as a cross between a Stratocaster and a Flying V with horns! It looks rather awkward but is in fact very comfortable to play both standing up or sitting down.
The rosewood fingerboard has 22 well finished frets with imitation pearl inlays and white dot markers along the edge for reference. The frets themselves are fairly wide and should last a decent length of time, whilst the slightly cambered fingerboard is unbound at the edges which will simplify matters when it does come to re-fretting. The nut is plastic having well cut grooves that didn't cause any undue problems such as fret buzz. The 24¾" scale neck is carved from maple having a fairly flat profile and a smooth contoured heel where it joins the body at the 17th fret. It is a bolt-on rather than through-body type of neck held rigidly in place by a large gold coloured plate and four large screws. The neck is very fast to play on and the double cutaway gives plenty of access to the highest frets.
The machine heads on the angled head-stock are small, gold-plated and reminiscent of Schallers. They have a smooth action to them when tuning up a string but tend to be rather slack and jerky when detuning. Nevertheless, once tuned they don't suffer from any slippage.
The bridge on the Aria is gold-plated and similar in design to that of the ubiquitous Fender Stratocaster. The strings pass through the body and over individual saddles, each of which is adjustable. An easily accessible cross-head screw can be used to lengthen or shorten the effective string length. By playing firstly the harmonic, and then the respective note of a string at the 12th fret, the intonation can be adjusted until both notes correspond in pitch. If the string is too sharp in pitch you move the saddle back slightly thus lengthening the string and lowering the pitch. If it is too flat you move the saddle forward. In addition each saddle is supported by two small Allen screws which can be easily adjusted with the key provided, allowing the string action to be raised or lowered as desired to accommodate individual playing requirements.
The baseplate of the bridge is fitted with a detachable gold-plated vibrato arm and attached to the body by six screws which act as a fulcrum. The whole baseplate then pivots around this.
Removing the black plastic cover on the rear of the body reveals the vibrato mechanism. Two large screws anchor an angled section of metal to the body and three large springs are attached to this and to a brass block which forms an integral part of the bridge assembly. Depressing the vibrato arm tensions the springs whilst slackening the strings and lowering their pitch. The springs, in theory, return to their original position when the arm is released, restoring normal tuning.
Theory and practice, however, tend to be two separate things, the result being that the vibrato arm in question caused the tuning to slip whenever it was used with the slightest amount of aggression. It must be said though, that this is a common failing of all such designs and is particularly heightened on new instruments. Vibrato mechanisms in general take time to bed down and stabilise before they work efficiently. A spare spring was provided which, when fitted, went some way to rectifying this problem.
The pickups fitted to this model are open-topped twin coil humbuckers with gold-plated pole pieces that can be individually adjusted for height using an Allen key. Overall height adjustment of each pickup is also possible by turning a cross-head screw on either side of the pickup mounting. This gives a certain amount of scope for varying the pickup response and thus the nature of the amplified sound.
Bass and Treble cut tone controls are supplied with a Master volume control and a standard 3-position pickup selector switch which gives neck, bridge and combined pickups. A gold-plated jack socket, with plastic guard plate to prevent scratching, is conveniently located on the bottom edge of the body. Individual volume controls for each pickup would have been desirable as the current arrangement stops you from presetting different volumes on each pickup, which is a much used technique for switching levels from solo to rhythm work for example. Even so, the positioning of the Master volume control was ideal for producing those 'violin-like' swelled phrases, using your little finger.
For those interested, there is more than ample space inside the present circuit recess if you ever consider adding your own onboard pre-amplifier or active tone circuits.
The guitar is beautifully finished in a thick, clear polyester lacquer that should last a lifetime. The horn-shaped body is not only well balanced and fairly light (8 lbs) but is also well suited to posing! The absence of a pick guard shouldn't be a problem considering the durability of the aforementioned lacquer.
The U60 Deluxe is capable of a wide range of tonal variations from mellow jazz meanderings on the neck pickup to screaming lead on the bridge pickup and chunky, full bodied chords when both pickups are selected. Without doubt, this guitar is best suited to rock music producing as it does, a punchy, well defined bottom end with a good amount of natural sustain and a nice bite at the top end that is not too piercing. The overall feel and character of the instrument reminded me so much of early Guild guitars, which can't be bad!
As already mentioned, the only real let down on this instrument is the vibrato mechanism but this should remedy itself once played in. Unlike some Japanese guitars, this Aria has that distinctive feel of quality and personality about it. So if you are looking for a good value, 'no frills' guitar that will mature alongside yourself then look no further than this Aria.
The recommended retail price of the Aria U60 Deluxe BBS guitar is £264.70 inc. VAT. It is distributed in the UK by Gigsville, (Contact Details).