Aria JX-Plus Guitar & RSB Performer Bass
Currently showing every sign of making a major impact, Aria's latest crop of instruments are claimed by some to be their finest yet. We checked two of them to see if we agreed.
When Aria launch a new guitar, they don't mess about. We counted over forty for this year alone, from the budget priced RS-Cat and Straycat models through to 'weirdos' like the headless, graphite necked GSB 6000V bass, with its high C and low B strings! But a lot of attention is inevitably going to be focussed on Aria's mid-price models, those sought by semi-pro and wealthier amateur players. That's why we've been assessing a guitar from Aria's Diamond series — the second from top JX-Plus at £399. We've also looked at one of their newer RSB basses, the active powered RSB Performer, which carries an RRP of £389. We'll start with the guitar.
Love or hate them, the guitar flavour of 1986 has unquestionably been the 'Super S*»*t'. There can't be a major manufacturer left who doesn't offer variations on this theme of the Strat-shaped guitar with advanced trem and super-hot pickups, and Aria are among the most successful. But they still reckon they don't have this market fully covered, so they're at it again, this time with the Diamond Series JX-Plus.
With its high gloss black finish and familiar body styling, the JX-Plus is a fine looking guitar, if not very different from many others in terms of what it offers. It bears all the features which make up the classic 'SS', from an 'advanced' trem with locking nut (the Aria ACT-3) through two single coil and one humbucking (bridge) pickups, a 5-way selector and a bolt-on (Maple?) neck. We'd guess that the JX-Plus's body is probably Alder, but it's hard to tell without scraping off some of that lovely paintwork — and Gigsville wouldn't have thanked us for that!
The Aria's neck is a peach. Our sample measured a fraction over 1 11/16" at the nut and had a 'flat' radiused Ebony (?) fingerboard with fat frets. Whether or not you like this sort of wider, flatter fretboard is a matter of taste, of course, but many HM and advanced rock players these days do, claiming that it makes for choke-free string bending. It's also well worth noting the superb quality wood used for the fingerboard — it looks and feels tremendously luxurious.
As advanced trems go the ACT-3 is interesting, produced under a licensing agreement with Floyd Rose. Allied to a three Allen screw locked nut clamp, the strings are held fast at the bridge via the F-R clamping system. If you fear your strings drifting when you attack the whammy bar, this is the way to hold them — at both ends. The rest of the ACT's attributes are as complex as is usual on these super-trems. Heaven knows how you're supposed to keep any of these devices in shape on the road, but they're what many players today want. This one has rear mounted screws which penetrate the pivoting saddles, providing string length (intonation) adjustment, plus downwards acting screws to adjust tuning. One useful feature is that you can either fix the strings so that they terminate inside the intonation adjustment screws or have them looping through the body a la Strat. This provides you with two different string tensions and, possibly, two slightly different types of feel and (maybe) sound. We didn't have long enough, regrettably, to re-string it and see. The real benefit, however, is that it makes string changing vastly easier than on most trem-equipped guitars. In operation, the ACT-3 seems to represent a very good average among the current crop of Japanese trems. The Ed. said it felt too loose for him, and grumbled that the merest pressure of his right hand on the bridge set the whole device moving and detuning the strings. On the other hand, he's well known for reactionary views on most advanced trems, and several other players who tried this system liked it a lot. What your opinion will be is hard to say, but we feel that players used to fast and easy super-trem actions will appreciate the ACT-3, while more traditionally minded players might agree with the Ancient One.
The JX-Plus's immediate impression of being a quality instrument certainly isn't just cosmetic. The neck is fast and comfortable (ideal for Rock and HM soloists), and seems just about perfectly dimensioned and finished for even the most outrageous playing techniques. In this respect you'd certainly have to be in a mean mood to fault this guitar.
Tonally, we found the JX-Plus delivered its best with transistorised amps: probably the result of some very clever thinking on Aria's part. Getting a tranny amp to deliver a good sound is very different to driving a valve amp, and it seems to us as if the pickups have been voiced to suit the amps that players shopping for a guitar in this price range are likely to own. Given a decent class of transistorised amp, the JX-Plus sounds superb — the treble perfectly pronounced for 'false' harmonics, the raunch just right for grinding riffs. It doesn't have much subtlety, but that's hardly a vital quality in this type of guitar. What you get is what the guitar looks like it will give — a hard, ballsy, attacking overload with a lot of highs and a good output. This is a guitar that can sound as good as it looks; not always the case as we're sure you'll agree!
Beautifully made, packed with advanced features, lovely to play and fairly priced, the Aria JX-Plus is a good buy for the right player with the right amp. If you're looking for an upper-mid price guitar for HM and/or advanced Rock playing, if you use a good quality tranny amp and don't want too much subtlety, then this is definitely one to shortlist.
Available in our old friends black, white and (all together now) Candy Apple red, the RSB Performer is immediately identifiable as one of the more recent Arias by its jagged headstock design and that familiar style bass body. You could be cynical and say something like 'oh, not again' or, equally well, 'goody, goody — they still look like Arias'; take your pick!
If there's nothing too different about the looks of this bass, then there's nothing at all (thank heavens!) different about the care and attention to setting-up lavished on every Aria that leaves Gigsville's warehouse. Perfectly turned out in a shiny metallic red, the RSB Performer plugged straight in and played, in tune right out of the box, properly intonated and with a sensibly chosen medium/low action.
Conventional in looks, the Aria is equally conservative in its materials (not necessarily a bad thing at all). The bolt-on neck is made from a single piece of Maple, and has the fashionable dull/satin finish to its back. Some players like this, others don't, it's just a question of preference; and our reviewers were as divided on this as any group of randomly selected guitarists. Fixed onto the Maple neck is a 22 fret Rosewood fingerboard. Again, this bears all the hallmarks of traditional Aria quality the bass playing almost entirely buzz-free right up and down the 34" scale neck. Unfortunately, we can't be specific about which wood(s) the body is made of. In the relevant brochures it's just described as 'hardwood' (which can mean almost anything!) and in our opinion this has some possibly disturbing implications,: particularly on a bass costing nearly £400. Either Aria don't want to say what wood they're using for the RSB's body, or they are aware that, as supplies vary from time to time, they might have to substitute one material for another. As this latter case could imply one month's model sounding a little different from another's it's a mite worrying. Any chance of clarifying this point for us, Aria?
The bass's hardware, however, is much more definite. The usual small, sealed Aria machines give splendid tuning smoothness, and this is complemented by the choice of a self-lubricating graphite nut. The bridge too is a nice job, die cast metal, sunk into the body and offering deeply tracked saddles, each individually adjustable for string height and length. It's a variation on the traditional Precision theme, and a satisfying one.
The Performer's pickups come from Aria's MB series and comprise an MBIII Alnico magnet twin coil type in the neck position and a single coil MJB-1 at the bridge. These are controlled by four plastic capped rotary pots, one for overall volume, two 'active' tone controls and a 'pan pot' for pickup selection. All except the volume control are centre click-stopped for ease of use. There's also a metal flick switch for active on/off, activating a power feed from a single PP3 which is stored in the back of the body, accessible through a screwed in plastic inspection plate.
With a neck width of only 1 9/16" at the nut, widening to 2 3/16" at the 12th fret and still only 2 3/8" at the 22nd, the Aria is almost identical in width to the superbly fast Warwick which we've also reviewed in this issue. Alas, there the similarity ends, because whereas the Warwick's neck is shallow and hence as fast as a greased weasel, the Aria's is a fair bit deeper and far less speedy. Mind you, the Aria compares pretty well with most similarly priced Japanese basses. It's a pity it couldn't have been a bit shallower, however.
Tonally, the RSB Performer is interesting. As usual, we checked it passively at first, mainly in an attempt to explore its fundamental sound. In this respect it was, again, about average. The bolt-on neck may account for some of the lack of sustain we noticed, and possibly for the quite marked failure of the low E string to resonate and ring as true as we'd have liked. Switched over to active, however, the Performer becomes a very different animal! To start with, it's considerably warmer and richer, and this reinforces the impression that it's intended to be used almost exclusively as an active, with passive really only there as a standby.
Once you're familiar with setting the Performer's controls to get the sounds you want, it becomes an interesting prospect, with a good range of sounds and a very impressive noise-free performance. On the other hand, the controls do need some getting used to, as they have some unusual properties. For instance, if you use both pickups for bassier sounds and then pan from one pickup to the other, there's a very pronounced difference between the pickups' relative volumes, which can be disconcerting. Also unusual is the way in which the two tone controls seem to rotate directionally against each other, so that to get the bassiest tone you have to turn one control in one direction and the other the opposite way. We couldn't help feeling that it would have been more logical and easier to use if treble boost came from a twist of either control one way and bass boost vice versa.
Well made, handsomely finished, nice to play and with a pretty good range of sounds, the RSB Performer is a rewarding instrument, especially for those who like straightforward, no-nonsense basses. At an RRP of £389 however it doesn't seem cheap for what is, after all, quite a basic model. Mind you, by the time the discounters have got to work on it the RSB Performer should become a much more attractive proposition. A good bass but a bit above its ideal price would be our ultimate summing-up.
Aria RSB Performer Bass (RRP £389 inc. VAT) & 'Diamond Series' JX-Plus Guitar (RRP £399 inc. VAT)
More details on Aria from Gigsville Ltd., (Contact Details).
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