Aria RS Cat Guitar & RSB Cat Bass
Another feline foray from Aria. Nice one(s) proclaims Dave Burrluck
Aria have a thing about cats; we've had Wild ones and Stray ones, but now we've got just plain Cats — so cheap they don't even give them a breed! Who cares? Indeed the thing that attracted me first to the Cats was their retail prices — obviously cheap and cheerful. What I didn't expect was the nice piece of style, design and finish. Of course it's what you'd expect from an Aria, but so often low prices means below par workmanship and a rather dodgy product.
A company like Aria has vast experience to draw from, clearly illustrated in the design of these two instruments. While neither offer much in terms of innovation they certainly can't be called copies and both instruments feature aspects not usually found on bottom-of-the-range guitars.
Basically this guitar is an economy version of the Wildcat, featuring the same styling but a cheaper spec. The body shape is vaguely Strat-ish but with an extended top horn giving the instrument a very good balance. No timber spec was provided for the body and the smart opaque white lacquer hides any chance of identification. Mind you, it is a good weight—heavy enough to give it a solid feel but light enough to prevent 'shoulder droop'.
The bolt-on neck is made from a nice piece of Maple and is very well shaped with a shallow curved profile, quite American in feel. The Rosewood board is a dark brown and features a flat cambered radius and 22 2.5mm frets. Each fret is nicely polished giving a very professional and quality feel. The board also features small pearl-like dot markers on the face and side and a clear satin finish lacquer.
The headstock is the familiar Aria pointed design with a white lacquered face and black logo. Overall the construction of the instrument is excellent, as is the quality of finish, and it really doesn't look cheap.
Still, economies have to be made and these are noticeable in the hardware. The six-in-a-line chrome machine heads are cheaply plated but have all the features, such as tension adjustment, that one would expect. The action of the heads is a little slack and unresponsive but they don't really let the guitar down. An Act-Ex tremolo is fitted, similar to the Act-2 except the saddles are chromed as opposed to brass. It's quite a standard unit with two fulcrum pivot screws also providing overall height adjustment. The six saddles have two height adjustment screws which sit in shallow 'locking' grooves on the base of the bridge. Intonation is via the usual screw at the back of the bridge.
The Act-Ex tremolo works in the time-honoured Strat fashion and is fitted here with three springs which provide a light but positive action. The arm is well shaped and long to provide an excellent lever and the travel on the unit is very good — no problem impersonating a motorbike! The back cover plate has six string access holes which don't quite line up with the string holes in the back of the trem block, which could prove to be a drag for quick string changes.
A graphite nut is fitted — I'll give Aria the benefit of my doubt, though I'm not convinced it really is graphite purely because of the terrible squeaking it made when using the tremolo. However, a good ol' bit of pencil lead solved the problem immediately and the nut is well cut giving a low first fret action.
The adjustable truss-rod bullet placed behind the nut leaves just enough room for a Kahler string lock to be fitted if you wanted to up-grade the tremolo unit, which would be worth thinking about if you're a heavy trem user. A minor niggle concerns the string retainers fitted here which do nothing to aid stability when the trem is moved. You can get away without using them on the E, B and D strings, although the G-string needs one to clamp it down into the nut otherwise it becomes rather lifeless in open position. I'm sure Aria could come up with a better design that won't cost any more and wouldn't be a cause of friction for the string.
We have the fashionable pickup configuration of humbucker in bridge position with a single-coil unit in middle and neck positions. The humbucker has a coil-tap operated from a push/pull switch on the tone control. The master volume is neatly placed close to the humbucker and both the volume and master tone have smart black chrome domed and knurled Telecaster-type knobs. A five-way Strat-type lever switch takes care of pickup selection and works in the usual Strat fashion — anyone who doesn't know what this is can go for a ride around Brands Hatch with Andrew Ridgeley as punishment!
The black matt plastic used for the pickup housings and humbucking mounting ring does look a bit cheap, but you can't have everything. But we do have adjustable pole pieces on the back coil of the humbucker even though the rest of the pickups have plain chromed stud pole pieces. All the electronics and output jack are mounted on the matt black scratch plate with a rather meandering design. But this type of construction obviously aids the price as the electronics can be wired and fitted away from the guitar leaving only the earth wire on the spring retainers to be hooked up.
When I removed the back plate to check the earth wire I found out why no timber spec was given for the body — it's plywood, or rather a multi-laminated construction. Well that's a big black mark for the chaps at Gigsville trying to pass it off as Ash or Alder indeed!
Well one thing that can't be hidden is the sound, and thankfully it's pretty good. The bridge humbucker has a bright and full tone in its full coil mode and when tapped we get the expected thinner single coil tone with a reduction in volume.The middle pickup is fine — quite Fenderish, as is the neck unit, although this has a predominance of mid frequencies slightly marring the sound. The in-between positions on the pickup switch provide the usual 'out-of-phase' tones which are good but we get a bit of buzz on the middle and neck pickups and also a bit of squealing at high levels, but all this is to be expected if not welcomed.
Playability is fine too; a nice action has been set and the guitar is nice and fast without any fret buzz. I would have said the neck needs a little more relief as the bottom E does rattle on the lower frets, but this may cure itself as the neck settles with time.
With a sound that matches its looks the Cat is undoubtedly great value for money, especially with the addition of a very usable tremolo in the Act-Ex. For general trem use it's fine, but really heavy bends do throw the tuning out. This could certainly be improved with lubrication at the nut and by changing the string retainers. But what do you expect? At such a low price the quality is more than acceptable.
This bass is just as smart looking as its counterpart with the same body styling and construction. Once again the instrument has a good weight and comfortable feel, again the extended upper horn aiding balance. The bolt on neck is made from Maple and has a similar dark timber insert covering the truss rod channel in typical Fender style. A 22 fret Rosewood fingerboard is fitted with a characteristic flat camber and shallow curved profile. Certainly the neck is very playable and it's to Aria's credit that they have concentrated on the playability of the Cats, even at the expense of timber.
One mistake I feel they have made is the fret wire fitted on this bass. It's very thin — under 2mm — and is going to wear very quickly. Why they haven't fitted the same gauge wire on the bass as they have on the six-string is a bit of an oversight in my opinion. The small wire also means that fretting, especially with the medium gauge strings fitted is not particularly positive.
Truss rod adjustment is at the body end of the neck and a small 'U' groove has been channelled from the body to facilitate this. Again this is a nice feature not usually found on such a cheap instrument.
The headstock is compact featuring the four-in-a-line chromed M4 copy machines and a circular string retainer on the top two strings. The machines themselves actually seem of a higher quality than those fitted on the six-string and they work very well with a tight and positive feel. Again we have a 'graphite' nut cleanly cut and finished at the correct height. These instruments have been very well set-up for the most part — full credit here must go to Gigsville, I hope all their instruments receive the same attention.
A weighty looking Precision-type bridge is fitted with four rod section saddles with two screws on each for height adjustment. As with the six-string bridge the saddles locate into 'tracks' on the bridge base to aid stability.
The quality of electronics on instruments as cheap as this is obviously a bit dubious — however both a Jazz bass and Precision bass pickup is provided here in the usual positions. Each has stud pole-pieces and are directly mounted into the body in the usual manner. A simple volume and tone is provided with a three position selector switch and those smart black chrome knobs. The actual wiring, which is accessed via a back cover plate, is a bit messy but nonetheless does the job. The total absence of screening, apart from pickup leads, means that you can expect some hum. A DIY guitar enthusiast would have great fun with this bass!
Overall then it's a very nicely put together bass with the exception of the fret wire and very cheap electronics. However, not everyone would care about those aspects — it'll be the excellent black finish that will attract people's attention.
The sound is no let down either. The Jazz pickup puts out a predictably bright tone with quite a nice depth to it while the Precision-type pickup has more warmth and bottom. If anything, the P-Bass unit is a bit muffled — of the two that's the one I'd replace. With both pickups on we get what sounds like an out-of-phase tone which is actually very nice, giving a toppy defined sound, quite nice for slapping.
Playing the bass was quite pleasurable, access to the top frets is easy although the neck is a bit on the bulky side the further up you go. There are a couple of dead spots high up on the E and A strings which are especially noticeable with the P-bass pickup on, but other than that the instrument sustains well and gives an overall clear tone.
You certainly get a lot of bass here; the good hardware, wide range of tone and extra fret are definite plus points in its favours. It's hard to criticise the instrument in relation to its price; certainly a beginner couldn't go wrong with it and if they were to change the fret wire it would be in my 'I'd recommend it to anyone,' class.
Aria and Gigsville's reticence to be totally honest about these instruments seems rather strange. So what if they've got multi-laminated bodies and they're not made in Japan (they wouldn't let on where they're made and I won't either — it'd probably be the end of my Korea). The fact of the matter is that Japan isn't producing a guitar this cheap anymore so why hide the fact that they're not made there? As a punter I would be much more peed off if I found out my guitar was made out of plywood after a salesman — out of ignorance — had told me a different story.
Am I moaning? No. Personally I don't care where they're made or what they're made of — you don't need a degree in engineering to see that both these instruments are solidly built and sound very presentable. And they won't cost an arm and a leg either — nice one!
RRP: £169 & £179
Review by Dave Burrluck
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