Aria SBR150 Bass plus TA100 Guitar
Jack Bruce model meets semi-supreme 14
As most bass players will already know, Aria's SB1000 bass was probably the first mass-produced instrument to take active power and popularise it. True, there had been earlier active basses, but these were mainly from the luxury makers like Alembic. The SB1000 offered (and still does) active power to the bass player who wants an instrument which he doesn't have to be in the private jet league to be able to afford.
The SB1000 was a tremendous success and Aria picked up a lot of valuable endorsees from this model most notable of whom was Jack Bruce. In case (by the way) you're generally cynical about endorsements (and probably quite rightly so in many cases!) I happen to know that Jack bought his bass from a well-known West-End dealer before Gigsville (Aria's U.K. distributors) got to hear about it, so this was one endorsement which definitely wasn't one of those 'let's impress the natives' deals where players are featured using instruments they hardly ever use.
Anyway, Jack apparently wanted the SB1000 with a slightly wider neck, something which I, for one, wouldn't have agreed with. Still, as his opinion carries rather more clout than mine (can't think why!), Aria set about a new model of the bass, fitted with twin pickups and a slightly wider neck — the SBR 150 is the result.
Not a great deal of other changes have taken place over the original SB1000 on this newish introduction. The body is still made of that rich and highly attractive Canadian ash with the straight-through maple neck, spliced with walnut. The SBR still has that tremendously comfortable heel-less design and it's really so surprising, after all this time, that so many other makers still haven't caught-up with this easy styling feature.
The hardware on the instrument is still of that excellent quality which made the original SB bass so attractive — a tremendously solid, tracked, brass bridge with fully adjustable saddles, ultra smooth and precise machines and an overall quality to the finishing that does tremendous things to help keep-up Aria and Gigsville's reputation for quality manufacture and pre-sales setting-up.
That change in the neck width on this version of the bass has certainly made a difference to the feel of it. I'll have to admit that I'm working from memory here as a direct side-by-side comparison with an SB1000 wasn't possible but I do recall thinking that the earlier bass had a rather narrow neck at the body end, whereas this one is certainly wider up high which makes for a certain improvement in the ease with which you can play runs across the neck on higher notes. Whether changes have been made to any other neck features I honestly can't say, although I have just the slightest suspicion that this neck may be a shade fatter too — or is it just my imagination at work? Either way, the SBR 150 has a really fine neck to handle and my sample was immaculately fretted on its jacaranda fingerboard.
Of course, another major difference between this bass and the SB is the provision of two pickups, giving a useful expansion to the range of tones that the original has. The control gear follows a similar path to that on the 1000 being perhaps one of the simplest active basses on the market to use. You have a normal single volume and control knob set-up, a pick up-selector, an active on/off switch, a red L.E.D. (which flashes when a jack plug is inserted to show you it's on) and a pointed 5 position Eq selector which starts-off with the bass delivering bassy tones when set at full back and then gets progressively toppier as you wind it round forwards. From a sound point of view the Aria, frankly, has nowhere near the tonal range of some of the latest types of active basses now on the market. These, for the most part, have infinitely variable active equalisation, whereas the SBR 150 has just its pre-sets and its tone control for variation. In practice, however, this may not matter as parametric basses are notoriously fiddly to use on stage (they're too easy to set wrongly when in a hurry, and thus can often give you sounds which you'd never want in a month of Sundays). Limited, arguably, the Aria might be but the tones are all very usable and they are foolproof — you'll always know where you are with it, which is vital for stage work.
The sounds offered are nearly all more like those from a variety of good passive instruments than from one of those (sometimes offensively) 'active sounding' actives. Nonetheless, whether you'll go for this model will largely depend on how you view that aspect of things. There are definitely wider ranging basses on the market than this one, but the Aria is 100% practical in its range, from a very deep bass to a clicky sound perfect for 'pulling'.
From a handling point of view I was surprised by how heavy this instrument now seems. I don't know whether I've been handling a crop of featherweights of late or whether this is just a heavy bass but it does seem so and it has that long-scale neck (24 frets) which emphasises the overall feel of it being a 'big' instrument.
£626 will buy you a great many fine basses these days and it does seem a shame that such good instruments as this cost so much money. But you can see where you money is going, the materials are all first rate, as is the build quality.
Whatever appeal solid electric guitars may have there's undoubtedly something very lovable about a good semi-acoustic. It's not the size or the shape of them alone, it isn't even their sound — just something about all those aspects working together which means that even players who normally stick to solids rapidly develop profound love-affairs with good semis.
The Aria TA100 is the top of the line model from their new TA series and is a tremendously handsome looking instrument. The body is slightly smaller than most semi-acoustics we're used to which certainly makes it very comfortable to hold. It's fashioned from solid (as opposed to laminated) maple but the back and sides of the instrument are sycamore. To improve sustain (and, no doubt, help counter feedback) a solid mahogany centre block is placed beneath the twin Alnico magnet-type pickups and the solid brass bridge. The neck on the TA 100 is a laminate of mahogany and maple, fashioned from 5 pieces of wood — which must give it excellent resistance to warping and stress. Overall this really does look like a top-class instrument. The finish on my sample was called Antique Brown, but you can also have an oak effect — both look very handsome indeed. The fingerboard is ebony and, as one has come to expect from this fine manufacturer, the quality of fretting and general manufacture was excellent — as was the gold plating on the really sensuously smooth machines and pickups.
Playing the Aria is a treat, a welcome chance to know that one is handling an instrument of the very finest professional class. The sample I had came with fairly heavy strings but, like many players today I'm finding myself gradually getting heavier and heavier (and it isn't just due to an excess of Big Macs!), learning to value the improved sustain, reliability of tuning, better sound and volume and, perhaps above all, the sense of control you get when bending something with more fight in them than ultra-lightweight strings. Anyway my sample handled and played like an absolute dream and, certainly from a tactile point of view, it soon felt as familiar to be wearing as a much-loved pair of carpet slippers!
The Aria's sound is as good as it looks — the guitar is warm and yet crystal clear but, wind the volume up on a good quality amp and the power from these new pickups swings the instrument over towards tremendous attack which couples with a sustain quite out of the league of any ordinary semi. I can quite see this instrument being the perfect buy for any player who thinks he'd like a good semi-acoustic and cannot justify the prices being asked these days for the previously all-conquering American semis. Priced at around £476 it certainly couldn't ever be called a cheap guitar, but it's about half the asking price of an American alternative.
Does it play as well? Most definitely! Whether it sounds as good as, say, a Gibson 335 will depend on what your ears tell you as it's not something one can dictate for somebody else. All I know is that the TA100 is one of the nicest guitars I've played this year (or last, for that matter) and that I would most strongly recommend anyone who fancies owning a top-class semi to look one of these models out and give it a try.
ARIA SBR150 Bass (RRP £626 inc.VAT)
TA100 Semi-Acoustic (RRP £476-12 inc.VAT)
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