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
Review by Paul Colbert
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