1977 Aria Pro II P bass
Those who hang around here a bit will know how much I LOVE Aria guitars, or more accurately, the factory in Japan that made them.
Matsumoku has been discussed in many of my blogs (Victor / Greco) and along with the Fugigen factory is one of my favourite guitar manufacturers of all time. The history of Matsumoku has been covered by me and many others so I won't bore you again now. Suffice to say they were one of the leading guitar manufacturers in japan throughout the 60's to the mid 80's and made not only some of the greatest quality instruments ever, but some of the greatest shapes ever.
Aria has a long history in Japanese guitar making and the company itself was started in 1956 to specifically make nylon string acoustics, which was Shiro Arai, the owner and founder of Aria guitars first passion.
Matsumoku had been making electric guitars since around 1962 and in '64/65 was approached by Aria (and many others) to make electrics under their brand name for the domestic, and eventually export markets. Aria also used Arai (the correct spelling of the founders name) and Aria Diamond (mainly for hollowbody guitars and basses) among others.
Throughout the sixties Aria released some of the most innovative and bizarre designs along with more traditional "copy and inspired" guitars while sustaining a good quality and playability by dealing with Matsumoku.
In 1975 they introduced Aria Pro II which was a more professional level instrument from essentially a "custom shop" aimed at higher level players and people who believed (wrongly) that all "cheap Japanese guitars" were .... cheap guitars.
By the mid to late seventies Matsumoku and Fugigen were making world class guitars using top end timbers and know how. By the early to mid eighties they were making better instruments than their "big two" US counterparts that they had once tried so hard to emulate.
So, the Aria Pro II series was to offer higher end quality instruments at more affordable prices and initially relied heavily on those US brands as inspiration and sales.
The late seventies Pro II catalogues are full of Fender, Gibson and Ric copies in both guitar and bass versions. The "copy wars" were still on and demand for these good quality cheaper versions of import guitars was very high. These two factories (and others) were making some of the greatest copies you will ever play under many different brand names. I've always loved Aria and my first "proper" guitar was an Aria Pro II Cardinal which was a solid body, well made SG type guitar that played and sounded GREAT and was VERY cheap because it was during a time when these were "cheap Asian guitars". I ended up with two nearly identical ones and one is still in the rafters of my workshop. It catches my eye ever so often and I think I should get it down and play it .... anyway. Back to this bass.
This Aria Pro II Precise Bass as it's branded on the headstock is a fantastic vintage P bass for the money. Under the Aria logo is small writing that says "The world Wide Brand" which is an indication of the market Aria was going for.
It's a solid two piece ash body and is fairly light but still substantial. The shape, contours and feel are all pure Fender. The long scale bolt on neck is a beautiful piece of hard maple with a glued on maple fretboard and no skunk stripe. The truss rod adjuster is at the body end in vintage Fender vibe.
The neck is VERY comfortable with a nice, not huge P bass but not skinny J bass feel. The finish and fretwork are great. The tuners are great quality and feel and work very smoothly.
The four ply tortoiseshell scratchplate looks a "little" cheesy (not so much in the pics) in the seventies plastic type of way but is well cut and fits perfectly. The pickups are Alnico rod P bass humbuckers and have a great growl and output with good frequency response.
The bridge is the typical Fender style open four saddle unit and works as you'd expect.
Overall, like the Tokai we got in recently, this is a great vintage bass much like most Greco, Yamaha and other brands made in these factories at the time. Great timber and quality construction and by '78 most of these brands were concentrating more on original designs and less on pure copies. While the copy market was still very competitive in Japan throughout the eighties by the mid eighties the US companies were stopping headstocks from resembling theirs, especially for export models.
Later Aria Pro II's started to share more with brands like Vantage and Washburn with through neck construction and active electronics. Aria Pro II introduced the SB series basses in '78 and started making the amazing PE and SH guitars along with the (VERY underrated aesthetically and performance wise) BC Rich Mockingbird (MX series).
The standard Aria series kept making copies for many years to come in varying degrees of accuracy while the Pro II concentrated on that higher level and original design market. Aria is still an active brand today although no longer making guitars in Japan.
The Matsumoku factory closed in 1987 and Aria went to Korea after 25 years of a partnership made in heaven. Great quality and innovative design had made this venture very successful and engaging. Aria had a production office in the US for about ten years from the mid 80's and worked on some amazing designs there. As I've said, Aria have made some of my favourite all time guitars.