Aria Pro II SB-R80
Made In: Japan
Specs: Ash body wings, five-piece maple and walnut neck-through, rosewood fretboard
Electronics: 2 x MBII pickups, passive circuit
Controls: Stacked Volume & Tone x 2, Parallel/Series switches x 2
An iconic 80’s legend, the Aria SB series seems to finally be getting the respect it has long deserved. They are generally superbly built, though they tend to be on the heavier side. I picked up this SB-R80 in pretty poor shape, after what appeared to be many years of neglect. The rotary pickup switch was incredibly noisy and, upon further inspection, one of the coils of the neck pickup was dead. The MBII is a great, punchy sounding humbucking pickup but it seems like many have suffered the same issue with one or both of the coils dying over time. Underneath the large pickup cover, the two coils travel the full length of the pickup side-by-side, however, there are pole pieces for the E and A strings on one side and the D and G strings on the other, almost like a Precision setup. When a coil is dead, people sometimes think it’s the switch. In parallel mode, you still get a signal from the live coil and a weaker response from the strings over the dead coil. It’s only when you switch to series that the signal disappears altogether. It’s a lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way.
Given the amount of work required and parts needed to be replaced, I decided not to religiously stick to the original design and installed an Aguilar OBP-1 preamp and changed the controls to Volume-Pan-Bass-Treble, keeping the two parallel/series switches. I contacted Aaron (son of Kent) Armstrong to build a replacement pickup and set about the rest of the work required – fret level and dress, replaced the tuners and removed the finish, which was too badly battered, from the back of the neck and oil finished. Eventually, the pickup arrived and, much to my disappointment, it sounded nothing like the other MBII. Aaron’s pickup uses full length blades instead of staggered pole pieces. They didn’t work well as a pair at all, just very differently voiced. A friend had ordered a replacement for a dead MBII he had, so I traded my MBII for his Armstrong, just to get a matched pair of pickups and end up with something usable.
An all-original SB remains high on my wish-list, though finding ones with original, working pickups is getting harder and harder. Though a nice player with a decent tone, the disappointment of the replacement pickup on this one didn’t go away and I eventually eased it on out the door.