Aria Pro II SB 600

Aria Pro II SB600

Year: 1979

Made In: Japan

Specs: Maple body, three-piece maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: MB1 humbucking pickup

Controls: Volume, Tone, series/parallel switch

This appeared on a local site with an asking price of €50 so, naturally, I instantly leapt on it. A long-term goal has been to secure a decent late 70’s or early 80’s SB, one of the great underrated bass designs, in my opinion. Being an early model, I was really rather excited about getting this home and checking it out properly. It was in poor shape but I do enjoy a challenge.

The dot inlay SB basses, I believe, indicate they were aimed at the domestic Japanese market and feature very narrow string spacing. The strings almost run parallel from bridge to nut. In the past, this would have been an issue but, as I’ve gotten older, my technique has evolved to the stage where I wasn’t too concerned. Everything except the electronics appeared to be original, at first glance, and the Aria branded tuners were present and working.

The body consisted of a heavy maple lamination which had cracked along some of the many seams. It was largely aesthetic damage, however, as it was structurally sound overall. It was incredibly heavy, but nothing which would discourage me. The pots were faulty and the series/parallel switch was entirely disconnected. Someone had tried some repairs at some point and failed, by the looks of it. Once the pickup worked I would be happy enough though.

 

The neck was in good shape and was one of the few SBs not to feature neck-through construction. The design of the bolt-on neck joint was quite interesting. I’ve never encountered another quite like it.

Two extra screws were hidden under the plate for additional stability. Possibly among the first six-bolt neck designs?

 

The neck was a chunky P style affair with a very rounded back – substantial but not uncomfortable. It was still straight and true and the truss rod was in good working order. Generally, the build quality of these Japanese SBs was excellent.

As ever, my quest in life is to find an old SB with working pickups and, sadly, this wasn’t it. I had to bypass the pots to check the pickup and, sure enough, it suffered from the now common dead coil syndrome, like every other SB I’ve owned. I didn’t fancy going through the ordeal of sourcing a replacement or having a new one made, so I decided to ease this one out the door and keep the search going. I’m an optimist. Some day, it will happen.

 

Aria Pro II SB-R80

Aria Pro II SB-R80

Year: 1983

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.