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This article was originally published in issue #14
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It was so good that the legendary Cream bassist Jack Bruce abandoned his Gibson EB3 for one - Aria's late 1970s SB1000 was one of the first Japanese basses that really made the big time. Newly reissued, can the ancient Aria still move the thoroughly modern Dan Veall?
'Reissue' instruments are a great way to get your hands on that bass you once dreamt of having, the one that your idols played back in the day. Indeed, I could have never afforded the prices commanded by the real vintage classics played by my heroes when I was young, so classic design recreated by modern tooling makes a lot of sense to me.
The Aria SB1000RIB is a faithful and 'high-end' revisit to a time when bass construction was enjoying a surge of creativity and flair. Back then, Fender's Precisions and Jazz basses, recently joined by the Musicman range, were enjoying pretty much overwhelming success, Gibson having begun to fade from the bass scene as the 1960s ebbed away. But when the Aria SB models were launched in the late 1970s they showed a completely different way forward - more in keeping with the ideas of some of the best custom bass makers of that time. And were they successful? Oh, yes! I used to sit and watch the British TV music programs as a kid and clearly remember seeing bands of the time plugging their releases using an Aria SB model to hit the low notes.
Our editor (who is very, very old - don't say I told you) says he recalls the launch of the SB1000 and how it caught the imagination of bassists at the time. In his estimation it was one of the landmark guitars and basses that finally cracked the professional market for Japanese manufacturers, whose products had tended to be dismissed as 'mere copies' before. Instruments like this SB1000, or Yamaha's SG six string, he says, finally convinced even conservative professionals that Japanese instrument manufacturing and design were as good as anything, anywhere - and often better.
Time to take a trip down memory lane with this 'modern-classic'.
My first impressions with a new instrument are always straight out of the case and on to my lap without even plugging it in. I want to know as much about it before I hear what it can do amplified. For me it was immediately apparent that this instrument was going to be a pleaser. Tonally rich, the construction - a tried and tested yet quality maple and walnut seven-piece laminate for the thru-neck, superbly married to ash wings for the body - produced vibrancy, full of overtones. A nice quality grain visually set the instrument off on the right foot, too.
The SB1000 is a substantial instrument with that ash body and although not the lightest we have had in to the studio, it graces us with a full bodied acoustic note with a perceived fatness in the bottom end as a consequence. I knew by that point, we'd be in for a tonal treat when firing up the in-house bass system!
Unusually for a 1970's design, the full 24 fret neck with an ebony fretboard, gives totally unhindered access to the top frets. Even better, the meeting at the body is heelless and offers a smooth transition to the rounded edges of the body cutaway. I'd describe the neck cut and finish as fast and slim. Both the machine heads and bridge come courtesy of Gotoh and once again are of the very best quality - the tuning keys having a direct and accurate action, just as expected. All the hardware is gold plated and there's that nice '70s touch - a brass nut!
As always, I had the opportunity to get to grips with the instrument in my own time before recording the video review. The SB-1000RIB was a total joy to navigate and I found no problems with getting immediately acquainted with what the instrument had to offer, both tonally and in terms of its playability.
I like the simple electronics - sometimes, I think you can almost have too many EQ options on a bass, instead of sticking with a selection of absolutely killer tones that are easy to access and that's pretty much the approach Aria's designers took with this instrument. The dual coil MB-1E humbucker has a full bodied tone and is placed in this instrument's sweet spot. It's a powerful sounding unit. Things really came alive once you are plugged in and the active-powered 'pickup attack mode selector' is engaged! The best way to describe the rotary selector is that it accentuates certain equaliser frequencies across the spectrum from low to high depending on its setting. You can add treble bite or growling mids or lower-mid frequency warmth by selecting any of the preset positions. A toggle switch also on the front of the instrument allows you to bypass this function and you are left with a single volume and tone control. Great access to the controls too as they are not too far away from the strings, but far enough to not be knocked when playing.
Bringing a classic bass to you through modern machining techniques the SB-1000rib is flawlessly constructed and comes in three colours - Red, See-through Black and the Oak model, reviewed here.
Also in the SB range is a very sexy all black SB-CB model. I want to point this one out as it was originally a model made for Metallica's sadly deceased bass player, Cliff Burton. Any Burton fan should check model out. There's also a five string SB-1000 model too. I feel sure that the low B on that will sound great, having heard the review model's inherent tone! Finishing off the current advertised SB range are also the 404 models that are lighter and have different electronics selections. Again, they're available in four and five string versions.
It's great to see the Aria SB range back again and commendable that Aria has chosen the non-obvious route. It must have been tempting to have had these made in China and sell them at a low price. Instead, respecting the instrument's fine heritage, Aria has opted instead for fine Japanese craftsmanship, which, it's true, does make this an expensive instrument. It is, however, the 'real thing' - and it's a joy.