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This article was originally published in issue #24
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This 511 Dreadnought style acoustic is from the newly introduced 500 series from Aria guitars. The name Aria has been around ever since I can remember and the company was started by its founder, Shiro Aria, as long ago as 1956. Originally the company started as an importer of nylon strings into Japan, but soon expanded into making guitars. The Aria guitars of the '80s were certainly very good quality and I remember seeing one of my all time favourite guitarists, the late Alan Murphy, briefly using one and showing what a whammy bar could do with the newly signed Go West! John Taylor from Duran Duran has never played anything else other than his Aria bass, so they've been with us a long time and consistently made quality instruments for fair money.
This 511 is pitched in the mid-price bracket, which can sometimes mean price saving compromises being taken somewhere along the line, leading either to an inferior tone or average playability. Thankfully, Aria has been around long enough to know better and in this case we have a very rich and responsive sounding guitar that is easy to play, that won't hurt the pocket.
The 511, and all the 500 range uses solid tonewoods, not laminates, in its construction. We have a solid Sitka spruce soundboard, that has a tasteful herringbone inlay around the soundhole and body edges. We have solid Indonesian mahogany for the neck, body and sides and there is an option to have a rosewood version. It would have been interesting to compare back to back two 511s, one mahogany and one rosewood to see what tonal differences we could pick up. This mahogany one delivers a full rich tone, that has a good focused bass end, with a warm and sweet high end. It does that great trick of sounding like it should cost twice as much!
Where solid wood scores is not just the quality of the sound when you buy it - it's how that sound develops with age. There are no guarantees, even with an individual Taylor or a Lowden, as wood is a natural material so every guitar is different, but one of the joys of acoustic guitars is how they mature and change down the years. All things being equal, a solid wood guitar will improve with age, while a laminated guitar will... just stay as it was when you bought it.
This Aria is a solid wood guitar and as our ancient editor likes to point out, some of the solid wood Aria acoustics he first saw back in the 1970s are now blooming into really quite serious instruments, despite their low prices when they were first made. This may do the same, thanks to that solid wood option.
The fretboard on the 511 is Indonesian Rosewood, as is the bridge. There is a bone saddle and a nicely cut bone nut. The neck is satin finished and feels generically comfortable, size wise. In between the 20 medium sized frets we have some tasteful inlaid fret markers that look like tiny snowflakes. The X bracing inside the guitar is made from quarter sawn maple that has not been scalloped. There are no electronics onboard, so this really is purely an acoustic guitar. That's quite nice, too, as it keeps the price down and allows you to fit the pickup system of your choice, should you decide you want one.
OK, here's where I get judgemental! I have played guitars four times the price of this guitar that do not sound as good. If all 511s sound like this, then that is an impressive achievement by Aria. Wood is not an exact science and it's a simple fact that some guitars will sound better than others.
The 511 would make a great in the studio or lying around the house guitar that will look better and better the more it's played, and as the years pass, it may very well start sounding sweeter than it does now, too - and it sounds pretty darned good as it comes! The only real drawback to a guitar in this price range is resale value. If you ever wanted to upgrade and decide to sell, you will not get what it's worth, but that is true of all but a few top brands. Certain guitar manufacturers will always resonate more with the buying public, and therefore keep better resale value.
This Aria 511 is a serious guitar for not a lot of money. It's not trying to be anything it isn't and it will look better the more beaten up it gets, giving a lifetime of faithful service to all levels of player and all situations. Sadly, Arias don't seem to be as common in the USA and Canada as they are in Europe and some other parts of the world, which could make one of these hard to track down, but if you're interested, persevere - it will be worth it. I was impressed.