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This article was originally published in issue #43
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The all-new 100 series from Aria follows on from the successful launch of the Japanese company’s 200 and 500 series. According to Aria the 100 range is designed to “Offer great affordability while keeping a perfect playability and rich clear projection”. No point in beating around the bush here, this guitar is cheap to the point of thinking how can they actually make that for that?! As we know musicians are always after a bargain, so can an instrument in this price range still be playable and sound good? The low-mid price range acoustic market is a tough one, so let's see how the 101 holds up.
Our Aria-101 came finished in 'Matte Tobacco Sunburst', and first impressions imply a far more expensive guitar than its price tag. Despite the low price, this is a good looking instrument, with a nice finish and attention to detail throughout. The 20 fret mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard was a pleasure to play, which is not always the case with guitars in this price range! In fact, despite all the improvements made in recent years, you quite often find less expensive acoustic guitars with high actions, frets buzzing and poor intonation, but I am happy to report that there were no such problems with this Aria.
Encouragingly, the neck size was very similar to that of an electric guitar making things very easy going, which makes this an ideal instrument is for a beginner or a younger player. Using sapele for the back sides, mated to a spruce top, isn't the most common choice but it is a perfectly respectable tonewood – sometimes used by the likes of C.F. Martin, no less! - so we have no quibbles there. All the notes rang clear, including individual notes in a chord, nothing ever sounded muddy or lost in the mix.
As you can hear on our video, the Aria resonated well, though due to its size and wood choice it's not the loudest of acoustics - for that you would need a bigger bodied instrument, though that is not always a happy option for a younger or smaller bodied player! Having said it may not be up there with a Jumbo or a full bodied Dreadnought in terms of volume, the 101 does have a good dynamic range depending on where/how you play it and it's also worth mentioning that the bridge is made from the same wood as the fretboard, adding tonal continuity.
Overall we were very impressed with this instrument. Especially if you were looking for an instrument for a beginner we think it would make an ideal buy, not least because it plays really well, which is probably the most important thing at this level. How many times have we seen beginners with a cheap Dreadnought acoustic with an action of doom, sweating and bleeding trying to play a D chord, only to give up guitar all together after a couple of weeks? Here Aria has made a good, playable, cheap guitar that sounds decent. OK its tone is a little limited to mid-top heavy voice and it doesn’t create much volume, but place a decent mic in front of it, or an add-on pickup, and a bit of clever EQ choosing could give you a gig-able acoustic, too. In fact that could suggest another market - players who want a guitar they can afford to knock around on stage, at rehearsals or just on the beach.
In conclusion, the Aria-101 is a very good entry level acoustic. Easy to play, with a solid acoustic tone. If you are looking for a good sounding, easy and fun to play acoustic guitar, offering great value for money, you won't go far wrong with this one.