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This article was originally published in issue #44
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Aria's 100 series comes in three highly affordable variants – the 111 Dreadnought, 101 Folk and 131 small bodied Parlour guitar. All three share the same basic construction with solid spruce tops, sapele backs and sides (a cost effective alternative to the more expensive mahogany that is traditionally used for acoustics) and a mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard. The DP series differs from the core range in that a very vintage looking ‘Muddy Brown’ finish has been applied to the guitar for that authentic ‘swampy Delta Blues’ feel compared to the normal guitars. Other than that the models are identical. Our Dreadnought 111DP looked superb with this finish, matching very nicely with the vintage open gear tuners and classic 3-per-side headstock shape, sporting the Aria logo for good measure.
There is nothing particularly fancy about the 100 series and given the price point you shouldn’t expect it either, not that this is a bad thing by any means. The 111DP has simple white binding around the body and a subtle, attractive rosette design that suits the look of the guitar well. Aria has kept costs down to a minimum with no pre-amps or pickups but the guitar certainly doesn’t feel cheap. In fact, the 111DP feels superbly well built, coming as a bit of a surprise the first time you pick it up, especially if you’ve seen that low price. This is a solid instrument with clean construction internally and externally, good fretwork and an excellent factory set-up that required no tweaking before our review. The neck is comfortable with its relatively thin, vintage profile that will be manageable by even the smallest hands with ease and allows for surprisingly technical playing (this is Blues though, so no shredding please!). The tuners offer good tuning stability and really look the part on this style of guitar, again giving a sense of a more expensive instrument than the price would suggest.
Tonally is where the biggest surprise comes with the 111DP. It may be a combination of the vintage styling and ‘Muddy Brown’ finish conferring some kind of bias on tonal perceptions, but this guitar really does sound every bit as ‘classic acoustic Blues’ as it looks! Think of old Robert Johnson recordings (minus the old recording noise and hiss of course) and you’ll be in the right ball park. That slightly raspy but ‘oh so cool’ Blues sound is right there with aplomb and makes you feel like an authentic Delta Blues player immediately, even if the playing doesn’t quite match the enthusiasm! This might not be an original 1928 Gibson L1 or Martin, but it gets you at least some of the way there for an incredibly low price point! The guitar works equally well for strumming big bluesy chord progressions as for single note cascading blues runs a la Stevie Ray. There is no fretting out or dead notes across its range so you can play with confidence but the tone has enough character and bite to be authentic enough for real blues gigs or jam sessions.
It’s a becoming more and more common these days for acoustic manufacturers to offer genuine quality guitars that can be used on a daily basis without any real compromises at amazing prices. The Aria 100 series is a great example of this with a price point that would have netted you a real stinker of a guitar just a few short years ago, now getting you a great instrument with tone and playability that are worth two or three times the asking price. Even factoring a case or gig bag into the equation, the Aria-111DP represents amazing value for money as a blues/vintage acoustic or those looking for a second guitar for regular gigging without worrying about their investment prize piece at home. Excellent stuff and highly recommended. In fact we're going to go even further and award it the almost unheard of five stars! Well done, Aria!