Although established in 1953, Aria didn’t start manufacturing guitars until 1964, initially using a varied selection of brand names which included Arai, Aria, Aria Diamond, Diamond and Arita. The familiar Aria Pro II moniker was adopted in 1975 but the most important year for bass players is 1979 – the year that Aria produced their first bass, the SB-1000.
The SB-1000 received tacit endorsement during the ’80s by three players from very disparate strands of popular music. Jack Bruce used one for his jazz/rock solo material; Cliff Burton played metal on one with Metallica; and John Taylor produced some fine, bubbling grooves, SB-1000 in hand, with Duran Duran.
Newer SB’s, including the budget SB-404 and the Cliff Burton SB-1000CB have been available for a while, but with its latest incarnation, the SB-1000RIB, Aria is attempting to faithfully reproduce the original.
In a visual sense there’s very little to report in terms of differences. You may question the finish but, while see-through red and black are available, in 1979 Aria said ‘we’re not going in for any of that lacquering nonsense’ and produced basses in natural only, so that’s what we get – albeit in a lighter hue. We’re actually quite smitten with the way the oak stain enhances the strident grain pattern of the ash beneath, making it look far more exotic than it actually is.
The maple through-neck has walnut stringers; Ibanez went for a similar thing with their Musician bass from the same period, but the SB-1000 always looked the more modern of the two. The body has a flat face with neatly bevelled edges, confident, pointy horns and a substantial ribcage comfort chamfer around the back, where you’ll also find a black electronics housing cover and quick-release compartment for the two 9v batteries that have always been required to run the SB-1000’s active electronics and internal noise-killer circuit.
When the maple/walnut sandwich morphs from body core to neck, it takes the form of a comfortable and highly playable neck – not super-slim nor fast, but the substance never translates to bulkiness, instead offering reassurance as you play. It’s capped off by an oblong headstock with a scroll detail, plus an old-school brass nut. Its face is veneered and stained to match the body, and a set of gold Gotoh GB720 tuners with small tuning buttons line the top and bottom edges.
Originally, the SB-1000’s fingerboard was rosewood, but in 1982 this was replaced by ebony and this feature is retained with the RIB model. The fingerboard houses 24 medium jumbo frets joined by mother of pearl position markers, with a further smaller set illuminating the top edge. In workmanship terms, the standard is as high as you’d hope from a bass with an asking price over two grand, the finish is blemish-free, and the frets are all perfectly seated.
There’s one change: the bridge. Original versions sported a string-through unit that sat on a chunky metal plate, but – just as on the Cliff Burton model – this one carries a more compact, top-load only offering in the form of the Gotoh J510BO-4.
The pickup is an Aria MB-1E twin-coil, the same one as fitted to the Cliff Burton bass, and single black vee-topped Volume and Tone controls are joined by Aria’s six-position Pickup Attack Mode (PAM) rotary switch.
This quirky little feature is based on a simple premise: each position provides a pre-biased tonal starting point relating to particular frequencies. From bridge to neck, these are 186Hz, 229Hz, 340Hz, 496Hz, 723Hz and 1.4kHz, and each setting can be further shaped by the basic Tone control.
Should you so wish, you can bypass the rotary and use only the Tone control by flicking the small chrome switch. Oh, and finally, the SB-1000 weighs around 4.5kg (just over 10lbs), so a comfort strap is a necessity – but you do get excellent balance and stability when sitting down.
Let’s begin by bypassing the rotary (with the switch in the ‘up’ position). The sound is most agreeable. There’s ample booty and it comes with just enough of a throaty snarl; the midrange has plenty of body, contributing a pleasing brashness and a sense of controlled aggression without being overly dark or irritatingly nasal. At the top end, you get enough cut and bite for excellent audibility; it never approaches head-slicing levels but is pretty decent for a basic passive tone control.
The six-position rotary has always been one of the SB-1000’s more enticing features. With our review bass, though – and remember that the price is in excess of two grand – it only delivers on a small percentage of that promise without recourse to serious additional EQ. Each position offers something, but none sound really inspirational, and only three deliver anything of immediate practicality.
With position 1, words like ‘woolly’ and ‘indistinct’ spring to mind; it’s bottom end-loaded but screams out for recourse to a sophisticated EQ. Position 2 does add presence and definition to the soupy scenario, resulting in the makings of a passable rock’n’roll or soul tone.
The third notch throws up the most immediately appealing variation, similar (and here may be the crux of the issue) to the passive variation. It’s evenly responsive across the range with some earthy aggression at the bottom, conservative highs and a midrange that informs clarity while hinting at tonal disappointments to come.
These start when you select the position 4 – a bright variation where thinner strings have a zingy twang with an irritatingly artificial sound. Position 5 is bright and lively, with a nasal edge, but little in the way of barky impact to compensate. The sixth setting is tonally the brightest, and may suit those who crave a clanky sound for contemporary rock, but it’s another variation that you cannot simply dial up and use.
There’s a lot to commend the SB-1000RIB; classic looks, superb playability, excellent high register access, good balance, exemplary build quality. The basic passive sound is good, but this is compromised a little by a bunch of impractical active alternatives. And the price? Well, we probably wouldn’t pay two grand for this when the Cliff Burton model is the same configuration and available for only a third of the price. Even so, it does look great on the wall.