Thursday, August 11, 2011

1980 Aria Pro II Les Paul Copy


This Les Paul copy is a mongrel and a one-trick pony, but it does a pretty good trick. That trick would be sounding like a Gibson Zakk Wylde Les Paul and nailing that Black Label Society tone.

First off, this is a 1980 Aria Les Paul that was made in Japan, but I do not consider it a “lawsuit” guitar, as it does not really have the Gibson headstock shape. But it is still a very good quality copy, and a terrific player.

This Aria is appointed like a Les Paul Custom, with triple binding and gold hardware galore. It is a set-neck guitar (most Arias I have seen had bolt-on necks), with a pancake body and a thick cap. It has an ebony fretboard with pearloid trapezoidal inlays.

There have been a few modifications to it over the years with the goal of making it a better player. Vintage Grover tuners (a direct replacement) were installed as an improvement over the no-name original equipment heads, and Joe Glaser installed a new bone nut.

This guitar plays very well, and the original frets are still in great shape and I was able to get a very low action with no buzzing. I would say the neck has more of the baseball bat 1950s feel to it, which is my preferred profile. It is not too bad on the back, weighing in at around 10 pounds, which is ok for a non-chambered Les Paul.

But the electronics package is what turned this old Aria into a metal machine. When I bought it somebody had already installed a set of Zakk Wylde EMG-ZW pickups: an 81 at the bridge and an 85 at the neck. It was wired like crap and had a lot of hum when I got it, so I went through it and put in new pots and it was ready to go.

And it sounds exactly like the Gibson Custom Shop Zakk Wylde model that I used to own, for about 1/6 the investment. It has a metric ton of output and is the crunchiest guitar I have ever owned. It does not work as well for conventional rock or country, but it does exactly what it is supposed to do.

So, if you like the Zakk Wylde sound you too can get it in a playable guitar for not too much cash, as long as you are not too hung up on brand names.


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