Tuesday, October 8, 2013

1986 Aria Pro II SB Elite II Bass Guitar Review


Ever since I saw John Taylor playing an SB-1000 in the early 1980s, I have always thought that the Aria Pro II Super Basses were super cool, and after trying one out it turned out that I really liked the way they played too. Over the past few decades I have owned and sold dozens of SB-700 and SB-1000 models over the years, but have only owned a few of the SB Elite II models. I found the one we are looking at today at a pawn shop in Orange County, California.

The original run of Aria Pro II Super Basses were made in the 1970s and 1980s, and were the top of the line basses coming out of the Matsumoku factory in Japan. They were kind of a poor man’s Alembic, with multi-laminate neck-through construction and trick electronics. Aria found some high profile endorsers, including Jack Bruce and John Taylor, which gave them instant credibility.

At the time, all of the Super Basses had single pickups except for the SB-900and SM Elite II, which had two MB-II double coil (humbucking) pickups. These were wired through volume and tone controls, as well as a rotary 3-way pickup selector and two “dual sound” (coil tap) switches. But, unlike the SB-1000, the SB-900 and SBElite II did not get active electronics, so it is really more like a two pickup SB-700 or an SB Elite II.

Aside from the electronics, these basses received all the same high quality features as the other Super Basses. This includes a rosewood fretboard, a brass nut, a brass high-mass bridge, Gotoh tuners, and a nicely-figured body finished in natural, black or transparent red.

The transparent red one we have here is from 1986, so it is one of the last of these that were built before Aria moved production out of Japan. So, it has a few different features than the earlier SB-900 models including concentric volume and tone controls, repositioned coil tap switches, and the fancier cat’s-eye fretboard inlays.

For a 27 year old instrument the overall condition of this one is excellent with just a few light dings and scratches and no modifications to the electronics. Also, the frets were tarnished when I picked it up but showed very little wear and they polished up nicely. As a huge bonus this is the lightest SBs I have run across, coming in at 9 pounds, 7 ounces. I have seen some Super Basses that weigh as much as 12 pounds. Ouch.

This bass is very well made, with a beautiful finish and evidence of loving craftsmanship throughout. The frets are still level and nicely finished on the edges after all this time. It plays very smoothly and balances nicely on a strap.

The last SB Elite II I owned was anemic and with a weak tone and no mids, kind of like a lower output SB-700. Fortunately, this one has a more robust tone, and I have been able to dial in a meatier tone that is much more satisfying. Of course I wish it had more of an aggressive tone like the SB-1000, but with passive electronics it is only going to go so far.

I don’t know how this Aria Pro II SB Elite II will fit into my collection, as I have two Sadowskys that are much nicer instruments and I am mostly playing acoustic guitar now. But the soft spot in my heart for these basses might keep it around for a bit longer.



  1. I love these basses. However the model names are very confusing. AFAIK this is not an RSB Elite, but an SB-R-80. The dual pickup Elite IIs were limited to solid colors iirc

    1. Elites all had gold hardware

    2. Elites also had the narrow nut 40mm and wider sting spacing , produced from 83-86 in pearl white, phantom blue and padouk red and Black. Black models were sold as Black and Gold

  2. Ain't no poor man alembic.I owned a 1996 alembic essence.the blackngold2 I had smoked it.

  3. I have an 86 in blue. Love it.