This is a fabulous Aria Pro II, model PE-180 in excellent condition and in perfect working order. Built in 1981 at the Matsumoku factory in Japan, this "lawsuit era" vintage archtop is one of a few highly collectible models produced to faithfully replicate the features and exquisite playability of Gibson's top tier Super 400 and L-5 CES models.
Interestingly, there was no legal action taken against Aria for the PE-180, and the guitar does have a few distinct cosmetic tweaks that distinguish it from a Gibson. But it was built with a level of quality and attention to detail that puts it in a class all its own, way ahead of other Japanese competitors of the era.
The guitar boasts a solid Sitka spruce top with a full 17" lower bout, very pretty figured maple back and sides, and an ornately inlaid ebony fretboard. The hardware and electronics are top notch, and the guitar is fitted with its original pair of PAF style humbuckers that deliver an incredibly sweet & detailed tone.
The neck construction is three pieces of maple laminated with walnut strips. The profile is a full, well rounded C shape with generous shoulders and increased depth in the higher registers of the fretboard.
The 20 fret ebony fretboard boasts multi-ply binding that covers the fret nibs in the traditional Gibson fashion. The fretboard is inlaid with the split pearloid blocks familiar to Super 400 fans, and the inlay work is exceptional.
The instrument has solid intonation, and no buzzing or dead spots on the board, with plenty of fret life left for years of use. The original carved bone nut is present as well, width is 1 11/16".
Weight is 8.5 lbs
The headstock has multi-ply binding, an inlaid "Aria Pro II" logo, and unique mirror image diamond inlay. The stock Gotoh gold tuning machines are also intact and turn smoothly, with a some expected dulling of the finish on the tuner buttons.
The electronics work as they should, with standard volume & tone knobs for each pickup coupled to a three-way pickup selector switch. The quality of this instrument is very evident in the finer touches and attention to detail on the hardware. The original carved ebony bridge base has the small pearloid snowflake inlays seen on vintage Gibsons, and the metal tailpiece is moulded and etched in a nearly identical fashion to its Gibson counterpart as well.
The bound tortoise pickguard is even crafted with the same material used on vintage Super 400s, and as a result, these guitars experience a bit of the "off gassing" seen on vintage Gibsons, wherein the material for the tortoise causes a bit of corrosion on the surrounding hardware. Thankfully the impact of the pickguard on the hardware is fairly minor on this example, but it just goes to show the lengths the craftsmen at Matsumoku went to in crafting an ideal, top shelf archtop. The body dimensions are also quite faithful, and the body measures 21" in length, 3 1/2" in depth, and has a full 17" lower bout.
Cosmetically, there is very little wear on this instrument, and the guitar has its original reddish gold to deep brown sunburst finish across the top, sides and back. There is some subtle finish checking across the top, as well as some wear through the gold plating on the pickup covers and the extremities of the tailpiece where the strings anchor.
Naturally, there are a few tiny nicks and finish scratches expected on any 40 year old instrument, but overall this guitar is very clean and has been very well cared for.
The top binding has darkened a little over time, but has no cracks or splits. The original frets are 99% & showing almost no wear. The neck is very comfortable and a highly enjoyable to play, with a low action and no buzzing. You could hardly expect much better on an equivalent US model – it is verrrry good.
And we think there’s no need to change these pickups - they are really nice sounding PAF style, high quality Matsumoku units. The neck pickup has that classic full bodied warm jazz tone, the bridge pickup delivers a strong, barking rockabilly vibe and the middle setting in combination with the finely calibrated tone controls, offers many tonal options at your fingertips.
This is a one owner guitar – the original purchase receipt dated 1981 is still in the case along with a classic late 70s curly cord, Aria tags & warranty.
This Aria Pro II PE 180 is a professional grade archtop that doesn't compromise quality and has the intuitive feel and exacting setup of some classic, and rather more expensive USA made models.
Comes with its original hard case in OK condition but with two broken latches which need replacing.
Video demo of identical instrument here -