Vintage Aria Guitars

Kevin Ott
Musician playing guitar

If you're looking for an excellent, affordable guitar that is unique, vintage Aria guitars might just be what you need. Aria is a superb company that has a long, interesting history, and it has produced fantastic instruments throughout the years.

The Aria Story

As Aria notes on its official website, the story of the Aria guitar begins in Japan in 1940s in an apartment where a man named Shiro Arai lived. His friend brought home a classical guitar, and Shiro, not expecting such an instrument, was stunned by its sound. He bought his own the next day, which cost two months worth of pay, and he became a skilled self-taught classical guitarist.

In 1953, Shiro started a trading firm, but when it failed a year later, he found himself homeless and burdened by many debts. However, he still had his guitar, which became his lifeline.

Shiro began teaching classical guitar lessons to make ends meet, and as demand for classical guitar grew in Japan in a market that had very few classical guitar resources, Shiro saw an opportunity. He began importing classical guitars, strings, and sheet music to meet demand, and he founded ARAI & CO., INC., the entity responsible for the first guitar imports into post-WWII Japan.

In 1958, when he began exporting Japanese-built acoustic guitars to South East Asia, the name "Aria" was used instead of his surname "Arai." The word "Aria," besides being a play on letters with the founder's name, means "expressive melody."

In 1963, Aria began exporting electric guitars for the first time with its models 1532T and 1802T. Famous professional guitarists, such as Neil Schon and Cliff Burton, began to use Arias, and the brand soon became an established global brand and has expanded to dozens of new models while also launching new instruments such as gypsy guitars, ukeleles, mandolins, and bass.

In 1992, Aria made waves in the music industry again when it released its SWB electric upright bass series.

Some Notable Vintage Aria Guitars

Some of the Aria guitars that have really stood the test of time and are desired by guitarists today are listed below. Arias not only represent a fascinating chapter in history--the first guitar company of post-WWII Japan--they have a reputation for quality and offering something uniquely Japanese in its design and style.

Aria Diamond 1202T

The 1202, released in 1966 in Japan and said by Aria to have caused "a sensation" in its home country, has a quality in look, design and tone on par with the famous American guitar makers, and it was one of many Japanese guitars that gave Gibson stuff competition.

Its tone switch features an array of gorgeous tones, from sparkling clear treble to a full-bodied low end that sounds gorgeous whether you're strumming full chords or picking a melody line.

Aria ES-335 Replica

The 1970s and early 1980s-era Aria guitars were designed to compete with popular American made models that cost more. In some respects, they were replicas of the originals. Now that a few decades have passed, many guitar aficionados believe that these Aria replicas are holding up better than the original American guitars after which they were modeled.

This 1981-era ES-335 replica, a replica of a Gibson guitar, is a classic example.

The tone is stunningly clear and mellow, as demonstrated by the gorgeous fingerpicked jazz performance featured in the video above. As the guitarist changes to distortion, the guitar also demonstrate a distinct tone quality that is expressive and fierce. It's not surprising so many guitarists have become so attached to the Aria replicas.

1970s Aria A586 Classical Guitar

These classical beauties were produced throughout the 1970s and are highly sought after. They featured a beautiful solid spruce top and a rosewood bridge, binding, sides and back, cedar neck, and traditional Spanish tuners that gave this guitar tremendous power, sustain and warm clarity for a non-amplified nylon guitar.

These vintage classical guitars only sound better with age, as the guitarist in the video notes, and if you can get your hands on one of these guitars, consider yourself lucky.

1980s Aria Pro II SB Series Bass

These bass guitars have become classic models and the posterboard example of an Aria bass guitar.

The SB series features rosewood fretboards with 24 frets, MB-II double-coil pickups, maple neck, and rosewood bridge. The SB body shape has become synonymous with Aria basses, and they seem to become better (and more in-demand) with age.

Aria 1532T Original

The Aria 1532T is the first electric guitar that Aria produced and exported to America in the late '60s, and if you can find an original, it is a gem to own. It has an iconic that screams 1960s the moment you hear it--vintage at its best.

These guitars have held up well over the years, and the original models still sound iconic and play remarkably smooth. It is also known for having the diamond insignia on its headstock.

Aria 1802T Original

If you can find an original model of Aria's second electric guitar, the 1802T, you will find its unique tone character well worth the money. It is often compared to the famous Stratocaster.

Its tone switch offers a wide range of character, from bright Strat-like blues treble to a dampened but warm jazz-style tone on its low end.

Where to Buy

Listed below are some great websites to get you started on your Aria vintage guitar shopping spree.

My Rare Guitars

My Rare Guitars has a large selection and a straight-forward ordering system.

  • Pros: It features vintage and rare guitars, custom shop options, and demo guitars with a large selection in its primary categories.
  • Cons: It doesn't have a straight-forward place to see exactly how many vintage Arias they have for sale at any given time. If you type in Aria in its search box, the search results also show articles about Aria, so it takes time to sort through the content.

Although its website could use some more robust functionality, it has a wonderfully large library of guitars on sale.

Guitar Museum

Guitar Museum is another great site because of its vast selection. It also has a great search function, which makes it easy to know how many Aria guitars it has at any given time. It has featured as many as 119 guitars at one time.

  • Pros: It has a large selection and an excellent search function.
  • Cons: Not every guitar is for sale. Users are allowed to upload photos of their guitars if they wish.

Although it really is a combination of a museum and a store, which means you can't buy everything you see, it is a wonderful site to explore.

Ebay

Ebay is a go-to location for selling items online, and it is certainly a decent place to find vintage Aria guitars.

  • Pros: Ebay is by far the most well-designed commerce facilitating website for people selling and buying personal items. Its buyer/seller practices and policies make its buying experience one of the safest, smoothest on the Internet.
  • Cons: Not every guitar is a "Buy It Now" guitar. Many of them are auctions, which means that amazing Aria you've been looking for all these years might slip out of your hands at the last moment if someone outbids you.

Ebay makes the buying experience easy to survive, but the ups and downs of auctions can be brutal if you're not able to find a "Buy It Now" version of your desired guitar.

Joe's Vintage Guitars

Joe's Vintage Guitars website is to the internet as an out-of-the-way mom and pop shop with amazing stuff is to professional pickers. The site is small, dated in its design, and does not have a large selection of Arias, but sometimes you can locate hard-to-find items or super rare guitars in places where not everyone thinks to look.

  • Pros: A good place to look for rare or hard-to-find Aria guitars.
  • Cons: Limited selection and dated site design.

A website doesn't have to be pretty or perfect to deliver the goods. It's all about finding hard-to-find items, and sometimes a place named Joe has treasures that no one else has.

Final Tips for Buying a Vintage Aria

Since these are vintage instruments, they are more difficult to find than brand new models. You'll have to be patient and do your homework to find the perfect vintage Aria.

  • Don't just do the online version of window shopping where you visit a site without interacting with the people who run the site. If you can't find what you're looking for, send the owner of the site a message letting them know what you want. They're usually happy to keep an eye out for you and email you if one comes in.
  • Watch out for forgeries. Many vintage guitars are mixed bags, meaning some parts of the guitar are original, some are not. Some people even make forgeries of alleged vintage guitars. Learn about all the original parts of a vintage guitar so that you can understand how much of a product you're buying is original and how much is restored with new parts.
  • Read this book to educate yourself: Gruhn's Guide To Vintage Guitars Updated and Revised Third Edition.

Well Worth the Effort

Although it might take some hard work, even when you follow these helpful tips, the effort pays off when you find a superb Aria guitar that represents the fine history of the Aria company and its dedication to guitar craft.

Vintage Aria Guitars