The photo on the right shows the wonderful SB collection belonging to Eero Martin of Finland. Between the basses hang magazine adverts relating to the SB series. A masterpiece of presentation - I'm sure each of us wishes we had a room like that at home!
Eero has been a regular contributor to these pages, and that is how they have worked. Readers who own an SB have been encouraged to send in photos and stories about their instrument to share with everyone. Without their wonderful contributions this resource would not exist. However please note from now on (July 2011) I will only post important contributions such as first photos of a particular model or some kind of rare finish or celebrity basses.
Aria's SB-1000 bass is widely recognised as the first high-quality original Japanese bass. Several noteworthy bassists such as John Taylor of Duran Duran and Jack Bruce helped popularise SBs in the early 80's, but the models' heyday was short-lived. Nowadays with so many other good basses on the market, SBs have become something of a forgotten secret. Yet these basses not only look beautiful, they sound good, play well if they've been properly looked after, and are superbly and solidly constructed.
Aria are still producing SBs in Japan (see below), and recently reissued the SB-1000 which sells in the UK for a hefty £1500. However this site deals mainly with the original SBs from the early 80s. If you can find a good secondhand example you may be getting a real bargain!
I first came across SBs in a book called The Complete Guitar Guide by David Lawrenson. I bought this book in Summer of 1983, and still enjoy dipping in to it. Lawrenson gives reviews of guitars, acoustic guitars and basses which were around in shops in the UK at the time, as well as potted biographies of some famous players. Three SB models are featured, and here are my crappy scans of the SB-1000, SB-R80 and the incorrectly named SB-R60. (Files are large for easy reading.)
Careful thought has also gone into Aria's hardware. In the original series, each pickup has a little ledge where you can rest your thumb. The jack socket is on the front of the bass which makes it easier to play sitting down and easier to locate in the dark. The bridge is a very rock-solid design, and I love the fact that the strings slot in rather than passing through holes. It makes changing them a dawdle.
Smaller/shorter bass players may find the typical SB something of a handful. They can be heavy instruments (see below). It is also quite a stretch to the first fret.
The long, distinctive headstock has an end shaped like an open book, while some older SBs have a cutout which makes the end look like a pair of bat's ears.
Machine heads are the small, fully-enclosed, smooth kind that has become standard nowadays. The body sides of the bass are often made from ash, and are coloured or stained to highlight the through-neck. There are various side finishes available, including black, blue and red. Personally I think the most attractive are the golden and honey stains.
Most SBs are not as heavy as these, and your shoulder will be spared!
Such basses have dot fret inlays and a narrow yet deep, super-fast neck. Slung with a lowish action, it is possible to play at lightning speed. If my bass is typical, the neck measures 44 mm wide at the nut. At the 12th fret the width is just 52 mm but a large 83 mm round the back. At the brass bridge the string-gap is a very narrow 16 mm, in fact the strings run almost parallel!
The SB-R80 shown is typical of this family. It has two pick-ups (the single pick-up version is called the SB-R60) and, for comparison, the neck is 42 mm wide at the nut, 55 mm at the 12th fret but still the same 83 mm round the back. The string-gap at the bridge, chrome this time, is a more normal 18 mm. That's still narrower, I am told, than a Fender Jazz! The strings on SBs such as this have a more pronounced taper inwards from bridge to nut than the narrow-necks have.
On the SB-R80, tone and volume pots are stacked for each pick-up, and as well as the teardrop-shaped pick-up selector there is a flick-switch for each pickup.
The truss rod cover seems completely genuine. Perhaps Aria had a change of mind one day? Does any reader own another SBR-? Your theories are welcome, dear reader.
Although SB pickups are fully-enclosed, they sometimes do go wrong. Faulty ones cannot be easily repaired. In the UK there are two places you might try. Andy Blake, the Pickup Wizard in Wales may be able to help. He does not make exact replicas but can make something similar. Alternatively I can personally recommend the excellent replacements made by the English manufacturer Aaron Armstrong :
Old Surrenden Manor
Tel (UK) 01233-820082, or email Aaron.
Click here for a diagram showing how to wire Aaron's pickups into a passive circuit. The switch is a DPST switch.
If you would like to contribute, please do not send actual photos of your circuit. Even with a good close-up shot it is not always obvious which wire goes where. Please make a sketch in pen or pencil or use a graphics program if you can.
I go for 45, 65, 80, 100 gauge Ernie Balls on my narrow-necked SB-700, and 45, 65, 85, 105 Ernie Balls on my wide-necked SB-R60 and also on my SB-1200. These have no coloured windings and suit the wooden finishes. On my red SB-R80 I like 45, 65, 85, 105 GHS Boomers Flea Signature which have red windings at the headstock end only.
Nowadays Nobuaki still designs basses and other stringed instruments, for his own company Atlansia in Nagano. His work remains right at the cutting edge of design, as you can see if you visit the Atlansia website. The site is in Japanese, but you can easily spend an hour drooling at the pictures. The sheer quality and innovation evident on the website is breathtaking. Some of the basses look gorgeous, some look a bit strange, but all are works of art.
My thanks to Masaki Kano and The Rat Hole (see above) for their help with this section.
If looking to buy, I suggest you start by looking locally - in music stores, music magazines and newspapers - because it is best to try before you buy. Failing this, you could try online. You get a fair number coming up on eBay (.co.uk for UK equivalent), or you could try Gbase. There are often Classified sections on Websites like Harmony Central. Try BassLinks for some other possible avenues. Good luck!
SBs have been fetching very handsome prices recently on eBay here in the UK. It looks like people are starting to appreciate their enduring quality. Recent prices include a pearl-white SB Elite I for £450, an oak-finished early SB-700 for £420, a paduak-red SB-R60 fetched £360 and a black/gold SB Elite I went for a hefty £510! It all depends on model, condition and playability. On the other hand some sellers are asking ridiculously high amounts. As a guide, personally I would not pay more than £700 for any used SB.