Cost: $299.00, new
Huge thanks to Kazu and the Arai & Co company for sending this great guitar, it is one of the coolest ones I’ve ever reviewed!
Overview and Final Score: 8.3
The Aria Retro-1532 is by far one of the most unique and visually inspiring guitars I’ve ever reviewed. Despite the humble price point, it actually sounds delightful. The guitar features a 3-tone sunburst finish over a basswood body with a maple neck and Techwood fretboard. 21 frets grace this 24.75″ scale length guitar, giving it a comfortable, shorter feel, almost like a souped up Fender Jaguar. Two VLS, half covered single coil pickups provide not just a unique look but a unique sound that recalls those classic ’60s big single coils found in Tiesco or Supro instruments. The slanted neck pickup is a great touch too, both visually and sonically.
The pickups are controlled by a familiar volume, tone, and 3-way selector switch, making this a fairly straight forward rock machine. A tune-o-matic bridge leads to a Jazzmaster-style tremolo system, adding further sonic options. The offset body will likely attract many Fender fans looking for a Jazzmaster or Jaguar body, but the smaller scale length should also appeal to Gibson-style players looking for an outside the box addition.
Most of the sounds that come out of this thing are really unique, much more than the more traditional single coil sound Aria’s DM-01 provided. The VLS pickups have a bit more output and crack then traditional single coils, because of their huge size, which gives all three settings a great distorted tone. At lower volumes, the cleans still shimmer and chime, especially out of the bridge and middle position, while the neck takes on an almost humbucker-like sound that is great for blues, jazz, or even atmospheric sections.
The addition of the tremolo arm especially helps make this guitar sound great for more modern indie and pop sounds where guitars may go from shimmering ambience to full bodied chords in seconds. The bridge pickup is your best bet for more of these bright sounds, while also sounding great for overdriven, tube amp garage rock with the tone just slightly rolled off. Overall, vintage single coil sounds abound in this fine guitar, and I think it adds a really quirky option to my rig for the studio or live performances.
This guitar’s playability far outperforms both the sound and price of this guitar. First off, the heavy gloss finish on the neck feels great, to my hands it makes the guitar’s neck much faster to move around on and more comfortable to play for long periods of time. It’s almost like a high end lacquer finish, and greatly out competes the DM-01’s raw-feeling neck. From there, the tuning stability is really great and the guitar has yet to move more than a bit out of tune, even after a few hours of going at it. The frets are comfortable, and while not specified, feel like medium-jumbo, and none of the edges were sharp or poorly cut.
Finish & Construction: 8.5
The finish on this guitar is beautiful and really well done, and there was no damage from shipping. Overall, the finish just doesn’t feel cheap, which is not a very specific definition, but sometimes you just know it when you feel it. So much of a guitar’s appeal to each individual is feel anyway, so I have to give the Retro-1532 props for feeling great, sounding, great, and being an overall inspiring instrument. I already raved about the neck finish and the whole neck and headstock are really the highlight of this guitar. There were no apparent flaws in any of the construction, the 3-way selector worked, the pots worked, though the tone didn’t have great spread, but that’s expected in this price range. It is both stunning and well built for a Chinese-made guitar that retails for $300.
Aria’s Retro-1532 is not just one of the most affordable guitars out there but it is probably the most affordable AND interesting guitar I’ve ever played. Often when I see instruments like this, I say to myself, wow I’d love to have one but I can’t justify spending the $500-$1000 for an Eastwood or Danelectro I’ll only use for a few songs. With this guitar being this nice at this price, it makes it incredibly accessible for those who want something sonically and visually different. I’m a big fan and can’t wait to work this guitar into my rig.