THERE ARE THOSE ICONIC INSTRUMENTS—PAUL MCCARTNEY’S HÖFNER 500/1, CHRIS SQUIRE’S
Rickenbacker 4001, Jaco Pastorius’ “Bass of Doom,” to name a few—that are so closely linked with that particular player that
the mere sight of their silhouettes can give birth to “earworms” of the tastiest variety. If the vision of the new Aria Pro II Cliff
Burton Signature Bass, modeled after the Metallica bassist’s favored SB Black ‘n’ Gold I, doesn’t immediately conjure the epic
fade-in to “Orion” and the masterful melodic bass playing that follows, please you yourself a favor by immediately studying up
on that most righteous instrumental track on Metallica’s Master of Puppets. Got it? Moving on. . . .
Tragically, just months after the release of Master of Puppets, Burton was killed in a rollover accident involving the band’s tour
bus in Europe. In his too-brief four years with Metallica, Burton elevated the role of the electric bass in heavy metal by artfully
blending a nuanced understanding of harmonic function with a take-no-prisoners performance style that became legendary. To
commemorate Cliff ’s contributions, Japan’s Aria Guitars has, with the backing of both the Metallica machine and Cliff ’s father,
Ray Burton, recreated the bass Burton swore by from 1984 to 1986. Though Aria has produced reissues loosely based on Cliff ’s
SB Black ‘n’ Gold I, this is the truest reproduction to date.
RIDING THE LIGHTNING
Lifting the Cliff Burton Signature Bass out of its ostrich hardshell case (pretty sweet in its own right), the instrument’s superb balance
and excellent playability are immediately evident. The letters “SB” in this particular line of Arias stands for “Super Balanced,” and
rightfully so; the bass balances better than most both on a strap and in a lap. True to Cliff ’s preference, the Burton Signature comes
strung with light-gauge Rotosound roundwounds that have a distinctive clack when hit hard. The smooth heel makes upper-register
access super easy, and the neck’s width—1.57" at
the brass nut—was a comfy compromise between
thin J-style width and a wider P-style width.
With passive electronics and a single pickup, I
didn’t expect a whole lot in terms of versatility, but
the Burton Signature’s coil tap switch, which puts
the pickup in either single-coil or humbucking mode,
gave the bass two distinct voices. In single-coil
mode, the bass has a sweet, well-balanced voice,
and notes seem to retain most of their upper partials.
For harder sounds, the humbucking mode
had a hotter output and a heavier low-mid growl.
Playing through select overdrive and distortion
pedals revealed that the pickup was
microphonic; a tap on the back of the bass sent
signal to the amp, and high-volume playing
with distortion produced a pretty gnarly feedback
howl. In the right settings, that might be
more of a feature than a bug, but if it were my
axe, I’d have a tech wax-pot the pickup to eliminate
Sadly, my time with the Cliff Burton Signature
Bass was cut short; it was merely stopping
over on its way to the studio of some guy named
Robert Trujillo. But judging by first impressions,
the Burton Signature has a lot of things
going for it, the official blessing by Cliff ’s dad
ARIA PRO I
CLIFF BURTON SIGNATURE BASS
Pros Superb balance; excelent playability;
coil-tap switch offers two
Cons A microphonic pickup made the
bass prone to feedback, especially
when using distortion.
Bottom Line This spot-on reproduction
of the bass Burton favored in his
later years is a worthy investment for
well-heeled heshers who want a piece
of Cliff’s legacy.
Contact Audio Images, (415) 957-9131
Body wings Alder
Neck 7-ply maple and walnut
Pickup Aria MB-V
Controls Volume, tone, coil tap
Tuners Gold-plated brass
Width at nut 1.57"
Bridge Brass with gold-plated saddles
Strings Rotosound RS66LB
Hardshell case Included
Made in Japan