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 the microphonics.
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 among them.
ARIA PRO I I
CLIFF BURTON SIGNATURE BASS
Pros Superb balance; excelent playability; coil-tap switch offers two distinct voices.
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