Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Aria PE 175 Herb Ellis

By Jack Zucker

The Aria PE 175 (Herb Ellis) was made during the '70s and '80s and '90s. The '70s and '80s versions where made in the highly regarded Matsumoko factory in Japan which made the Greco, Tokai and other copies of gibsons which many folks preferred to the originals. Later, these guitars were reissued and made in South Korea and were not very good so make sure you are buying a japanese model if you decide to venture into these waters. Sometime in the early '80s, Herb Ellis signed a contract with Aria and the guitar officially became his namesake model instrument and has his name inlaid on the fingerboard and initials on the pickguard.

The original model was roughly based on the Gibson 175 with a mahogany neck, though it had an ebony fingerboard, 16" maple plywood body and L5 style tailpiece. The ebony used for the fingerboard is of a very high quality, easily equal to what Gibson was using during this time period. Like many japanese guitars, the neck is a bit on the slim side but I find it very comfortable and easy to play all the way up the neck. Frets are approximately like Dunlop 6105s which are considered slightly smaller than jumbo. It's got a metal tuneamatic tailpiece and dual humbuckers which are VERY good. At some point, sound posts were installed in these guitars under the bridge. Mine (1983) does not have a post from what I can tell. (I have not inspected it with the pickups out and a mirror). It may be that the earlier versions did not have this feature. One other example I have played did have the sound posts.

The neck angle is very good on these guitars, allowing very low action and in that regard it's like Ibanez, in that it's got somewhat of a "hot rod" guitar feel. It's effortless to play fast on.

In terms of tone, the guitar is 175esque in quality but it's got a bit more velvety top end and not quite as much acoustic resonance.
The amplified tone is extremely even and somewhat compressed, but in a good way. Because of this  compression the guitar is very suitable for playing fast Bensony lines. And with the velvety top end, it's very rewarding to play octaves or block chords a la Wes Montgomery, more than would be the case with a Gibson 175. Even without the soundposts, it's slightly less prone to feedback.

I'm not sure how many of these were made but they seem to be somewhat rare. You typically see them selling for around $800-$1000 on ebay. Everyone I have played has had a flawless setup and like Ibanez, they seem to be made so well that it's rare to find one that has any issues with the neck or playability.

This guitar is easily as good as any of my top guitars and in fact, I prefer it to many of the solid top boutique guitars I have owned. It's got a more even tone, very mellow and has the warmth of the '60s jazz guitar records by Tal Farlow, Joe Pass, etc.


  1. I'd have to agree with you on the points you made about the PE-175. I have a mint-condition, 1981 model (with a soundpost) that I wouldn't trade for anything. I've owned over 100 archtops of all kinds many of which I kick myself for selling. Due to financial conditions, I recently had to sell most of my collection, including some archtops that broke my heart to sell. I kept only one jazz archtop...the Aria PE-175...which is the finest sounding one I've ever owned regardless of brand. I've had it for over 10 years and fall in love with it every time I take it out of the case. With the right amp, I sound just like Kenny Burrell (without the talent). You mentioned how great the pickups sound. I've had many Matsumoku-made Aria archtops from the mid '70's to mid-'80's and the pickups all sounded better than great. If you search Ebay hard, occasionally you'll find a pair of them that somebody took off their old Aria and have no idea how much they're worth. Several years ago, I bought a pair of them on Ebay for $7.00! These Aria PE-175's and PE-180's are fine, pro level instruments you can take to any gig and be proud of.

  2. Hi. I'm considering buying one of these (1985 according to the current owner). Great shape and sounds very good. The action is a bit high at the 12th fret. I'm think some bridge adjustments might help this. Looks like there is truss rod access from the head. Anybody every try adjusting that on this guitar? I wouldn't do it myself but might ask a good tech. to try it if needed. Thanks.