In 1987 I was planning on going to a music college, specialized in jazz, which required a real jazz guitar. I bought this secondhand Aria Pro II PE-175, Herb Ellis signature model (its serial number starts with a 2, so probably it’s from 1982).
It has been made in the Matsumoku factory, known for manufacturing many quality guitars for several Japanese midrange brands. Aria also was a midrange brand, but with this model they wanted to make a real quality guitar. Its model number, PE-175, seems to suggest a reference to the Gibson ES-175, although it really isn’t a one-to-one copy of that. It sooner resembles a compact kind of Gibson L5.
As often is the case with midrange brands, when they do make a quality guitar the price-quality ratio can be very good. Because of their midrange image they can’t really ask a top price for their instruments, even when they are (almost) top quality. Back then it was a guitar of around 900 dollars (new) (a Gibson ES-175 then already would have cost 1400 dollars), nowadays – if you can find one – they’ll sell for around 650 dollars.
Nowadays I often use it when being asked to play in a big band. This guitar plays very easily and has a warm yet transparent sound. With its pickup switch in the middle position, it’s even possible to get a very usable, clear funky rhythm sound out of it.