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Thread: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

  1. #1
    Registered User Leo37's Avatar
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    Default Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    I do not know much about this Mandolin. Its made in the 70s in Japan as a Hommage to Gibson.

    It sounds smooth and woody and with the right pick its suitable from italian to celtic folk music to bluegrass. In a quick comparison it seem not to be better or worse than a new Gibson F-9.

    I like it.

    Leo

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  2. #2
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    That's one sweet looking mando for sure.

  3. #3
    Registered User JH Murray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    Their instruments were entry level, made in Japan from 1960-88. Then everything went to Korea, which was a step down in quality. The Japanese era instruments were quite good value.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    70's Gibson.
    People keep trying to convince me that these weren't built in the same plant.
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  6. #5

    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Hilburn View Post
    70's Gibson.
    People keep trying to convince me that these weren't built in the same plant.
    Jim, you could take that a couple different ways. Saying the 70's Gibsons weren't up to par, or that the Aria was better than it had to be.....

    Of course, the same comparison could be made today with any of probably hundreds of F-5 copies.....some would be worse and I'm sure many would surpass a 70's Gibson.

    Hey Leo37, I think it looks pretty nice, too.

  7. #6
    RedKnucklesUnclesCousin GKWilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    I'm with Jim.
    If it looks like a duck …..
    vincit qui se vincit

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    I learned to play on Dad's instruments. When I left home my first mandolin was bone of those. When I decided to upgrade before the days of the Internet I had a hard time finding a better mandolin at 3 times the price I paid for the Aria. Finally settled on a Flatiron festival F. Wish I had kept both of them. Not being nosey (yes I am) but what do they bring now.I gave $375 for mine with a semi hard rectangular case in 1974.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    A little research on Epiphone when CMI was sold to ECL (Norlin) reveals that they decided to quit building Epiphone in Kalamazoo and have them built in Japan. The company they chose to do the work was Aria. However Aria sub-contracted the actual building to Matsumoku which was a general woodworking company that's main thing was Singer sewing machine cabinets but got into guitars in the 60's.
    The popular story is that rogue Japanese companies copied Gibson instruments but in this case, Gibson's parent company is contracting with the same company that is making all these mandolins.
    They also built Alvarez and some Ibanez as well as Aria and Epiphone. There are nearly identical F mandolins labeled Alvarez, Aria, and Epiphone which seem to have some variations but have far more similarities. The lack of a riser block at the neck joint, the pointy heel, the long point protectors, the orange binding but mostly the fancy inlayed finger boards.
    The Gibsons of this era are also nearly identical and have these same characteristics but we're told they were made in Kalamazoo.
    Draw your own conclusions.

  10. #9

    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    Thanks, Jim. I've never heard such a complete explanation and you could certainly make a case.

    I can certainly believe that Aria, Alvarez and Epiphone (of that period) were made in the same factory. (similar to General Motors cars from a few years ago--Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Chevy, Buick--all seem to have been built on the same chassis, with only the trim and engines being different, at least for certain models)

    Wouldn't the Gibson have a nitrocellulose lacquer finish, while the Japan made instrument used a poly?

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    I have no idea what finish is on any of them. But they usually have that dipped candy apple look.
    Now maybe the prototypes were developed in Kalamazoo for whatever reason they would have decided to incorporate all the unfortunate details and those plans sent to Aria. The pointy heel is from the teens F-4 and the fingerboard inlay from the 3-point era of the early 1900s.
    The smoking gun to me is the lump scroll a-5 and a-12 models. There are Gibsons and Epiphones. The Epi's were definitely made in Japan but the Gibson looks identical. We're supposed to believe they made the Gibson here and the Epi in Japan? Gibson controlled Epi so it's not a copy issue.
    I've posted pictures before but if your interested in this Google it and look at images.

  12. #11
    Kelley Mandolins Skip Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    Leo, I love that mandolin. When I was learning to play, one of the music stores in town had one. I lusted over that mandolin every time I saw it! I remember it sounding really great! Congratulations and enjoy it!

  13. #12

    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Hilburn View Post
    A little research on Epiphone when CMI was sold to ECL (Norlin) reveals that they decided to quit building Epiphone in Kalamazoo and have them built in Japan. The company they chose to do the work was Aria. However Aria sub-contracted the actual building to Matsumoku which was a general woodworking company that's main thing was Singer sewing machine cabinets but got into guitars in the 60's.
    The popular story is that rogue Japanese companies copied Gibson instruments but in this case, Gibson's parent company is contracting with the same company that is making all these mandolins.
    They also built Alvarez and some Ibanez as well as Aria and Epiphone. There are nearly identical F mandolins labeled Alvarez, Aria, and Epiphone which seem to have some variations but have far more similarities. The lack of a riser block at the neck joint, the pointy heel, the long point protectors, the orange binding but mostly the fancy inlayed finger boards.
    The Gibsons of this era are also nearly identical and have these same characteristics but we're told they were made in Kalamazoo.
    Draw your own conclusions.
    I owned an Aria AM900 mandolin in the late 70s and through all the 80s. I met a Bluegrass musician who was playing a Kentucky KM900 mandolin, which looked less fancy than my Aria, but sounded the same. Back in the 80s, the KM900 was an F style, like the Aria AM900. He said they were the same mandolin, built in the same factory in Japan. According to him, the AM means Aria mandolin, and the KM means Kentucky mandolin.

  14. #13
    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    I don't know about the mandolins, but archtop guitars with that brand are know to be excellent. I assume the mandolins are too.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Hilburn View Post
    A little research on Epiphone when CMI was sold to ECL (Norlin) reveals that they decided to quit building Epiphone in Kalamazoo and have them built in Japan. The company they chose to do the work was Aria. However Aria sub-contracted the actual building to Matsumoku which was a general woodworking company that's main thing was Singer sewing machine cabinets but got into guitars in the 60's.
    The popular story is that rogue Japanese companies copied Gibson instruments but in this case, Gibson's parent company is contracting with the same company that is making all these mandolins.
    They also built Alvarez and some Ibanez as well as Aria and Epiphone. There are nearly identical F mandolins labeled Alvarez, Aria, and Epiphone which seem to have some variations but have far more similarities. The lack of a riser block at the neck joint, the pointy heel, the long point protectors, the orange binding but mostly the fancy inlayed finger boards.
    The Gibsons of this era are also nearly identical and have these same characteristics but we're told they were made in Kalamazoo.
    Draw your own conclusions.
    I am a bit of an Aria nerd. Aria actually never built anything, with the possible exception of early (60's) classical guitars. They contracted out, almost exclusively to Matsumoku until around 1986. Gibson never contracted with Aria. They did contract with Matsumoku to make some Epiphone models. Matsumoku never built for Ibanez. Be aware that the Japanese makers were small factories and frequently sub-contracted with each other. So you may have had a Kasuga made neck on a Matsumoku made guitar. My main instrument is a Matsumoku made Aria Pro II bass which I have had new since 1985.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    1970

    By 1970, ECL's U.S. operation becomes "Norlin Industries Inc." and the Panamanian corporation becomes "Norlin Corporation". CMI remains a subsidiary of the U.S. operation. By ths time, Epiphone had moved production to Japan and chose Aria as its contractor. As a subcontractor to Aria, Matsumoku manufactured all Epiphone guitars until the 1980's.

    Early Matsumoku Epiphones were considered by most as inferior guitars compared to the earlier USA models. From 1970-1974, most Epiphone guitars came standard with bolt necks, generic parts and mostly unrecognizable body shapes, including archtops and acoustics.

    These body designs were pre-designed shapes already in use Aria, who also contracted through Matsumoku. The acoustic and archtop models used the familiar blue "Kalamazoo"-type Epiphone interior labels and early models make use of actual left-over Kalamazoo labels bearing the "Union Made" designation. The first year model year nomenclature was carried-over from the Aria models. In 1972 new model designations using the alpha prefixes "FT", "EA" and "ET" were used on these imported Epiphones.

    Many of the acoustic guitars had screws and a neck plate on the back of the instrument as well, while other models had necks that were screwed in from the interior of the guitar and were mostly undetectable without close inspection.

    I think this from an Epiphone Archive site is where I got that Norlin had contracted with Aria.

  17. #16
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    is there a wood-burned stamp, "Hand Made" inside the instrument?

    I've had four Aria mandolins. Japan f-model, Japan a-model, and two that were of some other ilk - Korea? Don't even want to know. The non-Japanese ones were just bad!

    The Japanese ones (a-model in particular) was a fine instrument. Very well made wooden binding, hand carved and sounded just fine! The f-model (PM-780) was just fine too. It had a narrow nut and that was it's limitation for me.

    Enjoy - it looks great!

    f-d
    ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

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  18. #17
    Registered User Russ Donahue's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    My first mandolin purchase was a brand new Aria style "A" mandolin way back in 1975.
    One watch by night, one watch by day...if you get confused, just listen to the music play.

    1916 Gibson A1, 2013 Collings MF, 2018 Pomeroy Oval V style, 2019 Northfield Big Mon F
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  19. #18

    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    An "Aria nerd," just the man I've been looking for! I've been working on a Shiro SM-900 for some folks at a local church, and have had no luck despite hours online learning whether it's built of solid or laminated woods, carved or pressed, or even what the sides and back are made of (although I'm guessing birdseye maple). It is visually identical to the Aria AM900 that kicked off this thread, including fretboard inlays. There is no serial number written on the label. Did Shiro precede Aria as the brand designation, or vice versa? Does the AM-900 parallel the SM-900? Any facts you might offer would be appreciated. Thanks. Bill

  20. #19
    Registered User mtucker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Nevin View Post
    My main instrument is a Matsumoku made Aria Pro II bass which I have had new since 1985.
    BTW, I don’t have to tell you that the Japanese made Pro II’s are kickass basses and perhaps one of the most underrated until Burton played them and people began to realize what they are. I’ve played a number of them and they’re bad to the bone.

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  22. #20

    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    I posted this in 2013 about my Aria Pro II PM-1000, the only one I've ever seen:
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...highlight=Aria

    When I started learning to play in the mid '70s, I saw a lot of Aria and Aria Pro II F-models in the music stores and at the fiddlers conventions in northwest NC and southwest VA. I got mine around 1976, from local fellow who had worked at Reliable Music in Charlotte, which was a big Aria distributor.

    They were relatively affordable alternatives to the Gibsons of the day, but seemed to lose the market to the Kentucky models. I think Gene Johnson (of Diamond Rio fame) might have played an Aria when he was with J.D. Crowe and the New South.

  23. #21

    Default Re: Aria AM900C - Made in Japan

    My first mandolin was an Aria AM 200CA built in Korea, in candy apple red, no less! (Well, maybe just a smidge darker).

    Despite looking and feeling a bit cheap compared to my 1920s-ish Meyer bowlback and Washburn flatback, it's really lasted, and it plays and sounds well enough to've kept me coming back. It was probably built in the 90s or early 00s, so whatever the Korean factory was doing at the time, it turned out at least one acceptable instrument.

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