Shiro Arai and Shrio Arai Co.
In The Beginning
The Arai-Matsumoku Alliance
Enter the "New" Aria Pro II - A New Identity
Arai, like other Japanese guitar distributors had begun bringing in skilled engineers and popular players to influence the design of their guitars. The "new" Aria Pro II line was designed by H. Noble (Nobuaki Hayashi), and was produced by Matsumoku. Quality was improved considerably and the models sported unique and innovative designs. Many models came stock with phase/series-parallel/coil-cut switching not commonly found on other guitars. Other innovations included active power boosts and unique tone circuits. Matsumoku's attention to quality and construction techniques soon began to attract people's attention and the line had easily jumped from entry-level to intermediate and even pro quality instruments.
At the top of the line were the PE Prototypes which appeared in 1977. Many of you have seen some of them as the PE "Masterpiece" or "The Aria Pro II". Many other high quality models were introduced, and for a decade, the Aria Pro IIs continually remained at the top of their class! Other notable models were the Thor Sound, Tri Sound, Noise Killer, Cardinal, and RS series (some of which are pictured here in the GG).
Matsumoku not only produced the Aria Pro II guitars but a number of other well known brands such as Vantage, Westone, Skylark, some of the Japanese Epiphones, and the Japanese Washburns. The most notable of the Vantage line were the VP and VS series incorporating many of the same electronics features as the Aira Pro IIs. A number of neck-thru models of extremely high quality were produced and still command prices worth respect.
Westone (as well as Electra) were distributed in the US by Saint Louis Music. Westone was also distributed in the UK and some models actually debuted there before they hit US soil. The two most impressive of the Westones in my opinion were the Prestige and Session II. Quite a few different models were offered including the Spectrum series, Dynasty, Dimension, Concord series, Pantera series, and Raider to name a few. If you love the Westones, your Westone search is not complete until you have been to The Westone Guitar and Bass Resource Site!
A number of other guitar brands were also manufactured by Matsumoku, some documented and some not. As time goes on, some are spotted and at least partially identified. Such is the case with the mysterious Skylarks. The Japanese Washburn Wing series as well as the Japanese Epiphone Scroll can be credited to "Uncle Matt"!
Production continued at the Matsumoku plant until the latter part of 1987 when, due to production costs, manufacturing was moved to Korea. Shortly after, the Matsumoku plant was sold to Singer and all guitar production ceased. If I understand correctly, the plant was destroyed some years later in a natural disaster (earthquake I believe).
Several of the names survived or have been revived originating from Korea and the UK. Aria Pro II and Aria as well as Vantage and Epiphone are now produced in Korea. Westone has been revived and several models are available in the UK and sport much the same looks as the Prestige which it is modeled after. Aira/Aria Pro II continues to live on and the model line has changed and expanded considerably to meet present day demands. The TA, FA, and PE series are still alive and kicking!
May "Uncle Matt" rest in peace! "He" will be fondly remembered by those of us who still play "his" guitars! At least some of the names he created live on today and with any luck, will forever.