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This article was originally published in issue #36
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Since launching the Pacifica line of guitars in the early 1990s, Yamaha has enjoyed major global success and re-established itself as a major name in guitar production. The Pacifica was inspired by the Californian session scene of the day, where versatility was key, and this is something Yamaha has retained as a key focus for the line throughout the many successful variants that have been released since its inception.
Of all Yamaha’s guitars, the most widely recognised is probably the Pacifica 112. An entry level model, it’s been widely praised and loved since its introduction and for good reason. As a teacher, I encounter these guitars all the time and they are consistently the best guitars I come across in their price range; they play fantastically, have an impressive variety of pleasing tones to suit most occasions and seem to be borderline indestructible - there’s certainly no better way to torture test a product than observe it in the hands of multiple enthusiastic but accident-prone children!
In 2012 Yamaha introduced the Pacifica 611 as a new mid-range model aimed at players looking for a professional quality instrument at an affordable price point. Whilst the 611 was designed primarily for Blues and Rock players, the signature Yamaha versatility was still there and the model was received warmly by critics and guitar fans alike. Now Yamaha has given the 611 a hardware upgrade and introduced a new incarnation - the 611 VFM.
Straight out of the box, the 611 VFM is an impressive guitar. Its classy, vintage-inspired looks are a pleasure to behold and really suit the style of guitar Yamaha was aiming to build here. Our review model had the Root Beer finish option, a transparent gloss finish that really enhances the grain of the alder body and flame maple veneer. The headstock had a matching finish and the maple neck, with a vintage yellow-y stain, was complimented by a quality rosewood fretboard.
The neck profile of the 611 VFM felt slightly thicker than I’m familiar with from the 112, but still very comfortable in the hand and easy to manoeuvre on. The strings came set-up with a low and consistent action straight out of the box, partly due to the great fretwork on our review model. The guitar really felt like a professional instrument in my hands, with great quality construction throughout and all the controls in the perfect positions to be right at hand when needed.
Yamaha has gone for quality hardware on this guitar, and you really are getting a lot for the price. The new addition of the Wilkinson VS50 tremolo and Grover locking tuners perfectly finishes off a spec sheet that already includes a TUSQ XL nut and string tree and Seymour Duncan pickups; a Soapbar SP90 in the neck position and a Custom 5 in the bridge position. I thought this was a fantastic, complimentary choice of pickups as the Custom 5 is a really great humbucker for Blues and classic Rock with a medium output that produces less distortion than many ‘Rock’ pickups but still has a clear, strong and noticeably warm tone. Meanwhile, the SP90 produces a classic warm Soapbar tone, smooth and sweet and once again ideal for the vintage gain-type tones beloved of Rock and Blues guitarists.
Yamaha has further enhanced the versatility of the guitar by adding a push-pull tone knob to coil tap the Custom 5 pickup in the bridge position, a standard feature of the Pacifica range. The Custom 5 produced pleasing single coil sounds when the coil tap was engaged, with convincing country-style cleans and classic thin-distortion tones for riffs and bluesy chords. It’s a great feature that many players will continue to appreciate, especially useful for covers gigs and other environments where covering as much of the spectrum of guitar tone as possible with a single instrument is a necessity.
Of course, the real news for the 611 VFM is the new tremolo system and locking tuners. The Grover locking machine heads really did their job as expected from such an established brand, but the Wilkinson VS50 surprised me a little. The bar felt stiff and not as responsive as I expected. While it was great for scoops and divebombs, it was virtually impossible to create subtler vibrato effects as it came set-up from the factory. I experimented with the bar and removed the tremolo cover on the back to check how many springs they’d installed, but it was the standard three spring set-up and not four, as I thought may have been the case. At the end of the day, tremolo set-up is a personal preference and the Wilkinson trems are known for being very adjustable - you can set exactly how the bar falls away after use for example. In my opinion this guitar would benefit from the use of slightly longer tremolo springs, which would be under less strain when the guitar was tuned to pitch and therefore require less pressure to generate motion. If this were done the bar would be much more sensitive to subtle use.
On the plus side, the bar did return to zero every time and pairing it with the Grover locking machine heads has resulted in the 611 VFM consistently holding tune. Rock players may very well prefer the stiffer tremolo set-up as well, as all the typical Rock whammy bar tricks are still very much accessible whilst more aggressive playing and palm muting will have less effect on the tuning stability of the instrument. For anyone looking for a more sensitive tremolo, replacing the trem springs is also a simple and inexpensive procedure.
Despite minor gripes with the tremolo system set-up, overall this guitar completely impressed me. It sounds fantastic, plays exceptionally well and has a great vintage-inspired twist to the classic Pacifica aesthetics that really suit the raunchy Blues-Rock tones it excels at. Considering the amount of quality, name-branded hardware included I also think it’s safe to say Yamaha has upheld its reputation for value-for-money instruments.
Players who’ve started out with the 112 Pacifica and are looking to upgrade to a more professional instrument will find the 611 VFM instantly comfortable, while players new to the Yamaha world and looking for something versatile to primarily play Blues and classic Rock on would do well to check one of these out.