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This article was originally published in issue #9
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According to Yamaha, the 311H is designed to have the looks, feel and versatility of the 611HFM built in as standard, making real custom shop vibe more accessible than ever. The 311H is almost an exact replica of the 611HFM but lacks a few of the more 'professional' features of the high end model. You'll still get a solid alder body, bolt-on maple neck with rosewood fretboard and 22 medium frets. The flame maple top has gone, replaced with an opaque paint finish that still looks great in a variety of colours. Grover locking tuners, coil split function and the hardtail bridge are supplied but the Graph Tech saddles and Seymour Duncan pickups are replaced with Yamaha's own variants to keep costs down. That's fair enough as this is a 'budget' model.
Construction and build quality are actually on a par with the 611 model and the guitar feels identical in the hands, albeit without the American made, boutique quality hardware. The neck profile feels the same too but for some reason the factory setup was not as good as on our sample 611, with a higher action which made the guitar more of a challenge to play. A quick setup would resolve this issue though and I'm sure the 311 plays just as well as the 611 when tweaked to its best. As we always say - negotiate a set-up in the price when you buy any guitar! Upper fret access is easy and comfortable and the guitar doesn't weigh in at more than the average alder body instrument, making it reassuringly weighty but not heavy.
The pickups are in the same configuration as the 611 with a P90 style in the neck position and humbucker in the bridge with a coil split to provide single coil sounds. These are both Yamaha 'Alnico V' variants and are great in their own right - after all, 'Alnico V's' are used in Yamaha's flagship SG2000 range. Tuning stability was superb and bends felt easy and accurate across the range of the guitar. Whilst the 311 wasn't quite as easy to play as the 611, it still felt good and would be a very fast guitar once set up. The resonance and sustain on the 311H was great but lacked a little compared to the 611HFM which seemed to resonate more freely for some reason. This could have something to do with the maple top and higher quality saddles on the 611HFM, of course.
Plugged in, we tried the P90 first and it had that classic P90 sound immediately, allowing for humbucker warmth and single coil clarity. The top end wasn't quite as defined as the Seymour Duncan variant but you'd only notice it in a direct side by side comparison and the Alnico V version still sounds superb, especially at these prices. Moving down to the humbucker you get all the expected mid to high gain tones with great high and low end, with none of the mud you might expect with lower cost pickups. The coil split function works very well for classic Strat tones and as with the 611m you get a good variety of sounds on offer.
The 611HFM and 311H are very close in terms of playability and tones on offer but the 611HFM just has that boutique, custom shop look and hardware to match the slightly higher price tag. The difference in cost is relatively low in relation to the overall cost of each guitar and it is truly amazing that Yamaha are giving players so much bang for their buck. If you can afford the slightly higher price for the 611HFM I recommend that you do so. Then again, if you can't the 311H is so good that you won't feel cheated or depressed if you go for that model instead.