Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #9
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
Yamaha's Pacifica series was launched in 1990, driven by the California session scene of the day. They later became the budget guitar of choice for the clueful, constructed from real tonewoods and featuring great hardware for an equally great price. With a recent re-boot to the series and a bevy of new models, Tom Quayle checks out the 311H and 611HFM models to see if they can live up to the previous generation's reputation… We think he was impressed.
As an owner of a Yamaha Pacifica 112v model, I'm aware of the high quality of Yamaha's Pacifica range and their amazing value given the hardware and tones on offer. As such, I was pretty excited to check out these updated models and found myself drooling over the specs on Yamaha's website. The Pacifica range has been around since the early '90s and started as a high-end session guitar for the California scene, as used by technical studio and Rock/Fusion players such Jeff Kollman, Mike Stern and Michael Lee Firkins. The range became better known with the release of the budget Pacifica 012 and 112 models that used solid alder bodies that conrasted interestingly with the plywood that was being used in some of Fender's budget range at the time. These guitars were renowned for their great build quality and sound for a very small price tag and became the budget guitar of choice for many in the mid to late '90s. Other models followed to expand the range but a recent re-launch of the has seen a series of Pacificas released with expanded hardware and updated finishes bringing back a little of that initial Californian session scene flavour but retaining the affordable prices. I could hardly wait to get stuck in!
The first guitar we tried, the Pacifica 611HFM, sits firmly at the top of the range, featuring a solid alder body, flame maple top, bolt-on maple neck with a rosewood fretboard and 22 medium frets. Onboard hardware is high-spec, featuring Grover locking tuners, Seymour Duncan SP90-1n and Custom 5 pickups, a hardtail bridge with Graph Tech String Save saddles and a push-pull coil split for the bridge humbucker. The body design follows Pacifica tradition with a definite Strat influenced shape, featuring comfortable contours and supreme construction. The neck is finished in gloss but doesn't feel sticky at all and adds to the custom feel of the guitar as a whole. The Pacifica headstock can elicit love or hate reactions but I've always been a fan and think it complements the body shape very well. The new Pacifica logo looks great and adds a high-tech feel to the design. A lovely tortoiseshell pickguard completes the design and makes for a very classy looking but modern looking guitar available in a range of colours.
The first thing that struck me about the 611 was the superb factory setup. The guitar was provided with 10's on and played like a dream, with a low action and comfortable string tension for bends and vibrato. Faster playing was a breeze on the modern profile neck and the medium frets and Graph Tech Tusq nut make for a smooth ride on 'bluesier' outings and wide bends. Upper fret access is easy and unhindered by the bolt on neck joint and tuning stability is as good as it gets thanks to those Graph Tech saddles and the Grover locking tuners. Players looking for a floating trem will need to look elsewhere in the range, as the 611 features a hardtail bridge but, as expected, this provides excellent sustain and adds to the existing superb tuning stability.
Acoustically the 611 has the kind of resonance that gives you high hopes for its electric tone and the sustain is obvious from the outset. Plugged in, the versatile combination of pickups gives a range of glorious tones, the SP90-1n being particularly impressive. I'm a huge fan of P90 pickups and I think it's a brave and wise move on Yamaha's part to use this often under-valued pickup in their new range. In use, I managed to get a whole range of sounds from this pickup from a subtle Jazzy clean tone and low gain Blues sounds with clarity and plenty of bottom end, to higher gain smooth lead tones that sung for days. It's the perfect combination of vintage feel and tone mixed with the ability to handle modern levels of gain.
The Custom 5 bridge pickup offered superb mid to high gain rhythm tones with lots of bottom and high end and a great feel and dynamic attack. All manner of high gain lead tones can be achieved and the sustain from the fixed bridge adds to the rock credentials of the 611. With the volume backed off the more vintage side of the Custom 5 shines through and it cleans up very well. The addition of a coil split adds further versatility to the combination and even though the pickup switch only has 3 positions a wide variety of tones are available.
The 611HFM certainly lives up to its original studio heritage and creates a package that is such superb value that even the most ardent Fender and Gibson fans would be hard pushed to ignore it. This guitar certainly has a boutique, custom shop feel to it and never reveals its lower-end price tag. If I didn't know better I'd assume this guitar cost three times the price. Yamaha have achieved great things here. Check on out now.