The Highlight of NAMM is…a Yamaha Pacifica?
Published on 24 January 2024
The NAMM news is filtering in thick and fast here at the guitarguitar HQ! Every few hours, another exclusive wings its way across the pond via confidential email, and there are definitely some exciting bits of gear on the horizon!
The one that really got us, though, was from Yamaha. Their news about a brace of high-end Yamaha Pacifica guitars immediately grabbed our attention. We love Yamaha and we love the Pacifica, but isn’t that a student-level S-type guitar? Isn’t that the guitar we learned on and loved, but have since moved on from?
The Original Pacifica
Briefly, before I talk about these new guitars, let me refresh you on the genesis of the Pacifica model. Rewind 34 years and land your time machine in Los Angeles. The 80s ‘gunslinging’ session guitar scene was still huge at this point, and Yamaha wanted a distinctive and versatile guitar that would fit right into such a world.
The 1990 Pacifica was a collaborative effort between Yamaha Japan and their Yamaha Artist Services centre in Hollywood. The sleek, sharp S-type design with its HSS pickup configuration was a success: it was versatile and visually worked well in lots of contexts.
Affordable Pacificas such as the 112 model were basically aimed at the Squier Strat market. Offering arguably higher build quality, this model ended up winning scores of industry awards and remained a best seller for decades. The range is still popular in fact, proving how evergreen Yamaha’s initial design was!
The New Pacifica
This new model is evidence that Yamaha want a high-end Pacifica represented in today’s market. To me, this looks like direct competition for not only Fender’s Ultra Strats, but also the likes of Suhr guitars and other boutique S-types.
So, this new Pacifica is called the Pacifica Professional, and there are several interesting innovations onboard, as well as some interesting design/inspiration details. Let’s take a look…
Rupert Neve Pickups
Now, this first feature has me particularly intrigued. Rupert Neve is obviously a titanic figure in the world of mixing desks, but to my knowledge, he has never been known for making pickups. Digging a little deeper, it seems that this is more about Dennis Alichwer, Neve’s head of engineering. Apparently he has actually been developing and creating pickups for 45 years as a side-pursuit, and somebody from Yamaha’s PA division caught wind of some of his innovations.
This has resulted in a collaborative set of pickups - the first that I know of - to be branded under the Rupert Neve name. They have been designed specifically to give a ‘clear & wide’ sound, and are featured in an HSS configuration, with a covered humbucker at the bridge position.
This is perhaps the biggest talking point with these new Pacificas, but there’s plenty more to check out…
New Body Shape
Yamaha haven’t exactly redefined the Pacifica’s ‘sharper Strat’ look, but they’ve gone back and refined the curves a little, in order to allow these new models their own subtle identity. More significantly, there is chambering under the pickguard area for - according to Yamaha - better resonance and frequency response.
This element of the design has been overseen by the company’s Acoustic Design Technology department, so there’s evidence of plenty of R&D being carried out for these new Pacificas.
Here are some more interesting details that have come down the grapevine to me:
- New neck profile
- Compound radius fingerboard with new fret marker inlays
- Stainless steel frets
- New logo on the headstock (more like the original 1990 logo, less like Robocop’s handwriting)
- 2-point tremolo
You’ll see some striking new finishes on the photos strewn throughout this article. These are described by Yamaha as ‘retro-futuristic’ and are based on Japanese ‘City Pop’, a genre that uses some pretty stylised-looking art. It’s a hybrid or fusion of American West Coast scenes reimagined by Japanese illustrators.
It’s certainly a strong theme, and I see what they mean when they relate these finishes to that style. So far, I’ve seen Sparkle Blue, Beach Blue Burst and Ash Pink, all of which look super-cool and fresh.
There are also more standard finishes too, since part of the Pacifica’s MO is to appeal to session players, and those people need to be able to blend into their musical surroundings, so more subtle guitars work better.
What do you think about the new Pacifica Professional? Have Yamaha positioned their famous session-axe in just the right place for adoption by high-end players? What do you make of this news about Rupert Neve & co making pickups? It’s all very intriguing, and you can bet that we’ll have amongst the first examples brought into the UK, so keep an eye out for the Yamaha Pacifica Pro!