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Yamaha Pacifica 1611MS review

Unsung for too long, it's time to take a closer look at Yamaha's only signature electric – Mike Stern's superlative T-style Pacifica

  • £1713
  • €1972
  • $3299
Yamaha Pacifica 1611MS
(Image: © Future / Neil Godwin)

Our Verdict

The Yamaha Pacifica 1611MS is deserving of a much higher profile. It is an exceptional instrument that balances the vintage appeal of a T-style with a functionality that makes it fit for all kinds of styles.

Pros

  • Nice, clean and simple design.
  • Versatility is incredible.
  • Weight and balance are spot on.
  • Immaculately finished.

Cons

  • No case included.
  • No colour options.

What is it?

Over the years, Yamaha has built and designed a number of impressive electric guitars but only ever one signature model, the Yamaha Pacifica 1611MS.

Originally launched in 1998 – then under the designation 1511MS – the 1611MS truly is a one-off for the company and something of a head-scratcher. Why is no one shouting about this guitar more often? Built for Grammy-nominated jazz guitarist Mike Stern, it regularly gets overlooked in "Best ..." lists and for no good reason.

It truly is a one-off. It's Yamaha's only single cut, comprising a lightweight ash body, a bolt-on maple neck and maple 'board – all cut from the one piece of maple, with no separate slab for the fretboard. 

In size and proportions, it is very much the T-style, albeit with a slightly shallower body at 44.5mm, with a little binding and a sharper, deeper cutaway on the treble horn. There's the truss rod adjuster buried under the 'guard, the skunk stripe on the back of the neck. There is a hint of the offset about it, too.

The feel is old-school Telecaster, with a 7.25-inch radius fingerboard quite a radically different proposition to the flatter 'boards of the other Pacificas we've played and loved

The feel is old-school Telecaster, with a 7.25-inch radius fingerboard quite a radically different proposition to the flatter 'boards of the other Pacificas we've played and loved. But then, those Strat-esque Pacificas are very different beasts.

Elsewhere, we've got an ashtray-style bridge plate housing a string-through-body six-saddle bridge – a welcome departure from the three-saddle setup, or so says the stickler for intonation.

And while the T-style control setup is similar – three-way selector, volume, tone, we've got a hot-rod pickup pairing of a Seymour Duncan HotRails single coil-sized humbucker in the bridge and a zebra ’59 standard-sized humbucker in the neck.

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The fretboard is the facing of the neck, with no extra wood laid on top.

The fretboard is the facing of the neck, with no extra wood laid on top. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
Image 2 of 5

The six-saddle bridge allows you to be a little more exacting with the intonation.

The six-saddle bridge allows you to be a little more exacting with the intonation. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
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The zebra ’59 'bucker is an excellent neck pickup choice.

The zebra ’59 'bucker is an excellent neck pickup choice. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
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Three-way lever selector, volume and tone – reassuringly familar.

Three-way lever selector, volume and tone – reassuringly familar. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
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The block heel is very Tele, but the cutaway is more generously proportioned.

The block heel is very Tele, but the cutaway is more generously proportioned. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

Performance and verdict

The vibe of the 1611MS is eerily vintage. The fingerboard is oil-finished and will require a bit of love. It'll wear in well. The block heel is usually dispensed off in these modern reinterpretations but it stays here. It's no real barrier to the upper-frets anyway, as the lower cutaway is that bit deeper.

As far as weight goes, at 6.6lbs, the 1611MS is very kind to the back. The neck shape is interesting. It's a C-profile, 21.5mm at the first fret, tapering out to 23.2 at the 12th. That feels a little more modern, and certainly there no notes were choking out when bending further up the neck.

If the T-style illusion is building, it's dispensed a little when we plug in. The pickup choice transforms the 1611MS, and even during the usual throat-clearing open chords it presents itself as more Les Paul than Telecaster, with a thicker warmer voice that of course makes more sense if you are intending on playing jazz.

Also consider...

(Image credit: Fender)

Fender American Ultra Telecaster
A neck heel that disappears, hum-free pickups and well-voiced control circuits means that there’s very little to get in the way of creating the music you want to make.

Yamaha Revstar RS820CR
It’s very Les Paul-like, with thickness and balance; it’s powerful but not over-hot, and an easy drive to capture some fruity classic rock, or more contemporary gained voices. 

On the bridge pickup, much of the sharp edges of a Tele's treble is planed off, replaced by the extra oomph and width of a humbucker. The detail and clarity is still exceptional. On the neck, there is jazz tones on tap, but you can easily dial in some great neck lead tones, nuanced, and vocal.

In the middle position, with both pickups pressed into service, there is so much territory to explore, only supporting our suspicions that, while this might have been built with a jazz player in mind, this is a guitar for all seasons.

It's crazy to think that this has been kicking around for 22 years now, having been subtly refreshed in 2016 with Yamaha's IRA (Initial Response Acceleration) technology, which “shakes off the stress often found in new guitars and makes them extremely vibrant and responsive”.

There is no one style that recommends itself to the 1611MS. From its simple, classic build to clever pickup choice, it's a sumptuous T-style with humbuckers that invites the explorative player to find their own voice. 

In turn, we'd encourage Yamaha to find theirs and shout a little more loudly about this model. It deserves to be celebrated; it deserves to be played more. 

MusicRadar verdict: The Yamaha Pacifica 1611MS is deserving of a much higher profile. It is an exceptional instrument that balances the vintage appeal of a T-style with a functionality that makes it fit for all kinds of styles.

Hands-on demos

The Music Zoo

Yamaha

Specifications

(Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
  • ORIGIN: Japan
  • TYPE: Single-cutaway solid-body electric
  • BODY: Light ash
  • NECK: Maple bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Synthetic bone/40.53mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Maple, black dot markers, 184mm (7.25”) radius
  • FRETS: 22, medium jumbo
  • HARDWARE: Hardtail 6-saddle bridge w/through-body stringing, vintage-style tuners – chrome/nickel-plated
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 54mm
  • ELECTRICS: Seymour Duncan Hot Rails single coil-sized humbucker (bridge) and zebra ’59 standard-sized humbucker (neck), 3-way lever pickup selector, master volume and tone
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3/6.6
  • OPTIONS: None
  • RANGE OPTIONS: It remains the only single-cutaway Pacifica in the Yamaha range. Other Japanese-made models include the Revstar RSP20CR (£1,496), the long-running SA2200 (£1,978) and the modern SG 1800 trio at £3,200 each
  • LEFT-HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: Natural (as reviewed). High gloss body, oil-finished neck
  • CONTACT: Yamaha