The Yamaha Pacifica Ultimate...
Yamaha’s Pacifica range is best known for the 112 – launched in 1993 it turned the market for affordable guitars on its head and proved that a £200 guitar could be built with just the same focus on being a great player’s guitar as one costing many times as much.
But the Pacifica range was originally envisaged as Yamaha’s place to offer the ultimate guitar, price no object – the first, high-end only models had ultra-high specification including aluminium neck joints, custom switching and exotic body and neck materials. As Yamaha’s custom shop for prototyping and artist work, and the home of the Pacifica design, Yamaha’s Hollywood design centre – now part of Yamaha Artist Services Hollywood - wanted to show just what was possible and so, for a tradeshow in 1993 – the same year the 112 was launched – built the 1-off Pacifica Ultimate.
Surprisingly typical of Yamaha’s ability to span the entire market for a product, from top to bottom, while the big news in 1993 was the Pacifica 112, a guitar that’s gone on to become Yamaha’s most successful electric guitar ever, the guys at the custom shop in Hollywood were flexing their guitar-building muscles and making the most expensive Pacifica ever.
On paper the spec of the Pacifica Ultimate is everything you’d expect from a guitar from any serious custom shop – solid premium North American Alder body, birdseye maple neck and an ebony fingerboard. But it’s the finishing touches that really make this guitar, the most obvious of which is the somewhat unconventional choice of material for the top. If you’re expecting AAAA flame maple, you’ll probably be a little surprised to find out that this guitar has a chipboard top. Yes, that’s right, chipboard – a cheeky nod towards Yamaha’s move to eradicate plywood from electric guitar bodies and probably the biggest thing that set the 112 aside from it’s competitors.
But the custom cosmetics don’t end there – the inlays in the stunning ebony fingerboard are guitar parts – resistors, screws, mini switches and the like – set in clear epoxy and the hardware – gold armour plate – was custom fabricated at YASH. Even the pickups and pickguard, all matching black/white pearl, and the one of a kind threaded volume and tone knobs were custom made at YASH.
It’s an interesting guitar, the Pacifica Ultimate. It’s clearly a concept-car style exercise in the finest ‘look what we can do’ fashion but it’s also a fantastic piece of design with the entire concept carried out with incredible dedication to getting every detail right, down to the very last thing – the custom flightcase isn’t aluminium or diamond board, but chipboard faced to match the guitar.
It plays too – big time. The concept-car analogy stops as soon as you plug it in (concept cars are often undriveable - effectively life size models) and realize that this is one very, very serious guitar. It plays superbly and sounds nothing short of amazing. A long way from just a pretty face – it’s a design concept and an exercise in what’s possible but it’s also a proper guitar from a proper guitar builder.
And that, really, is the most interesting part. Nobody really knows Yamaha do this stuff, because they don’t shout about it. Yamaha’s massive Indonesian guitar workshop produces more than half a million guitars a year, including some of the best selling guitars in the world like Pacifica 112, F310 and APX500. But the flipside of the coin is the small, artisan workshops that start with the Japanese facility responsible for SG and L Series, making less than a couple of thousand guitars a year and ultimately end up with YASH where a team of 2 hand build prototype and artist instruments, fabricating their own 1-off hardware pieces along the way.
And the price? Well, according to YASH’s Director, Ken Dapron, cost for another Pacifica Ultimate would likely be $10,000. But don’t rush to your local Yamaha dealer just yet – sadly YASH’s custom shop isn’t open to the public, only Yamaha’s International Artists and the R&D team.
Think of ultra high-end, custom shop guitars with one-off fabricated hardware, features and cosmetics you simply can’t get anywhere else and you probably don’t think of Yamaha. But maybe you should….