I was playing in a surf guitar band, looking for something to replace a truly awful Squier Stratocaster. My thought was to get a Strat. But I was a bit put off by the extortionate prices the shops were asking for them – double the US prices (I didn’t realise then that this is an old story).
So I walked into MusicFest SA in Parrow, Cape Town – an exceptional store that made you feel welcome. They’d always try to make a plan to accommodate you. There was this vintage styled Yamaha Pacifica on the wall. My buddy had bought a reverse headstock, floyd-rose bridge PAC721 second-hand as his first serious guitar. It was a wise investment. So wise that it’s still his main guitar today – and he’s a great player (I’ve seen kids do the “I am not worthy” genuflection when he solos at his shows).
Most people are familiar with entry-level Pacificas like the PAC112. These have a reputation for being amazingly well built guitars that, with a couple of upgrades, can be serious, pro-level instruments. But this one was clearly better spec’d than the US Stratocasters I’d seen in the shops–Made-in-Japan, swamp ash top, alder back, Warmoth neck (with recessed and beautifully finished bolts), Sperzel locking tuners, a two screw vibrato tailpiece, etc., etc..
I just kept coming back and playing it over and over. Finally they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Looking online it was less than half the cheapest price I could find it anywhere in the world, and a whole lot less than I’d have spent on a Fender Strat with less sterling specifications. I’ve never regretted it. It’s all the “Strat” I’ll ever need. I used it for surf for years until I got a Jazzmaster. Recently I’ve been playing it again and just marvelling at its versatility (I also scraped 13 years of gunge off the fretboard).
And I’m not the only person who thought so. I found an old Guitar Player in which the PAC904 was reviewed along with 36 other solid-body guitars, including a few American and Japanese Fender Strats and Teles (some of which caught serious flak). This is what the huge review panel – including guitar tech guru Dan Erlewine – thought:
Yamaha Pacifica 904 ($1,249; case $150)
This classy-looking Strat-style guitar has an absolutely sensuous 251/2” -scale Warmoth maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, as well as a rounded four-bolt neck joint. The neck is smooth and blemish-free, and the wide, low frets are beautifully dressed and finished. They’re so highly polished you can see yourself in ’em. Likewise, the hard white nut is the best in this lineup.
The 904’s flawless tobacco-sunburst finish looks like some ’30s-era Gibson flat-tops, and it really enhances the highly figured ash top over the alder body. The mint-colored pickguard adds a hip vintage vibe. Nice modern touches include a satin-nickel Yamaha steel fulcrum bridge, Sperzel locking tuners, and a truss rod that’s adjustable from the body end.
The Yamaha pickup scheme consists of an Alnico V single-coil neck, single-coil middle, and double single-coil at the bridge. The controls include volume, tone, 5-way selector, and a push-on/push-off tone-knob function that cuts the rear coil of the bridge humbucker. The switch was dodgy and would not stay reliably in its “in” humbucker position. The 904 is very nicely built and finished right down to the graphite-paint-shielded interior and the neat shielded wiring. The back of its cover plate is also foil-shielded.
The Pacifica 904 delivers an array of superbly balanced clean and distorted textures. It plays very nicely too; like we said, this neck is mighty good. The trem feels like a classic Strat and gave us no tuning guff whatsoever. The neck and middle pickups retain good clarity in the high-gain modes, offering excellent harmonic overtones. The bridge humbucker is especially fat and clear. The 904 also offers great Strat cluck in the in-between positions (one editor preferred them to those on his ’63 Strat), and the coil-cut position delivers yet another lovely clean sound. The Pacifica deserves an A+ for tonal balance, but its sophisticated voices are cooler for clean shimmer than field-clearing macho shred.
– Guitar Player, February 1995
One thing they don’t make clear is that the guitar doesn’t have the usual splittable humbucker. Instead it has two single coils at the bridge of varying strength. This means you get a full power single-coil pickup (think Hendrix or Dick Dale tones) and a full power humbucker sound when you hit the push-push volume knob. I don’t know why more guitars don’t offer this, and I don’t know why Yamaha are the only company that seems to be able to make a decent push-push knob (mine, unlike the review model, was not dodgy at all and still works perfectly).
Most Pacificas are out of production. But I strongly recommend people look out for the higher end used models. Like most Japanese guitars, the model numbers reflect the specs–higher number means more good stuff. There’s a pacifica for every need, from the very rare solid flame top, set-neck, shred monsters, to totally basic vintage style hard tail guitars. Confusion among guitar players that they’re all budget guitars means that people often sell high-end Pacificas for stupidly little money–making them a great way to put top-notch guitars into the hands of a beginner.