5 New PureSalem Guitars

After spending 21 years as a Miami cop, and, at one point, facing down a 14-year-old with an AK-47, starting a new guitar company in a crowded field during an iffy economy is no big deal.
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After spending 21 years as a Miami cop, and, at one point, facing down a 14-year-old with an AK-47, starting a new guitar company in a crowded field during an iffy economy is no big deal. So, when Roky Erickson fan Rick Sell wanted to follow his dreams, change careers, and make guitars, nothing short of an army was going to stand in his way.

He started PureSalem in 2012, with the goal of making kickass-sounding and playing guitars that working musicians could afford. He also wanted to pay homage to some of the more offbeat rock-guitar designs of the past, so don’t look for any Strat, Tele, or Les Paul clones in the PureSalem lineup. Of course, dreams are one thing, and reality can often be another. But when it came to actually manufacturing a line of guitars, Sell stayed true to his budget, garage-rock ethos. The 11 models in his current crew are eccentric-looking rascals indeed, and they can be had for direct prices from $625 to $825. And, in a “mission statement” that would make our left-handed, former GP editor Darrin Fox proud, Sell offers every one of his guitars in a lefty version at no additional cost.

“I’m a lefty player myself,” he says. “And I understand the frustration lefties have to go through when it comes to finding that perfect or perfect oddball guitar. It’s not a level playing field, and a lot of companies mark up their left-handed models around $100 because we have no choice but to pay. Well, it costs me less than five bucks to make a lefty as opposed to a righty, so you won’t pay more for a left-handed version of any of our guitars.”

Sell’s strange beauties also hit the mark on sound, delivering full-bodied sonics or a snotty yowl, depending on the personality of the guitar. In fact, you can pretty much determine how a particular PureSalem model will sound just by looking at it. The classic “what you see is what you get” phenomenon isn’t a bad thing at all when you’re looking quirky cool holding one of these babies. The outlandish designs and unique timbres of these PureSalem models will definitely get you most of the way to crafting some very individual and ear-catching sounds. What you then end up playing to blow an audience’s mind is going to be your burden and your delight.

BRAVE ULYSSES

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The Brave Ulysses is kind of a punk-rock dream of a Gretsch Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird. The dorky wonkiness is present on both models, but the BU is a bit more joyously low rent than the Gretsch, and it has one pickup instead of two. It also costs more than $2,000 less than what a Billy-Bo will set you back. And yet, the silver sparkle finish is groovy and flawless, and most other attributes of the Brave Ulysses betray no traces of a low-budget burner. The frets aren’t rounded and smooth like my favorite “hot dog” treatment, but they aren’t overly sharp, either. You can run your fingers down either side of the fretboard without risking discomfort or blood spill. The star inlays are a nice touch, and they are very well done. There is no evidence of filler or poor seating/anchoring into the rosewood. All of the hardware is tight as the gaskets on a nuclear submarine. Nothing rattles or feels loose. The only cosmetic issues are one slight smudge on the neck binding, and a black line near the top of the back of the mahogany neck. It looks like someone made a mark with a Sharpie and forgot to buff it out. These are not big issues, and everything else about the Brave Ulysses is locked and loaded. (Due to minor manufacturing issues such as this, Sell is having all future PureSalem models built in Korea’s MIRR factory. “This is a labor of love, and I care about long-term quality,” he says.)

As bizarre as the guitar’s shape might be to some, it actually balances well on your thigh if you want to play it sitting down, and it feels good strapped around your shoulder when rocking out vertically. The Master Volume and Kill switch are within easy reach for swells and stutter effects, although there’s not much gain available once the Volume knob is turned up past a quarter.

While it might take a bit of an epic adventurer’s spirit to hit the stage or studio with a one-pickup weapon, the Brave Ulysses gives you a fair amount of firepower for a single tone source. The basic timbre is a hyped-up and snotty midrange that really slaps you in the face with a kerrang as your strumming hand sweeps across the treble strings. It almost sounds as if you hit the guitar twice: Punch! Shimmer! In addition, the Kent Armstrong humbucker is very dynamic, revealing numerous tones depending on your attack. Obviously, the punk-rock aggro approach buys you loud, snarky, and steely overdrive. But channel your inner jazzbo, back off on the attack, and low-end runs will sound sweet and round—especially if you play passages with your fingers and thumb. Stay on the low strings, but add the edge of a fingernail or pick, and you’ll discover you’re in Duane Eddy territory. Complex chords and fast funs are always very articulate—whether using a clean or distorted tone—and while the Brave Ulysses tends to voice everything with somewhat of a high-midrange emphasis, the guitar never sounds shrill.

The original Ulysses had to contend with all manner of mythic beasts. For your musical journeys, once armed with the Brave Ulysses, you can step onto any stage, and be sure that this guitar will handle almost anything your band (or the audience) throws your way.

MODEL

BRAVE ULYSSES
CONTACT puresalemguitars.com
PRICE $699 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.65"
NECK Mahogany, set, D shape, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24 3/4" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Grover
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style
PICKUPS One Kent Armstrong Vintage 57 humbucker
CONTROLS Master Volume, Kill switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 7.66 lbs
BUILT Vietnam
KUDOS Good value. Tough sounds.
CONCERNS None.

CLASSIC CREEP

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This sharp-horned demon reminds me of something out of the Burns camp of ’60s British eccentric designs. It’s truly stunning green-sparkle finish is brought into weirdo world by odd features such as the small, three-screw white pearloid “pickguard” at the upper bout, the vintage “numbered” Volume and Tone knobs, and the wacky take on a Jazzmaster tremolo. In other words, it’s everything a garage-rock hero would ever want.

The Creep sits nicely on your shoulder, and it soon becomes almost a part of your body, making it near effortless to bounce around on stage, leap off monitor speakers, or skewer your lead singer on the cutaway if he or she starts acting like a diva. The Volume knob is well positioned for pinkie manipulations, but it’s also so close to the Tone knob that it’s impossible to do a volume swell without also moving the Tone control. Likewise, the 3-way pickup selector switch sits perilously in the path of wild strums, and it can be smacked around (and, as a result, change pickup choices) if one’s hand is less than exacting during rhythm playing. But, then again, sonic “surprises” can be kind of cool.

As with the Brave Ulysses, construction quality is very good. Nothing rattles around—well, except the vibrato arm, which makes a distracting chicka-chicka-click when using it. In addition, the vibrato arm sits loose in its mount, and I must have set a record for having that thing fall to the ground or whip across the stage as I turned around. The frets are a tad sharp, but not enough to be a big concern. However, the nut edges are very sharp, and it was uncomfortable playing chords or lines between frets one and three. Again, this is a trifle that a little sanding by yourself or a guitar tech can fix in a jiffy. I was especially impressed with the smooth feel and accurate tuning of the Kluson-style tuners. Tuning the Creep was always an “ooo, ahhhh” moment.

Sonically, the Creep is rather, well, creepy in ways both awesome and problematic. On the challenge side, when you go from the neck or combined pickup position to the bridge position, the volume drops noticeably. As there is just a Master Volume, you can’t adjust the levels between the neck P90 and the bridge P90, so what you get is what you get. And that’s a bit of a shame, because the sharp-as-a-knife bridge pickup sounds are truly wonderful. I could cut through just about any stage or band mix, and the bell-like jangle is inspiring—whether letting open chords ring, or stinging out tough, LISTEN TO ME melodic lines. Adding in the neck pickup provides the hint of a warm, bass-y timbre, which is a good thing for tonal diversity, but I could care less about that. I stuck to the bridge pickup and made some beautiful noises. The Classic Creep is made for smacking around polite, seated audiences, and getting them on their feet and dancing and hollering and making trouble. To quote Jeff Lynne in his Move days on the “Do Ya” single: “Ahhhhh, LOOK OUT!”

MODEL

CLASSIC CREEP
CONTACT puresalemguitars.com
PRICE $825 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.59"
NECK Mahogany, bolt-on, C shape, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25 1/2" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Vintage Kluson-style
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE Vintage J-Master
PICKUPS Two Kent Armstrong P90s
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 7.84 lbs
BUILT Vietnam
KUDOS Glitzy finish. Great bridge tone.
CONCERNS Some workmanship and parts issues.

ELECTRIC END

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With its magnificent greenburst finish and sharp, protruding horns, I’m tempted to view the Electric End as the evil sorta-twin of the Messenger guitar played by Grand Funk’s Mark Farner in the ’70s (and currently reissued by Eastwood). But, actually, the Electric End isn’t wicked at all. It’s an open-sounding semi-hollowbody that imparts shimmer and sparkle on every chord it meets.

The rounded curves at the top and bottom of the body make for a guitar that’s extremely comfortable to play while sitting down. Whether you’re plopped down or standing, access to the high frets is unimpeded by the Electric End’s extended cutaways. The neck feels good, playability is excellent, and intonation is stable up and down the fretboard. That sexy green finish is not spoiled by any major application issues, although there is a tiny bit of paint overrun on the starfish-like f-hole binding, and on the body binding, as well. Speaking of which, it’s a bit strange that the pickguard extends over the top “wing” on the bottom f-hole. I feel that a slimmer pickguard would have looked nicer, but this is an admittedly very picky criticism. You can slide a business card into the space between the bottom edge of the neck and neck pocket. Again, this is a minor point, and the rest of the PureSalem bolt-on neck models we evaluated were airtight. The main concern regarding workmanship is the anchoring of the Volume and Tone controls. When you turn them, they have a mushy feel—likely the result of pots not being battened down inside the guitar body. Finally, the nut edge is very sharp, but a bit of DIY repair (some light sanding) will alleviate the ouch.

Due to each of the Kent Armstrong P90s having dedicated Volume and Tone controls, the Electric End offers more tone-shaping options than any of the other PureSalem models tested. The guitar already sounds beautiful when played acoustically, so this is a major benefit. The full-on bridge pickup delivers a resounding treble over a tight midrange punch. Think about any Cure song when the guitar melody drops in, and you’ll get the idea. The neck pickup offers a resonant low end and a nice snap to the midrange. You can play complex chords and hear every note—whether you’re rocking a clean or distorted tone. Going for the combined position with the ability to blend the neck and bridge pickups—and tweak the timbre of each pickup with separate tone adjustments—is like facing a highway littered with holiday gifts as far as the eye can see. There’s simply no end to the colors you can dial in. I had a blast plugging the Electric End into various electric and acoustic amps—even a few keyboard amps and powered monitors— to discover all of the different sounds I could pull out. Granted, not every guitarist has access to an armory of amplifiers, but it’s still comforting to note that your guitar possesses enough tonal power to play nicely with almost anything you plug it into.

MODEL

ELECTRIC END
CONTACT puresalemguitars.com
PRICE $825 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.68"
NECK Mahogany, bolt-on, C shape, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 12 3/4" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Grover
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style
PICKUPS Two Kent Armstrong P90s
CONTROLS Two Volume, Two Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 7.84 lbs
BUILT Vietnam
KUDOS A ton of different sounds in one guitar.
CONCERNS Some construction issues.

LEVITATION

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The Levitation evokes images of Brian Jones playing his Vox Teardrop onstage with the Stones, except that, at almost ten pounds, this massive slab of mahogany would have broken the frail Jones into two pieces. “Leviathan” might have been a better name for this mammoth orange paddle. But all jokes about “mass” aside, this is an incredible rock guitar. If you can handle the weight, you’ll be rewarded for your fortitude with super-powerful tones and sustain for days and days and days.

Not surprisingly, the Levitation is built like a tank. It seems like it could take a direct hit from an RPG-7 shell and not even get knocked out of your hands. All the hardware—pickups, pickup mounts, knobs, bridge, tailpiece, 3-way switch, and tuners—is just as tough. Workmanship is excellent. There are not a lot of frills on this machine, but the finish is beautiful, the binding is flawless, the tortoiseshell-like pickguard is well rendered, and the star inlays are perfect. The frets are the best of the five PureSalem guitars tested. They still aren’t “hot dogged,” but the ends are rounded enough to feel good when you run your fingers down the edges of the fretboard. The Master Volume knob is within easy reach for volume swells, and although the Master Tone control is a bit farther down towards the end of the body than I’d like, I could still grab it for some “faux-wah” tonal manipulations with my pinky. Although you can play the Levitation sitting down by positioning the lower bout over your leg and angling the neck slightly towards the floor, it isn’t really a guitar for parking your butt on a bale of hay, hoedown style. This is a “stand up and get in the face of the audience” machine, and I’ll tell you why …

When I brought the Levitation to a rehearsal, plugged it into the normally rev’d up, but not obnoxiously loud settings of my Vox AC30, and hit a chord, I thought I had killed everyone in the room. After peeling pieces of my band members’ flesh off the walls, I adjusted my amp to better manage the hair-trigger, high-gain humbuckers, and I was absolutely floored by the creamy tone, the aggressive front-end pillaging of any amp you plug into, and the awesome dynamic response. Whether you go from fingers to pick, or knock back the guitar Volume a bit, the Levitation matches your performance gestures as I would imagine a Ferrari harmonizes with the pressure of your foot and the movement of the gearshift. It’s like some weird alien mind meld where everything you envision is played out in sound. Admittedly, it takes just a bit of wrasslin’ before you can train your fingers to control this beastie, but once you get there, you’ll probably risk bankruptcy buying that Ferrari, because only those mechanisms that offer the highest level of responsiveness will be good enough for you. Thank goodness the Levitation only goes for $715.

MODEL

LEVITATION
CONTACT puresalemguitars.com
PRICE $715 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1 1.65"
NECK Mahogany, bolt-on, C shape, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24 3/4" scale
FRETS 21 medium jumbo
TUNERS Grover
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style
PICKUPS Two Kent Armstrong humbuckers
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 9.96 lbs
BUILT Vietnam
KUDOS Ballsy tones. Excellent construction. Dynamic response.
CONCERNS Heavy.

WOODSOUL

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The Woodsou l is the most conventional looking of the PureSalem lot we tested, but its vintage vibe is unassailable. It’s quite possible that the Woodsoul is the illegitimate, lost offspring of a Jaguar and a Jazzmaster, but, to my fingers, this effortless wonder plays much nicer. (That’s nothing against the originals—which tons of guitarists play astoundingly well on—but the Woodsoul just happened to be my musical soul mate.) The neck invites easy—almost automatic—riffing. I could get lost for hours just seeing what songs and licks and melodies the Woodsoul beckoned me to discover. It felt so good that I quickly got over the trauma of playing a baby-blue guitar, and, ultimately, I grew to like the retro-inspired finish.

The overall workmanship is good. The frets were a tad sharper than some of the other PureSalem models, and I noticed some rough edges around the pickguard holes where the Kent Armstrong P90s were mounted. Otherwise, the finish is show-car gorgeous, and all hardware is well done. The Master Volume and Master Tone knobs are in just the right places for doing pinky manipulations, and, unlike the Classic Creep, the controls are positioned with enough space between them to ensure that turning one knob doesn’t also turn the other. Like the Creep, however, the pickup selector switch is right in the path of my strumming hand, and I did knock it around a few times. (I couldn’t bring myself to marring the Woodsoul’s striking visage by gaffer’s taping the switch to the body.) The Klusonstyle tuners are a joy to adjust, and intonation on this guitar is spot-on.

It was so much fun playing the Woodsoul that I almost spaced-out on how it sounded, and that would have been a shame, because the guitar unleashes a treasure trove of varied tones. Although the Master Tone knob is pretty much done after you move past 4, the low to high timbres between 0 and 4 are enough to emulate slight wah sweeps by turning the control back and forth. Overall, the Woodsoul is typified by round, stout tones that really pop when you hit the strings sharply with pick or fingers. Select the bridge pickup and the poppin’ turns a shade snarky, with the midrange frequencies adding some attack and bite. Go for the neck pickup, and the tone blossoms into a warm bass, but with enough mids to ensure clear, note-to-note articulation. The combined pickup position seems to be much more than the sum of its parts. You get an open ringing to the high frequencies that adds air and shimmer, the bass is thick and controlled with no mud, and the mids snap, but with a rolled-off vibe that offers clarity without shrillness. It’s so easy on the ears that its sends beauty shivers down your arm hairs, but if you’re trying to put this sound out over a band, it’s clear enough to reach the audience. It’s kind of magic, I think. In fact, there is something Siren-like about this seductive soul.

MODEL

WOODSOUL
CONTACT puresalemguitars.com
PRICE $715 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.59"
NECK Mahogany, bolt-on, C shape, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25 1/2" scale
FRETS 21 medium jumbo
TUNERS Vintage Kluson-style
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style
PICKUPS Two Kent Armstrong P90s
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 8.78 lbs
BUILT Vietnam
KUDOS Diverse, lovely tones. Trance-like playability.
CONCERNS Slight playability and cosmetic issues.

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