Pure Salem Guitars Color Poster
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.
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 akerrang 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.
PRICE $699 direct
NUT WIDTH 1.65″
NECK Mahogany, set, D shape, 12″ radius
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24 3/4″ scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
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
KUDOS Good value. Tough sounds.