Sunday 13 September 2015

'Move over Crockett, there's a new badass in town' : PureSalem Guitars

By: Marc Gaffney

I have been very fortunate to write about people I have grown up listening too and revere,  including talking to cats that could give a fuck with who is on the other line as long as they make them look good, however It is when you get to speak to people that are behind the scenes and music is their passion, vice, their muse that crashed them into the rocks of roll, that truly resonates. 

There a few people I have interviewed where at the end I feel like I am a better person and have been touched by a noble being that, you know what, gets it, and gets it for the real reason, love of music.  Input Rick Sell, the man behind PureSalem guitars from Miami, FL.

Just within 3 minutes you know Rick is the real deal and is the Rocky Balboa of the American guitar scene at the moment. Starting from the ground up in Miami,  a town when one picturing a place to start a 6 string company  is not the guitar capitol of the world, more like go Canes, Scarface, and whomever has their fat ass taken a photo of and we are supposed to say it’s not what it is, a fat ass.

Rick came to me via my editor Aaron, and a mate of mine, sugar Pat Harrington and the rest is history.  Keep in mind the roster of the cats that play PureSalem is no joke.  Rick could have namedropped like a motherfucker, but not one ounce. Wanna know why? Survey says the guitars are so well built and beautiful that they do the talking; in a genuine way in which after reading, you will hop on the site and truly dig what his genius designs are about.

So turn down the lights, maybe put on some Flaming lips and away we go.

SL- Thank you so much and chatting with us as I know you have had a busy schedule and a recent scare with a friend of yours. To get into it, what was the first guitar you came up with?

Rick- The first guitar I designed, really all of this comes out of me because I’m really a frustrated lefty player. You go into Guitar Center and they have 200 or 300 guitars for righty players and then there are 3 lefties. A Les Paul, Tele and some kind of Ibanez shredder guitar. It was never anything unique. Not that they weren’t good but they were not unique and I liked the stranger shapes and things like that, so too answer your question, I didn’t do one I did 5 different shapes with a factory out of China that I had contacted and what they promised I was gonna get and what they delivered where two very different things.

Basically I got a shit load of guitars that were firewood. I opened the box, checked them out and my heart sunk. Holy shit what am I gonna do with this? I’m a regular guy; I don’t have tons of money in the bank to chalk it up to misfortune. So I was in a pickle. So to answer your question, we have a model now called the Classic Creep. That was a take on a really old Japanese guitar that no one knows where it even came from. I do not know if you are familiar with the site, Drowning in Guitars, the guy who runs that is incredibly knowledgeable about 60’s era Japanese style. So I saw the guitar and he didn’t know anything about it.

He thinks he knows where it is from but it’s a mystery guitar and I loved the shape of it and that was the first guitar I did as I was gung ho about it

SL- Do you remember if you put humbuckers on it

Rick- The original ones had humbuckers on it

SL-So you get it all together and how did it sound

Rick-They sounded ok, had attitude, like the old Sears Silvertone, ratty sounding but in a good way. Something about them, all comes down to the player.

Take Jack White as he was playing an old Ward Airline guitars, no one would be seen as they were a student model. Here comes Jack 30 to 40 years later and he is ripping on the thing and you can’t even buy one for at least and arm and a leg. Are u familiar with Dexter Roambar? He was a big influence on The White Stripes. It was him and a drummer called Crow. I think from Atlanta or somewhere in the boonies. To this day he plays a Sears Silvertone guitar, one of the short scale with the amp in the case guitar. That guy is amazing and his guitar tone is amazing so it all comes down to the player. Even though our guitars were basically firewood, if you fixed them up and tweaked them they were good for doing certain things I guess. So we moved on.

SL- Doesn’t Beck still use the Sears Silvertone.

Rick- Yes he does. A lot of people play those. I know Chan Marshall from Cat Power plays them, actually I did a run, I ran them because I am a lefty and always wanted one so we ran a few for lefties. Every once in a while you will see one pop up on Ebay, they had a mahogany body with one pick up, short scale, it was a cool little 

SL- It is amazing the stuff that has been making a comeback, it is like sneakers. What was hip in the 80s when we were growing up, Vans, Puma; you can’t stop them from coming back around, just like guitars.

Rick- Like old Harmony guitars. They have such a history and character to them. It has gotten to the point where Fender and Gibson are just so untouchable unless you are in that world where you can afford and make tons of money and you can collect them. But for an average collector, you are looking at old Harmonies.

SL- Did you just see on Reverb that guy was trying to sell his 58 Les Paul for 75,000 grand?

Rick- laughs, No I did not see that, what was the story behind that?

SL- The guy thought that it was one of the cleanest and nice looking 58’s out there, so in his cranium, he pictured that he could sell it for 75,000. It looked like it had never been played, it was as if he put it in a panic room and Jodie Foster looked over it.

Rick- who knows, maybe someone will buy it

SL- Yeah and then the owner of the Colts buys Jerry Garcia’s guitar for some insane amount of money just to have it in a corner and chat about it.

Rick- People have so much money, 75 for them is a weekend going out. Speaking of finding, I send you those pics of the Kustoms? I found on eBay, if my wife could ban eBay on my computer she would.

SL- Holy fuck, yes you did.

Rick- I had been looking for awhile and right now we are in the process of getting a shop as we are doing everything online, in a warehouse. I wanna get a shop so customers can come to the store and check out the guitars and we plan on refocusing and changing a little of our direction for 2016 as far as dealing with the local scene here. I really wanna get more involved. I haven’t had the opportunity or the chance yet. It’s something we wanna do and having a shop is a huge part of that. But for a long time I have been looking for one of those amps. I love the way they look, have such a uniqueness to them and character but I could never find one.
Imagine trying to find one from 68-69 in decent material because a lot are all ripped and over the years I found a few but the guy would not ship them. So I found this guy and he was willing to ship and the pictures do not do the thing justice. When I opened the box I was blown away. It looks like I jumped in the Dolorian with Marty. We hit 65 miles an hour and went back and picked it up. My grandmother, lives with me is 95 and she also thought it looked beautiful.

SL- What guitar have you been hammering through it?

Rick- The Electric End, one that I had a prototype made with our new manufactuer, so we are changing a few things around, changed the head stock, whatever, but that’s my guitar. Of all the guitars that we make, The Electric End is going to be re-introduced, bring it back next year. That guitar sounds incredible. It is light weight, new looking, I love it.

SL- How do the designs come to you? Do you see something and you are motivated or is it something you will mull over or is it many combinations in one

Rick- It’s a combination of everything. I will see something on an old guitar, body shape, will look good with 3 single coils or just a humbucker in the neck, maybe not your classic configuration or a different head stock idea. It’s just mixing and matching pieces, putting a puzzle together again. It all comes down to my lefty issue. As a lefty, I want a cool unique thing, but I am running a business which kind of conflicts because I like all the weird stuff and I came to realize real quick with our very first run of models that as much as I like the weird stuff not everybody likes the weird stuff, for as rebellious as rock and roll is and the guitar players with long hair and tattoos and fuck authority and the leather jackets, which I own leather jackets and when I was a teenager I had long hair and now I do not have any. For as bad ass and rebellious as guitar players wanna be they are very traditional with their guitars.

They wanna Gibson LP shape, Tele shape or a Strat shape. It is hard to break away from that because those companies created iconic guitars. They were there when everything originated, the game started. They are Corporations and I think the essence and soul of what they stood for is gone a little bit. It has always been a business to a degree but now it is all business oriented, but they did create the icons you know and those are the guitars that you want.

SL- For me, being a bigger guy, I like looking at some different shapes, a Tele on me looks like a Uke. I liked Firebirds, fucking love Pauls on the iconic tip, and really anything with a funky shape, simply the way they feel. When I first saw Pat Harrington’s guitar I fell in love with his and then I chatted with Casey about his guitar. It seems like that past few months PureSalem guitars are really on the minds of a lot of players out there. There is the design but the sound quality is so god dam good.

Are there certain issues you are thinking about, body shape, c shaped neck, wood, anything new to bring to the table that hasn’t been brought before?

Rick- No, I’m not smart enough to re-invent the wheel. I am not sure if anything else can be done. I think it’s been mastered and perfected. You hear about companies using carbon fibered this and all these things. I don’t even know what carbon fiber is, ha. It tunes itself. Players like to tune their guitars. You want that bond with your guitar. So when it comes to changing, I can’t think of anything. I still can’t get past we have headless guitars. I’m still freaked out about that and that was in the 80’s. There is a Kessel model that is really nice. If I was a shred fusion guy, I would be drawn to it.

SL-Like a Alan Holdsworth guitar.

Rick- Yeah, but as far as guitars our take was on a teardrop, heavy, can disdain for days, it was a sleeper model, then it sold out because the psych scene is on the rise. So many great players, huge energy, it’s on the move and a lot of guys are being seen with this guitar and just like you speaking and seeing Pat and speaking with Casey, word of mouth is huge. That guitar Pat plays is also going to comeback this year too. When we did his, we wanted a heavy guitar and that was an example of a guitar that came out the way we wanted it. As far as necks, I think the C shape is a very comfortable neck, but I also like the thicker necks but I don’t know, I’m just trying to play it safe and it seems more people like that shape so we go with it as more people like the c shape neck.

SL-Since fucking up my back I watch all the rig rundowns and key in on the weight of guitars now. Have you ever chambered any of your guitars?

Rick- We have a model called the Betty which is named after my grandmother, it’s a t style body and it’s chambered so it’s really light weight. It’s our only guitar that has a maple neck. Everything else is mahogany. It has that shoe looking headstock. As far as t style guitars go, it’s different. It’s unique because of the chambering and headstock. It has one single coil and one humbucker in it, like a filtertron style humbucker. Then we have the Gordo which is semi hollow, which has the center block, and now we have a new model, hopefully debuting at NAMM, the Elevation, it’s a 335 style with no f holes, that guitar came out really nice.

SL-Now is it heavy because those Lucille’s are heavy as fuck

Rick- yeah, I was actually surprised because I thought being a hollow body with just the center block it wouldn’t be that heavy, but it does.

SL-Those are so beautiful to play. You sent me a pic of the green one and said, these are heavy, I wept for a few days. While talking to Casey, he said the end can handle a shit ton of gain and low end for days. Also, those guitars are cool as fuck to look at.

Rick-yeah Casey plays with a ton of low end and my bud Jim plays in Flag of Democracy, an old school punk band with high volume and they never have a problem. They’ve been around since 81 and they are still doing it.

SL-You see guys like Josh Homme using semi hollow and other guys; Mario Lalli said he got a guitar that was semi hollow but for some reason it just works. So when coming up with the design, are you thinking of the block, but also the wood used and where to place the holes so the noise is not a distraction? Because if you hear guys playing the End, you would not think it was a semi.

Rick- As far as the hollow goes, the block helped so much, and the prototypes were taken care of with the initial launch. This has to be credited with the manufacturer as they build fucking awesome fucking guitars. The whole thing about American made guitars, you have people saying if it’s not made in America it is a piece of crap and that simply is not true. Now I am American, I love my country, I have been a Police Officer for over twenty years, and I think it is the greatest country in the world and has afforded me to do what I am doing now, contrary to what people wanna say this is still the land of opportunity.

With that said, there is no way a guy like me who is just some guy following his dream, could start a company like PureSalem and have the guitars manufactured in America. No way, with the amount of money I had to start up, with all the regulations, rules and this and that, no way that a guy like me could have started building guitars in America. So I had to source it out and it’s been a long process to get to where we are now. I went into this blindly and had no real business mindset. I chased bad guys you know; I was chasing cars, and jumping fences when I was a rookie. I don’t know the first thing about the business aspect, I play guitar and I like punk rock and here I find myself doing this with a company from China and they gave me crap and I was like ok what am I gonna do and I was able to salvage that, learn from that and turn that situation around and so I found another manufacturer and that is what our old stock is, as we are having an old stock sale now and I am trying to get rid of the final pieces that we have because we had issues with them.

It’s a constant process of trying to improve. So I severed ties with them and now I am with the builder we are with now and I won’t leave them, they’ll have to get me kicking and screaming because they build amazing guitars. This goes back to the whole made in America point; just because it’s not made in America doesn’t mean it’s not great quality. It comes down to the care, the person that is making it, the quality of wood, hardware, in the end that is what makes a good guitar, not where the machine is located. I will put our guitars out there, and I don’t wanna sound like an egomaniac but I will put them out there because I am not worried about the quality aspect of it. Now what it boils down to is if the player can connect with the guitar. Does this body shape speak to me, and that is why we have different models. The reason, one of them hopefully will speak to the player. But as far as quality goes, I couldn’t be happier. You know, since we are an online store right now, slowly getting into storage units, I offer a no questions asked return policy. If you don’t like it, let me know send it back and I will pay for return shipping. You know what, we haven’t had any issues. So I am really happy as to where we are at.

SL-The one I wanted to ask you about, as it is probs the prettiest one I have seen is the Cardinal. Talk about sleek, bam, can you speak to me about that piece of art as it really has a lot interesting parts to it, Tele head, beautiful tailpiece, funky body shape. It appears to be a mix of all that is good about a lot of guitars.

Rick- That is exactly what I was aiming for. Again it is that mix and match, it comes down to what kind of guitar would I like to play, have in a collection. It is smaller and in an artsy way, it looks perfect to me.

SL- To me it looks way cooler than any of the birds or fender and you have the bucker in the neck and the coil in the bridge. I play with my neck pickup and it’s a bucker, so I find it magnificent.

Rick-Thanks man; that really means so much to me so thank you. I try to be different and I’m sure I have lost sales because of it. I will have people that want 2 humbuckers but because we do not do any custom work, we will lose work so as the company grows down the road I would love to open up a custom shop. Our tech Gabriel is phenomenal. He builds the most amazing amps and can build guitars from scratch.

Funny because what you dig might not be what the next guy digs. I was looking at the Derek Trucks signature at GC and started talking to a guy in his mid- 40s and I hadn’t mentioned anything about me and owning PureSalem, just testing the waters, so I decided to ask if he had heard of PureSalem and he did, which I was surprised, but said he hated their headstocks. We started chatting some more and I eventually told him who I was and he said he couldn’t get over the headstock. So as an owner you have to do what you have to do because you are never gonna make everyone happy.

I spent another hour discussing old Aerosmith, Bowie, how The Black Crowes couldn’t just like playing, and why Mountain was so great. The Salem Fuzz pedals and just rapping with a genuine cat. Rick is a guy that the world needs and to be honest, the business of music really needs him. Sincerity, honorable, and above all, what a great fucking guy.

Everyone I have spoken too that has met or had the chance to speak with Rick says that same thing, “The Greatest guy to know and work with.”  I’m here to tell you he is a historian of music, gear, and really just digging conversing with about guitars and why it is so much fun plugging in and letting your nuts free in the key of C.  PureSalem, dig it, hit him up and also, as I said before, we could have spoken about his roster for days, as he has some heavy cats that are strapping on the guitars that this gentleman has envisioned with his heart and soul.
Enjoy the rest of the summer, definitely check out the fuzz pedals as they are brand new, the Honey Bunny and the Pink Beard.

Rick, thanks my man, “in fuzz we trust.”

Gaff out 

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