It’s nice to see a young guitar company come a long way in a short time—particularly one that serves the more accessible end of the price spectrum. We’ve reviewed two other PureSalem guitars since the company got going back in 2012, starting with the truly odd Electric End in 2013 and the less eccentric but still unusual Gordo. Each guitar marked an evolution in quality and vision. And though the Mendiola reviewed here may be the most, well, normal PureSalem we’ve ever reviewed, its superb build quality, tones that invite mellow-to-mad interaction with the instrument, and positively inviting playability signal yet another step forward for a company that keeps delivering inspired twists on familiar and idiosyncratic classic designs.
Alfa Romeo Meets Bucket T
Casual guitar spotters will no doubt take one look at the Mendiola’s surfy lines and assume a Jazzmaster influence. In truth, the more direct influence is the sparkly and fantastic Eko Ekomaster 400—as lovely an Italian solidbody mutation as there ever was (which is saying a lot, coming from this fan of ’60s Italian guitar curiosities and monstrosities). To be fair to Fender, the Ekomaster was shamelessly Jazzmaster influenced. But Eko must be given credit for its graceful slimming and trimming of the Jazzmaster’s lines, which PureSalem has aped here.
The small deviations from Fender offset dimensions don’t just pay aesthetic divedends. The body, which is slimmer at the waist, feels and looks compact, nimble, light, and elegant (almost like a cross between a Jazzmaster and Mustang), making it inviting and comfortable to explore. Offsets aren’t the only source of inspiration. The neck pickup, Telecaster-inpired headstock, and ’60s Telecaster Custom-style bound top are nods to Leo’s original masterpiece. Elsewhere, the Mendiola trades in well-chosen Gibson-style elements.
The three most important of these Kalamazoo cues are the mahogany body, the mini-humbucker pickup, and the 24 ¾” neck and 12” radius rosewood fretboard. The pickup, as we’ll see, is a major contributor to the Mendiola’s savage and articulate duality. But the lovely mahogany neck and flattish fretboard with medium-jumbo frets provides a postively SG-like sense of playability—inviting bend-happy lead excursions and jazzy chord explorations. The neck has an almost Fender-like C profile (another nice blend) and the lovely neck binding can feel a little sharp at the edges. But in general, it beckons to be played.
The first PureSalem we encountered was less than perfect in terms of build execution. Since then, PureSalem partnered with a new Korean factory, and the payoff is easy to see. The Mendiola is nearly flawless. Fretwork is perfect. So was the setup and intonation in spite of the guitar sitting in our review queue for a few cold winter months. The glossy, ink-black finish is dazzling and a perfect compliment to the Mendiola’s stripped-down, rat-rod-inspired design economy. The pin lock tuners unquestionably aid tuning stability, which is excellent. In fact, the only two very small issues I could find with the guitar are the sharp-ish edge on the fretboard binding (which was easy to get used to) and a small area of underspray in the truss-rod bore that’s only visible when you peek into the recess. Those issues aside, the guitar is just about perfectly put together.
Soaring, Stinging, and Dirty Mud Slinging
Any guitar that costs 900 bucks should deliver a little something extra in terms of sound and playing experience. On that count, Mendiola dishes the goods many times over. The Firebird-style mini-humbucker is the nicest surprise. It’s lively, responsive, and hot without being brash or lacking dynamics, and it communicates the mahogany body’s intrinsic snap with aplomb.
The volume and tone pots, which both have very nice range and taper, help expand the mini’s palette. But it’s already pretty expansive thanks to high headroom, minimal compression, and a high-mid-focused but still very even frequency range. Bass tones are round, balanced, and don’t overpower or overcompensate for the top-end emphasis. The clean but stinging qualities mean you can push an amp verging on distortion to sizzling heights. It’s great for a slightly less microphonic and dimensional take on Neil Young’s mini-humbucker and Fender Deluxe recipe. It’s also beautiful for Jerry Garcia- and Jorma Kaukonen-style lead lines when paired with less-compressed, higher-wattage Fender circuits—delivering tweeting overtones on top of nicely contoured fundamental tones.
It also pairs gracefully with the lower-output Telecaster-style neck pickup, which is slanted bridgeward on the bass side, presumably to add top end emphasis. The combined pickup tone is focused, detailed, and spacious, and communicates these qualities clearly through sheets of reverb and delay. It’s easy to see why PureSalem counts so many shoegaze players among its endoresees: Few basic tones are quite so perfect for the genre as the airy but present sounds from the Mendiola’s pickups working together.
If there’s a weak link in the pickup array, it’s the neck unit by itself. The basic sound is a bit generic, with a somewhat narrow frequency spectrum. The output is also quite low compared to the sparkling mini-humbucker. That said, the perfect balance achieved by the two pickups working together—oxygenated and never overbearing—makes the less-than-heavenly output from the neck pickup worth the trade off.
Though lovely in its own no-frills, hot-rod kind of way, the Mendiola doesn’t look full of surprises at first. That, of course, makes its sonic and tactile treats that much sweeter. The combined and bridge pickup tones can be made to sound simple, subtle, or celestial. The neck—which combines the most inviting aspects of a Fender C profile and an SG’s flat, fast runway-for-ripping feel—is a joy. At $910 Mendiola lives at the fringes of upscale pricing. But it is mindfully designed and delivers more than enough character and charsima to make its slightly-above-midrange tag feel reasonable. In doing so, it also inhabits a sweet spot between Fender and Gibson look and feel that more than a few players are bound to find intriguing, if not irresistible.