New direct-buy builder combines confrontational looks with expansive sounds
When the guitar bug gets you, the symptoms can take many shapes. Some obsess over a single form and, say, become obnoxiously well versed in the micro-nuances that differentiate one ’59 Les Paul from another. Others revel in the myriad forms the guitar can take, celebrating equally the merits of pre-war Martins and post-CBS Mustangs. Some victims succumb in even stranger ways—like being overtaken by the drive to seek the most obscure and strange interpretations of the 6-string. The founders of PureSalem guitars are clearly among this latter sect, and the aptly named Electric End may be the ultimate expression of their feverish fixations.
Clearly, the Electric End is not a guitar for purists. But this P-90-equipped semi-hollow has copious personality beyond its extroverted exterior. It’s delightfully playable, and capable of delivering tones ranging from jangly to rambunctious.
PureSalem is barely a year old as a company. But, as a quick scan of its direct-order guitar line (and the lo-fi, psychedelic-horror art on its website) reveals, it’s in the business of serving outcasts, misfits, experimentalists, and any other player bored with the rigid acceptance of a few classic templates as the “right” kind of electric guitar.
Obviously, there’s no logical reason for the Korean-made Electric End to assume the shape it does. But it very successfully evokes the exuberant, shoot-for-the-moon design sensibilities that reigned in the ’60s. The most obvious design touchstone seems to be Rickenbacker, which you can see in the crescent-shaped cutaway profile and the slash-like soundholes. But the sheer exaggeration and extrapolation of the End’s body profile is more radical than anything that ever came out of Santa Ana. The hyper-extended bouts are equally evocative of the Tokai Hummingbird’s perversion of the Mosrite shape.
The headstock looks a little like one of the outsized slabs of lumber you’d see on a ’60s Baldwin or Burns 12-string, even though it’s home to just six Wilkinson tuning machines. But that size is essential to balancing out the body’s considerable girth. The rosewood fretboard is decked out with star inlays, which lend a very congruent touch of glam rock to the design whole. Our test guitar came in a very Burns-like green burst poly finish that subdues some of the radical design touches while complementing the mahogany grain of the top.
While the End’s body looks big enough to dwarf a smaller player, it’s surprisingly comfortable and balanced. The extra length in the bass and treble bouts is well out of the way when you’re going for the upper frets, and for all the apparent mass of the headstock and middle section of the instrument, there’s no neck dive at all. A contoured edge on the back of the guitar also means it rests comfortably against the ribs.
Our test guitar is well built on the whole, but there are a few key quality-control issues. The bolt-on neck is flawlessly seated and the binding is seamless, but the synthetic bone nut is misaligned and actually hangs over the edge of the headstock by a small fraction of an inch. It’s hard to say to what degree this contributes to some of the guitar’s occasional tuning instability, but we expect better from an $825 instrument.
Wide Open Expanses
While the Electric End is bound—perhaps even designed—to polarize opinion when it comes to aesthetics, there’s no arguing that the guitar sounds great. It’s always hard to gauge the effect of a particular body style on output, but there’s an unmistakable airiness and resonance to the Electric End’s tones that you have to attribute in part to the big body. In bridge and middle pickup settings, you hear the kind of bright, buoyant, and reactive output you get from a Rickenbacker or an Epiphone Casino. It even sounds great unplugged. A couple of seasoned acoustic pickers who had a turn with the guitar both remarked at how comfortable and responsive it felt and sounded for fingerstyle playing. That might seem like an incidental observation, but a guitar that adapts this readily to an acoustic player suggests a much more expansive blank slate, and a whole lot more tone potential.
The other major part of the tone equation here is the Kent Armstrong P-90s. Sonically speaking, they’re a perfect fit for the mahogany semi-hollow construction, and they help make this instrument a joy to play with nothing but a cable between the guitar and amp. Bridge- and dual-pickup settings are where the Electric End shines. The Kent Armstrongs may not be the most hyper-detailed P-90s, but they work well with the End’s resonant body—communicating a wealth of overtones and a touch of compression that lends a little extra sustain and bell-like chime to arpeggios and melodic leads. The neck pickup sounds nice, too, but it works slightly less well with the extra body resonance. It’s not muddy, by any means, but it doesn’t deliver the amount of detail you hear from the bridge and middle positions. Still, add a touch of overdrive and a little extra top end, and the neck pickup becomes a vehicle for monster blues-rock leads.
Whether you’re playing jangly rhythm or ripping blues leads, just about every style benefits from the Electric End’s slinky playability. The medium-low action is remarkably even over the length of the fretboard, and the medium jumbo frets make deep bends feel effortless.
PureSalem’s affection for oddball guitars and outsider artistic impulses is a welcome dose of energy in a guitar world that often seems a little clone obsessed. And in the case of the Electric End, those impulses yield an instrument with real sonic character. The open-ended agreeability of the Armstrong P-90s makes it a great guitar for experimental texturalists, rhythm janglers, and blues wailers. Arguably, you can get many of the same qualities out of other affordable P-90 semi-hollows, but few will have pickups this nice and nearly none will have the confrontational visual impact of the Electric End. And if musicality and an arresting stage presence are of equal importance to your expression, the Electric End may be the perfect means for communicating your message.