B-bender, mini-bucker, and copious switching options make this session master's signature Telecaster a twanging tone chameleon.
What’s better than a cool mini-humbucker? Four of them, of course! And don’t forget that “all on” blower switch.
Four pickups? Check. Sparkle finish? Check. Lots of switches? Check. Wacky shape? Check! Yes, this crazy Kinton-branded guitar checks all the boxes for a Wizard of Odd column and, as always, this little slice of vintage design comes with a cool story. So let’s take a journey over to Castelfidardo, Italy, and a musical instrument company started by Orlando Quagliardi. Mr. Quagliardi’s humble company was one of the earliest makers of guitars in Italy, and—along with many of the other Italian manufacturers—really dove into the electric guitar market in the early 1960s.
The Quagliardi factory produced guitars primarily with the brand name of Welson, but its other brands included Dynatone, Beltone, Wurlitzer, and Orpheum. Many of the Welson guitars seen in the U.S. were hollowbodies, and during the latter half of the 1960s, the company seemed to place all of its focus on interesting jazz boxes, semi-hollows, and violin-shaped guitars.
During the copy era of the 1970s, Welson guitars reflected Les Paul and SG designs, and Quagliardi even ventured into electronic keyboard production. The company had a rather good run that lasted into the early 1980s, and the quality of their instruments was really above average for the time and market they served.
The Kinton electric in Photo 1 hails from the ultra-cool early 1960s, when Welson instruments were most often solidbody examples of gonzo guitar design. The Kinton name was probably associated with a music store that sold Welson guitars. In fact, musical instrument shops that sold Italian accordions were highly likely to carry Italian electric guitars, complete with the same fantastic plastic and sparkle finishes. And check out that cute metal logo, complete with a shining crown! That little emblem was featured on many Welson guitars, and the factory even placed different names on there for special orders.
Welson guitars often featured large, diamond-shaped fret inlays and truly fabulous sounding mini-humbuckers with a sort of waffle-top pattern. In fact, to my ears, vintage Italian mini-’buckers are the best sounding pickups ever made. These units have a DC resistance of around 12k and sound bright, hot, and aggressive. Surprisingly, the four-pickup models are more common than the two-pickup versions, but they all feature Welson stamped pickup covers and tremolos. Though the six rocker switches (including a groovy “all” pickups option) are spring loaded, they’re reliable, and they’re positioned in a spot where I don’t knock them around. The quality of Italian electronics was very good at that time, and I always get a certain satisfaction when I open up these guitars and marvel at the fine soldering work and high-quality components.
This red sparkle finish is actually one of the tamer offerings from Welson, which also produced some truly wacky marble and striped celluloid guitars. The back of this guitar is covered in celluloid with some sort of woven texture that plays all sorts of tricks in different lights (Photo 2). And the truss rod on this set-neck guitar actually works really well! I often wonder how these Italian manufacturers transitioned from accordions to electric guitars with such ease, all the while using nontraditional methods to create some really cool designs. Many of the lesser-known Italian electrics can be made into true monster players, and a guitar like this one will withstand a lot of abuse because of its impressive build quality.
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A graceful and thoughtfully executed mashup of Fender, Gibson, and Eko elements adds up to a lean, clean, and mean performance 6-string.
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.