If you’ve ever worked in the music retail field, you know that not everybody shares your excellent taste in guitars. There’s a whole other mutant strain out there that does not understand your love for the sleek ergonomics of a Strat, the spanky bark of a Tele, or the old-school swagger of a vintage Black Beauty. Millennials, in particular, may tend turn their noses up at the spoon-fed traditions and historical baggage that accompany Stratocasters and Les Pauls, and are buying repros of oddball 1960s guitars faster than they can be built. They’re also more interested in using guitars to manifest quirky timbres, psychedelic textures, and bizarro sound effects than the religious pursuit of the perfect blues vibrato.
Happily for those folks, PureSalem specializes in guitars for musicians who march to the beat of a different drum machine. Rick Sell founded PureSalem Guitars in 2012 to design great-sounding boutique guitars for the working stiff. Paying homage to the offbeat instruments of the ’60s and ’70s, Sell also has an artistic predilection for ’60s psychedelic horror, garage rock, acid rock, and their related visual arts. One look at their online product page reveals the eccentric, the weird, and the outlandish.
One of the most normal-looking guitars in PureSalem’s stable is the Bette, which still manages to offer plenty of vintage garage vibe. Made in Korea, the Bette features a Starcaster-style headstock, Grover tuners, maple neck and fretboard, medium jumbo frets, 25.5″ scale length, 42.75″ nut width, and a smooth C-shaped neck, all attached to a copper-colored, mahogany-chambered Tele Deluxe-style body. The Bette features a custom-wound single-coil in the neck position and a custom-wound Filter’Tron-style pickup in the bridge position. It also sports 2.1875″ string spacing and a Wilkinson mini ashtray bridge with compensated saddles. A three-way switch controls pickup selection and is accompanied by single Volume and Tone controls.
The visual effect is that of a modified Cabronita, and the Bette delivers the kind of bright and edgy clean tones that allow the player to inject their own personal magic. Played through a variety of American combo amps and high-gain heads, the Bette produced surprising results. The guitar is something of a tonal blank slate due to its fresh-from-the-factory lack of warmth, which forces you to apply more expressiveness. After all, you can’t always depend on ungodly guitar tones to make music. Rather, the Bette gives back what you put into it. Clean amp settings offer usable variations in warmth and bite as you switch through the three positions, but the more you play, the more you realize the tones are in your hands.
The lack of high-priced tonal coloring also reveals what your effects chain and amplification are all about. The width and thickness of the neck are very comfortable, while its flat radius and smooth lacquer-free finish are great for phrasing single-note lines and high-octane soloing. The Bette is excellent at slicing through a band’s stage mix, and its somewhat sterile nature makes jangly hipster chord progressions really pop on recorded tracks. Overall, its character dwells in the Telecaster zone where blues, jazz, and country playing thrive.
With overdrive the guitar comes alive. Because of the bright, ultraclean nature of the pickups, distortion and overdrive retain clear articulation and distinct clarity. No mud was heard even with over-the-top saturation. The guitar maintained a rootsy, rock and roll flavor throughout.
The Bette is a lightweight yet substantial piece of wire and wood that grows on you and will more than likely warm up tonally as it matures. If you’re searching for a unique rock workhorse, you’ve come to the right place.
This article originally appeared in VG September 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.