If guitar making was a comic book story line, PureSalem’s Rick Sell would be the crazed scientist banishing vintage guitars to another dimension, only to have them return as twisted and bizarre versions of their former selves. GP last visited that world in our May 2014 issue when we reviewed the company’s Brave Ulysses, Classic Creep, Electric End, Levitation, Woodsoul models. All of those wacky beauties were found to be good players with vibe to burn. The only consistent downside was the possibility of having to explain to all the guitar geeks at your gigs what the hell kind of instrument you were playing.
Well, if that scenario might be bothersome to some guitarists, PureSalem’s Cardinal and La Flaca are somewhat more down to earth, and, well, normal. There are still slight design twists to take the models out of the realm of the slavishly conventional, but those intimidated by the strange will be comforted by some classic Gibson-inspired lines.
The Firebird-like Cardinal struts its retro elan in three old-school colors—Daphne Blue, Shell Pink, and Kelly Green—and a Vibrola tremolo. Our test model had a flawless finish, the neck binding and block inlays were impeccable, the neck pocket was zip locked snugly to the body, and all hardware was battened-down tight (no rattles or loose parts). Given the overall quality, it was surprising that the pickguard displayed some rough-cut edges and the fret ends were rather sharp.
This baby has a chunky neck, but it feels good to play (the satin finish on the back of the neck is one slick little hand highway), and the guitar itself is comfy in strapped-up and sitting positions. The Vibrola is easy to reach, and it’s quite responsive and stable. I smacked it up and I smacked it down, and I didn’t have any tuning issues that weren’t the result of intense abusive (ya gotta take responsibility for your brutal showmanship, I guess). It’s slightly inconvenient to reach for the Master Volume knob for pinky swells, as the Vibrola is in the way. Unless you have octopus fingers, the Master Tone is near impossible to adjust on the fly, and I found that the tonal sweep was not wide enough to simulate wah-pedal sounds anyway. I just dimed it, and left it.
I’ve never been a mixed hum-sing player—likely due to my absolutely dumb sense of esthetic balance—but the variety of tones available with the Cardinal is making me rethink my art-over-application views. This thing screams, barks, snarks, punches, cuts, bellows, and gets all warm and jazzy. It’s a perfect machine if you have, say, elegant chords (neck humbucker), stout riffs (combined), and snarling leads (bridge single-coil) all appearing in the same song. The neck humbucker can also handle a lot of classic-rock styles when you set your amp to a gritty overdrive. It’s articulate enough to give you good note definition, but you still get that sexy low-midrange foundation. I found myself using the combined pickup setting a lot, because I got a best-of-both-worlds tonal attack of meaty punch and aggressive shimmer.
As it feels good, looks great, and delivers versatile tones, the Cardinal is quite the workhorse—a guitar you could bring to a number of different studio, session, and live gigs and not have to say, “Oh no. If only I had my [insert model here] with me, I could nail this part.” Trust the Cardinal. It’ll get it done.
by Michael Molenda
Guitar Player Magazine