Sacrilegious as it may sound to some, not everyone loves the iconic, ubiquitous electric guitar designs of the 1950s. And while vintage guitars that subvert those norms look killer and cut through the visual clutter, they can also be quirky in less-desirable ways: feedback-prone pickups, neck relief like a ski jump, and non-existent tuning stability, to name a few.
PureSalem Guitars isn’t the only company mining the eccentric side of vintage guitar design these days. But the two-years-young company has consistently delivered quality alongside the quirkiness. El Gordo, a buxom semi-hollow, is a recent addition to PureSalem’s roster of misfits. It’s well built, genuinely versatile, and chock-full of tones from jangly clean to rowdy and raucous.
A Sumo of Its Parts
The Gordo is a creative bit of Franken-design that manages to be different without being simply weird. The mahogany body profile borrows from ’60s-era Kents. The classy flame- maple veneer and two-tone sunburst finish add rich visual texture without being ostentatious. A pair of sharp-looking bound eyeholes is a nod to Rickenbacker and Gretsch, while the binding evokes 335 and Les Paul Custom designs. The mahogany neck has a comfortable, modern C-shape. It’s capped by a bound rosewood fingerboard with fancy pearloid block markers and a sculpted headstock design inspired by the Fender Starcaster. The neck is reinforced with a double truss rod for stability and setup flexibility.
El Gordo’s semi-hollow, center-block construction lends thwacking immediacy and chunky mass to chords, but also gives clean tones resonance and a pretty, sparkling airiness.
On paper, that sounds like an odd hodgepodge of design elements. But somehow the juxtaposition of upscale details, cross-brand homage, and quirky retro shapes works, resulting in a unique but approachable instrument.
El Gordo generally feels sturdy and substantial. It’s free of the blemishes and paint blotches often seen on guitars in this price range. And while the factory setup wasn’t exceptional, a few easy adjustments made El Gordo feel friendlier under the fingers.
With its bend-friendly 24¾” scale length, satin neck finish, and 12″ fretboard radius, El Gordo feels much more athletic and nimble than most of the vintage instruments that inspired it. The roller bridge, expertly cut graphite nut, and mini-Grover tuners maintain tuning stability, even when you cut loose on the Bigsby. (And man, it’s fun to use a Bigsby that stays in tune.)
Unique styling. Great, often unusual tones. Excellent playability. Vibrato stays in tune.
Controls are a bit of a reach.
Pure Salem Gordo
El Gordo features a Gibson-style 3-way pickup selector and independent volume and tone controls for each pickup. That adds up to many tone options if you like to play with pickup balance or color songs with extreme tone shifts (which can be especially interesting given the sonic differences between the two pickups). The cloth wiring visible through the soundhole is a nice retro touch. But the knobs would be easier to manipulate if they were just a bit closer to the player—fast volume adjustment can feel like a serious reach.
Gordo Means Fat
The bridge humbucker and Telecaster-style neck single-coil (angled, unusually, toward the bridge’s bass side) provide everything from percussive rock crunch to fluty blues leads. The articulate humbucker has just a tad more power than your typical PAF, but it’s never muddy, honky, or flat-sounding. Likewise, the neck pickup seems hotter than your average T-Style pickup, but the result is excellent balance between the two pickups.
El Gordo’s semi-hollow, center-block construction lends thwacking immediacy and chunky mass to chords, but also gives clean tones resonance and a pretty, sparkling airiness. With a loud, dirty amp, El Gordo’s easily generates controllable feedback, especially if you ride the volume and tone knobs.
While El Gordo can be jangly and clean, it specializes in burly rock ’n’ roll sounds. Josh Homme fans will love the humbucker’s thick stoner heaviness at low tone settings. It’s also great at mimicking the powerful kerrang of Malcolm Young’s Gretsch, or sustained, fuzzy lead textures.
El Gordo is a playable, and yes, fat-sounding way to skirt the status quo. It looks vintage in a unique way without seeming silly. Best of all, it’s a genuine player’s instrument. The interestingly matched pickups, effective tone and volume controls, and stable Bigsby vibrato conspire to make this a very expressive instrument. Quirky has rarely felt this rock-solid, or been capable of so many tasty sounds.
by David Von Bader