In Miami

The world’s biggest rock stars flock to Bird Road for PureSalem Guitars

PureSalem Guitars creates custom-designed instruments, including ones for left-handed musicians. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas.
PureSalem Guitars creates custom-designed instruments, including ones for left-handed musicians. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas.

At age 15, Richard Sell bought his first guitar at Ed’s Guitars. Located in a nondescript shopping center off of Bird Road, Ed’s was known for years as the place in Miami to buy a Fender, Gibson or cheap starter guitar from Japan.

Sell taught himself how to play. He never joined a band or tried to find fame for the 12 lo-fi psych-rock albums he recorded. Instead, he spent 21 years protecting his fellow citizens as a Miami-Dade police officer, retiring to focus full-time on his custom guitars and accessories business.

In October, four years after founding PureSalem Guitars and running the online shop from his home, Sell opened a brick-and-mortar showroom in Miami. It’s located in the exact same spot where he bought his first guitar, at Ed’s, all those years ago.

Richard Sell, a retired Miami-Dade police officer, runs PureSalem Guitars in Miami. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas.

“Every time I send off one of my guitars overseas, I think, ‘OK, you’re going to France.’ How cool is that?” Sell said. “Like those cheap Japanese guitars, my guitars will be around long after I’m gone. It’s cool to think I’ll leave a legacy.”

The Levitation, a paddle-shaped guitar that’s a riff on the old Vox models used by Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, is the first PureSalem design that Sell put on the market.

Through word of mouth and social media, he’s expanded his reach and now counts among his loyal customers musicians like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, The Flaming Lips and The Dandy Warhols, and guitarists for Lady Gaga, Toni Braxton, The Backstreet Boys and more. The new PureSalem shop also sells all kinds of straps, pedals and other guitar accessories; a record player, vinyl collection and cushy couches encourage visitors to stay and chill.

PureSalem’s showroom is located off Bird Road, where Ed’s Guitars operated for years.  

PureSalem Guitars designs models for lefties, too

Besides killer designs and high craftsmanship, PureSalem’s guitars are unique in that every model is available for left-handed players. A lefty himself, Sell had grown weary of having to play guitars meant for right-handed musicians or having to pay to have them retooled.

“When I design my guitars, I like to mix and match pieces from the past and the future, and do different stylings and the carvings on the headstocks,” Sell said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together. It all goes back to me being a lefty and what, as a lefty, I could never get.”

A guitar design in progress. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas.

PureSalem is Sell’s testament to pursuing happiness and doing what you love. After the death of his mentor in the police force, Sell realized that the time to make a change was upon him. He traded in his badge for the courage to follow his dream.

“My mental health is in a good place, whereas before it wasn’t,” he said. “I went from dealing with a heavy, negative vibe every day. Now I’m working with creative people, artistic people, people who are inspired to be doing whatever it is they’re doing. This changed my life. This saved me.”

PureSalem Guitars, 4045 Southwest 96th Avenue, Miami;

The showroom of PureSalem Guitars includes couches and a record player. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas.