This Former Cop Left the Force to Make Some of Miami's Best Guitars

Despite what insiders and locals know of Miami’s thriving and eclectic rock ’n’ roll scene, the area is not exactly a known hub for guitar culture. However, things might be changing on that front, thanks to a former Dade County Police officer who decided to follow his dreams.

Rick Sell’s Miami-based PureSalem Guitars has been garnering some major national attention ever since he left the force in 2013 to start his business. Since then, the industry has been taking serious note of the company’s high-quality, affordable, and unique guitars. Designed locally and manufactured in a top facility overseas to keep production costs affordable enough for any player, Sell’s line of guitars features everything from pawn shop kitsch to retro-futurist designs and is a labor of love grounded in the punk-rock ethos that Miami so deeply embraces. His axes are in the hands of both local players and some national names, like the Black Angels and the Dandy Warhols. 

We spoke with Sell to find out how he went from policing the 305’s streets to designing weapons of rock ’n’ roll.

Miami New Times: How did you get into designing guitars? I know you are a former police officer.
Rick Sell: I was an officer with Dade County for a little over 21 years, but I’ve always played guitar. I’ve played since I was 15 years old, and I’ve always loved it, and I reached a point in my career where I just wasn’t happy doing it anymore and ready to make a big change. I had a colleague that was like a father figure to me pass away unexpectedly a few months before he could retire. He was the best guy. He used to feed the dogs in our patrol zone every day and was the antithesis of all the bad stuff you hear about cops these days. And it really made me think about how you never know when your number’s up, so that really forced me to chase this dream and start this company.

Did you have any experience building guitars previously?
No. Other than playing, I had no real hands-on experience. I used to take my own guitars and paint them and switch necks out and stuff like that, but it was just crude work.

You have some great designs. How did you approach learning how to design guitars?
That part was easy and stems from my frustrations as a left-handed player. It has always been hard to find unique left-handed guitars. Very few companies make them, so I started to design things that I would want to play and things that I’ve always wanted to own. That’s how a lot of our shapes and configurations came to be. In fact, we offer every model we make as a lefty for no additional charge.  
Your price point makes these guitars really accessible for younger players.
Yeah, that was really important to me. The quality of our instruments is really top of the line, and I’d put our stuff up against anything being made by the big companies, but I wanted to keep them affordable so that any working player could get ahold of one. When we first started going to the trade shows, people all assumed our guitars were multiple thousands of dollars after playing them, so if that’s any indication of what you get for the money, I’m really pleased.

While Miami has a great music scene, it’s not exactly known as a hub for guitar music or guitar culture. You’re a bit of an oddity here. Were you a part of the Miami music scene ever?
I was a part of it as a fan, absolutely. I used to go to the Kitchen Club to see the Holy Terrors and Quit play all the time. Quit and the Holy Terrors were my favorite bands ever, actually. I used to hang out at Churchill’s all the time, but I was never in a band, unfortunately. Rob Elba is just such an amazing songwriter, and Quit could’ve been huge!

I run the company like a family, you know? I want everybody to help each other out, and I try to bring a punk-rock, everyone-help-everyone ethic to this company. There’s offers on the table for any band that’s out there in the trenches touring, putting out records, and really out there doing it. We don’t offer full endorsements — we’re too small to afford that — but we do offer artist rates.

I’m much more interested in helping out people playing at Churchill’s and rocking this area than the big bands that can afford any guitar they want at full price. That’s where I’m coming from, and I take a lot of pride being based in Miami. 
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David Von Bader