Review: PureSalem Tom Cat Electric Guitar

For decades, the Guild S-200 Thunderbird was a mostly forgotten fun and funky electric solidbody from the Sixties, best remembered as the guitar that Muddy Waters wielded on the inside cover of his Electric Mud album.

Then Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys started playing one, and the model went from being a pawnshop bargain to a vintage collectible with a price tag well above $3,000. (Damn you, Auerbach!)

That vintage Guild is the inspiration for the PureSalem Tom Cat, which has the same wild, asymmetrical body shape but several significant upgrades, including better pickups and a simpler control configuration.

FEATURES The PureSalem Tom Cat may look weirder than the average ax, but it’s a solid, no-nonsense working-musician’s tool that delivers the tones, playability and versatility they need. The neck and body are mahogany, and thanks to its relatively light weight and balanced body shape, the guitar is comfortable to play for prolonged periods. The neck has set construction, 22 medium jumbo frets, a 24 3/4–inch scale, a 12-inch radius, a D-shaped profile, a rosewood fingerboard and pearl block inlays. Hardware consists of a pair of Kent Armstrong P-90 single-coil pickups, a Tune-o-matic-style bridge with stop tailpiece and vintage Kluson-style tuners. Controls include a three-position pickup selector switch, individual volume controls for each pickup and a master tone control.

The Tom Cat is available with Natural Burst, Banana Puddin and Rosewood Veneer finish options, and while the latter looks exceptionally classy, I loved the Banana Puddin finish on our test example. It reminded me of a Gibson TV finish and paired nicely with the Tom Cat’s Les Paul Special–style pickup configuration. A left-handed version of the Tom Cat is also available at no extra cost.

PERFORMANCE While the pickups on the original Thunderbird were underpowered and wimpy, that’s not the case with the Tom Cat’s rip-roaring Kent Armstrong P-90s. This is pure P-90 perfection, with ballsy bass, commanding crunch and percussive punch that simply rocks. The controls provide a good variety of useful tones, and I particularly liked the convenient placement of the pickup switch. Although the body shape looks pretty damn unconventional, it actually makes good sense, as the weight is evenly distributed and the neck stays in place instead of diving. The Tom Cat may lack the Thunderbird’s built-in kickstand, but that doesn’t matter—this guitar won’t rest idle for long once players experience its awesome playability and powerful tones.

Manufacturer: PureSalem Guitars,

A pair of Kent Armstrong P-90 single-coil pickups provides raunchy, ballsy tones with tons of crunch and character.

The Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece are a vast improvement over the original Thunderbird’s clunky vibrato tailpiece.

THE BOTTOM LINE Inspired by the Sixties Guild S-200 Thunderbird, the PureSalem Tom Cat is a significantly better, guitarist-friendly instrument that sells for a fraction of the original Thunderbird’s current vintage-market price.

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Chris Gill, Video by Paul Riario

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.