The Blog

The Gratitude Canada 150 Guitar

Sitka Spruce and Mahogany acoustic guitar

On July 1 2017 Canada turns 150 years old. We're celebrating the birthday with a very special guitar incorporating the official Canada 150 logo. We call it Gratitude Canada150.

With the official stylized Maple leaf logo on the headstock, and a 12th fret inlay of "Canada 150" the guitar pays tribute to the first century and half of our country's evolution.

When we set out to create a new guitar to celebrate the 150th anniversary we gave ourselves two chalenges: 

The choice of materials had to be representative of Canada - and combined in such a way as to be visually stunning, 

The guitar had to rise above anything we'd done before - both in playability and sonic character.

The top wood is Canadian West Coast Sitka Spruce. The binding on the fretboard and body is Canadian Maple and the headstock itself is faced with rich flame Maple. As with all MacKenzie & Marr guitars the woods used are hand selected for each instrument using nothing but premium AAA quality.

The body of Gratitude Canada 150 is an update of the often-praised Alberta body we introduced with the Ian Tyson Limited Edition in 2010. We kept the overall width and height unchanged but added  a bit of depth to the lower bout to heighten the base range response of the spruce top.

To learn how you can secure one of the limited edition of 48 guitars visit the Gratitude Canada order page and place your order now.

Guitars Make Great Gifts

This time of year it seems that Santa Clause works in our shipping department. We're constantly surprised by the number of generous spouses, parents, children etc who order MacKenzie & Marr guitars as Christmas presents. Here's what you need to know about buying one of our guitars to put under the tree:

  • We extend our 7 day "Love it or Leave It" no questions asked return policy until the end of the first week of the New Year for all guitars being given as gifts. Make sure you mark "Christmas gift" or "Holiday gift" in the comments field of the order form, or (as always) call us at (514)833-8352.
  • In order to insure your guitar arrives in time for the Holidays we recommend ordering as early as possible.
  • If you would like to order early but have us hold you guitar in our humidified warehouse let us know. We'll make sure we ship it so it arrives in time to go under the tree.

Calculating the Relative Humidity In Your Home

Comparing indoor and outdoor relative humidity readings for the same location

Here's how we check the approximate relative humidity in our loft.

To begin with we need the current outdoor temperature and the current dew point which we get from any number of weather sites. In this example they are 0 and -6 respectively.

We load the calculator (http://andrew.rsmas.miami.edu/bmcnoldy/Humidity.html), plug those numbers into the appropriate boxes and hit the "Calculate" button. Hopefully the resulting RH (relative humidity) will be close to the same as shown on the weather page we visited earlier.

Next we clear the RH field, replace the temperature field with our current indoor temperature and calculate again. In this example, with no additional humidification the indoor RH would be a staggering 50% less. 

In all honesty, we never actually do any of those calculations for our location. We have a bunch of hygrometers scattered around the loft and one or two full room humidifiers running from late September until well into May. We make sure we're at at least 40% RH but it's good to know just how much of an uphill fight it is to maintain comfortable and safe mumidity. Try it for your home. 

Ben Moore Fingerstyle Player and Teacher

When Ben Moore pointed us towards some of the cool videos he's recorded of his fingerstyle playing on a left handed conversion of our Tofino acoustic guitar we wanted to share them. Enjoy!

Ben is a classically trained guitarist who concentrates on contemporary fingerstyle, composition, and teaching. He’s from Cambridge Ontario but recently graduated the Music Performance program with honours (under the tutelage of Dr. Matthew Gould) at Cambrian College in Sudbury. He placed second in 2014’s OMFA provincials performing Grade 9 classical guitar and has received numerous high golds from Sudbury’s Kiwanis Music Festival in 2015.
Ben’s works include pieces for piano, orchestra, and guitar ensemble. Most recently he has released several cover arrangement/original video's on his YouTube and Facebook. He has 2 albums: his debut album named “Exposed” (2014), and "That's That for That" (2015) which are both contemporary fingerstyle.

See (and hear) more of Ben's great playing on his Youtube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLiXkN2sE8s7oO-BYEi0aK5aheDeq_3Vhe)

Guitar Care - How To Humidify Your Guitar.

First published October 2012 - republished annually each October

When I was young and innocent – young and stupid would be more accurate – back in the 60s, I carried a Martin D-28 all over Canada and down into California - in a cardboard case – hitchhiking, jumping trains and delivering drive-away dealer cars. The guitar not only survived my careless treatment, but never suffered any ill effects from a lack of humidity. Truth be told no one seemed to be aware of any issues related to dry air back then. Fifty years later its different. Everyone is concerned about humidity – too much in hot summer or southern states and too little in dry winter conditions or high altitude climates. Why the change? ...more importantly..is there any reason for a guitarist to worry about the humidity?

To begin with lets define what we mean by humidity, or more accurately relative humidity because the measurement of moisture in the air is always expressed as a percentage of the total amount of moisture the air could hold – relative to the temperature. Listen to the weather report and you'll hear the announcer say something like “The relative humidity today is 40%” That doesn't mean 40% of the air is water vapour. It means that the air outside is holding 40% of the water vapour it is capable of holding.

That's an important point to understand and gets us 1/2 way up humidity mountain. Its drier at the top which, of course, is the reason for the climb. To reach the summit we need to add in the temperature factor. Cold air holds less humidity than warm air but because we're measuring that vapour as a percentage of the air's ability to hold moisture its not unusual to have a humidex reading of 40% or 50% or more in the height of winter. The air feels dry but has a humidity readout of 50%? The same reading in summer produces insufferable dripping (dare I say it) sweat.

Cold winter air simply can't hold much moisture so even a high (remember- relative to temperature) humidity reading is still pretty dry. 50% of not very much is still not very much.

Here's where it becomes a train wreck for musicians, people, dogs, cats and pretty much everything except goldfish: Lets assume, for the sake of argument the humidity reading outside your window on a 0 Celsius (32 F) day is 40%.

That's the air you're importing into your home. Question - Is it still going to have a relative humidity of 40% once you heat it to the 20 degree range (70F?)? (Remember we're measuring the amount of moisture in the air relative to what it can hold and warm air can hold more moisture than cold air.) If you answered yes you'll need to go back to base camp and start the climb again – or I need to be less obscure.

Cold winter air, once heated to a comfortable temperature, can have a relative humidity of under 10%. Nature arbors a vacuum but she really gets pissed off about discrepancies! The air in a building may have a very low humidity level but everything else in the building doesn't. That's a discrepancy in need of correction so moisture starts moving out of your skin, your furniture and (finally some relevance) your guitar into the air in order to achieve a balance. Your skin cracks, furniture joints dry out and guitar strings start buzzing. The balance, of course is never achieved because we keep on sucking in new cold air, heating it up and lowering the interior humidity.

Buzzing strings and sharp fret ends are canaries in the coal mine for an acoustic owner - early warning signs of a need to humidify. The strings are likely buzzing because the top of the guitar has dried and dropped. Even 1/100th of an inch produces noticeable changes in playability. (NB. Altitude and atmospheric pressure can also cause a guitar top to move like a barometer). Fret ends are protruding because the neck is shrinking in girth as it sheds humidity. The guitar will be less playable – but more importantly continued exposure to dry air may result in permanent damage. Don't believe me? Take a look at every reputable guitar makers warranty. Ask yourself why they all (we're no different) specifically exclude cracking due to lack of humidification. Wood shrinks across the grain as it drys. Constrained wood such a guitar tops with bracing running perpendicular to the grain won't stop shrinking. It simply splits. What started life as a beautiful solid wood acoustic guitar can be reduced to kindling without a bit of care.

So now we're solid on what relative humidity is all about and we're paranoid about protecting our guitars from its insatiable thirst. Good. Lets dump the theory lecture and put a working game plan in place.

If the environment where we keep our guitars is too dry the solution is to raise the humidity level. Not rocket science. But not brain dead simple either. To begin with the operative word in the above sentence is “IF”. Before we start pumping all kinds of moisture into the air we should know how much (if any) hydration we need. Over hydrating a guitar has its own set of problems. We also need to have a system that works for our specific needs.

Establishing the actual relative humidity is accomplished with the use of simple (and cheap) little metering device called a hygrometer. Park it in room and the needle or digital reading will pretty quickly tell you the relative humidity of that room.

Once we know how dry the air is we'll use some sort of humidifier to raise the level to 40% or 50%.

Here's the rub (or rubs).

Rub 1 - No hygrometer I've ever seen is accurate. They can't be trusted. But they can be calibrated. Do a web search for calibrate hygrometer with salt and you'll find a few dozen sites explaining how to establish your hygrometer's inaccuracy. Then add or subtract that amount to get an accurate reading.

Rub 2 – Most methods of maintaining a decent moisture level suck the big one. Despite what that heating specialist (fast talking salesman) told you, whole house humidifiers attached to the furnace are useless. If you have one take your newly calibrated hygrometer on a tour of you house and watch the reading swing wildly from room to room.

In-case, or sound hole humidifiers aren't ideal either. Some are better than others but they all rely on passive evaporation to draw out their moisture - not highly effective! They hold micro amounts of water that may or may not reach some parts of the guitar (one manufacturer specifically warns that their sound hole humidifier may do little or nothing for the neck. In very dry climates in-case humidifiers are, by themselves absolutely useless.

My personal preference is a stand-alone in-room humidifier. They don't cost a lot (most hardware and home decor stores run pretty good sales this time of year) and they do the job well. They have their own built-in hygrometer (no more accurate than the one you bought – you did buy one right? But at least you'll know and compensate for the error). Provided you keep your guitar in the same room as the humidifier (did I really need to make that point?) and you fill the humidifier when it runs dry (again, it seems obvious but...?) you'll go through the driest winter with a beautifully playable guitar.

Some additional notes:

A very good guitarist in Nova Scotia told me that he didn't need to humidify his guitars because he lived right beside the ocean. He was wrong (about humidity not about where he lived) The humidity level in his house in January was 22%. The physics of heating cold dry air doesn't change because you've got a lobster pond across the road.
Another guitarist – this one in Alberta – had some musician friends over last October and handed one of them a guitar he'd stored away for a few months (no humidification) The guitar had cracked in storage. Some areas of the continent are drier than others. If you live just east of the Rockies the air you get is already dry at the best of times. Don't wait for the first snowfall - and don't rely on a tiny in-case humidifier. You'll destroy your guitar in a matter of (very cold) days.

Oh..and that Martin I campaigned across North America? Back then the construction techniques weren't as precise nor was the glue as binding as today. Wood may have been more seasoned (I have my doubts) and homes weren't very well insulated. Or perhaps I was just lucky on the road. I do know that somewhere near Salinas, ......

Tofino Will Sell Out Soon

Tofino Cedar top solid wood acoustic
Tofino Cedar top acoustic
Based on current sales trends it appears almost certain that the available stock of Tofino, our most popular guitar, will sell out before the next shipment arrives in our loft. The upshot is that there are very few available for December holiday orders. If you plan to surprise a loved one with their very own Tofino this winter it may be a smart move to shop early. As in past years, we would be happy to hold your purchase in our humidity controlled loft until closer to the gift date. Just let us know when we should ship it. Tofino Order Page

Irish Mythen Playing Tofino at the Stewart Park Festival

We were treated to an impromptu performance by both Irish Myhen and Steve Poltz at the closing party for volunteers at the 25th Annual Stewart Park Festival in Perth, Ontario.

The 25th Annual Stewart Park Festival in Perth Ontario

John Marr presents John Newman, the Stewart Park Festival volunteer, with his new guitar

John Marr (right) presents John Newman, this year's winner, with a Tofino.

What a rewarding weekend! What more could you ask for than two stages of fabulous music, a bucolic setting in the middle of a picturesque Ontario town offering us a chance to meet and make new friends with some really wonderful people?
 
In the course of any given day, we usually only have conversations with musicians via email, phone, text or web chat. Rarely do we meet people face to face so were looking forward to setting up at the Annual Stewart Park Festival in Perth, Ontario. It gave us a chance to introduce our hand crafted guitars to a whole new audience as well as get one-on-one feedback. MacKenzie & Marr Guitars donated a solid wood acoustic guitar to Stewart Park Festival volunteers. The guitar was drawn during the wrap dinner at the end of the Festival.
 
This year we had the added pleasure of having both Irish Mythen and Steve Poltz treating us to an impromptu concert on a park bench outside the Crystal Palace at the volunteers' party. They were kind enough to let us video their performances so that you too can enjoy their generosity and talent.
 
If you've never visited Perth or (even worse!) never attended the Stewart Park Festival, now is the time to mark it off in your 2017 calendar. We'll be back with our solid wood guitars but more importantly, so will a host of fabulous musicians and a team of gung-ho volunteers.

The Ottawa Guitar Show

The Ottawa Guitar Show
We'll be attending the 2016 Ottawa Guitar Show and Musicians Mart on Sunday May 29th. Why not come out to say hello. If you're already a MacKenzie & Marr guitar owner we'd love to meet you. If you don't yet own one of our solid wood acoustics this is your chance to find out what all the talk is about. We'll have the new (and almost sold out) 710, our two cedar top dreadnoughts - the Tom Rush Signature and the Naked Lady - and the small body Opeongo available to play. We'll also have our 100% cotton T-shirts for sale. They'll be priced at a show special discount.

The Real Price of an Acoustic Guitar

How much does a good acoustic guitar cost and what goes into a guitar to make it worth its price? In other words "How can a musician figure out the "real" price of an acoustic guitar?

Tough questions? Not really. We know the answer. We'll share it with you and tell you how we came up with the number.

Firstly we want to establish what constitutes a "good" guitar. For our yardstick we're going with the following:

  • an all solid wood body - no laminated tops backs or sides. "Laminated" is nothing more than the industry's way of saying "plywood" - kind of like "The parrot is only resting" 
  • quality hardware. (e.g tuning machines that stay in tune, and bone or Tusq rather than plastic nuts and saddles)

Next we need to consider how those materials are cared for and assembled. Proper drying, honest grading and carefull storage of wood all have a huge effect on the final product. It may be tempting to cut costs by using wood too soon (think Orson Wells) or save on real estate by not having enough dry rooms but the results show.

The third component of our "good" guitar is the actual assembly. 21st century technology such as CNC machines are fine for tasks like carving neck blanks but can't compete with skilled hand work for setting those necks - especially if you want a guitar with more than ho-hum sound. 

So our baseline is a all solid wood guitar made from dry selected woods and put together with skilled human hands. How much does that guitar cost? That depends.

In addition to the cost of the actual materials and workmanship you need to factor in the cost of getting the guitar from the factory to your eager little (sorry Donald) hands. The industry term for that trip is "distribution". It's one of the messy secrets of the music business that - from factory to brand to distributor to regional distributor to dealer - it can add as much as 60% to the final price. That's right - as much as 60%. Each step involves not just shipping and warehousing but credit departments, sales departments, accounting departments etc....hundreds or thousands of people. Guess who pays their salaries.

We're going to suggest that the real price of a guitar is the lowest price paid by anyone in that distribution chanel. If a factory sells a guitar to a disributor for $800 and through multiple markups that guitar eventually sits on a dealers wall with a $2,000 sticker price is the real price

When so much of the final price has little or nothing to do with the materials and workmanship its time to rethink how guitars aree sold. This is the 21st century. There's no reason to pay prices based on a creaky distribution system that dates back to the launch of the Titanic. 

 

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