JohnMarr3's blog | MACKENZIE AND MARR GUITARS

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JohnMarr3's blog

Our Journey to African Mahogany

Our first guitar, TOFINO, was crafted with the back and sides of an African Mahogany known as Okume. Shortly after introducing the model, we became concerned with stories of rampant wood poaching on the continent. That precipitated a change to Indonesian plantation-grown Mahogany for subsequent production. We felt we were offering a more sustainable guitar. But, we were informed that everyone's favourite, the Orangutan, was losing its habitat to these plantations. 

Damned if you do...damned if you don't.

The country of Gabon rides to the rescue. With newly passed and strictly enforced forestry management laws, poaching and rampant rape of precious wood resources were, if not entirely eradicated, significantly reduced. 

For our small company, that was. blessing. Not only could we be comfortable with the sustainability of our Mahogany but also we could upgrade from Okume to Kaya Ivorensis.

Win Win.

Kaya Ivonisis, also known as African Mahogany, is a highly sought-after tonewood used in constructing acoustic guitars. It possesses various characteristics that contribute to its desirability as a tonewood.

One of Kaya Ivonisis's prominent features is its balanced tonal properties. It offers a warm, rich, and well-rounded sound, with a strong emphasis on mid-range frequencies. This tonal balance allows the guitar to produce clear and articulate notes, making it suitable for a wide range of musical genres.

Another advantage of Kaya Ivonisis is its excellent sustain. The wood's density and stiffness contribute to a longer sustain, enabling notes to ring out with clarity and depth. This extended sustain adds a pleasing resonance and depth to the guitar's sound, enhancing the overall playing experience.

In addition, Kaya Ivonisis exhibits good projection capabilities. It can efficiently project sound waves, ensuring that the guitar's sound carries well in various performance settings. This makes it suitable for both intimate studio recordings and live performances in larger venues.

Furthermore, Kaya Ivonisis is known for its stability and durability. It is resistant to warping and has a high level of dimensional stability, ensuring that the guitar maintains its structural integrity over time. This feature is crucial for an acoustic guitar, as it helps to preserve its tonal qualities and overall playability.

Kaya Ivonisis is a tonewood with a balanced tonal response, excellent sustain, good projection, and durability. These characteristics make it a popular choice among luthiers and guitar players alike, contributing to its reputation as a high-quality tonewood for acoustic guitars.

Meet the Montreal Walnut Twins

Two Walnut inserts in all MacKenzie & Marr guitar necks
An inside view of a MacKenzie & Marr neck.

What started  as a unique experimental way to develop an acoustic guitar neck that would resist the extra tension of 12 string guitars has turned out to be our secret weapon for delivering extraordinary playability - low action and no buzzing on all of our models.

 

When designing the neck of our Algonquin 12 string guitar we had two opposing parameters. It needed a be comfortable to play and at the same time have enough strength to resist the pull of 12 strings tuned to concert pitch.

 

I don't know who first came up with the idea of inserting two strips of very stiff hardwood into the mahogany neck on either side of the truss rod. It might have been Jerry. It might have been John. It could have been one of our very knowledgeable customers, but regardless of the source, the idea was pure genius, and not just because it allowed us to produce an awesome 12 string guitar.

 

Those two inserts, now referred to as the "Montreal Walnut Twins" changed the entire dynamic of acoustic guitar setups. Since we incorporated those MWT strips into every MacKenzie &Marr guitar neck we've achieved what many said couldn't be done consistently  - Low Action with No Buzzing.

Current MacKenzie & Marr Guitar Delivery Status

Updated May 30, 2024
 

Due to increased order activity we are now quoting 10 or more days shipping delay from date of order. 

Pre-order update: The new Grand Manan Sunburst acoustic, and preorders of The Ian Tyson Inspiration are expected to ship starting on May 27 2024.

As more and more guitarists learn about the quality of our guitars and the "Direct to Musician" pricing, we increasingly find ourselves low on inventory or sold out of many models. We can't increase production significantly without jeopardizing the unique features that make our guitars so special. 

 

The Merry Month of May Can Be Bad for Guitars

Here at MacKenzie & Marr, we're obsessed with humidity. Starting in October we monitor RH levels and make sure our hygrometers are accurate, and our humidifiers are topped up.

At home, it's no different. The guitars hanging in my studio deserve the same care as the ones in our office. But this year, I learned a lesson the hard way. The warm breezes of May are deceptive. They tricked me into opening the windows, leaving them open all day and not bothering with the humidifier--a big mistake. The spring air is still dry. Heating it as it comes indoors still lowers the interior RH. My decade old 12 string now has a minor endpin crack and the beginning of a split on the back.

Doing what I should have done all along - checking the hygrometer showed a reading of less than 20%. Live and learn!

Why We Exclusively Use Mahogany from Gabon

Gabon, a country located in Central Africa, has been making notable efforts to protect its valuable wood resources. Recognizing the importance of sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation, Gabon has implemented various measures to ensure its forests' responsible and long-term use.

One significant initiative is Gabon's establishment of a network of national parks and protected areas, covering approximately 10% of the country's land area. These protected areas serve as sanctuaries for a wide range of plant and animal species, safeguarding their habitats and promoting ecological balance.

Gabon has also implemented strict regulations and laws to combat illegal logging and promote sustainable forestry practices. It enforces rigorous monitoring and law enforcement mechanisms, utilizing technologies such as satellite imagery and drones to detect and prevent illegal logging activities. Additionally, the country has partnered with international organizations and neighbouring countries to strengthen its capacity in forest management and combat cross-border illegal timber trade.

Furthermore, Gabon has introduced certification schemes, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, to ensure responsible timber production and trade. By adhering to FSC standards, Gabon aims to promote sustainable logging practices that protect biodiversity, respect the rights of local communities, and minimize environmental impacts.

Through these comprehensive efforts, Gabon strives to balance economic development with the conservation of its wood resources. By promoting sustainable forestry practices, preserving biodiversity, and combating illegal logging, Gabon is taking proactive steps to protect its forests for the benefit of present and future generations.

My Conversation with ChatGPT

AI (artificial intelligence) generated text is the flavour of the moment, the journalistic darling of almost every media outlet. Learning that Microsoft was incorporating AI chat into its Bing search engine peeked my curiosity. I don't have access to the New Bing but, understanding it will be based on the CharGPT app I decided to find out what ChatGPT knew about MacKenzie & Marr Guitars.

Turns out ChatGPT is a big fan of the brand but might be a bit unsure of some details like the names of the models and the woods used.

Here's a condensed transcript of my chat session, with corrections to inaccurate information in brackets below the ChatGPT response.

My first question:

Are Mackenzie & Marr guitars good?

The ChatGPT response:

Mackenzie & Marr is a Canadian guitar company that specializes in handcrafted acoustic guitars. Their guitars are made using high-quality materials and traditional building methods, and are generally well-regarded by guitarists for their tone, playability, and overall quality.

Many guitarists have praised the Mackenzie & Marr guitars for their craftsmanship and attention to detail, as well as their unique tonal qualities. The company has also received positive reviews for its customer service and its commitment to environmental sustainability.

Ultimately, whether or not Mackenzie & Marr guitars are "good" depends on the individual player's preferences and needs. If you are in the market for an acoustic guitar, it may be worth checking out some reviews and trying out a few models from Mackenzie & Marr or other brands to see which one best suits your playing style and sound preferences.

I then asked:

Where are Mackenzie and Marr guitars made?

The response:

Mackenzie & Marr guitars are made in China, but the company is based in Canada. The company was founded by two Canadian guitar enthusiasts who wanted to create high-quality, handcrafted acoustic guitars that were affordable and accessible to a wide range of players. They work closely with their manufacturing partners in China to ensure that their guitars are made to their exacting specifications, using high-quality materials and traditional building techniques.

Once the guitars are made, they are shipped to Canada for final assembly, set-up, and quality control before being shipped to customers.

I asked:

Why are they so cheap?

Chat GPT told me:

Mackenzie & Marr offers a range of handcrafted acoustic guitars that are priced competitively compared to other brands in their category. While their guitars are priced lower than some high-end, handcrafted acoustic guitars, they are still well-regarded for their quality and tone.

There are a few reasons why Mackenzie & Marr guitars are priced affordably.

Firstly, the company has a direct-to-consumer sales model, which means that they sell their guitars directly to customers through their website and do not rely on third-party retailers. This allows them to keep their prices lower than other brands that have to cover the costs of retail markups.

Secondly, Mackenzie & Marr guitars are made in China, where the cost of labor and materials is lower than in North America or Europe. This allows the company to offer high-quality guitars at a more affordable price point.

Finally, the company focuses on offering a streamlined selection of guitar models, which allows them to optimize their production processes and keep costs down.

Overall, while Mackenzie & Marr guitars are priced affordably, they are still made with high-quality materials and traditional building methods, and are well-regarded by many guitarists for their tone, playability, and overall quality.

I asked:

Are there any customer reviews of their guitars?

The response:

Yes, there are many customer reviews of Mackenzie & Marr guitars available online. The company has a strong reputation among guitarists, and many customers have praised the quality, playability, and tone of their guitars. On the Mackenzie & Marr website, customers can leave reviews for the specific model of guitar they purchased, and many of these reviews are highly positive.

Additionally, the company has a 4.8-star rating on Google Reviews based on over 50 customer reviews, and a 4.7-star rating on Trustpilot based on over 80 reviews. Many reviewers have praised the craftsmanship and attention to detail of Mackenzie & Marr guitars, as well as their unique tonal qualities.

Customers have also noted that the company's customer service is top-notch, and that they are responsive and helpful in addressing any questions or concerns. Of course, as with any guitar brand, there may be some negative reviews or criticisms, but overall Mackenzie & Marr has a strong reputation for producing high-quality, affordable handcrafted acoustic guitars.

So far so good. But then it went a bit off the rails.....

When I asked "Where can I buy one of their guitars" the response was not entirely accurate.

Mackenzie & Marr guitars are sold directly from the company's website, which is the best place to purchase one of their guitars. The website offers a selection of handcrafted acoustic guitars, as well as accessories and merchandise.

(Apart from an optional Anthem pickup we offer no accessories)

When you purchase a guitar from the Mackenzie & Marr website, you have the option to customize some features, such as the color and the type of pickup, to suit your preferences.

(Not true. There are no color or optional pickup choices)

The website also offers a range of resources, such as videos and tutorials, to help you choose the right guitar and get the most out of your purchase. Mackenzie & Marr offers free shipping within Canada and the United States, and international shipping is available for an additional fee. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, which allows you to return the guitar for a full refund if you are not satisfied.
 

(Shipping, unfortunately is not free and the "Love it or Leave it" return guarantee is for 7 not 30 days) 

In addition to the company's website, Mackenzie & Marr guitars are sometimes available through third-party retailers or used guitar marketplaces, but it is generally best to purchase directly from the company to ensure that you are getting an authentic product and to take advantage of their customer support and satisfaction guarantee.

Now we're really going to get lost in the weeds.

Do they make a dreadnought?

Yes, Mackenzie & Marr does make a dreadnought-style acoustic guitar. The model is called the "Stellar Jay," and it is a handcrafted dreadnought guitar that is designed to offer a powerful and balanced tone with great projection and clarity. The Stellar Jay features a solid spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, and an ebony fingerboard and bridge. It also comes equipped with high-quality Grover tuners and a Fishman Sonitone pickup system, which makes it a great choice for both studio recording and live performances.

Like all Mackenzie & Marr guitars, the Stellar Jay is made using traditional building methods and high-quality materials, and it is priced affordably compared to other handcrafted dreadnought guitars on the market. It also comes with a hardshell case and a range of customization options, such as different finishes and the option to upgrade to an LR Baggs Anthem pickup system.

Overall, the Mackenzie & Marr Stellar Jay is a well-regarded dreadnought guitar that is known for its great tone, playability, and overall quality.

(I've never heard of the Stellar Jay and I own the company.)

Now for more mystery guitars.

Do they make a 12-string acoustic?

Yes, Mackenzie & Marr does make a 12-string acoustic guitar. The model is called the "Tundra 12," and it is a handcrafted guitar that is designed to offer a rich, full sound with great clarity and sustain. The Tundra 12 features a solid spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, and an ebony fingerboard and bridge. It also comes equipped with high-quality Grover tuners and an LR Baggs Anthem pickup system, which makes it a great choice for both studio recording and live performances.
Like all Mackenzie & Marr guitars, the Tundra 12 is made using traditional building methods and high-quality materials, and it is priced affordably compared to other handcrafted 12-string guitars on the market. It also comes with a hardshell case and a range of customization options, such as different finishes and the option to add an onboard tuner. Overall, the Mackenzie & Marr Tundra 12 is a well-regarded 12-string guitar that is known for its rich, full sound and excellent playability. If you are in the market for a handcrafted 12-string guitar, the Tundra 12 is definitely worth considering. jmarr@macmarr.com

(Again' I've never heard of the Tundra 12. Time to try setting the record straight.)

What is the Algonquin 12?

The Algonquin 12 is a handcrafted 12-string acoustic guitar made by Mackenzie & Marr. It is named after Algonquin Park, a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts in Ontario, Canada.
The Algonquin 12 is a dreadnought-style guitar that features a solid spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. The neck is made of mahogany and features an ebony fretboard with custom-designed inlays that are inspired by the park's natural surroundings. The Algonquin 12 is designed to deliver a rich, full sound with excellent projection and sustain. It is also highly playable, with a comfortable neck profile and a low action that makes it easy to play complex chords and fingerstyle patterns.

(While it is a very playable guitar, there are no custom inlays and the back and sides are Bolivian Rosewood, not Mahogany.)

Like all Mackenzie & Marr guitars, the Algonquin 12 is handcrafted using traditional building methods and high-quality materials. It comes with a hardshell case and a range of customization options, including different finishes and the option to add an onboard pickup system.

(There are no finish options)

Overall, the Mackenzie & Marr Algonquin 12 is a highly-regarded 12-string guitar that is known for its excellent tone, playability, and overall quality. It is a great choice for anyone who is looking for a handcrafted 12-string guitar that is both affordable and highly versatile.

What is the Riverboat Dread?

The Riverboat Dread is a handcrafted acoustic guitar made by Mackenzie & Marr. It is named after the paddle-wheel steamers that used to ply the Mississippi River, which played a significant role in the development of American music. The Riverboat Dread is a dreadnought-style guitar that features a solid spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. The neck is made of mahogany and features an ebony fretboard with custom-designed inlays that are inspired by the riverboat theme.

(Again, there are no custom inlays and the back and sides are Bolivian Rosewood, not Mahogany. The Riverboat series is named in honour of Toronto's Riverboat Cafe and not after the Mississippi steamers.) 

The Riverboat Dread is designed to offer a balanced, clear tone with excellent projection and sustain. It is also highly playable, with a comfortable neck profile and a low action that makes it easy to play complex chords and fingerstyle patterns. Like all Mackenzie & Marr guitars, the Riverboat Dread is handcrafted using traditional building methods and high-quality materials.

It comes with a hardshell case and a range of customization options, including different finishes and the option to add an onboard pickup system.

(Those mysterious finishes again)

Overall, the Mackenzie & Marr Riverboat Dread is a highly-regarded acoustic guitar that is known for its excellent tone, playability, and overall quality. It is a great choice for anyone who is looking for a handcrafted dreadnought guitar that is both affordable and highly versatile.

At this stage I decided to actually "chat" with the A.I. beginning with:

Is Tofino a good guitar?

Mackenzie & Marr's Tofino model is generally regarded as a high-quality acoustic guitar that offers great tone and playability. It is a handcrafted dreadnought guitar that features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid African mahogany back and sides. The Tofino is designed to deliver a balanced and powerful tone, with excellent projection and sustain. Its neck is made of mahogany and features an ebony fretboard, which makes it highly playable and comfortable to play for extended periods of time.

One of the unique features of the Tofino is its sound port, which is located on the upper shoulder of the guitar. This design element helps to enhance the player's personal monitoring of their sound, while also improving projection and tone for the audience.

Like all Mackenzie & Marr guitars, the Tofino is handcrafted using traditional building methods and high-quality materials. It comes with a hardshell case and a range of customization options, including different finishes and the option to add an onboard pickup system.

Overall, the Mackenzie & Marr Tofino is a well-regarded acoustic guitar that is known for its excellent tone, playability, and overall quality. If you're in the market for a high-quality handcrafted dreadnought guitar, the Tofino is definitely worth considering. jmarr@macmarr.com

I typed "You said Tofino has a Spruce top but I believe the top is Cedar"

The reply came back:

You are correct, I apologize for the error in my previous response. The Mackenzie & Marr Tofino model actually features a solid cedar top, not a solid spruce top. Cedar is a popular tonewood for acoustic guitar tops, known for its warm and mellow tone and responsiveness to a lighter touch. The Tofino's cedar top is paired with solid African mahogany back and sides, which together provide a balanced and powerful tone with excellent projection and sustain. Again, I apologize for the error and thank you for bringing it to my attention.

And then

Are you sure Tofino is a Dreadnought?

You are correct, the Mackenzie & Marr Tofino model is not actually a dreadnought guitar, but rather a smaller-bodied guitar that Mackenzie & Marr refers to as a "concert cutaway" shape. The Tofino has a body size that is between a dreadnought and a concert guitar, making it a versatile and comfortable guitar to play. The body shape features a cutaway, which allows for easier access to the higher frets on the neck. Despite its smaller body size, the Tofino is still capable of producing a full and balanced sound, thanks to its solid cedar top and solid African mahogany back and sides. The guitar also features an innovative sound port, located on the upper shoulder of the guitar, which helps to enhance the player's personal monitoring of their sound, while also improving projection and tone for the audience. Again, I apologize for the confusion in my previous responses and thank you for bringing it to my attention.

My response "There is no sound port on the shoulder and Tofino is not a cutaway."

I apologize for the confusion, and thank you for correcting me. I was mistaken in my previous response. The Mackenzie & Marr Tofino model does not have a sound port on the shoulder, and it is not a cutaway guitar. The Tofino model has a smaller concert-sized body, which is slightly narrower and shallower than a dreadnought. It is designed to be a comfortable and versatile guitar, suitable for a wide range of playing styles. The guitar features a solid cedar top and solid African mahogany back and sides, and is built using traditional handcrafted methods. Once again, I apologize for my previous errors and any confusion that they may have caused.

Subsequently there followed a long back and forth about our return policy in which ChatGPT told me it was for 30, then 45, then 10 days. Shipping was not refundable, then it was, but customs duties were not. Eventually, it got it right in stating, the return period was 7 days, and there were no customs duties but it kept on insisting, incorrectly, that shipping was not refundable.

 

The Bridges of MacKenzie and Marr County

Enhancing sustain with the asymmetric bridge

We do things differently than other guitar brands. Take our bridges for example. Most makers use a standard symmetric bridge. The rise from the body at the bass and treble sides is identical. The bass end of the inserted saddle protrudes above the bridge more than the treble end.

Our bridges are asymetric, 2 to 3 mm higher on the bass side than the treble, allowing the saddle to seat evenly and deeply across all the strings. The improved bone-to-wood contact results in less frequency loss, longer sustain, and strong overtones.
 

Our asymmetric bridge design is one of the reasons the sound of MacKenzie and Marr guitars is often called "orchestral".

The Best Solid Wood Acoustic Guitars For the Money

The Ian Tyson Inspiration

At MacKenzie & Marr we're driven by the commitment to build the best solid wood guitars money could buy - no compromises, no corner cutting.

We're committed to solid wood for the tops, backs and sides. - nothing less than AAA-grade Spruce or Cedar for our book-matched tops. The difference in sound between AAA (or better) and lesser grades is astounding and one of the main reasons our guitars receive so many rave reviews from owners.

Our craftspeople are slow. Not as in "slow-minded" but as in "slow working". Building a good guitar takes time. Building a perfect guitar takes a lot of time. Everybody in our workshop is chasing perfection.....slowly. For some steps, we use CNC machines and laser cutters - certainly not traditional tools - simply because they do a great job.  Other tasks demand a craftsperson's hands. If the goal is to create a musical instrument with sustain and rich overtones you need to join the neck to the body with a handset dovetail joint. No machine can pull that one off. Selecting and book-matching the top and tonewoods is doable by automation but not if you want a great acoustic guitar. 

Beyond the wood and the craft of assembly, we go all out with things like tuning machines (high ratio genuine Grovers) nuts and saddles (actual bone) and bridge pins (either Ebony, Rosewood or bone). Little things do make a difference.

All that results in a truly astounding acoustic on our set-up bench where it gets fully tuned before being sent to its new home.

But wait. there's one more thing you need to know. Unlike all of our peers (that would be competitors), we have no dealers. It bears repeating - NO DEALERS. and NO DEALER MARKUP. That's a 40% minimum saving right off the top. So the question we'd like you to ask yourself is:

Do I want to buy a guitar for the price of the guitar or do I want to pay way more than I need to? Welcome to MacKenzie and Marr Guitars.

 

Curse You, Radio Paradise!

Until recently, my early mornings were spent catching up on reading, with music playing softly in the background.

Then, curse you, Radio Paradise! You invaded our living room and reduced my already fractured reading attention span to a gnat-like syllable-at-a-time level.

Your choice of songs is great. Three streams to choose from and different quality for car and home also great, but .. did you have to go visual? ...and did you have to do it in such a riveting, stunning, compelling way?

Other streaming services that play through TV/Audio connections show boring, easily ignored images of album covers. But you, you're just not satisfied doing what everyone else does, are you? You choose to show a revolving set of impossibly great full-screen curated photos visually tied to the specific song playing. I can't take my eyes off the screen, and therein lies the demise of my morning reading...!

In closing: Keep it up. And Thank you!

Why We Use Only AAA Grade or Better Top Wood

There's a convention for grading wood used in instruments such as guitars.

A lot of decisions are visual - how tight and how straight is the grain? Is there run-off? What about bear-claw, winter grain etc. But those visual clues are pointers to the potential sonic properties of the wood. In the right hands a highly graded wood is going to amplify the quality of the finished instrument. A lower grade will fail to live up to the maker's expectations.

The higher the grade, the straighter and tighter the grain. Straight grain transmits vibrations more crisply. Tight grain keeps frequencies from wandering off and getting lost in the weeds. Better grades are stiffer and stiffer tops can be made thinner, producing longer sustain and, in the right hands, overtones that simply amaze.

From day one we made the tough decision to select to use only AAA grade (or better) woods for our tops. The cost of upgrading from AA grade ( the standard of most large guitar makers) to AAA is significant. But so are the rewards. With no dealer markup, it breaks down to us paying more but you paying less. We'll continue to add value like high grade wood to every guitar we make.

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