JohnMarr's blog

You're not a Tom Rush Fan? We'll change that!

Tom put together a CD of some of his live shows a few years ago. We have a few copies and we'd love to give you one. All you need to do is send us a stamped self addressed CD mailer. CD mailers are available at most stationary stores. Please use our Canadian address. You'll find it on our contact page.

Fingerboards made with FSC certified Blackwood Tek

Blackwood Tek fingerboard on MacKenzie & Marr guitars

We're a small company. Our impact on the world, including our environmental footprint, is proportional to our size. But using that as an excuse not to do what we can would be a cop-out so every year we use the advent of Earth Day as an opportunity to do an internal audit of our business practices. As a result we've made changes in a lot of little things. Some things, how we pack guitars for example (we use end-cuts of ply-foam from a consumer packaging that would have gone straight to the landfill) extend the life of necessary consumables. Other things such as what we do with wood we rejected for quality reasons (we sell it to our competitors) actually reduce our costs. But nothing until now warranted talking about on Earth Day.

This year is a bit different. In addition to our internal examination of ways to improve we want to publicly announce a really big deal.

Rosewood and Ebony forests are threatened around the world. The guitar industry's need for significant quantities of both woods attracts, not only legitimate suppliers who practice sustainable forestry management, but also less-than-reputable loggers and vendors. Despite efforts by responsible companies (pretty much every brand, ourselves and our wood broker included) it is difficult to distinguish between the two. The global nature of the trade and the multiple layers involved murky the source.

Full logs - the source of our Rosewood back and sides- are not an issue. We know where they came from, who logged them, and every hand that touched them before ours. The big problem is the small stuff - specifically the blanks used to mill bridges and fingerboards - that's impossible to trace.

Two years ago we met Branko Hermescec, almost the epitome of the classic "mad scientist". He had developed an environmentally friendly way to modify New Zealand pine. He claimed products made with his process would be as hard, smooth and durable as Ebony, hence the name Blackwood. We were intrigued but initially sceptical. After two years of testing were happy to say his claims are completely justified.

Starting with our newest guitar we're eliminating all use of endangered woods for fingerboards and bridges. The Gratitude Canada 150 will feature KiwiWood fingerboards and bridges using FSC certified Blackwood Tek.

Le salon de guitare Vintage de Elmira

The Elmira Vintage Guitar Show
Cette année MacKenzie & Marr guitares seront présents au salon de guitare Vintage Elmira le 24 avril et le Stewart Park Festival de Perth en Ontario pendant deux jours en juillet. Sortir à chaque événement et arrêter à notre stand (RTE-t) pour dire Salut et essayer certains de nos guitares.
Nous voyagez à Elmira (Ontario) en voiture et n'ai Colocation de guitares une demi-douzaine. Étant donné que nous avons annoncé que nous serions là quelques clients ont passé des commandes pour le 710 nouvelles dans l'intention de les ramasser au salon... ce qui signifie que notre offre de guitares vendables est vraiment serré. Nous aurons la 710, un couple de Dames nues et, si nous pouvons trouver la salle, un Opeongo. Le Opeongo est pour démo seulement. Nous ne pouvons pas le vendre sur le salon, mais il permettra à toute personne qui envisage d'ajouter une petite guitare à leur collection de jouer un, de tomber en amour avec elle et de mettre en une pre-commande pour la livraison de juillet.

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

The Lyre - Ben Moore - Original Instrumental Guitar

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

Irish Mythen plays the MacKenzie & Marr Tofino

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.

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