JohnMarr's blog

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.

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 an 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 the original $800 or the final $2,000? We'll go with $800. When so much of the final price has little or nothing to do with the materials and workmanship its time to rethink how guitars are 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.   

Should Kevin O'Leary Endorse a MacKenzie & Marr Guitar?

Kevin O'Leary playing Tofino on Dragon's Den
On January 13, 2010 the CBC hit show, Dragons Den aired an episode with Kevin O'Leary playing two guitars - one a $5000 model from a very limited high end maker and the other, our new Tofino, priced at $900. Kevin's challenge was, while blindfolded, to identify the high priced guitar. To our delight he picked Tofino as the better sounding and better playing of the two. Still blindfolded, he held up our guitar and said emphatically to an audience of a few million viewers "This is the $5000 guitar". He created an instant stampede of orders and signed on as one of our business partners. We still produce that guitar. In fact its consistently one of our best selling models. Visit the Tofino page of our site for more information.
Now, six years later we'd like to introduce a special "Kevin O'Leary" edition of Tofino. The problem with doing so is that Kevin is very shy. We sense a reluctance on his part to be honoured with his own guitar. What do you think?

Trump to Ban MacKenzie & Marr (humour)

A reliable source has reported that, Donald Trump if elected President, will to move to ban MacKenzie and Marr as well as their highly affordable guitars from entering the United States.

“Musical instruments lead to music which leads to harmony, understanding and good will toward men. That's not what we're about” Trump is quoted as saying. “We need to remain decisive about remaining divisive. Besides, both MacKenzie and Marr are Canadians. If we open our doors to them and their guitars what's going to follow.....a flood of flutes or French (Canadian) horns? Making music should be reserved for the rich. Affordable guitars are not in the county's interest.

Reached at his office in Montreal, John (Mr. Guitar) Marr reacted with surprise. He speculated that the proposed ban may have more to do with Mr. Trump's youthful and painful attempt to carve out a career as a Gypsy Jazz guitarist before being pulled into the family real estate business by his father (who is generally referred to as the “successful” Trump).

Dr. Jonathan (The Resonator) MacKenzie was busy saving lives and unavailable for comment.

All the Sound You Cannot See

MacKenzie & Marr Guitars - gluing in the kerfing

Every year since we began crafting guitars we've made incrimental improvements to each production run. For 2015 the changes go far beyond "incrimental". 

From milling and drying our own raw wood to adding a new side bending system, we've revamped almost every step of our guitar making. Here's a link to some of the things we've changed.

All the sound you cannot see

The First Annual Guitar Generosity Index

Guitar generosity index

We've started tracking how many guitars we send out each year as gifts -who buys them and who receives them. The results may surprise you.

We used a scale from 0 to 100 to represent the number (not the dollar value) of guitars we could clearly identify as gifts. We went back to the start of 2014 so this graph takes into account birthdays, graduation, anniversaries Christmas etc. There's a couple of days left in this Holiday season's buying binge but based on our findings so far and our experiece in past years here's what we think is solid (semi or non -scientific) evidence of who is giving and getting and who is not.

When it comes to guitars as gifts wives are astoundingly generous. Husbands not so much. There isn't a month that goes by that we don't get requests from wives to help them pick out a guitar for a special occasion. There's a  lot of very lucky husbands in this country.

Wives may be great givers but when it comes to guitars they they're not so lucky. Either there are very few married female guitarists or husbands are spending way too much time in Victoria Secrets. If you're a husband looking for a guitar for your wife we'd suggest takng a very good look (and listen) to our new Opeongo.

Parents giving guitars to their kids tend to break down into two groups -by far the most common is the father getting a Dreadnought for a son to stop the boy from taking his own MacKenzie & Marr guitar. The other (very surprising) parent buyer  is one who call us in November or December to buy a guitar for each of their children. That sort of call is not an everyday occurance but we never say no to supplying family with matching MacKenzie & Marr guitars.

Kids - almost always adults - picking a guitar as a gift for a parent is usually accompanied by a touching story of love and respect. We treasure those stories - perhaps because we're at the age where our own children are grown - learning to make their way in the world and developing new and wonderful ways of relating to us.

Finally there's one group of guitar givers not represented by this graph. Regardless of who is the end recipient of each MacKenzie & Marr guitar we remain grateful for the purchaser's faith in our company and our instruments. To us that's a gift we treasure. We want to thank you and to wish you and your's the best of the Holiday Season.

Where the Deals Hide

Occasionally we get a bit goofy and offer a one hour or one day sale on one of our guitar models.
The only way to catch theses deals is to "like" MacKenzie & Marr on Facebook because that's where we announce them so why not click here, hit the "Like" button and be prepared to save some loot?

The New Tofino

This summer (written in 2011) marked our third year in business and our second since we taped the Dragon's Den episode that launched MacKenzie & Marr Guitars. It also saw the arrival of the long overdue order of second generation Tofino and Dionisio guitars. I'd made three trips to China in the last 9 months to deal with delays and misunderstandings with the factory. This order would tell whether time and expense had paid off. Would these guitars be as outstanding as we hoped?

With a great deal of trepidation we cut open the first carton. Initial reaction from everyone present, “WOW – you've changed the cases. Do they ever look great!” We'd made a number of changes to the cases – new outer material, an additional neck support, one extra clasp on the far side of the lid and, last but not least, a built in mini-hygrometer (great in theory – not so good in practice. More on that later.)The end result did indeed look wonderful. The case was improved but what about the guitar?

The minute the first Tofino was unwrapped – before tuning it and before playing it - I knew we had a winner. The guitar was pristine. So was the second, the third and so on. Not one guitar we examined had the slightest flaw. The factory had outdone themselves.

Playing the new guitars was another revelation. We'd made some subtle design changes, most of which will remain secret, and early samples suggested there would be an associated improvement in sound. Just how much of an improvement was something we weren't prepared for. The new Tofinos blew us away – greater projection, stronger bass and, if possible, longer sustain.

Here, in a nutshell are the changes we've made:

  1. Back and sides are now mahogany. We've heard disturbing stories about harvesting practices in central Africa, where our Akoumé was grown. Coupled with a constant supply shortage, it made continuing with the wood undesirable. Working with plantation raised Mahogany solved the ethical issue and actually sounded better. A win for the planet and a solid win for our customers.
  2. The body depth in the lower bout has been increased marginally. It made sense to carry the results of our experiments with ways of maintaining tonal “punch” in a cutaway guitar (Dionisio) through to the full body model.
  3. We've replaced the Goto 381 16:1 tuners used on the first series of Tofino acoustics with our own 18:1 tuning machines. The change was made primarily to eliminate a bottleneck in production time but the high ratio (to rotate the post a full 360 degrees requires 18 full turns of the button) gives us bragging rights. It also makes for even more granular tuning accuracy.
  4. The fretboard is slightly flatter – a 14 inch radius as opposed to the original 12 inch radius. For most players the difference will not be noticeable but for those struggling with barre chords the change will be welcome.
  5. The “secret sauce”. Every company has a list of ingredients they add to their product but won't reveal publicly. We're no different. Tofino has been favourably compared to guitars costing thousands more since it was introduced. We made that happen by building a really good guitar out of top quality materials -and by doing some things we don't think our competitors have discovered. The new Tofino has one more “secret sauce” ingredient that elevates it to a whole new level. We won't tell you what it is, but play one and you'll agree – no other guitar in its price range comes close to the sound and playability of a MacKenzie & Marr Tofino.

 

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An Important Note Regarding Porch Pirates

When we ship a guitar we always send it with instructions to the courier that a signature MUST be obtained at the time of delivery. If no one is home to sign for the carton, it will not be left. We do this to ensure that your guitar does not fall into the hands of porch pirates (or other nefarious characters such as bass players or drummers).

Fall In Love In Less Than a Week

Try any of our guitars in the comfort of your own home. If you don't fall head over heels in love within a week we'll arrange to take it back and issue a full refund (including shipping).

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