JohnMarr's blog | MACKENZIE AND MARR GUITARS

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JohnMarr's blog

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.

Our First Customer

Kevin O'Leary playing the first Tofino acoustic guitar
A blindfolded Kevin O'Leary playing Tofino.

In December of 2009, we received a call from New Brunswick. The man on the other end of the line wanted to know if he could purchase our first (and at the time only) guitar - Tofino. That in itself may not seem strange. After all, in the intervening years, we've fielded thousands of similar calls.

What made this call different from all the subsequent phone sales was that except for the production crew of CBC Dragons Den, no one knew of our existence. In May of that year, we'd taped the now-infamous episode where a blindfolded Kevin O'Leary had picked our guitar over one costing thousands more. We'd signed a non-disclosure, agreeing not to reveal any details of our experience - so how did the guy on the phone know anything about us?

We were more than happy to sell him a guitar. He explained that his daughter was one of the CBC production assistants and had worked on our taping. Knowing her father was a guitar player, she gave him a heads up.

At MacKenzie & Marr, we have a small celebration every year on December 21st, which we refer to as "Basil Kazakos Day" in honour of our first customer. This year we were thrilled to receive an email from Basil reviewing the guitar he purchased almost 14 years ago.

Here is what he said:

On December 21st, 2009, I placed an order to purchase a Mackenzie and Marr guitar. It was a Tofino, the only guitar they were making at the time. The guitar was recommended to me by my daughter, who was working at CBC on the Dragon's Den show at the time, and this guitar (and company) caused quite a sensation with all the players who worked for CBC. Based on what they told her about the guitar, she phoned me, gave me the story and said to me that I should order one.

As a rule, I don't collect guitars. I feel I only need one of each; one acoustic steel-string guitar, one classical guitar, one solid body electric guitar, one vintage acoustic-electric guitar and one solid body electric bass. I had a Martin Guitar and, at the time, felt that it was the only one I needed for its category.

However, I was intrigued with the buzz at CBC, the Dragon's Den Show, the concept of the guitar and the company. I felt it was worth giving the Tofino a shot. It came through Canada Post in a huge well-packed box. When I brought it home, unpacked the box and opened the case, it was a joy to see for the first time. The attention to detail was remarkable; it was nice and light. It played beautifully, especially after changing the strings to D' Addario Silk and Steel. All I have added was a pickup, which wasn't an option from the company when I first bought it.

Twelve years later, almost to the day, it is still a joy to play. The Tofino is my go-to guitar when I want to learn a new song, experiment with a solo or practice for a gig.

The Martin is long gone, I traded it for a much better classical guitar.

I would rank my Tofino guitar as it is: 5 out of 5; no regrets on this purchase.

Basil Kazakos
New Brunswick, Canada

The Spouse of a Guitar Collector Gives Some Timely Advice

Guitar Acquisition Syndrome Advice for Spouses of Guitar Owners

We thought we'd finally use the video equipment we've been buying for something more than paperweights. Calling on the awesome talents of "the Babe", we crafted this fine example of why the guitar business is just plain fun. Enjoy!

A Letter From a New Friend

A letter from a happy guitarist

We've always said that we're not in this for the money. No sane person would start a guitar business to get rich. Yes, turning a profit is kind of important. It helps pay the bills and keep the lights on. But the real reward is the satisfaction of our customers. We encourage reviews from owners for three reasons: Firstly, it strokes our ego. We love hearing from owners who are surprised by just how good their new guitar actually is. Secondly, it gives us feedback on where we need to focus to make the experience even better, and finally, it plays a vital role in attracting other new owners.

Most reviews arrive in the form of bits and bites - small digital chunks that end up stored as words, sentences and paragraphs. Imagine our surprise and delight when we found an envelope in our physical mailbox that contained an actual letter from a new customer. Not only a folded paper letter but one that was composed on a typewriter.

I wrote John (by email, I confess) asking if we could share his praise for Tofino X, at the same time mentioning how unusual it was to receive a typewritten letter. He replied with his generous assent and went on to say:

Hi John, yes, by all means you can use my comments. And let me add that the guitar continues to show me new notes and combinations and melodies every day. An amazing instrument.

Speaking of amazing instruments, every now and then when I write I like to go acoustic, and I found a 1963-ish Olivetti Lettera 32 for those times. It's a legendary typewriter in its own way. Its initial iteration, the Lettera 22 (the same typewriter, really), is in the Museum of Modern Art for its design. American author Cormac McCarthy wrote nearly all of his works on a 32, and then sold it for a quarter of a million dollars. He used some of that to buy another 32. And you can find Leonard Cohen's muse, Marianne Ihlen, seductively typing on one on the back cover of Cohen's album "Songs from a Room."  It's really a lot of fun to play -- I mean, write with.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and for giving us a look in the window of your creativity.

We're Not For Sale

Years (iOK...decades) ago, when I was in the sporting good business there was a saying that went something like "If you haven't heard a rumour by noon on Monday - start one". Lately, a stream of questions about whether MacKenzie & Marr is selling out to one of the major guitar brands has hit my inbox. Someone is starting rumours with no basis in fact. The potential suitors in these false stories range from Martin to Taylor to Gibson. How the misinformation gets traction is beyond me.

Let me put any and all of them to rest.

We are not for sale. We have had no conversations or correspondence with Taylor Guitars on any subject including the purchase of MacKenzie & Marr Guitars. The same goes for Gibson.

No conversations with representatives of Martin Guitars touched on MacKenzie & Marr Guitars as a potential acquisition. They neither expressed interest in buying us nor did we suggest we were open to a purchase.

In short, we're independent and intend to stay independent.

Canadian Price Increases

The Canadian dollar has taken a bit of a hit in the last few months. We buy materials and pay artisans in US dollars so that's had a significant effect on our costs. Much as we'd like to avoid price increase it's no longer possible.

We need to bump Canadian prices by approx 10%. The Canadian price of Tofino X already reflects the change. Other models will follow on June 24.

US prices will remain unchanged.

A Professional at Work

The Professional Sound Engineer

It's no secret that a MacKenzie & Marr guitar has a stellar sonic voice. But how do we achieve that perfect sound?

That's been a closely guarded secret......until today.

Here's a video capture of our highly trained sound man evaluating a hollow body electric. It took years of study and hands-on experience to reach this level of skill. The concentration in his face and subtle dexterity of his fingers convey a sense of confidence.

Spotting a Great Guitar Purchase

AAA Cedar top, high ration tuning machines

A great guitar is the sum of its parts plus the skill and care in assembling them. Too often, a guitarist buys a new guitar without asking the right questions about those parts.

Here are some things we suggest you should look for:

AAA grade (or better) solid wood:

It's not enough to know your new guitar is made with solid wood vs laminated (read plywood) wood. You should also ask what grade of wood was used in the construction. Top wood book-matched pairs are graded from B to A, AA, AAA and Masterclass.  The difference in sonic character between the different grades is significant. So is the price. When a brand you're considering won't, or can't tell you the grade of wood they used, assume the worst.

Dovetail Neck to Body Joint:

A dovetail neck-to-body joint is difficult to do. The skill and time involved often raise the price of a guitar. But that dovetail is critical in constructing a cohesive stringed musical instrument. Everything from weight distribution to sonic voicing relies on that one small joint. Less expensive guitars and/or guitars produced in highly automated factories where bolt-on necks are the norm rarely rise to the same standard.

Genuine Bone Nuts and Saddles:

If the guitar you're considering has a plastic nut or plastic saddle, treat yourself to an inexpensive upgrade with parts made from actual bone. The difference in sound will surprise you. Tusq and Nubone from Graphtec will produce similar results.

Wood or Bone Bridgepins:

The jury's out here. We use Rosewood, Ebony or bone, but we suspect conventional plastic would be fine.

High Ratio Tuning Machines:

Most guitars come with standard 14:1 ratio tuning machines. Really good guitars are equipped with 18:1 or 20:1 tuners, not just because they allow incredibly fine-tuning of each string but also because the machining needed to produce them must be more precise. They're simply better quality tuning machines.

 

Watching the Dragons Den episode from the United States

The blindfold guitar test

Our 2010 appearance on the CBC program Dragons Den is famous in Canada. It was one of the most popular episodes of the year.

We taped it in May of the previous year. When it aired on January 13, we were swamped with orders. Within 18 hours, we were sold out of Tofino. It would be another two years before our limited production could meet demand.

But, copyright restrictions prevented streaming Dragons Den outside Canada, so we remained relatively unknown south of the border. Let's change that. There are two options for American visitors who want to view two old guys changing the guitar business forever.

  1. If you have a VPN (a virtual private network) open it and select a server in Canada. Then simply enter the following web address into your browser:
    https://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/m_pitches/mackenzie-marr-guitars
  2. If you don't use a VPN, or, don't have any idea what a VPN is there's another solution.
     Copy the URL,"https://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/m_pitches/mackenzie-marr-guitars" (don't copy the quotes)
    Go to the following web site
    https://www.4everproxy.com
    Past the URL you copied in step one into the web site box.
    Select "Canada (Quebec)" from the drop down server list

Number two is a bit of a pain, but it works.

PLEASE NOTE. Sites that offer Virtual private servers such as 4everproxy generate their revenue from ads. Those ads are not always family-friendly.

You can order Tofino in our online store. Visit the Tofino page to learn more.

 

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