Guitar-making is a noble and beautiful art and it’s high time luthiers started thinking about the web. MacKenzie & Marr is a tiny company in Quebec that designs and hand makes relatively inexpensive but amazingly handsome guitars. While they do outsource much of the manufacturing to China, there is not a single robot involved in the building of their cedar-top git-fiddles and guitarists can order their handsome axes with a few button-clicks.
Why did the boys go online? “The music business is the worst distribution channel imaginable. Factory to brand to warehouse to multiple distributors to dealers. High end guitars are almost always in small retailers,” said John Marr, co-founder. This allows them to cut 60% off of the price of hand-crafted guitars.
As an ecommerce play, instruments are a fairly benighted industry. They’re niche, so, like fine wristwatches and pens, there’s some tendency to focus on authorized dealers and networks. By eschewing this, the team saves a lot of hassle and money.
“I was looking for a product that could be sold on the web..had to be expensive (not interested in selling 25 cent widgets) had to evoke passion (word of mouth) and one day Jonathan asked if I had played any Chinese guitars. I said ‘Yes, total garbage,’” said Marr.
“Jon replied that I needed to go try one of the newer solid wood ones. I did and they were good and we knew how to make the better. Voila! The product I was looking for!” he said.
Marr went on to spend a week working in China in order to better understand the process. He said the lack of contract manufacturers and cost prevented him from building guitars with the same craftsmanship in Canada.
“Everyone said no musician would buy a guitar over the Internet. We knew they would.”
And they did. The company sold out of their first run fairly quickly after appearing on Canada’s Dragon’s Den, which is a sort of Shark Tank for the Great White North. You can obviously pick up Fenders and Martins at various online stores but this is the first factory-direct sales model I’ve seen in the guitar world.
They’re not quite ready to offer custom work just yet, but inlays may be on the horizon. “For most makers the quantities we produce would be laughable so even a huge production run by our standards is custom work for someone like Martin,” he said. The guitars start at about $1,000, but some “less than perfect” models can be had for $600.
Jon MacKenzie and Marr met in grade school and have been friends for over fifty years. Marr plays blues fingerpicking and Jon likes folk and Celtic. Marr describes himself as a real hack, but he knows how to build a mean axe.