mackenzie & marr

Up Close With MacKenzie & Marr’s Handmade, Online-Only Guitars

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One of the benefits of the web is that you can eschew traditional models of distribution and talk to your customer one-on-one. In what I consider a first for ecommerce, guitar makers MacKenzie & Marr have taken this model to heart and are building handmade, unique guitars in China and shipping them out of their warehouse in Canada. We profiled them a few weeks back and they let me take one of their pieces for a test drive last week. I came away very impressed.

First, M&M is a small shop. The pair, John Marr and Jon MacKenzie, have been friends since 1958 – a figure that appears prominently on every guitar – and they worked quite hard to build a very playable instrument. I’m a guitar novice, at best, but I loved the deep bass and resonation of these guitars and my teacher, Charlie Apicella was amazed with the quality and sound. I definitely trust his opinion more.

Why is this important? Because Marr and MacKenzie can talk as big a game as they want, but if they’re not delivering, especially in an online-only business, they’re not going to sell. I think the lesson here is simple: ship strong product or quit. I don’t think this product is perfect by any degree, but these two entrepreneurs did the best they possibly could by working within existing supply chains. I see far too many “ecommerce plays” attempting to sell shoddy materials as premium items. I would equate M&M with Dollar Shave Club in building a compelling business around what would normally be a snoozer. Like Dollar Shave Club, the M&M has twisted the traditional sales narrative into something more compelling by adding a bit of personality to the process of selling guitars.

For the guitar fans out there, a little about the git-fiddle itself. This is called the Summer Wages Tofino and costs $999.99. It has a cedar front with Mahogany sides and back. It has a built-in Fishman internal preamp and pickup which is attached under the sound hole. I did have some trouble getting the battery pack to stick as the glue was a bit weak, but it was nothing a good press fit couldn’t fix.

On its face, this is directly comparable to a Martin Dreadnought and the size and headstock would give a player pause. On closer inspection, you notice the M&M inlay on the guitar as well as the hand-written label inside showing the two founders as schoolyard chums.

The guitar comes with a form-fitted case that looks to be a slightly customized OEM case with a soft-touch outside surface and lots of fluff inside to protect the finish.

I was especially impressed by the playability. Highs and lows are quite clear and the whole guitar was wonderfully balanced and had a great resonance. The pickup offered an amplified sound but without much metallic vibration you see with many amplified acoustics.

Again, I’m no great guitarist by any stretch but I’ve held a few nice axes in my day. Although the constant referral to M&M’s long friendship in the branding is a bit, shall we say, goofy, it’s a cute addition to the story. More important, however, is the dedication to quality shown in their efforts. Sure it’s made in China and sure it has some branding issues, but this is no ham-handed effort to dump a rebadged OEM product in an online store. It’s an offer of a superior product that could only be sold and distributed via the Internet.

The lads also offer a seven day no questions return policy, so even if you hate the guitar, it can always wing its way back to Quebec. In short, these guys are doing ecommerce right.

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