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Michael J. (Mike) Marler
It would probably be easier to write a book about Mike than to squeeze all I know about him into this short page. I want to focus on the things that relate to his guitar work. This section a result of him being one of my best friends for over 40 years. This Bio would not be possible while Mike was still alive. He just wouldn't allow it and you literally had to sneak up on him to take a photo. He did not like any attention called to himself and preferred to be known and seen through his work. This is for all of the Marler Guitar owners.
I have been overwhelmed by emails from his passing and they all have a common thread. "I can't believe it", "How old was he?", "Did he have kids?", "He was the nicest, professional, patient person I have ever met", "but I only know him through emails and phone". I want to put a face and personality to Mike so you can get to know the luthier that handcrafted your guitar. I also want to expose some technical "secrets" that will explain why your Marler Guitar literally possesses a "magic" that other guitars don't. There is a reason.
All of this started when we were kids. Mike's Uncle encouraged him to hand make a fiddle. Wilmur loved fiddle music and wanted Mike to learn to play one. Mike was fascinated with the possibility of making one and wanted to show Uncle Wilmur he could do it. Which he did. But he never learned to play it because he was more interested in guitars. In school Mike was always years ahead of his classmates in the areas of math and drafting. It came natural to him. His classmates struggled with general math and Mike knocked out calculus and trigonometry. It's not that he liked it or was going to use it... it was just easy for him. Mike got out his rulers, paper and pencils and started drawing. A friend had an arch back guitar he liked and he set out to copy it. A few months later he emerged with his first guitar. An arch back guitar that was not only a beauty but played nice as well. His love for hand crafting guitars had begun and would last his lifetime.
Mike drove a tan truck, lived in a tan house had one job all of his life prior to making guitars full time. For over 30 years he worked at Portales Valley Mills. The Peanut Mill (or Nut House as Mike preferred to call it). There he was introduced to Autocad Drafting programs and became adept at using these tools to fabricate and design parts. Many parts for the mill were so specialized there was no replacing them except by fabricated a new part. These fabrication skills as well as computer aided design were perfect compliments to Mike's guitar designs. All guitars started out "virtually" on his computer. The bracing patterns, components, angles and measurements were drawn and printed to scale prior to any construction.
The engineering and fabrication skills Mike polished at the "Nut House" were used to design his own luthier tools. Unique tools that no other luthier owns or has probably heard of. These tools gave him precision and consistency beyond belief. His craftsmanship was not without trial and error. There are piles of wood and unfinished guitars that just didn't "make the grade". It did not matter how many hours he had in a project. Wood has it's own personality. If something went wrong he just scrapped it and started over.
Until about late 2003 Mike could only make 1 or 2 guitars a year. He came in after a hard day at the "Nut House", hands sore, cleared his kitchen table, and worked on his masterpieces. There were magazines that wanted to feature Mike's work but he wouldn't do it. Didn't want them to see where he actually made his guitars. Didn't want to clean up his kitchen. His same Uncle Wilmur that gave him his first spark gave him another. Wilmur passed away and left Mike a little estate money. It was enough to give Mike the confidence and security to start making guitars full time. Making handmade guitars is no quick job. His production increased from 1 or 2 a year to maybe around 6 or 7. I played every guitar Mike made after 2000. Every time I told him "This is your best... it can't get better". Yet every time it did get better.
We grew up on Hendrix, Beatles, Credence, Grand Funk, Deep Purple and Dylan to name a few. Mike was still especially fond of the Beatles as well as Stevie Ray Vaughn. Each Saturday night he would journey miles out into the country to jam with some friends. It was on a Saturday night, after a perfect rendition of Pride and Joy, by SRV, that Mike started not feeling well. His friends took him to the hospital and in less than an hour he was gone. I do find peace in knowing Mike was doing what he loved. He was at a happy place in his life. Making guitars and playing music.
I'm not even going to try and begin to tell you what a big empty spot Mike left behind. Also left behind, however, is a legacy. He was as perfect as a human being can be and his guitars as perfect as guitars can be. He was 49 years old, never married with no kids. His life was music, guitars and friends. If you own a Marler Guitar I don't have to explain it. If you don't own a Marler... I can't explain it. We love you Mike. We thank you. Your beauty will live on through your work and friendships. I miss you my friend.
For all devoted Marler fans I have a special treat. A hefty 6MB Windows Media (.wma) file of Mike playing a Windham Hill song a couple of years back. Right Click and Save Target As... it will take about 5 minutes to download at high speed. Well worth the wait. Please enjoy a Marler on a Marler.