Rising From the Ashes: MiniFlex Microphones

Elizabeth Dale

Ken Donnell is regularly considered the foremost authority on “close-mic” applications for stringed musical instruments and holds the original patents in this field of audio engineering. Unfortunately, Donnell’s home, workshop, and all materials and memories associated with his prolific career in the music products industry were lost when the Dixie Fire swept through Greenville, California.

Donnell grew up surrounded by music, as both his parents were choir directors, and his father managed a local music store. At the age of five, Donnell joined the church choir and began his career in the industry at the ripe age of eight, helping his father move pianos. During his college years, Donnell developed a passion for music education, composition, and classical guitar, even playing popular and classical music professionally for a few years. Realizing a fascination with lutherie, he followed in his father’s footsteps into music retail, owning and working within several retail stores.

In the late 1970s, while living in Texas, Donnell connected with the iconic luthier, Bill Collings. It was this friendship that inspired Donnell to begin building guitars. After relocating to northern California in 1979, Donnell was crafting guitars, teaching, and writing about the art, which lasted until 1987. That year, a client requested a microphone installed inside their Martin D-28 guitar, a challenge Donnell was willing to tackle. After a successful installation, Donnell continued to improve his design, officially launching MiniFlex Microphones the following year. Ken attended his first NAMM Show that year, and by the 1989 NAMM Show, he was exhibiting.

Over time, microphones and MiniFlex Mics became a staple of his professional career, leaving lutherie as a passionate hobby for Donnell. With the rising popularity of the MiniFlex, Donnell continued to innovate and improve models, and by 1996 MiniFlex Microphones were known worldwide with models for mandolins, violins, upright bass, banjo, and more. Feeling burned out by the rapid pace of business, Donnell decided to license his designs in 1999 to GHS Strings Corp. The brand sold his original mic designs until 2017 under the trade name, The Soundhole Mic™.

Despite his official retired status, Donnell was unable to suppress his desire to continue improving mounting microphones. In 2006, he yielded results for improved feedback rejection with a dual microphone system used in steel-stringed guitars. Inspired by the success, he continued to research and develop, and in 2009, MiniFlex Microphones returned with the release of the Model 1 and Model 2. Six years later, there were six different guitar models, each with unique features and sound signature, and specialty models for other stringed instruments.

Flamenco guitarists began to seek out Donnell in 2016 after using the Model 1 and finding that the results were unlike anything else on the market. Inspired by the sound quality but frustrated with controlling the heavy bass response in their guitars, the musicians prompted Donnell to create new prototypes with a more carefully pre-EQ’d bass response resulting in the2Mic™.

Introducing the 2Mic

:( Sorry! Your browser cannot play this video either because javascript is disabled or your browser is not HTML5 compatible. Try Chrome or Firefox.

Innovation and exploration of close-mics continued for Donnell until tragedy struck in August 2021. This summer, the Dixie Fire ripped through Greenville, California, destroying Donnell’s workshop and home. The fire started on July 13 and the last reports estimate that 963,309 acres have been destroyed, with 94% containment (as of September 30, 2021). As California’s largest wildfire on record, the Dixie Fire devastated Donnell’s town of Greenville and nearby Canyondam, damaging or destroying approximately 1,329 structures. Donnell escaped the fire with only the shirt on his back and the contents of his pockets.

Dixie Fire

:( Sorry! Your browser cannot play this video either because javascript is disabled or your browser is not HTML5 compatible. Try Chrome or Firefox.

In the aftermath of the Dixie Fire, friends, colleagues, fans, and anonymous donors have come together to raise funds to assist Donnell. A GoFundMe campaign was established and has raised over $15,000 to date. Donnell reflected on the outpouring of support, saying, “These donations give me a lot of hope at a moment when I was desperately short of hope. This campaign also provided me with a small amount of capital to work with when I desperately needed it. These funds are the seed money that I am using to restart on the most basic of levels.”

Donnell is no stranger to the impact wildfires can have on communities. In 2018, he volunteered to assist in the relief efforts of the Camp Fire, which devastated the city of Paradise, California. Donnell was in charge of a 60,000 square foot facility which acted as a delivery site for over 250 tons of donated relief supplies. Donnell relied on this experience to help facilitate relief efforts after the Dixie Fire destroyed his community. He says, “After the Dixie Fire destroyed Greenville, I spent the first two weeks using my knowledge to help other Greenville fire survivors. I also informed relief workers in local government and non-profits to understand the trajectory of the scale of disaster recovery that was quickly descending on our tiny community in Plumas County.”

Ken Donnell Escapes Dixie Fire

:( Sorry! Your browser cannot play this video either because javascript is disabled or your browser is not HTML5 compatible. Try Chrome or Firefox.

Since finding refuge from the devastating blaze, Donnell is committed to helping others evacuate while working as a freelance reporter for Plumas News. While he hopes to rebuild in Greenville, Donnell is keenly aware that rebuilding hinges on numerous factors and could take years. Donnell encourages those wishing to provide support to consider the myriad of ways they can offer relief outside of monetary donations.

Donnell shares his wisdom, offering, “The most powerful way anyone outside the disaster zone can help is to adopt a fire survivor, a family that survived, and/or a small business, and stay with these people through the whole recovery process, sometimes as long as five years. Having someone to connect with in moments of confusion and need is valuable beyond words. While this is a big commitment for anyone to make, it truly is the most powerful way to meaningful impact survivors.”

Despite the recent devastation that Donnell has faced, both personally and professionally, he remains committed to attending The 2022 NAMM Show in Anaheim. The industry meetup will provide him with an opportunity to connect with friends and colleagues, perhaps even providing a respite from the effects of the Dixie Fire. He even hopes that his work with MiniFlex Microphones, the2Mic, and Tourmic Wireless can resume before June so that he may once again exhibit.

Ken Donnell Commits to Rebuild

:( Sorry! Your browser cannot play this video either because javascript is disabled or your browser is not HTML5 compatible. Try Chrome or Firefox.

For more information on Donnell’s line of products and to donate to the GoFundMe campaign, please visit https://the2mic.com/ and https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-ken-donnell-to-rebuild-from-devastating-fire.