Can Amplification Impact Repetitive Motion Issues?

Repetitive Motion Injuries Guitarists

Repetitive Motion Injuries

Ken Donnell, a lifetime musician and master luthier, is the foremost authority on “close-mic” applications for stringed musical instruments. (The field of using “close-mics” involves placing miniature microphones directly on to, or inside of, an instrument for amplification or recording.)
Ken holds the original patents in this field of audio engineering, and continues to manage R&D at his company, Donnells-MiniFlex, in Greenville, California.

Repetitive Motion Injuries
When too much of a good thing turns bad
by Ken Donnell

All classical and flamenco guitarists know how too much repetitive practice can lead to problems of inflammation or stress in the wrist and forearms. Repetitive motion injuries are common with many occupations, and with musicians using a variety of instruments. But guitarists are especially vulnerable because they are always fighting to be heard above other instruments with a stronger acoustical volume (output). Classical and flamenco guitarists spend much of their playing time using maximum hand force just to produce enough volume “to be heard”, much less, “to be heard well”. And constant application of this extra hand force (stress) makes any repetitive motion that much more vulnerable to creating short, and long term injury.

Age can also be a factor. Like many guitarists who are growing older, I have lost a lot of my hand strength, and now must use a much lower string height than when I was young. Lowering the strings means further reducing the acoustic output of the guitar. But fortunately, having high quality amplification options means that I can rely on this amplification to produce a volume level I once could accomplish just with my hands. Now I apply maximum hand strength only occasionally, for dynamics, and not merely “to be heard.”

Now the need to avoid repetitive injury, and “to be heard well” can come together into a single solution. Recently available high quality amplification means that a guitarist can achieve high volume levels without over stressing the hands, while the natural acoustic qualities of the instrument can be projected to even larger audiences, and with everyone in the house hearing great natural sound quality.

Wise use of amplification can help classical and flamenco guitarists avoid the need to “kill their hands” merely “to be heard”. And wise use of amplification opens the doors for every classical and flamenco guitarist to move to that even higher level of “being heard well”, so that every person in the audience can be filled with the mesmerizing sound of a beautiful hand-made guitar being masterfully played, and well amplified. ( for more about “to be heard well” & 3 dimensional sound, please read amplification 101 at )

9 thoughts on “Can Amplification Impact Repetitive Motion Issues?

  1. As a long term sufferer of guitar related strain injuries, the title of this article interested me and I was keen to read about the ‘new approach to reducing stress or inflammation in the wrists’. Disappointing then, that it’s in fact nothing more than a shameless advert to sell a microphone, feebly disguised as a musicians’ health article. I usually enjoy reading quality, substantive articles on this site, but sadly not this time.

    1. As the owner of Strings By Mail, I appreciate your comment and thank you for sharing this point of view. And as a result of your input, we have re-titled the piece from “Repetitive Motion Injuries” to “Can Amplification Impact Repetitive Motion Issues?”. We have also removed the reference to a particular microphone, although it will still connect to the source site that carries the conversation on. While we are a retail outlet we strive to make open, honest, and positive contributions to the music culture and the customers that we serve. I think this article better serves our purpose with these changes.

      1. Thank you for your reply. I agree that the changes you have made better reflect the content of the piece. I did feel it was somewhat misleading before and appreciate you taking the time to make the edits. The issue of being heard without having to use force when playing is a valid one and well worth discussing, although I do think that repetitive motion injuries are mainly linked to physiological health and technique issues. Having to over play to be heard will definitely have a negative impact, but amplification alone won’t solve an underlying health problem.
        On a positive note, the 2Mic system does look interesting, particularly as modification isn’t necessary. Like the next poster, I also use BBand blend systems in my guitars with very good results, but of course they require holes to be drilled.
        Best regards

      2. My initial reaction was the same as James’s. As a frequent sufferer of many physiological challenges related to guitar, I linked to the article with interest followed by disappointment. The title change was appropriate. As James said, the problem was not so much in the article, but in how it was referenced. I still think it’s a little disingenuous to suggest amplification as a solution to repetitive motion problems. In my experience, the physical problems cited are more related to lengthy practice sessions — when I’m not usually playing at high volume, and when amplification would thus not help (although people using high-action instruments might find that an instrument or setup change is a good starting point). This being said, I am very interested in this microphone system — and I was disappointed when I wasn’t given a chance to beta test it! I’ll probably try one out at some point. I agree that today’s pickup/microphone/preamp/amplifier/speaker technologies have given us many more performance options, options that include support for a lighter touch. We’ve seen similar changes for contrabass players, where amplification has had a big impact on technique, musicality, and the very role of the instrument.

  2. Nice article. I’ve been doing this for about the last 12-15 years in both these genres. The key to amplification IMO is that the performer have a good sense about volume and to not turn it up too loud. A sound check with another person giving feedback is what I strive for. Another tip, when using amplification, point the amplifier at a wall, about a foot or two away, or other surface so the the ‘directional’ sound is broken up into many streams that fill the room, rather than a single stream that invariably will have an audience/listener member directly in the path and suffering from too much volume. One exception I have had problems with is glass surfaces. In this case I point the amp at an angle to the glass so reflection of sound is away from most of the audience, and turn the treble way down. Not ideal but the best I’ve found so far. One last item, is use a mic/pickup system that preserves the acoustic sound of the guitar. I have used stereo B-Band for years, one piezo under bridge for volume and a mic inside the body for the natural aspiration of the guitar. I mix these 2 signals about 80-20 for a really nice acoustic sound. I’ve received many compliments from guitar players over the years about how natural my sound is. The 2Mic system, from what I can see, is probably another good solution especially if the guitar is highly prized and one is reluctant to modify (i.e. drill a hole in the end!). I’ll have to give it a try. Cheers

  3. I am honored that my comments have initiated a conversation, with both critical and supportive input. As a product designer, I have learned to listen more closely to criticism than to compliments. Criticism helps me create better products. And this applies also to how we educate and promote new innovative products. Thanks for your comments. Ken Donnell

  4. While we are working hard to introduce the2Mic™ to the world of classical & flamenco guitarists, my comments were not limited to microphones alone. Any form of good amplification will help to provide a platform to lighten hand pressure when playing and practicing. My apologies to anyone who may have felt offended by my comments.
    I am interested how two different B-Band users responded to this post. I remember once when I was at a music trade show in Shanghai that there was live performance of a kyoto amplified with a B-Band system that made me cry with delight. The player was phenomenal, and the sound quality mesmerizing. B-Band is good gear.
    “Pressure Sensitive” pickups….. piezo, co-axial, contact, multiple contact, etc. produce signals with a character that is much different than the signal produced by a microphone. And the amplification chain created for good sound quality from a pickup can be different than the amplification chain required for good sound from a microphone. These are matters which we are continually trying to emphasize. But to describe these subjects in greater detail will require a separate discussion.

  5. If James and Piatro are still reading this thread, I would be most interested for them to further describe how amplification permitted them to reduce their application of hand strength to playing guitar, and how much this may have relieved any pain or discomfort they were suffering. My issues with losing hand strength never reached the point of pain…. just a need to lower the string height so I could “lighten my touch”.

  6. We (guitar duet act with a long history as restaurant musicians) played entirely un-amplified for several years, using a pair
    of very loud guitars, fluorocarbon strings, and artificial nails. When tendonitis and fatigue put a stop to that, we moved to playing no-nails with lower actions and lighter, nylon strings, and have since then amplified with piezo pickups. Mics on stands, whether dynamic or condenser, always feed back the crowd noise in almost any place we play – if there were no crowd noise, we would play unamplified anyway, which we still do when occasion arises. With piezos, there is no feedback issue ever. It would be very interesting to read a report by a real restaurant musician as to how the 2mic performs in such situations. My conclusion on _external_ mics is that they are worthless except in circumstances which are so quiet as to not require them anyway. However, I must admit that piezo sound is at best not quite natural as it is essentially an electronic re-construction of the sound, depending on the quality of the signal processor, and so, I am always interested in a possible new solution. thanks. jack

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