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Partial Capo - Use a 5-4-3 capo to emulate DADGAD and similar alternate tunings.

OK, I have been meaning to do this for a long time. Well, what I was meaning to do was to actually redo my tab for "Too Tender" and maybe some others. I've found a much better way to play it. It's called partial capoing. As the name suggests, a partial capo doesn't cover all six strings. Thus, without actually retuning your guitar, you can gain some of the advantages of an alternate tuning.

Perhaps the most basic form of partial capoing is what I would call "capo drop-D". This is simply putting a common Kyser capo up-side-down at the second fret so that it covers only the bottom 5 strings, leaving the low E string open. (A very good way to play "Norwegian Wood.") It's similar to dropping your low E string to D (drop-D tuning, or DADGBE) and capoing 2. But aside from the advantage of not having to retune, you get the huge bonus of still being able to finger almost all chords the exact same way you would standard-tuned. Of course, by capoing drop-D, you can imitate no lower than capo 2 drop-D tuned, so you may have to do raise the pitch a half-step or two (it's how I play "Close of Autumn," which is actually in Eb). Andy Peterson uses drop-D tuning in some of his more recent songs (e.g. "Three Days Before Autumn").

Another common alternate tuning is DADGAD, which Bebo uses a lot (e.g. "Curtis Creek"). Derek Webb uses another variation, DGDGAD (e.g. "All I Know"). These are traditional Celtic tunings. A partial capo can be used to imitate them. The capo needs to skip the sixth string, cover the next three strings, and leave the bottom two strings open. I've been using a hack-sawed, filed, and Swiss Army knifed Kyser as a partial capo for over a year. Of course the challenge was getting it to be narrow enough not to buzz or mute the 2nd and 6th strings at the 2nd fret, but still wide enough to cover all three strings further up the neck.

Obviously, while I think all that was worth the trouble, I was happy to get a capo manufactured specifically as a partial by the Shubb company. It works great, and it doesn't cost any more than a regular Shubb or Kyser capo. I couldn't find one in the stores around here, but you can order it directly from Shubb's website. Here's the link: the Shubb partial capo. I had hesitated to include partial capo versions in my tabs, but now that I've discovered that it's as easy as buying a Shubb partial capo, I wanted to at least mention it on this page.

I think a partial capo is THE best way (even better than actually alternate tuning) to play "Too Tender" because it lets you play the DGDGAD-sounding arpeggios in the verses and chorus but still use a normal G#m bar chord in the bridge. I also think it is the best way to play "All I Know" or "This World" (etc.) solo, because you can duplicate Derek's lead parts and then come right in with Cliff's rhythm parts. You can easily produce some different chord voicings that combine the two parts, using one guitar to achieve the effect of two.

This is turning into a very long hint, but I would also like to add this note: it's often good to move the partial capo back from the fret enough to give you room to finger the 0th (zeroth) fret on the strings the capo doesn't cover. (0th relative to the partial capo, i.e. the same fret the partial capo is on) For example, in "All I Know" this is necessary in order to hammer on the 3rd bass note in the intro lick (at the word "washed"), and to play the Em (actually G#m, at the word "sun"). Another note, last time I saw Mark Williams play live, he was using both 5-4-3 (such as the Shubb) and 5-4-3-2 partial capos to imitate the alternate tunings he used in the studio. (That somehow validates it all, doesn't it.) By the way, Mark's song "Just Wanna Hold You" always reminds me of some Leo Kottke song, I think "Up Tempo," even though the two songs sound nothing alike. Just wanted to share.

T-rev 9/7/1998

P.S. Now check out the list of partial capo tabs added 3/1/2001. List of chord fingerings added 1/23/2002 by popular demand. And here's some more about capos added 10/22/2002.

•  Shubb Partial Capo - Shubb quality in a factory-made partial capo - highly recommended.
•  Third Hand Capo - Capo any combination of strings. Also the website has accurate, useful partial capo info.
•  Kyser Drop-D Capo - Not recommended, just a link for interest's sake.
•  More capos - Other capo recommendations.


Other Hints

9/7/1998   -    Partial Capoing
1/11/2001   -    Anchoring
3/1/2001   -    The harmonic
10/22/2002   -    More about capos
3/24/2007   -    Intervals and consonance

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