T-rev's Old Guitar Hints

More about capos - A comparative review of various types and models.

There are three basic types of capos: clamp-on, screw-on, and elastic band. Clamp-ons are fastest to put on and take off. Screw on capos are slower, but allow control of capo tightness. Elastic band capos are cheap.

Most clamp-on capos are spring action, e.g. the Kyser Quick-Change. This allows quick placement with one hand, but no control of tightness. Also, the spring gradually weakens with use.

The Shubb clamp-on capo is cam action. It is fast and almost as easy to put on as a Kyser (though you may want to use two hands), yet it also has adjustable tightness with a screw knob.

Six-String Models

Shubb - image, link
The standard Shubb is a very nice, quality product. As described above, the cam action gives you—if not the best—at least the better of both worlds: the speed of a clamp-on capo and the control of a screw-on capo. All other factors aside, for capoing six strings the Shubb is my favorite among the capos reviewed here, though only by a small margin. Other capos can accomplish the basic purpose of fretting strings equally well and with additional practical advantages. One minor drawback with the Shubb is that there's nowhere to put it when it's not in use. A bigger shortcoming compared to the Kyser is that, in order to clamp solidly, the Shubb—due to its curved back swing-arm—must be centered on the neck. Therefore it's ill suited to "Drop-D" style capoing that covers only the bottom five strings.

Note: If you happen to have a banjo/mandolin model Shubb, it works great for capoing Drop-D style on a guitar if you put it on up-side-down. Also, if you have light strings and low action (otherwise the low E string will touch the metal), you may be able to use a standard Shubb to capo drop-D by sliding the black rubber sleeve down a bit so that it skips the low E string with the capo still centered on the neck.

Note: If you have very light strings and low action (probably would have to be an electric guitar) here's something to try: cut the black rubber pad of a six-string Shubb capo into sixths. Then the part over each string can be individually twisted either up or down, so that you would have a sort of clamp-on version of the Third-Hand. Remember, it may not work! Whether it does will depend on the setup of your guitar. (It would work better if the rubber weren't so soft...) I found this idea here.

Paige - image
The Paige capo is a screw-on model, so it's not quite as fast as the Shubb. However, it's not as slow as you might think; it only takes a couple turns of the knob, only a few seconds. One convenient feature—which in some situations gives it a speed advantage over clamp-ons—is that it can slide all the way above the nut (zeroth fret). In other words, you can leave it on the neck of your guitar all the time; simply slide it down whenever you need it and back up when finished, even in the guitar case. Or if you want to take it off altogether, that too is a snap with one hand. Very handy. Plus, it can be as loose or tight as you want, with adjustments made instantly whenever needed, though I think the rubber pad is slightly harder than optimum. (In fairness, I consider the Shubb's pad a bit too soft. For medium-gauge strings the Kyser's pad is best, but they all work.) And of course, there's no way to use it as a partial capo.

Note: Regarding the soft Shubb pad, it can be twisted a quarter- or half-turn around so the thinner side is against the strings. This works pretty well since the cross-section of the bar inside the pad is square; the pad softly "clicks" into place at 90-degree increments.

Kyser - image, link
Here I'm referring to the ubiquitous Kyser "Quick-Change" spring action capo, although Kyser actually makes a few other models as well. Overall, this is a great product! The downside is the spring. For one thing, there's a fairly wide range of spring strengths you can run across in a brand-new Kyser, and you may not get to try before you buy. I've run across at least one 6-string model Kyser that—straight out of the package—wasn't strong enough to capo medium gauge strings without buzzing. On the other hand there have been times when a Kyser was actually tighter than I wanted it, necessitating more retuning. Either way, there's no way to adjust the capo. (Well, almost no way; see the "cheater" section below...) Furthermore, the spring gets weaker over time, especially if you frequently leave the capo on the neck or headstock. I should stress, however, that new Kysers usually are quite good enough and will last a long time. Also note—regarding problems to which either too-strong or too-weak springs contribute—these problems can be minimized by placing the capo close to the fret.

Now, the Kyser's most obvious advantages are speed and ease: I don't think there is any capo that's faster or easier to put on than the Kyser. Also, in between songs it can be clamped right on the headstock of your guitar. Very convenient. But the deciding factor for me, the reason the Kyser is my usual capo of choice, is that it does double duty as a Drop-D style partial capo: just put it on up-side-down covering the bottom 5 strings.

Partial Capo Models

Shubb - image, link
The most common partial-capoing (aside from Drop-D style) is 345-, i.e. capoing the 3rd (G), 4th (D), and 5th (A) strings, at the second fret. The first—and until recently, the only—product manufactured specifically for this purpose was the Shubb Partial Capo. The pros and cons are basically the same as for the standard six-string Shubb. You still have the question of where to keep it when not in use, but for me the Shubb's quality and functionality outweigh this minor problem. One note: the lever arm (the part you move to open or close the capo) is longer than necessary. This can be a bit intrusive when trying to reach behind the capo to play the uncapoed strings at or behind the capo, so I cut and filed mine down a bit so that it's only as long as the swing-arm (the part with the curved gray rubber pad for the back of the guitar's neck). But that was a minor and optional modification; I definitely have no reservations about recommending this product!

Kyser - image, link, purchase
The Kyser "Short Cut", like the Shubb Partial, is another built-as 345-partial capo. It's a new product based on the classic Kyser Quick-Change, so of course it has the same advantages and disadvantages. Between it and the Shubb, I don't think you can go wrong either way. It's just a trade-off between the adjustability of the Shubb, and the slightly greater convenience of the Kyser with easier one-hand placement and clamping on the head stock when not in use. Oh, that and the Shubb comes only in burnished brass, while the Kyser comes only in black, if such considerations are important to you...

Third-Hand - image, link
This product is in a class of its own. For one thing, it is the original manufactured and marketed partial capo. But I've seen no other product that really compares to it. It is an elastic band type capo that lets you fret any combination of the six strings. So of course it can be used as a 345- or 234-partial like the Shubb Partial and Kyser Short Cut. In that case, it wouldn't compare favorably because it is not as simple to put on: definitely a two-hand task. But that comparison is moot because you can do a thousand things with the Third Hand that you can't do with any other product. For just one cool example, you could use it in combination with an open tuning, covering all but one string such that your open strings form a minor chord but at any fret you get a major chord, an interesting set-up to try with slide guitar. And many more possibilities with which to experiment. Use more than one Third-Hand at a time and expand the choices even further. (The capo comes with instructions and more hints like this.) And don't forget that the Third Hand can also be used as a normal six-string capo too; that's versatility!

Drop-D - link
Well, frankly the Kyser "Drop-D" capo is a meaningless product. As it is, there is no use for it, because a normal six-string Kyser capo will accomplish the same thing just as well. In other words, it would make more sense to buy a regular Kyser capo, since it can be used either way, whereas the "Drop-D" model can only be used to cover five strings. (Actually, depending on the guitar it might barely—if carefully placed—cover six at the first two or three frets.) So, as built there is no use for this product. What it is good for, however, is to be further modified into a different partial capo. (I wish this product had been around when I made my first partial capos.) For example, if you want a 2345-partial capo ("Double-Drop-D" style), you can't buy one in a store. (Update: as of 2008 Kyser now makes a Double-Drop-D "K-Lever" capo.) Your best option is to buy a Kyser Drop-D, and then all you have to do is cut a bit off the end with a knife for the rubber and hack-saw and/or file for the metal. Better to start with Drop-D model than a regular Kyser, since half the work is already done for you. Just take care not to cut off too much; remember that as you go up the neck the strings are farther apart and the neck wider! You may want to use your partial capo at the 8th fret, and it needs to be wide enough. Measure twice, cut once. You can always cut more off later...

You already own a partial capo. Maybe. If you have a regular six-string Kyser capo, you're ready to try 345-partial capoing. Just put it on backwards (not up-side-down, but backwards). If positioned just right, the clear silicone sleeve that's normally against the back of the neck can cover the G, D, and A strings and leave the other three strings untouched. This doesn't work as well as a real partial capo, but it can work. Try it out; you may like the possibilities you find.

A couple additional hints: first, the above trick may work a bit better if you first put a regular capo at the second or third fret and then add your backwards Kyser capo two frets above that. There are two reasons this might help. For one, the silicone pad may be too wide at the second fret, but will fit more easily between strings further up the neck where the strings are spaced farther apart. Also, the first capo may lower your "action" a bit, helping to keep your low E string from touching the metal part of the backward-Kyser, which is a likely problem since this is not the designed use of a Kyser.

The other hint addresses the same potential buzzing problem when using the backward-Kyser. Take a close look a the silicone pad. It's probably thicker on one side than the other. If the thicker side is not already facing inward (such that it would be against the back of the neck in normal usage—against the strings in this case), then pull the pad off, flip it over and slide it back on with the thick side facing in. You may also want to flip the pad to effect a slight tension adjustment in normal six-string usage. Similarly, the obvious, simple solution to a weak capo spring is simply to "shim" up the pad from the back, that is, add something as a spacer between the capo and the neck. You could do the same kind of thing on the back of the peghead to allow a Shubb to be clamped on.

One more thing, Mitch Bohannon is the guy we have to thank for helping make the Kyser Short-Cut a reality, and if you like you can order one directly from him: Bo's Capos

Capo on!

T-rev 10/22/2002

•  The Sterner Capo Museum - LOTS of capos of all kinds. Interesting.

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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