Partial Capo - Introduction


For centuries, guitarists have used capos to clamp across all the strings of the guitar, to raise the pitch of all the strings. This is done to change to a brighter timbre of the guitar or to transpose the music to a higher-pitched key. Guitarists have also used dozens and possibly hundreds of different tunings to change the musical possibilities and the pitch of the open (unfretted) strings. Only relatively recently have guitarists begun to use capos that only clamp some of the strings, and this is usually called a "partial capo," which offer similar types of options to guitarists as tunings, with drone strings and a new landscape of fingerings and chord voicings. Though you will most commonly find partial capos used in standard tuning, creating "simulated" open tunings, they are also used in combination with many different tunings, and are also combined with other full and partial capos. A number of the partial capo manufacturers incorrectly call them "open tuning" capos. What they do for the guitar resembles what a tuning does, but the open strings are changed by varying the length of the strings and not the pitch.

From 1976 to 1996 there was only one partial capo, the Third Hand Capo, and now there are about 15 types of devices on the market that clamp anywhere from 1 to 5 strings. A number of players have made their own custom versions by cutting or otherwise modifying existing capos. The various capo devices do a variety of things, though not all of them will fit all guitars, and it is important to carefully select the ones you need for your size and shape of fingerboard. The Third Hand Capo and the SpiderCapo (appearing in 2008) are the only universal capos. Each can clamp any of the 63 combinations of strings at any fret of any guitar, although only the SpiderCapo can produce any combination at a given fret without repositioning the capo. Shubb and Kyser each make a 3-string "E-suspended" capo as well as a 5-string "Drop-E" capo. The Esus capo creates a sound similar to the popular DADGAD guitar tuning. Woodie's G-Band capos clamp 1 or 2 outer strings, and Kyser now makes a series of "K-Lever" capos that incorporate a spring lever to allow temporary fretting of some notes that lie under the capo.

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