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Musings, etc.

I’ve been playing and writing for some time using a partial capo. Lots of performers and songwriters do this, but it always surprises one or two guitar players in the audience. Thanks to the opportunity to present a clinic on the subject as an “opening act” for Laurence Juber, I’ve finally put together some words and diagrams about how to use this tool.

So what good is a partial capo? The simple answer is that it sounds cool. More specifically, it lets you employ modal chord voicings normally available only through re-tuning. So what’s the difference? Why not retune? Retuning is fine, but it limits your options. When you retune, the relative tensions of the strings change. Not only do you have to learn new chord shapes, but you also have to learn new scale patterns. With the partial capo, most of the chord shapes are pretty darn close to standard shapes, and since the strings are still in the same tension relationship, scales don’t change at all. This means you get modal chord voicings AND normal scale patterns all at once.

Most people credit Harvey Reid with figuring this system out. Harvey helped invent and then marketed and popularized the “Third Hand” capo, an elastic capo with movable pads for each string. It was a variable capo – you could select which strings the capo would depress. Harvey tells the story of the beginning of partial capo technique on the Third Hand web site at

Johnsmith (that’s how he spells it), a top-flight singer/songwriter and partial-capo wizard credits two Midwestern buddies who happened to be great guitarists themselves with the development of the fixed, “quick-change” partial capo. These two guys – L.J. Booth and David Wilcox – got interested in the technique and soon found that one of the most useful settings involved fretting only the third, fourth and fifth strings, making an E-sus-4 chord.

According to Johnsmith, they took a hacksaw to a Keyser capo and cut off the tip. They then carved out the pad over the 6th string and attached it behind the second fret. The “E-sus” capo that resulted is considered the basic shape, and is the basis of the clinic.

There’s more! You can email me for the complete booklet, or contact me about doing this clinic in your area.


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