Tuesday, February 01, 2011

cut capos - duh!

I've been playing with cut capos since they were really cut capos. Here's the concept... a capo is a little clamp that goes across the strings of a guitar - like an extra finger - normally used to change the key of a song to fit a voice or to make certain chords easier to play. A normal capo goes all the way across the fingerboard so the relationships between the open strings stay consistent with whatever tuning you're using. A cut capo is just what it sounds like - you take a hack saw and an art knife to a normal capo and suddenly it only pushes down on selected strings instead of all six, changing the intervals between open strings. The first ones that people made covered three of the interior strings creating an Esus4 chord when the strings were played open or one that just leaves one string uncovered for the equivalent of a drop D, two frets higher. Fingerings remain the same. So, you get an interesting hybrid between the normal tuning of a guitar and an open tuning which allows you to do some things impossible in either of the other situations.

If you look at the photo, the capo on the right is an actual cut capo. It began life as a normal Kyser capo and I cut it to cover three strings only... probably did that one in the early 90's. Since then, they've found more widespread use and a number of companies sell them already configured. The capo on the right is a Shubb partial that does the Esus4 thing and is available in many music stores. The Kyser version of the Esus4 is called the Short Cut. Both also market a version that covers 5 strings. Kyser even markets a series in 4 different configurations with a lever that makes it easier to play the strings that pass under the capo.

So, I've been using cut capos for a number of years. If you go to the player on the right, you can hear some - Call Down Thunder and Beautiful Day have one cut capo. Heartbeat has two cut capos. With Jamie Green, I use a whole capo and a cut capo with a lever on Like to Be with You which I play very differently than the player did on her CD. So... I've been using them a long time, but I stopped experimenting a long time ago too. I've been taking them for granted and haven't pushed them nearly as far as I could.

A few weeks ago I saw that my friend Greg Newlon was giving a seminar on using cut capos in the Bay area... got me thinking about them a bit... Then I was surfing around the other day and ended up at Harvey Reid's site. He is a big proponent of using partial capos and has been doing so since the 80's. Looking at his site, I realized how much more I could do with partial capos than I have been doing. So I dumped all of my capos on the bed (and there are a lot of them in various configurations) and started playing around. He has a book called Capo Voodoo that I ordered, hoping it might inspire me a bit (which it has). So I'm working at using them more and more of them. I'll likely buy a few more in different configurations or maybe cut a few more...

Here's a video of a guy named Trace Bundy playing a song called Hot Capo Stew with 5 capos on his guitar - 4 cut ones and a whole one. Notice how sometimes he plays between and behind the capos...

So if you're a guitar player, they do open up some new and interesting possibilities for chord voicings that aren't possible in any other way. I'll be working more with mine. Who knows, maybe I'll follow Greg's lead and offer a workshop in the Santa Barbara area. Let me know if you'd be interested.


Michael Mahoney said...

I just bought my first cut capo a couple of months ago, a Kyser Short Cut. Obviously, it is perfect for playing songs in E. (or F, F#, G with a traditional capo behind it.)

I use simpler fingering to leave a lot of open strings and common tones. (I play an open-E with one finger, for example) All the voicings are very easy (except the ii, for which you need to be a little bit of a contortionist.) And I simply love the sound of the open strings. I like doing "Hosanna" acoustic with it, and "Offering" and "Open the Eyes of My Heart."

Life changing!

roy said...

so Michael, try it at the 4th fret - works very nicely in C#m - or turned the other way (like an A chord) at either 2 or 4 which work nicely in A and E again respectively. Then try adding a second cut capo or using the cut capo with an altered tuning.

Part of my philosophy on acoustic guitar is to get as many open strings ringing as possible and these guys certainly do help there.

Ondrej Sarek said...

Here are a few tabs for “Cut capo guitar”.

roy said...

thanks Ondrej!