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Thread: Why use capo?

  1. #51

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I realize I'm late to this thread, but I have to say I very rarely use a capo on my mando(lin or la), but for very different reasons than I see ascribed above. I find it physically uncomfortable to work around on a short scale neck.

  2. #52

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I capo guitar for bluegrass all the time. I'm in awe of Michael Daves being able to play without one, but I'm not there yet.

    At the moment, I'm not willing to use one on mandolin, to force myself to learn to transpose chords and keys, but I'm not against using one on anything.
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  3. #53
    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    There's only one song I play with friends for which I put up with a capo and it's in G#m. Capo on the 1st fret always requires retuning before and after the song. Major hassle!

  4. #54
    Registered User Jean-Pierre WOOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?


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  5. #55
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Get that open string sound in keys that don’t use open strings.
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  6. #56
    Registered User keme's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I see a lot of players have an issue with detuning when they use a capo. While I have zero experience with banjo and mandolin capos, I know a few typical reasons for similar trouble with the guitar capo:
    • Nut slots are too high
      On most guitars I have played, even ones used by really good players, I notice that fretting the 1st fret requires pressing down significantly harder than the higher frets. To me this is a symptom of too high nut slots.
      I have taken out the nut from all my guitars and my mandolin and sanded the bottom. Didn't have a string slot file, so that was my only option. Brought nut down to "zero fret level". This improves intonation for all situations, but particularly when you use a capo. This allows you to raise the action at the bridge a bit while retaining "playability".
    • Capo placed in the middle of the fret
      Put the capo just "behind the wire", which is also the optimal fretting position.
    • Capo too tight.
      If you have a spring loaded capo, there is not much to do about that. The adjustable lever (shubb style) or friction (G7th style) capos behave better. Tighten so you don't get any string rattle. Anything more is too much.

    I would think that this transfers to all fretted instruments, to some degree.
    Last edited by keme; Jun-29-2020 at 1:16pm.

  7. #57
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Capos on mandolins are expected by some people, not expected by others. It's really a personal call involving:

    1) whether a person has the ability to play in any key without a capo
    2) whether a person knows ideal locations for placing a capo for a particular song in the desired key
    2) the kind of sound a person wants to produce for a particular song (ie: fretted vs open strings)
    3) the convenience or inconvenience of using a capo

    Many of these points apply equally to other fretted instruments.

    Personally I think if a person wants to use a capo, that's fine, as long as it does not cause any delays, noises or distractions in getting to the next song. I've played in many live TV-studio situations where there is no time or sound-space for placing or removing a capo or especially for re-turning between songs after using a capo; because of that experience I've learned to play mandolin and banjo completely without capos (including without 5th string capos or spikes on banjos). Ironically I do carry capos in my instrument cases, but I haven't used them in decades.

    I'd also observe that no matter how well setup a fretted instrument is, if you place or remove a capo and are at all serious about your tuning, chances are great that either you or someone in your ensemble will have to re-tune at that time. I see people with the highest value and most well setup instruments go through this on stage between songs all the time. The only way to avoid this is not to use any kinds of capos.

    All that said, there are some songs that just don't sound traditional without a capo. If you have to have that traditional sound, you have to use a capo. In a live performance situation that does not allow time between songs, the logical choice is in advance to select a song that doesn't require a capo.
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  8. #58
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    In some bands, the key really needs to be the singer's call. If the singer wants A-flat, it's A-flat. A capo really makes life easier in this situation, I backed a singer who would change keys at times depending on what shape his voice was in that day.
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  10. #59

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    As with most tools in any trade, the use of a capo is a needlessly controversial question. Those who don't care to use it sometimes think nobody ever should, and those who do use it sometimes think it should be used all the time for everything. So, the easy final answer is:

    Q:Why use a capo?

    A: Why not? It's a tool that makes certain things easier at the expense of other certain things. If you don't need to use it, or can't afford it, don't. If you don't want to use it, don't. It's that simple, end of discussion.

    Learn to play without a capo, but never be without a capo. It's just a useful tool and asking "why do people use a capo?" is like asking "why do people eat using a spoon and fork?" There are people in both camps and the presence or absence of a particular tool is not a measure of a person's worth. The person's effectiveness at making music is all that matters in this context.

    Chet Atkins used a capo. Good enough for him, good enough for me. Take it up with him if you have a problem.

  11. #60
    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Varying frequency, depending on the tailpiece design. Maintains tension and alignment, when three hands would be much more beneficial, for string changes.

  12. #61
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Probably been said already but another cool thing you can do with a capo is put it on the third fret of an octave mandolin.
    Now you can read bass notation! (At least until you’ve learned how to read it straight)
    You just play the octave while reading as though the notation in front of you was ‘standard’ treble notation.

  13. #62
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    To me it is like a fire extinguisher in a car. Having a fire extinguisher in your car is a good idea. Having a car that needs a fire extinguisher, not so good.

    Using a capo is great. Having to use a capo, well....
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  14. #63
    Registered User Jim Yates's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    This subject can often turn heated. Using a capo on mandolin is not often done. I have used a capo on my mandolin on occasion - I used to play with a guy who, due to his vocal range (and somewhat limited guitar ability) played everything with a capo, often on odd frets (5, 7, even 9) that at the time made mental transposition on the fly difficult for me. Now that I'm several years in on my mando journey I play songs like that by ear instead. I choose not to capo now because to me, shortening the scale of an instrument that already has such a short scale only hurts the sound and playability.

    Longer scale instruments don't suffer as much sonically and there is still room to manuever with a capo. Genre and tuning has a lot to do with it. For banjo or dobro a capo is a necessity to play in some common bluegrass keys. For bluegrass guitar a capo is used to access all those cool pentatonic runs using the chord shapes best suited for them.

    You almost never see a capo in jazz or classical guitar - different genres and conventions.
    Classical guitarists will often transpose a piece written for another instrument to a more guitar friendly key. You can't see the capo, but it's there.

    A bit over a decade ago, I played with a lead singer who loved to sing in flat keys. I took an extra mandolin tuned a half step flat (or sharp, I can't recall) and used it when he played in a flat key. You couldn't see the capo, but it was there.
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  15. #64
    Stop the chop!
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by ohnoitsalobo View Post

    Q:Why use a capo?

    A:

    Learn to play without a capo, but never be without a capo. It's just a useful tool and asking "why do people use a capo?" is like asking "why do people eat using a spoon and fork?" There are people in both camps and the presence or absence of a particular tool is not a measure of a person's worth. The person's effectiveness at making music is all that matters in this context.

    Chet Atkins used a capo. Good enough for him, good enough for me. Take it up with him if you have a problem.


    So playing without a capo is comparable to eating with one's hands? How barbaric.

    Like almost everybody else you miss the didactic point: how, why and when. The late John McGann gave the most instructive advice: by all means, capo for special effect (although I find many of these effects more special than effective on the mandolin), not "ease", i.e., as a substitute for developing transposing skills. Simply because lack of these skills is very limiting. Using a capo to "reduce" everything to just two or three keys easily results in numbing sameness, and limits your possibilities within any given key.

    "Take it up with him" -- Chet Atkins died in 2001. Again the fact that he sometimes used a capo is of no informative value unless you explain how, why, or when. Why don't you give examples? I'm sure most of us are unfamiliar with Atkins' work on mandolin.

  16. #65

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    It's good to know that this topic is still stirring up such passion, 5 years on. Responses to posts from years ago need urgent responses. *chuckle*

    Since none of us are buying each other our music-making gear, or paying each other for our time making or practicing music, I'm always surprised when limits are set, or strict dictums demand to be recognized, on another person's time and energy. *laugh*

    Years ago, someone reminded me that not all of my music students wanted to master the instrument. Some just wanted to play *one* tune. Some just wanted to play simple chords when singing with a grandchild.

    The most humorous aspect to me is that, in what many imagine is supposedly a creative activity, so many adhere to a strict orthodoxy. "My preferred style is where things ended! Don't stray, even if you're not of my mind set!"

    It's your gear, your time. I didn't buy it. I'm not paying you. And, most likely, you're not paying someone else either.

    You have permission to do what you choose when you pursue music. So does everyone else.

    Whatever path(s) you choose to explore, good luck!
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  18. #66
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    And another helpful tip, thank you very much.

    Every time you put the capo up by one fret on your octave then your ‘finger flow’ pattern goes down by one fret.

    Example.
    Your singer calls for a song in Eb, and again you say, ‘lovely, that’s unusual, I like that key'.
    Then you move your capo up by one fret.
    This lowers the finger flow pattern by one fret ie. down from Eb to the key of D major.
    If you usually play the tune in the D major open pattern then you’re cooking.

  19. #67
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I actually thought maybe no one would respond after Mr. Yates resurrected this thread a few days ago … leave it to Ralph to hop in with a passionate response to someone else’s earlier, dead cold response lol.

    It’s been entertaining to note how many old threads started by mobi have been resurrected this year, amazing. He didn’t stay here long, but evidently left quite the legacy
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