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Partial-Capo Roundup


Adjustable Creative Tunes Spider Capo

Top: The Third Hand Bottom: Creative Tunes Spider Capo
If you’re going to get serious with partial capoing it would make sense to get one single unit that can give you all the variations you need. The Spider capo does that, and it seems to be a sturdy little thing. With its seriously hefty bolt and clever “finger handles” it is a versatile and intuitive capo. However, I found it a little awkward to put on—you really have to get it positioned exactly right and then screw it down—and it took a lot of adjusting and changing in order to get it to cover all the strings with equal pressure so it didn’t sound mushy. I also had to spend a lot of time just getting the finger handles lined up over the strings, and then readjusting the pressure to make sure each string sounded clear when I engaged the finger handles.

Quality The components seem high quality, and it is well made.
Ease of use It takes a little doing to get it just right, but once it’s on it works well. The pointy finger handles do not allow you to reach over it to catch the lower bass notes in open-D settings.
Usefulness Winner of the Summer NAMM 2009 Best in Show Award, it is a versatile tool, but I have concerns about the time it takes to adjust, and whether it’s really securely attached.

MSRP $40
spidercapo.com

The Third Hand
This is certainly the lowest-tech capo of the bunch. I have some of the same reservations about the Third Hand capo as I do with the Spider, although it’s a lot easier to put on. But it’s not a quick change, and it’s a little finnicky. Once you have it on at the correct height, and you adjust the rubber string stops correctly so they’re directly over each string, it works great and is easy to use, and I didn’t have any trouble with it sounding mushy at all. Once again it’s very handy to have all of the “tuning” options in one tiny little package.

Quality Well made of quality materials, if a little low-tech looking. The elastic band will wear out after a while, but at $16 you can afford to get a replacement every couple years.
Ease of use It’s really pretty idiot-proof, and once you have it set up for your guitar it stays there, which is great.
Usefulness If you want many “tunings” in one device, the Third Hand looks like the way to go, and is the most affordable as well.

MSRP $16
thirdhandcapo.com

Special Bob Kilgore’s Harmonic Capo

Bob Kilgore’s Harmonic Capo
This capo really does something entirely different from the other capos—it plays harmonics. You put it at the seventh fret (or any fret where your guitar gives you great harmonics) and pick some strings that you want to chime, set the pads down until you hear the harmonic tone, and play. The Harmonic Capo doesn’t limit your use of altered tunings at all, in fact it fairly begs to be used with an open tuning, so it really belongs in a separate category as a completely different kind of tool.

I got along with this capo better than any of the others, to a point. You can still fret the notes you’re “harmonicizing” (for want of a better word), but it takes quite a bit of planning and adjusting to get used to working around a device in the middle of the neck. I was rather hoping to put it at the twelfth fret, but none of the acoustic guitars at my disposal were shallow enough at the heel for the strap to reach over for a solid connection. I had some fun with the Telecaster, though, and could imagine someone with an electric guitar, a room full of pedals and a harmonic capo plugging in and not being seen for days. For atmospheric, arpeggio-based melodic pickin’ it’s extremely cool.

Quality Simply made, low-tech and sturdy, Weasel Trap offers affordable replacements for all of the parts that tend to wear out over time.
Ease of use Once you get the hang of playing around it, it will likely force you write new stuff simply because you have it.
Usefulness I can’t imagine this becoming the next must-have accessory, but solo guitarists and singer-songwriters could have loads of fun.

MSRP $35
weaseltrap.com

The Final Partial Mojo
Full disclosure time: I’m not partial to partial capos. As a devotee of altered tunings, I found these capos frustrating and confining. To my thinking, the point of an open or altered tuning is to get voicings that are impossible in other tunings all over the fretboard, not just when you’re open. Partial capos will not give you that, at least not in standard tuning.

But, if you don’t want to learn DADGAD or any other tuning, and you need to play convincing lead guitar and yet sound like you’re in one of those tunings, then partial capos may be a viable way for you to go. For solo guitarists and songwriters previously confined to the standard-tuning thing, partial capos may open up some inspiration, and for some, that’s worth the price of admission right there.