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Partial Capo FAQ- answers by Harvey Reid

What is the point of using a partial capo?
The partial capo expands the realm of possibilities of what you can do with a guitar, similar to the way altered tunings offer new options. You only have so many fingers, and a partial capo changes the geometry of what your guitar can do. It has several advantages over altered tunings in that 1) you don't have to retune 2) You don't have to re-learn the fingerboard with each new capo configuration, the way you do when you try a new tuning, and 3) It allows you to sound like you are in a new tuning, while also allowing you to get out of the "drone zone" and still play "normal" sounding chords when you want to. So in the same song you could sound like you were in a different tuning and also sound like standard tuning. Just like a tuning, a partial capo gives you open strings in new places. Especially if you play solo, every extra string that you can keep ringing can really help your total sound. (The deeper truth is that many of the most powerful partial capo ideas involve combining a change of tuning with a partial capo. The guitar fingerboard is filled with surprises that only a partial capo can unlock.)

What kinds of music and players is it best for?
The rule of thumb is that the partial capo is useful in pretty much the same kinds of music that benefit from changing the tuning. Which means music that features ringing open strings, and music that stays around in the same key or key family. You might even be able to arrange a classical piece and get the notes exactly right because of where they happen to land. Partial capos are often used in folk, blues, gospel, celtic, and old-time Appalachian music-- the kind that often features drone strings. There is no reason you could not write or arrange a folk, country or pop song with one. They work great for fiddle tunes, and is least often used in jazz or swing, which is a lot about not playing open strings, and about changing keys and playing 2-5-1 and 6-2-5-1 progressions rather than droning a bass string. (Essay about partial capos & jazz guitar.) SInce the partial capo is largely about keeping some extra open strings ringing, its greatest value is probably for solo players. If you play electric guitar in a band, it's possible that no one would even notice you were using it, since one more string ringing is not so dramatic.

I already use different tunings. Why would I need a partial capo?
Several of the companies that make partial capos erroneously call partial capos "open tunings." Someone who uses a lot of re-tunings will probably get confused more than someone who had never used a different tuning, because some of the things you do with tunings the capo can imitate. A partial capo actually allows a different set of new chord voicings than a tuning does, and each "tuning environment" has some of its own unique chord voicings. In truth, they are both great ways to expand the capabilities of the guitar, and neither is better than the other. The tuning world and the capo world are sort of mirror opposites, and they both have musical value in similar ways. If you are really serious about getting all the sounds out of your guitar, you will want to explore both. And if that is not enough, try doing both at the same time, and use a partial capo in an altered tuning! Make a fresh pot of coffee first, because it is confusing! Many of the best and deepest partial capo environments combine capos with non-standard tunings.

It looks like the universal capo like the Third Hand can do everything. Why would I need anything else?
It is true that the Third Hand Capo or the SpiderCapo can clamp all 63 different combinations of strings at every fret (and also function as a normal capo), but most of those 63 are not musically useful. The universal capos block access to the notes under and behind them, and are not as practical as they might seem. Only a small handful of really useful and interesting ideas require an unsightly universal capo, and with a Liberty FLIP Model 43 you can do about 80% of all the really valuable known things. In fact, we have discontinued the Third Hand Capo after 35 years, and are trying to steer people toward capo ideas that bear more fruit. Most people can't find much music with a Third Hand. The partial capo idea is quite confusing, and you really don't need several million possibilities. Most of what you will want to do involves a few dozen capo ideas.

How many kinds of partial capos are there?
There are now about 15 kinds of partial capos, and new ones show up almost every year or so. The list includes capos that are totally universal like the Third Hand and the Spider Capo, and also single-purpose capos that clamp 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 strings, rather than all 6. Kyser recently discontinued their line of K-Lever capos, so there are fewer capos than there used to be. Here is a PDF of a comparison chart of the 3-string capos, and a chart of 4 & 5-string models.

This looks like something for beginners. Why would a good player use one?
This is probably a big part of the reason the idea has not spead faster– because it's easy to think it's for someone else. In truth, partial capos are equally useful for all levels of players. The fact that a partial capo "frees" up some extra fingers is exactly what makes it so helpful for beginners, and also why it allows good players with those "extra fingers" to do fancy things.

This looks like something for serious guitarists. Can beginners use it too?
Partial capos are the best thing that ever happened to beginning guitar, especially since the arrival of Liberty Tuning. There are only a handful of good 1 and 2-chord songs out there for beginners to get started with and you really need to master 3 basic chords and be able to switch them quickly to have access to a large body of playable songs for beginners. The amount of time and skill it takes to master D-G-A7 or G-C-D7 chord changes is considerable, and even adult beginners find that it takes them months to get to where they can switch chords fast enough to get through even a simple song. A partial capo can allow quite young children, or anyone with even 2 working fingers on their fretting hand to play thousands of great songs instantly.

Which capo is best to start with?
Though it looks at a glance like a universal capo like a Third Hand or SpiderCapo offer the most options, they are actually quite clumsy and unsightly, and block access to important notes under and behind them. By far the best partial capo (it's 3 partial capos in 1) is now the Liberty FLIP Model 43. It is the perfect tool for beginners, and the best 3 or 4-string capo for professionals. Its twin brother the Model 65 is now available , with a full capo on one side and a 5-string partial on the other.

Which is the best partial capo I can buy?
By far the best all-around partial capo is now the Liberty FLIP Model 43.
It fits more guitars at more frets, is less visible, easier to carry around, and it does about 80% of everything you'd ever want to do with a partial capo. It's the perfect tool to unlock the guitar for a child or a total beginner, and it's the capo you'd use on stage if Eric Clapton invited you to play at his guitar festival.

I play a classical guitar. Will these capos work on my guitar?
Due to the flat fingerboard and wide necks of classical guitars, you may have trouble with some of the factory partial capos. The Third Hand works fine. The SpiderCapo comes in a wide-neck classical version, and the Esus capo from Shubb usually works on the 2nd fret but not higher up the neck. (The Kyser Short Cut is too small to clamp even at fret 2 of a classial guitar.) The Liberty FLIP Model 43 works quite well on the thicker & wider necks on a classical guitar, and can usually clamp properly up to about fret 7, which is most of what you need.

I have a curved fingerboard. Is there a partial capo that will work?
If the curvature of your fingerboard is extreme, your only solution at this point is to use a Third Hand and bend the pin, though when you are clamping ony 3 or 4 strings it may not matter. You can't really bend the Shubb or Kyser capos, though very few guitars have that much radius. This is only rarely a problem with partial capos, since they are in general clamping less than all 6 strings. The radius issue doesn't really affect a 3 or 4-string capo that much. The Liberty capos have a 14" radius, as do the Shubb and Kyser partial capos.

If I play banjo, ukulele or mandolin, can I use a partial capo too?
There are some interesting things you can do. This area is unexplored, but I use a partial capo quite a bit on my octave mandolin and mandocello, though not on a regular mandolin. The partial capo is mostly useful for solo players, and if you are playing mandolin in a band it is likely no one is going to notice. If you are playing solo, they probably will.
The Liberty FLIP Model 43 works very well as a full or partial capo on banjo, uke or larger mandolins. The first idea of how to use partial capos on ukuleles and mandolins are now published in the Big Book of Mandocello Chords and the Big Book of Octave Mandolin Chords.

Do you ship to other countries other than the US?
Yes. Partial capos don't weigh very much, and we can mail them for only a few dollars shipping cost anywhere in the world.