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This article was originally published in issue #16
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The capo (or 'capo tasto' to give it its full name) is an unassuming little device that clamps across the guitar's fretboard, effectively shortening the fretboard's playable length. In Rock and Folk music guitarists use the capo to effectively change the guitar's natural key to a higher pitch, most commonly to match their own vocal range or when accompanying another singer.
Using a capo also offers another remarkable benefit by virtue that even the most mundane or commonplace first position chords take on a whole new sparkly dimension when pitch-shifted up a whole tone or higher, their fresh sounds providing ideal inspiration for the songwriter or inventive accompanist.
G7th is a British company formed by a chartered engineer, Nick Campling, who specialises in mechanical engineering and design. In a short time the company has released quite a range of capos., from the ultra-stylish (and highly regarded) Performance models, through the extensive Newport series (which includes capos for banjos/ukes, 12-string and classical models, as well as conventional 6-string guitars) to the new Nashville model, designed for fast changes on-stage.
There are special edition capos of many kinds, too, but the ones that caught our attention here are in G7th's Newport series and they are partial capos.
Partial capos take the whole concept a step further in that they don't pitch shift the entire fretboard but instead only alter the pitch of certain selected strings, leaving the unclamped strings at their standard pitch. Partial capos can be tricky little blighters to master, though. While you don't exactly need a degree in music to get your head around it, some basic understanding of harmony is useful to help the player make an informed choice as to which fret to place the partial capo in relation to the open (drone) strings.
If you haven't tried a partial capo before, the G7th Newport Partial #5 partial capo is definitely the easier to get to grips with. Placing this capo at the second fret transposes the first five strings up a whole step whilst the un-capo'd low E string effectively becomes the equivalent of a 'Drop E' open tuning. In much the same way as a drop D tuning gives the guitar a more open modal sound due to the drone effect you get when you lower the bottom string a whole tone to D, the #5 capo produces virtually the same effect. Of course, it naturally follows that your standard open chord shapes change due to being transposed up a whole tone (D Major becomes E Major, A7 becomes B7 etc) but if doesn't take long to adjust your thinking and like a conventional full capo, the #5 gives those bog-standard chords shapes a pleasing lift.
A quick word about the general aesthetics regarding the G7th design: these capos are very compact and thus they are easy to stash away inside a shirt pocket. The sleek brushed steel finish looks very contemporary and the rubber 'teeth' seem to grip the strings firmly without sending the guitar wildly out of tune as soon as the capo is clamped in place. The mechanism uses a small thumbwheel to adjust the amount of grip and whilst this isn't as fast as something like a Kyser capo with its quick release spring loaded handle (or, indeed, G7th's own Nashville model), the G7th still feels user friendly and is definitely quick enough to use in a live situation without inducing impatient yawns from the audience.
The G7th #3 partial capo, as the name suggests, only clamps across three strings and so it presents something of a challenge when working out the intervals between the three capo'd strings and three open strings. However, there is no reason why you can't experiment with using the capo to transpose the top three strings or the bottom three strings, leaving the top three strings open!
While a little more thought is required, the 50/50 arrangement still allows the guitarist to fret the uncapo'd strings behind the capo, which is handy for playing riffs or moving bass lines against the transposed chords. Clamping the top three strings at the second fret in standard tuning will give you the basic elements of a D Major 7th chord (3rd, 5th & 7th) with the open D string, providing the root but the potential for creating different inversions and new chord sounds is only limited by the guitarist's imagination.
Despite its challenges, we can't see why guitarists shouldn't have a ball with the G7th #3. Its apparent randomness can throw up some very intriguing new sounds and guitarists who particularly enjoy using altered tunings should find it a whole lot of fun.
G7th's Newport partial capos are well designed, innovative devices that can make a significant change to your playing and your sound for not a great deal of money. That said, they are a bit of a niche product that won't appeal to everyone, but of you are looking for a distinctive edge to your playing they are definitely worth trying!