Standard capos clamp all the strings on a guitar—and that’s what they’re designed to do. There is one choice: what fret to position the capo at, and that’s it. But capo users who felt the squeeze from this singular capability started hacking their capos.
It started by offsetting clamp-style capos to cover only 5 strings, often leaving the 6th string free, achieving a similar effect to a Drop-D alternate tuning. Some guitarists, like Phil Keaggy, customized their capos by physically notching the rubber to leave some strings open and others engaged by the capo. Companies also started producing cut capos that cover 3 inner strings for even more alternate tuning-style adventures.
But then there are the designers who think entirely outside the box: those who bring us universal partial capos. No longer is the guitarist limited to factory-set combinations of strings; this style capo lets you choose any combination of strings from 1 to 6 and anywhere in between!
The first universal partial capo on the scene was the Third Hand Capo, launched in the late 1970s. Featuring an elastic strap with which it clamps to the fretboard, it has a vintage appearance and retro but effective functionality. Still available today, the Third Hand Capo was the only one of its kind for three decades until another universal partial capo came on the scene: SpiderCapo.
The SpiderCapo clamps on the edges of the fingerboard, has a screw mechanism, and then each of the capo’s individual “fingers” can be aligned to the guitar’s strings.
Both capos require a bit of adjustment and patience, and will not be as easy and quick to work with in a live setting as clamp-style capos. But these will excel in allowing the guitarist to explore new levels of creativity and achieve chord structures and melodies that may elude standard tunings. Each has their strengths, and the player will likely find which capo he or she prefers by testing them out. But this thoughtful comparison from PartialCapo.com (the makers of the Third Hand Capo) may give you a head start.
Even more good news: universal partial capos are not just for 6-string guitars! SpiderCapo comes in standard, mini, and XXL versions so that banjo, ukulele, mandolin, bouzouki, bass, and extended range guitars can also get in on the act. Find all the varieties in our shop.