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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Capo and Clawhammer style: 1 or 2 Capos

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olddreamer - Posted - 05/24/2020:  17:39:42

If I put on a capo on strings 1 through 4, do I really need some kind of capo on the 5th string or can I frail away without that being much of a problem? The 5th string ones I've seen on Amazon are quite pricey, at least in comparison. I am not handy and there does not seem to be any banjo shop anywhere remotely nearby (and they probably would not be open during these times anyhow).

deestexas - Posted - 05/24/2020:  18:07:33

You can just frail away if you aren't bothered by the discordant sound of the 5th string.

dpgetman - Posted - 05/24/2020:  18:59:29

Here's what you need...

The pen cap capo!

Noah Cline - Posted - 05/24/2020:  19:43:51

Spikes are one of the better ways to go for fifth string capos. Plus, they aren't bulky or get in the way like other capo systems. 

mdthib - Posted - 05/24/2020:  23:59:22

I have a 7th fret spike, that's it. I find that's plenty, particularly as you can tune the fifth string up or down at least a whole step from G, so F to A (and with a spike B) can all be had without much effort.

And the longer I play the more I'm pretty much in G, A, and D, with occasional forays into those beautiful modal tunings for some solo stuff for fun. But I've played in three countries for seven years without a 5th string capo and have always been able to get in on the action with one spike.

janolov - Posted - 05/25/2020:  00:23:43

There are some simple 5th string capos.

One is Stoney Capo from UK  (about 10 £). 

It has also been discussed here at BHO to use a bic pen cap as a 5th string capo:

There is also use of guitar bridge pins which is similar to the bic pen cap:


Edited by - janolov on 05/25/2020 00:38:04

AndrewD - Posted - 05/25/2020:  02:28:27

You only really need to go up one tone (2 steps in American) to A for clawhammer. So only need to capo the 5th at the 7th fret. Spikes are useful (and not that hard to install. I've done it so it must be easy). But unless you are using a heavy 5th string you should be able to tune it up a tone without it breaking. I use a heavier 5th than 1st so this doesn't work for me (well it probably does but I've got a 7th spike on my "playing out" banjos so don't need to risk it).

And I can't believe there isn't a luthier somewhere in or near NYC that can do this. Maybe post in the "Building, set up and repair" forum "Is there anybody in NY who can install a spike when this madness is over ?"

Edited by - AndrewD on 05/25/2020 02:31:44

RevSpyder - Posted - 05/25/2020:  04:51:09

I use one of the Earl's Suspender 5th string capos. Cheap and works great for me. You can get them at lots of places, here's a link for one:

Culloden - Posted - 05/25/2020:  07:08:00

Interestingly enough, as many people as there are in New York, the BHO luthier directory only lists five luthiers in all of New York state.

hweinberg - Posted - 05/25/2020:  08:06:50

As others have said, tuning up the fifth string when you capo up a whole tone is the simplest solution. Many of us have some banjos with spikes and some without.  Putting in a spike is not very hard. Deering gives  instructions and there are several YouTube how-to videos.  It's a nice, easy project if you're mostly staying around the house as I am in New York, NY.  Brooklyn Lutherie can easily put in a spike if you want one, and the owners, Mamie and Chloe, are worth knowing.

rhnewsome - Posted - 05/25/2020:  09:11:12

I have a spike, but when confronted with a banjo that is spikeless, I simply tune the fifth string up a full note. I have never had a string break, yet.

Paul R - Posted - 05/25/2020:  10:26:48


Originally posted by janolov

There are some simple 5th string capos.

One is Stoney Capo from UK  (about 10 £). 

It has also been discussed here at BHO to use a bic pen cap as a 5th string capo:

There is also use of guitar bridge pins which is similar to the bic pen cap:


Hey, Jan, that's my banjo! Or, it was until I got rid of it last year. I used the cut-off guitar bridge pin capos because I didn't want to install spikes on a 100+ year-old Orpheum.

I have sliding capos on two other banjos and spikes on the Neufeld (which I got in trade for the Orpheum). You don't want to use a slider if your banjo has a good finish - you end up with screw holes if you decide to remove it. But I find the sliders are good for quick key changes when you're playing with others or gigging.

Here's more detail on the bridge pin capo: Cut off most of the shaft, cut a slot opposite the string groove - the slot is where you'll put the fifth string and the groove goes over the fret.

The problem with bridge pin capos is storage. In the end, I seldom used them.

I found the simplest solution, if you're just tuning up a whole tone, was to just tune the fifth string up two frets.

AndyW - Posted - 05/26/2020:  00:23:47

If you are playing 'old time' music, then you are mainly going to be in A/G/double D/double C tunings.

All those tunings can be gotten by tuning the 5th to either G or A, both of which are easily achievable with a 'normal' thickness 5th string if metal strings are used.

I'm still only a beginner/early intermediate, but I've been playing 3 years now, learned plenty of tunes, and not needed to tune the 5th outside of those limits.

Edited by - AndyW on 05/26/2020 00:25:12

olddreamer - Posted - 06/05/2020:  11:54:35

Thanks to AndyW and all who posted a reply. I now understand the issue at least somewhat better.

pperkins - Posted - 06/05/2020:  13:13:02

Usually the 5th string is a drone. For standard tunings, I have used the 5th string tuned to the Octave or the 5th of the key in which I am playing.

I think it depends on the keys you want to play. Between the typical tunings of (gDGBD and gCGCD) you could play keys of A,Bb,C , D, E, F.... you could get away with a spike on the 7th and/or tuning the 5th string.

Clawdan - Posted - 06/07/2020:  11:17:21

Andy said it. Just tune the 5th string up to A for keys of A and D. It should take it fine.

Play Nice,

Dan Clawdan Levenson

Author of Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - a Mel Bay publication

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