In the simplest of all worlds, once your banjo is in tune fretting anywhere on the fingerboard should give a true tone, so why do you need to re-tune once you put a capo on? My theory is that capos are monsters that clamp on so hard that they bend the strings off pitch more than your reasonable fretting would. Don't get me wrong, capos are great, but these mechanical spring loaded monsters are brutal and uncaring (OK, maybe a bit of over personification).
New players sometimes grip the strings so tight that they bend the notes off pitch. When I was a beginning player I liked to use medium gauge strings just because I came from a rough and ready guitar style of playing. It took a while for me to treat light gauge strings with the respect that they deserve.
So, here's my question for those of you who use a capo. Do you generally find that when you put a capo on it forces the strings sharp? Are there capo designs that are more gentle on your banjo?
Good topic, Rick. I capo right behind the fret, using a Paige that lets me tighten it just enough to avoid string buzz. If a string or two are sharp, I press the string towards the head a few inches in front of the bridge which releases any unwanted binding or side-twisting at the capo. I have a Keyser clamp-on & it’s quick, but often the pressure is too great. What often happens ,though, is that my quick move to form a C chord bumps the capo and it slides away from the fret a bit. If I didn’t tighten the screw enough, I’ll get a buzz on my open 1st string.
Edited by - chuckv97 on 05/19/2019 19:39:58
Paige capos work well.
Al’s FretPaw works great! No need to re-tune.
Yes, a capo can force the strings sharp.
I prefer a screw type capo with a fairly soft string sleeve. A piece of rubber tubing from a hardware or auto parts store can replace the rather hard sleeve found on some capos.
I have been known to radius a capo's bar to match the radius on an instrument's fingerboard.
As others have said, I place the capo close behind the fret, and tighten the screw just firmly enough so the strings will not buzz. If a string is sharp, I give it one or two light tugs.
Edited by - rcc56 on 05/19/2019 22:07:24
I use a Shubb and (like others have said) only tighten it enough where it holds the frets down but doesn't squeeze them. I also put the capo right next to the fret (not touching, but close). That seems to work pretty well on my Stelling. I might have to tweak just a tad and that seems to be according to the weather: hot, cold, damp, dry.
Think it was John Lawless who said that learning to use your capo on your banjo is just another aspect of learning to play the banjo itself. Think this is true. Move the thing around. Right behind fret, on top of fret, half-way between frets at all different levels of pressure as long as it doesn't buzz. Try spring operated capos. Those that you screw down, etc. All a part of the learning curve I am afraid.
I agree with Texasbanjo, don't choke your banjo, I also use a Shubb.
I place the capo _on_ the fret. The downside of this is that it can leave very little space for fretting at the first fret when capoing rather high.
I’m another Shubb fan. I replace the pad they come with with a piece of surgical tubing. It’s much softer and I find it doesn’t stretch the strings as much.
Also, when I was working as a guitar tech people would bring their guitars into the store and complain about the capo throwing th guitar out of tune. Many times, the guitar was poorly set up with the action way too high.
So if the guitar player in your group is also applying a capo, without retuning, it makes sense to join in. Tighten the Paige a little more in that environment.
I use a Clik Paige capo. It's really nice for quick changes, especially during gigs.
Originally posted by BobbyE
Think it was John Lawless who said that learning to use your capo on your banjo is just another aspect of learning to play the banjo itself.
I use a Shubb, and I adjust the tension to make sure it's not too tight. I'm okay with the texture of the rubber pad - it adequately imitates the fretting finger. The spring-loaded capos are too tight, imho. I place the capo a little farther away from the fret so the shallower string angle provides less tendency to make the note go sharp.
Perhaps another aspect of this is that, when you play, the notes your fingers make are transitory or passing, but capoed (open) notes are more "permanent", so you hear them longer and can more easily detect the discrepancy. (This would be more apparent in a style such as clawhammer.)
You're right, those spring loaded capo's put too much pessure on the strings & make the banjo note sharp. Worst of the bunch are the Keyser's & the various knock off's. IMHO they not only note sharp, they are flat out ugly! It irritates me no end to see a bunch of junk hanging on the peg head of an instrument, especially one with a lot of fancy inlay.
I use an adjustable C type capo with a flat rubber pad & put it as far back as possible & still be on the fret. I only screw it down tight enough to do the job. Sometimes I'll give all the strings a couple smacks with the side of my hand about half way between the bridge & the neck. That seems to help release any undo tension exerted by the capo as it tends to lean back away from the fret when tightened. And yeah, I have to be careful not to knock it off the fret when fretting a "C" chord.
G7th makes the Heritage yoke style capo that they claim distributes equal pressure across all the strings & does not note sharp. It's not cheap, but neither are the McKinny's.
BobbyE got it right, learning to use a capo is a whole nuther part of learning to play BG banjo. Sonny Osborne gets credit for capo techniques like placement, subtle string adjustments, & not tuning thru the capo.
Edited by - monstertone on 05/20/2019 10:54:22
I my experience, there are only two things that result in capos pulling things sharp:
1) Incorrect placement: if the capo isn't JUST behind the fret, you'll need to apply too much tension to make clean notes when strummed open.
2) Too much tension even if in the correct position. There should only be enough pressure on the strings to produce clean tones when strummed open - and not a bit more. On stirrup-style capos such as Paige, that means the screw is too tight. On cam-style capos such as Shubb, it again means too much screw.
I agree that softer sleeve material is quite helpful. And the above presumes that the banjo is properly set up to begin with, including proper bridge placement.
One of the most important things concerning sharp fretting in the first 5 frets is the nut slot depth.
A quick measurement of this is the clearance of the strings over the top of the 1st fret.
The larger that clearance the more the string bends where fretted.
The optimum clearance over the 1st fret is .011" easily measured with a banjo string(s).
A .010" string slips between and a .012" is tight.
Anything between .011 to .015 will fret easily and stress the least when fretted.
Bridge placement of matching the 12th fret fretted note with the 12th fret harmonic is essential.
how can a capo place too much downward pressure on a string ? the string can only go as far down as the fretboard ! same as when you are fingering a chord/note, only sideways movement could cause that problem, the likeliest cause surely is too high an action at that fret pulling the strings sharp when capoed or, placing and screwing down the capo off centre thus pulling strings sharp sideways, I dont get it !
Nick,, u shouldn’t have to screw it down to the fretboard. That’s why we place it right behind the fret, so that there’s minimum pressure needed to firmly rest the strings on that fret. Just like newbies on guitar or banjo will press the string down too hard and it’ll be sharp. Try it on any fretted note,, the harder you press the sharper the note,, then try the same right behind the fret and then in the middle between frets.
Edited by - chuckv97 on 05/20/2019 12:02:11
I try to apply the same pressure with my capo as I would with my fingers and I never have problems with tuning except when high up the neck where the action tends to be higher.
Something not mentioned so far is fret height. My previous banjo neck had 'period correct' smaller frets and had no trouble with strings being capoed and going sharp. I later switched necks with more 'correct/taller' frets and had more issues with having to retune. I think it's just one more small detail that creates something to work around/experiment with.
This is the capo tubing
Edited by - Helix1 on 05/20/2019 16:31:03
I use a daddario /planet waves NS artist capo.
I happen to think this is one of those sleeper products.
It works really well, and, isn't expensive. (I am not adverse to spending plenty, should I feel there's value or design or function that I really like). This is one instance where I found something , by chance, that's great. my first came as a promo with some strings I bought. I bought two more.
Its a black, trigger style, and has a wheel to adjust the tension spring.
it is adjustable, and can have a very light pressure. it can also have plenty for a guitar with medium strings. (i might add, for guitar, typcially i need to crank it down , and, if so, sometimes i need to uncrank it to get it off, as it closes the clamp, making for not so quick chnages. But, i need only have on capo, and put up with this inconvenience if using it for both banjo and guitar)
For banjo, I typically leave the wheel fully loose. there's enough pressure in the very light spring action.
used immediately behind the fret, I have almost no change in string pitch....almost.
it is my favorite banjo capo. my shubb doesn't fit one of my banjos thick necks, (an older style Kruger) and on my other Vega tuba, a normally sized neck banjo, the shubb works well, but, i prefer having the ease of a trigger style.
It is nice, for quick key changes. typically, I clamp, tweak the fifth string and am good to go....
the capo fits flat in my back pocket or shirt pocket.
if you look, these are inexpensive. I get mine for about $15.
I really like them. I think that they are worth giving a try.
Edited by - stevedenver on 05/20/2019 16:49:41
I press the capo onto the strings with my right hand before and while adjusting the clamping pressure with my left. I can feel whether everything's aligned so the bar is pressing straight down on the strings and evenly across all of them.
A simple-design screw-type capo is my first choice. I've got a couple of Paige banjo capos, a couple of D'Addario NS's and an old Scruggs. All good, and there are lots of others out there I haven't tried. The Shubb lever-style comes in a close second on guitar, but at a tension as light as I like to use on most banjos, it's easy to knock it loose accidentally.
Remember, though, tuning a banjo is an endless process -- the goal is an illusion which can sometimes be approached, but never attained. And the vagaries of real-world physics assure that wherever you are in that process, you are not going to stay there very long.
Wow! What great, insightful responses to a "simple" question (which is not really all that simple). I want to respond to several people individually after I collect my thoughts.
I started out as a ragtime guitar player who really "dug in" and played in a rough-shod style on medium and heavy gauge strings. Many of the old blues guys would tune their guitars down a half step and capo back up to standard pitch just so they could have a heavier, slacker string. So you can imagine the havoc my primitive style played on a banjo with light gauge strings. I know about bending notes off pitch! Left hand strength was not the problem; control was. So, my Keyser spring loaded capo kind of does the same thing.
Thanks everybody, I'll be back on this topic.
When you apply a capo or fret you are stretching the string. This will raise the pitch of the string. Different diameter strings behave differently to the stretching. When you put on a capo, the strings don't all raise in pitch to the same degree. Putting on the capo as close to the fret and as lightly as possible without it buzzing, and fretting with your fingers as lightly as possible without buzzing will minimize intonation problems. Setting up your banjo with lower action helps but may reduce volume or cause buzzing when played hard. Capoing and fretting will make the string go slightly sharp. Tuning is an exercise in compromise. Deal with it.
Buzzing happens when the 1st fret string clearance falls below .010".
Sharpness in the lower frets is problematic when this clearance goes past .015".
My banjo has .011 to .013 over the 1st fret and has great clarity and powerful tone.
I would argue that the problem lies with the instrument setup, high action, high frets, bowed neck etc, the capo is doing no more or less than your fingers do when playing without a capo, when you barre a chord you are exactly mimicking the action of a capo, does your instrument go out of tune then ?
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