Capo Time!

The humble capo is a much maligned device. Often regarded as little more than a way of “cheating” by avoiding barre chords it is a valuable tool, especially for the home recording guitarist. I use my faithful SHUBB capo all the time to give depth and “fullness” to a rhythm guitar part. Here’s how:

Let’s say I have this chord sequence to lay down as a rhythm guitar part:

E

B

C#m

A

E

A

F#m

B

I could just play those chords without the capo, in fact I probably would. It would sound like this (click HERE to hear it).

Nothing wrong with that. But let’s see if we can make it a little better. Here’s what you do: Count BACKWARDS one fret at a time from each chord like this:

Fret No.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A#

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

B

A#

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A#

A

C#m

Cm

Bm

A#m

Am

G#m

Gm

F#m

Fm

Em

D#m

Dm

C#m

F#m

Fm

Em

D#m

Dm

C#m

Cm

Bm

A#m

Am

G#m

Gm

F#m

Basically what this table tells us is which chord shape gives us the chord we need at any given fret – for example: if you play a D shape with the capo on the 2nd fret, it will give us an E chord; a Dm shape at the 4th fret will give us an F#m & so-on.

What you need to do, then, is find the fret number that gives us the maximum number of open chord shapes. After all… what would be the point of putting a capo on the neck, then playing all barre chords in front of it? Why have the capo on if you’re going to do that? You’re not getting any benefit from it. Anyway… back to the plot: you should be able to see that by placing the capo at the 9th fret I can get my E B A C#m & F#m chord by playing G D C Em & Am shapes.

Fret No.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A#

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

B

A#

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A#

A

C#m

Cm

Bm

A#m

Am

G#m

Gm

F#m

Fm

Em

D#m

Dm

C#m

F#m

Fm

Em

D#m

Dm

C#m

Cm

Bm

A#m

Am

G#m

Gm

F#m

Here’s what that sounds like if I layer it over the existing chord track (click HERE to hear it).

I could also add another part. Placing the capo at the 4th fret will give me the shapes C G F Am & Dm. OK, so I have a barre chord to deal with here (the F shape) but it’s still predominantly open chords I’m playing. This gives me the opportunity to add all those little “twiddly” bits you can do with open chords… hammering on from an open string; adding a sus4 note etc. etc. I didn’t do this here, but it’s an option you can always explore if you so wish. Click HERE to hear all three guitar parts layered together.

If I’m just doing single rhythm guitar part, I’ll often double track it & pan both takes left & right for a really BIG stereo guitar sound. This is also what I do when I’m just playing one capo’d part – the non-capo version panned to one side & the capo’d version panned to the other side. For this 3-guitar track, I left the original un-capo’d part dead centre & panned the two capo’d parts left & right.

As you can hear, using the capo this way is a great method of creating a lush rhythm guitar part which can really bring a track to life. It’s worth investing in a good quality capo – those cheap ones with the strap & notched buckle thing are a nightmare in my experience: guaranteed to put your guitar out of tune. I also dislike the spring loaded ones with the “trigger grip” as they always seem to cause tuning problems too. In 1986 I bought a SHUBB capo for £10 & it’s still going strong… can’t complain at that!

Until next time… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

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