Partial capos sound complicated, but they can make your guitar playing easier and add a unique quality to how your songs sound.

Why try partial capos?

  • You want a unique sound to a song for some variety with open tunings, but you don’t want to be constantly tuning up and down when you’re playing. And what a distraction for an audience!
  • You play the same chords or have limited guitar skills. For example:

I have small hands, so chords that stretch across 5 frets to create a cool sound are not happening for me.  I also like certain chord shapes, but want different sounds to my songs.

  • Many times partial capo chords only require one or two fingers.  If you’re a beginner this is an easy way to start creating songs with good sounding chords quickly.

We’ll review some standard capos I use as “master” capos in combination with my partial capos, and take a look at 3-String, 4-String, and 5-String partial capos along with a few chord books for each.


Standard Capos


Depending on your guitar neck, some of these will work better than others.  If I’ve used it on a particular brand of acoustic guitar I’ve noted that as well.


Dunlop Johnny Cash Capo  or Dunlop Victor Capo

This is my #1 capo.  It’s reliable, easily fits in a pocket, the mechanism is angled down slightly so it stays out of your way, and it rarely requires re-tuning.

The “Cash” version is a Dunlop Victor Capo and comes in all black. Of course.

Guitars I’ve used it on:  Guild, Gibson, Martin, Breedlove, Santa Cruz, Stone Bridge


Pros & Cons


  • You rarely have to re-tune once you’ve put it on the neck
  • It’s heavy and feels very sturdy
  • Tension is applied from the bottom vs. pushing down from the top
  • No buzzing – ever
  • Heavy rubber with no string indentations after use
  • Great as your master capo if you’re using multiple capos (more on that later)


  • It’s heavy, so if you’ve got a lightweight neck it may feel off balance
  • Requires two hands to position and tighten


Shubb Brass Capo
I’ve been using the same one for 15 years and it’s never let me down.

Solid construction and the simplicity of the mechanism limits what can break on the capo.

This also works very well as a master capo if you’re using 2 or more capos on the neck.

Guitars I’ve used it on: Guild, Gibson, Martin, Breedlove, Santa Cruz, Stone Bridge, Rain Song


Pros & Cons


  • Lightweight but sturdy
  • Heavy rubber means no string indentations over time
  • No buzz and very reliable over a number of years


  • Can sometimes be set too tight (squeezes strings) especially is using across different guitars
  • Two hands to operate



paige capoPaige 6-String Capo

This one is a bit different in that it doesn’t come off and on. It stores behind the nut on the guitar.

Most capos have a lever mechanism which can result in less pressure against the strings the furthest away from the mechanism.  This has a center screw, so exerts even pressure from the bottom.

You’ll need to make sure you do not buy the “narrow/low” profile version if you have a slot head guitar.

Guitars I’ve used it on: Guild, Martin, Rain Song (main capo for this guitar)


Pros & Cons


  • Lightweight but sturdy
  • Heavy rubber means no string indentations over time
  • No buzz
  • Easy storage on the guitar (no losing it between songs!)


  • Spend a lot of time tightening and untightening if you have it on for a song then move to store it for a “no capo” song. If you’re with a band, it could be a problem if you’re not fast.
  • Storing it behind the nut still requires it to be tightened vs. just removing it.


Kyser Quick Change Capo

This one is pretty standard and one you’ll see songwriters using often. I’ve used one in the past, but stopped.

My personal preference is for less bulk on the neck, and to me, this one is pretty gangly.  I also don’t care for the non-curved pressure pad/arm.

But for many others, it’s a must have. It’s handy for a quick on-and-off grip to move the capo around the neck.

Guitars I’ve used it on: Guild, Martin, Washburn


Pros & Cons


  • Lightweight
  • Single hand operation for quick on-and-off


  • Tends to buzz if not just right, so you spend time moving it on the neck
  • Awkward shape makes it hard to shove in a pocket
  • Shape can result in the capo getting in the way for some chord positions



3, 4 & 5-String Partial Capos

Shubb Mandolin/Banjo Capo (Wait . . . don’t judge it)

I use this as my 5-String capo for alternate tunings on guitar since it’s a little shorter than the standard Shubb.  It’s perfect for the old “4th fret – reverse capo and leave the 6th string open” trick.

I use this as a 4 string capo as well.

 Guitars I’ve used it on: Guild, Gibson, Martin, Breedlove, Santa Cruz, Stone Bridge, Rain Song



Shubb Short Cut 3 String Capo

Also known as an Esus Capo, this one allows for center string capoing. It comes with instructions on how to create some unique tunings on your guitar without having to do a bunch of string winding.

Guitars I’ve used it on: Guild, Gibson, Martin, Breedlove, Santa Cruz, Stone Bridge, Rain Song


Kyser Short Cut 3 String Capo

Another good one to monkey with for special tunings. This one is similar to the Shubb Short Cut. It also comes with instructions on how to use and create some starter tunings.

Mine went to a friend since the whole Jurassic look bothers me, but a solid capo if you’re already using Kyser and like the brand.

Guitars I’ve used it on: Guild, Breedlove

All of these capos should work fine on an electric guitar as well.  I’ve used the Shubb and Victor on a Gibson 339 and they sounded great.



Recommended Books For Chords


liberty capo idea bookThe Liberty Flip Capo Idea Book

If you have 3, 4 & 5 string capos, you’re set.  If not, the Liberty “Flip” capo is an option. It’s extremely light and you get two capos in one, so a quick on and off with a simple flip to change from a 4- to 3-string capo (model 43). You can also get the model 65 for 6- and 5-string configurations.

The book is a treasure trove of chords, and a great way to get started with partial capo tunings simply by converting some of the songs you’ve already written.

Need more ideas?  Try The Liberty Flip Capo Ideas Book 2



secrets of the 3 string patial capoSecrets of the 3-String Partial Capo

This is a great starter if you want to master one partial capo and get the hang of the sound and how to use in your songwriting.

There’s also a companion book, More Secrets of the 3-String Capo once you’ve mastered the first!




partial capos in DADGADPartial Capos In DADGAD Tuning

Don’t need a capo because you play in DADGAD already?

Change up the sound a bit with a partial capo!

Offers ideas and ways to make sure each song doesn’t sound the same as the last.




secrets of partial capos in drop D tuning

Secrets Of Partial Capos in Drop D Tuning

And there’s a version for drop D tunings if you like to add some bottom end to your songs.



Tip:  Start simple by converting one of your current songs into a “partial capo version”.

So if you’ve got something in the key of E:

  • Look up partial capo chords in the key of E
  • Start converting your current chords one by one until the end of your song
  • Add the partial capo to the appropriate fret and strings and you’re off!