Why use a capo on a fretless guitar? There are a couple of really good reasons. I remember my first guitar, the action was awful, there was no truss-rod, but if you put a capo behind the third fret, the rest of the fingerboard was playable. now that can also apply to a Fretless Guitar….
Checking your Fretless Action with a Capo
One thing I always bang on about is the nut needs cutting very low to get a good action on a Fretless Guitar. See: How to Set Up a Fretless Guitar I cannot impress on you how key this is to sustain and playing, but I know a lot of you will not want to try this, but if you have a capo, it is easy to see if this will improve your guitar.
I would recommend the use of a capo with a hard rubber base, I used the Shubb type seen in the pictures. Place the capo around the position where the second fret would be and give it a try, you should see a big improvement in sustain and playability. If your strings are buzzing too much, try a thin sliver of card under the strings (and I mean thin) and clamp the capo over the card. You should see improved results and maybe that will give you the confidence to cut the nut down on your fretless.
Using a Partial Capo
Many experienced fretless players use alternate guitar tunings, but for many of us, using these tunings can complicate the process of learning to play fretless. The use of a partial capo provides altered tunings on open strings and standard tuning across the rest of the fingerboard.
What you will need
First off you need to get hold of a partial capo. We bought ours, a Shubb partial capo, from Stringbusters but they should be widely available from any Shubb dealer.
Getting down to business
Many fretless instruments have resonance strings or drones that are played while the melody part is played on the main strings. The idea behind using a partial capo is to provide an open chord to improvise against.
Fix the Partial Capo at the 2nd fret position, as in the picture, so that it covers the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings. This gives an open tuning of E A E A C# E (a chord of A Major).
Now the rest is really up to you. You can start on one string and use other open strings to add stability to your fretless playing. Alternatively you can stop multiple strings, get alternate chords and start to explore those quarter notes hiding between the fret positions.
The open tuning of A Major, in the last example, can be shifted up the neck using a standard capo. In this example the standard capo sits at the 3rd fret position and the Partial Capo sits at the 5th fret position covering the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings. This gives an open tuning of G C G C E G (a chord of C Major).
The Shubb partial capo is excellent for stopping three adjacant strings, but that is not the limit of available string stopping. Just like you can take the frets off a guitar, you can cut string tunnels in a standard capo. Once again the standard Shubb capo is a good candidate as the hard rubber is easily modified while remaining fairly rigid. With a couple or three modified capos you can create open tunings other guitarists can only dream of.
Examples using this technique
Michael Vick with his “Cheers to Jahloon” track features two capos partially stopping strings.
Fretless Guitar Setup More Lessons