By Todd Stuart Phillips
Isn't it time for a new capo? That was not a question I supposed many guitarists ask themselves often. But the G7th Performance Capo may change that. It is a truly new and improved way to accomplish what good capos do best; provide an accurate key change with as little hassle as possible.
Unlike many capos, the G7th Performance Capo was designed by a musician; Englishman Nick Campling, who is an accomplished guitarist and a professional product designer. After employing unsatisfactory capos for 30 years he turned his creative skills to the challenge of making a better mousetrap, err, capo. To do so he looked at those produced in recent decades and how they may have fallen short in his demanding estimation. The areas of primary concern were the effect of the capo on a guitarist's intonation, the ease of use when applying and removing the capo, making sure the capo did not damage the guitar's neck or get in the way of the guitarist's fretting hand and finally, a capo that was attractive to the eye. I am happy to report the G7th Company has done a marvelous job in all these respects. This is no easy order, given the long and not always pretty history of this little piece of guitar gadgetry.
The capotasto (or capo d'astro) has been around for centuries. The modern variety is basically a clamp that depresses a bar across the fingerboard of a stringed instrument, behind a given fret. The bar acts as a temporary nut, in effect shortening the strings and increasing their pitch. A good capo allows a player to instantly change the key of a tune without having to learn new chord shapes or tuning the strings up past their breaking point. It is ideal for singers wishing to raise the key into their vocal range and for accompanying other guitars by playing a higher harmony without resorting to advanced finger gymnastics far up the neck. A bad capo can allow a player to permanently scar the exotic wood used to make the neck or distort the tuning of the instrument until the strings need considerable adjustment. Avoiding the bad ones is the goal.
As simple as that sounds, it takes serious engineering skills to perfect a capo that will not damage an instrument or disrupt its intonation. According to the Capo Museum there have been almost 140 patents granted for capo designs between 1858 and 1999. In other words, capos are important to many people and many others have tried to invent better ones. Within the modern selection of good, working capos there are very few that stand out from the pack. With its sleek, post-modern looks and ingenious use of progressive technologies, the G7th Performance Capo may just be the most revolutionary of them all.
One only has to see the thing to know it is an impressive machine. Argent silver with black underpinnings and glistening, organic curves that capture light more than reflect it, the capo looks like a small-scale model of some kind of postmodern furniture, awaiting a diminutive occupant before setting into motion its many advanced comforts. At other times it seems like something right off the drawing board of an award-winning spaceship designer from far in the future.
The hip G7th logo is found on the spherical hub connecting its two arms, so it is tastefully out of sight from the audience when the capo is in use. In fact, the arm that depresses the strings is wider than that found on other capos, but never looks like an unfortunate but necessary contraption the way those other capos can. Its gentle, silvery slope appears as a subtle but valuable accessory, suitable for the most exquisite of musical instruments. But take the capo off and set it on a table and see how quickly envious attention is paid to it. None of these aesthetics would matter, however, if it did not do its job so well.
What makes this capo different from those which came before will be found in the pivotal joint between the fretting bar and the corresponding arm that hugs the back of the neck. The joint is operated by a special"wrap spring clutch", similar to those invented as a decoupling and overrun device inside photocopy machines and high speed printers. As Campling put it, when they discovered that type of clutch it proved to be "infinitely adjustable". This meant it was superior to the ratchet mechanism of other capos, which limit their tightness to pre-determined levels.
To further the contemporary aspects of this capo, Campling actually used the internet to research wrap spring clutches and surfed his way to Reell Precision Manufacturing, of St. Paul, Minnesota. They now make the patented clutches found in the Performance Capo at their facility in Elsloo, Holland. The clutch has three parts - a fixed hub, a movable hub and a spring that fits tightly over both. Movement that would open the arms is restricted so that a user may tighten the capo as much as desired, but it will not loosen. To open it one flips the external lever, or "control tang" on the moveable hub in the direction that lessens tension on the spring, releasing the capo. Since the capo can be adjusted to apply almost any amount of pressure on the strings it should work well on any guitar.
But how does it really hold up to vigorous use on a variety of guitars? Pretty darn well. Where some capos fail to apply equal pressure to the strings, the Performance Capo manages this effortlessly in most every position and angle. Radiused freeboards proved no obstacle, even if I did have to adjust the capo now and again to get it just right. Where some capos apply pressure by locking the clamp in place and then tightening a screw, adding further pressure from the back of the neck, the Performance Capo closes very much like an index finger making a barre chord. Since you use your fingers to depress the bar, you can bring to bear the least amount of pressure necessary so the strings sound fully without going out of tune.
I did a considerable amount of experiments with the Performance Capo. I got the best results if I remembered to apply gentle pressure from both sides at first and then increased the pressure on top, again, like making a barre chord. Although I found it possible to alter the intonation in an unfavorable manner, with a little practice I was able to eliminate this most of the time. When compared to other capos what micro tuning that might be required is inconsequential. In basic usage it is a non-issue.
It did take a while to get used to how easy it is to press into place but impossible to get off until I flipped the control tang. This is a good thing of course; even the top-of-the-line Shubb capo can be popped open with the accidental jab of a thumb or finger in the wrong spot, sending the capo flying to the stage floor while releasing all the string tension at once in a violent *El-Kabong*. And the tang on the Performance Capo is so small it never gets in the way, unlike the extensions of many other capos.
The interior of the capo's back arm is shaped like a stubby V, made up of two humps covered in what appears to be galvanized rubber. The top of the humps presses into the back of the guitar's neck. The same rubber covers any surface that comes into contact with the guitar, practically removing all chance of putting divots in the neck or fingerboard. The humps appear to distribute the pressure across the neck so no strings depress more than others. That worked pretty well, but not in every instance I encountered.
On wider, vintage style necks I did have some issues with the tension being uniform across all six strings, but only slightly. Fortunately they have also come out with a larger capo aimed at 12-strings, which should work very well with vintage 1-7/8" necks and even the thicker 1-3/4" necks found on guitars like mid-1930s Martins. But for most modern, acoustic guitars and all electric guitars the Performance Capo works very well indeed. Even on my custom necks and vintage-style Martin Vs what issues I had were minor.
I was very happy to see the capo only wrapped around one side, leaving the other open. This meant the capo should be able to work successfully for a Drop-D style tuning (actually Drop-E), by putting the capo on the second fret but leaving it off the E string. Because of those humps, however, I found this harder to achieve on certain necks and trying to leave the capo off of the E and A string (or the reverse high E and B string) was pretty much impossible. So that is one place where the screw-tightened clamp of the Shubb capos has a definite advantage. But most people will never employ such maneuvers and there are special capos out there for the more adventurous player, designed specifically to leave those strings un-fretted.
The main body of the Performance Capo is made from diecast zinc and the rubber housing that comes into contact with the guitar may be replaced. But the Company claims their test models have thousands of hours of use without ever needing new rubber. With all moving parts out of sight, one would have to try very hard to break this capo. So it gets high marks for durability, along with those for form and function.
The G7th Performance Capo is showing up on professional stages in growing numbers. I just saw a couple of them on You Tube the other day, put to use by Richard Thompson and Eric Clapton. I think guitarists of all levels will deem this capo worth the investment. Even those set in their ways when it comes to their capo would find it hard to refuse the Performance Capo when received as a gift. It sets the bar very high and will be hard to best for many years.
Out of a possible 8 Notes on the T-Spoon Scale of Guitaracity, I give the G7th Performance Capo a stylish and intonated 7 Notes.