Complete Banjo Capo Guide: Why You Need One

Banjo capos are essential accessories for banjo players, as they allow for easy key changes and provide greater versatility in playing different styles of music.

I use a capo on my banjo just as often as I use one with my guitar and over the years, they have become a necessary part of my playing.

In this article, I will discuss different types of banjo capos, provide recommendations for the best model available for each type of capo, as well as answer come commonly asked questions. Let’s dive in and see why every banjo player should own a banjo capo!


complete-banjo-capo-guide-best-choices-article

Why Get a Banjo Capo: The Little Wonder

The capo opens the door to a lot of opportunities wether it is used on a banjo or any other string instrument. With a capo you can transpose music to various keys. This helps if working with other musicians or singers, or learning existing music that is written with a capo in mind.

What I like most about using capos is how much tonal and creative doors that simple accessory opens. Because the capo essentially changes the tuning of your instrument, you can discover fresh tones and textures in your writing, improvisation, or when simply learning the banjo.

All of this with the ease of simply moving the capo around the neck of the instrument. You may even find that the banjo is somewhat easier to play with a capo on, especially higher in the neck.

Let’s now look in detail at the two types of banjo capos.

Spring-Loaded Banjo Capos

They are quick to attach and remove, making them ideal for live performances and practice sessions. When not in use, they are frequently clamped to the headstock – although against good advice, making for easy storage.

Spring-loaded capos have a clamp-like design with a spring mechanism that provides tension to hold the capo in place. These are the type most commonly used by guitar players, and for a good reason!

Benefits of Spring Banjo Capos

Spring capos are light, affordable, and are made by reputable brands with proprietary parts and mechanisms. Spring loaded capos work on 4 and 5 string banjos.

As far as radiused vs flat necks, there is no real consensus, most of the models state they are compatible, but the gold standard remains the screw-on banjo capo made specifically for a radiused neck, and I stand by that recommendation. More on this later.

Spring Loaded Banjo Capo
Example of a spring loaded banjo capo

Negatives of Spring Banjo Capos

What are the negatives?

Well, the spring provides equal pressure and has a limit. As you go down the neck it gets harder for the capo to open wider and retain equal pressure across the fret. This may result in changes in intonation or buzzing.

However, this can be common with other types of banjo capos as well, since the neck of most string instruments gets wider as it gets closer to the bridge.

With all being said, the spring-loaded capo is my favorite type of banjo capo and I will go into more detail later on when discussing the Kyser brand capo specifically.

Screw-On Banjo Capos

Screw-on capos have an adjustable screw mechanism that allows for precise control over the pressure applied to the strings. These capos provide consistent tension and are suitable for both flat-neck and radiused-neck banjos.

As I mentioned screw on capos are the go-to option for radiused neck banjos because of their equal pressure application.

Benefits of Screw On Banjo Capos

Screw-on banjos are seen by many as the gold standard for a banjo capo in-general, regardless of neck type.

They provide a secure adjustable fit that is even across the board. The screw mechanism provides equal pressure that is resistant to time-wear. Quality screw on capos will provide lasting reliable tone when used.

Additionally, they can be used with both 4 and 5 string variations and have reduced buzzing, especially higher on the neck.

All of this combined with their ease of use, make them a favorite for many banjo players.

Screw on banjo capo on a banjo neck
Screw on banjo capo

Negatives of Screw On Banjo Capos

The negatives are few but can be bothersome for many.

The screw on capo is simply hard to move and adjust on the go. If you want to frequently change the capo with a band or a singer then this may not be the option for you.

They are harder to store, you can’t clamp them to the headstock when not-in-use, and have to put them in your pocket between songs.

These are big drawbacks considering that for most, the experience of using the capo outside of the inconveniences, will be identical to that of the spring loaded type.

Now that we have seen the 2 types of capos out there. Let’s now look at my picks for the best banjo capos on the market.

Best Banjo Capos on the Market

Here are the top rated banjo capos that are currently on the market, with my top pick the Kyser sitting in number one, and the very popular Shubb C5 in a close second!

  1. Kyser Quick-Change Banjo Capo
  2. Shubb C5 Original Banjo Capo
  3. Paige Banjo Capo
  4. Planet Waves NS Banjo Capo
  5. Shubb C5R Standard Capo for Banjo

Kyser Quick-Change Banjo Capo

Kyser Quick-Change Capo for banjos

The Kyser Quick-Change Banjo Capo (~$25) is my top pick simply because its a quality built capo with fantastic grip, that is quick to remove, reapply and store. The spring design of the capo applies even pressure across the strings of the banjo and works great with flat neck banjos, Kyser is known for this.

Some players will claim that it works well with their radiused neck banjo but the results are unpredictable. For a radiused neck banjo I recommend buying a screw on capo that is specifically made for a radiused neck, keep reading for my recommendation.

The rubber padding on the Kyser capos is known to be resilient, and not lose its wear over time. Even people who put their capos on their headstocks as a means of storage, will attest that the rubber padding stays undamaged and even, ready for your next use!

The Kyser Quick Change capo works great with 4 string banjos like the tenor banjo or the cello banjo. When it comes to 5 string resonator use the model is versatile, with my research showing that almost all 5 string models with work well with this capo.

As I mentioned earlier, the spring loaded capo struggles to maintain the same pressure across all strings as the neck gets big, and may cause buzzing or changes in tone. However, this is mostly the case with any type of capo, and is not a specific problem to the spring-loaded banjo.

The low profile on the back of the capo also makes holding chords closer to the capo easy, as compared to the C5 for example.

Kyser Quick-Change Capo on a banjo neck

Overall the Kyser banjo capo is a versatile capo that is used by many musicians across various instruments. The capo works perfectly for the banjo and provides ease of use and simplicity that is unmatched.

The only close contender to this capo is the Shubb C5, lets look closer at this capo now.

Shubb C5 Original Banjo Capo

Shubb C5 original screw on banjo capo

The Shubb C5 Original Banjo Capo (~$25) is often considered the gold standard for banjo capos. With its adjustable screw mechanism, the Shubb C5 provides consistent tension and precise control over the pressure applied to the strings.

This capo is suitable for both flat-neck and has a specific variation made for radiused-neck banjos.

The C5 capo works well with almost all 4 string banjo variations such as the tenor and 5 string resonators and open back banjos. Some common user complaints is that the capo is not easy to store when not in use (have to store in your pocket or case), when it comes to the Kyser. Additionally, a common complaint about the C5 is that it’s a bit large on the back side which makes it hard to hold chords with the capo being close to your fingers.

However, the Shubb C5 is a versatile, quality made capo. There is a reason why so many players have depended on it through the years. It provides unmatched grip on the neck of the banjo ensuring that there is no buzzing. The tension it provides is even and consistent, something the spring-loaded capo can’t quite claim. I love this capo, however the difficulty in switching the position of the capo without spending time makes it the runner up.

Paige P-BE Banjo Capo

Paige Banjo capo model p-be screw on capo

The Paige P-BE Banjo Capo ($35) is very similar in its screw-on type mechanism to the Shubb C5, but this one features different construction. The Paige capo has a unique, patented, adjustable design that ensures even pressure across the fingerboard. Paige relies less on rubber materials to achiever their grip and more on fabric padding and steel for the roller portion of the capo.

The Paige P-BE works well with most 4 and 5 string banjo models (its known for its versatility in this department) and is intended to be used for flat neck banjos. Although, similar to the Kyser, many users will report using this capo with their radiused neck banjo with good results. I don’t recommend this, but hope it works if you do try!

The Paige capo is a good runner up to the Shubb C5. Due to its similar mechanism, it faces the same issues as the C5 when it comes to applying the capo and taking it off with ease. It also struggles with the size of the back portion of the capo, making holding certain positions more difficult. Overall, at its higher price tag and the availability of solid competition, I rank the Paige capo at number 3 on the list.

Planet Waves NS Banjo Capo

Planet Waves NS screw on Banjo capo

The Planet Waves NS Banjo Capo (~$25) is designed with a screw-on mechanism and a built-in micrometer for accurate tension control. It truly is a slim design for a screw on banjo capo.

The Planet Waves NS utilizes a unique mechanism for tension control, but does not come close to the quality construction of either the Shubb or the Piage. With its rubber padding and low profile build, the Planet Waves capo is a good affordable option for a screw on capo.

However, it does not have the quality or reliability of its competitors.

Shubb C5R Standard Capo for Banjo

Shubb C5R Standard Capo for Banjo with Radiused neck

The Shubb C5R Standard Banjo Capo ($25) is a variation of the Shubb C5 Original Banjo Capo, designed specifically for radiused-neck banjos. It offers the same adjustable tension and secure fit as the C5 but is tailored for the curved fingerboard of radiused-neck banjos.

If you have a radiused neck banjo and you are looking for a capo, this is the one. It provides all of the same qualities of the C5 (as discussed above) that make it a staple for many banjo players.

By using a banjo capo specifically built for a radiused neck you are ensuring that you don’t cause damage to your instrument, and get the best tone while playing.

Why I Like the Kyser over the Shubb C5

While many musicians consider the Shubb C5 the gold standard, I believe the Kyser Quick-Change Banjo Capo offers several advantages that make it my top pick. The Kyser capo’s ease of use, with its fast application and removal is a deal breaker. It’s ideal for live performances and practice sessions where frequent key changes are required.

Overall, you cant go wrong choosing either of these capos. The choice really falls on your preference for playing and if ease of use and fast application is something that makes a big difference.

Let’s now answer some common questions.

Can You Use a Guitar Capo on a Banjo?

While it is technically possible to use a guitar capo on a banjo, it is generally not recommended for several reasons. Here’s a detailed explanation of why I don’t recommend using a guitar capo on a banjo:

  1. String Spacing: Guitar capos are designed to accommodate the wider string spacing found on guitars. Banjos typically have narrower string spacing, which means a guitar capo may not provide an even distribution of pressure across all the strings, leading to string buzz or other performance issues.
  2. Neck Width: Banjos often have narrower necks compared to guitars. A guitar capo might not fit snugly on a banjo neck, resulting in slippage or insufficient clamping pressure.
  3. Neck Curvature: Banjo necks can be flat or radiused, with a slight curvature. Guitar capos may not conform well to the specific curvature of a banjo neck, leading to uneven pressure on the strings and potential fretting problems.

For these reasons, it is advisable to invest in a capo specifically designed for banjos to ensure optimal performance and to protect your instrument. You don’t want something as simple as an improperly used capo to damage your banjo.

Below, I will detail how to use the banjo capo effectively.

how to use capo on a banjo

How to Use a Capo on a Banjo

Using a capo on a banjo involves clamping the capo onto the neck of the banjo to shorten the vibrating length of the strings, effectively raising their pitch. Let’s talk about how to use the capo properly.

  1. Choose the correct capo: Ensure you have a capo specifically designed for banjos, taking into account the neck type (flat or radiused) and width.
  2. Determine the desired fret: Decide on the fret where you want to place the capo, depending on the key you wish to play in.
  3. Position the capo: Open the capo and place it on the neck of the banjo, just behind the desired fret. Make sure the capo is centered and aligned with the fret to avoid uneven pressure on the strings.
  4. Clamp the capo: Close the capo and secure it in place, applying sufficient pressure to hold the strings down without causing excessive tension. For adjustable capos, like screw-on capos, you may need to tighten the screw mechanism until the desired tension is achieved.
  5. Check for string buzz: Strum the strings to check for any buzzing or muted sounds. If you encounter any issues, reposition the capo and ensure it is properly aligned with the fret and applying even pressure across all the strings.
  6. Tune the banjo: After placing the capo, check the tuning of your banjo and make any necessary adjustments. The clamping pressure of the capo can sometimes cause slight changes in tuning.

Check out this great video from Jim Pankey below to help you see how to use a banjo capo.

The Verdict: Banjo Capos

The two types of banjo capos are the spring loaded and screw on banjo capos. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, the fact remains that using either type of banjo capo will unlock the benefits that come with using this wonderful accessory.

My choice for the top banjo capo is the Kyser Quick Change capo, with the Shubb C5 being a close runner up. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and found it helpful in selecting a banjo capo. Thank you for reading, happy picking!

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