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Tuned to Eb, but capo at 1?

DaveNJ

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,679
Hey all, I've seen a bunch of videos of folks playing tuned to Eb, but with a capo on the first fret - is this just for convenience (some songs in Eb, some in E) or is it to get the feel of the guitar with the scale length shortened?

I know I've seen video of Kieth Urban and there's a recent post in the guitars in general section about a tele player on letterman who is doing it as well...

Thanks!
 

dirk_benedict

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
6,497
MY guess would be convenience. You have a couple songs in your set that require being tuned down and you don't want to change guitars or retune multiple times for 1 or 2 songs. The average guitar will take a minute or two settle in when you detune like that, whereas a capo is instant (usually).
 

halcyon

Member
Messages
3,736
When you put a capo on the first fret, it almost always knocks it out of tune (more sharp) because of the extra pull on the strings from the drastic break angle over the nut. In other words, if you're in tune w/o a capo, you'll be sharp with a capo on the first fret. And if you're in tune with a capo on the first fret, you'll be flat when you take it off.

That's been my experience, anyway.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,774
When you put a capo on the first fret, it almost always knocks it out of tune (more sharp) because of the extra pull on the strings from the drastic break angle over the nut. In other words, if you're in tune w/o a capo, you'll be sharp with a capo on the first fret. And if you're in tune with a capo on the first fret, you'll be flat when you take it off.
That may just mean your guitars are in need of a proper set-up ;).
There should be no "drastic break angle" over the nut.

There's a couple of possible issues here.

Some spring action capos do exert too much pressure, so it's possible a capo will make it sharper than normal fretting action does. (That could be exacerbated by tuning down as well.)

If that's not the case - if fretting at the first fret (ie finger pressure, not just capo pressure) also tends to be sharp (in comparison with open strings), the more likely cause is the nut is too high. The bottom of the nut slots should be no higher than a fret (it's simply a zero fret, in principle), but because the margin of error is critical (too low makes the guitar unplayable), some guitars get issued with nuts that are too high, to be on the safe side.
(Another possibility is a nut that is set too far forward - too close to fret 1 - but height is a more common issue.)

The capo on first fret is actually a good way to check your action and test the nut height. If the guitar feels easier to play with the capo on (easier to fret the strings) then the nut is too high. If the difference is negligible, or there is no difference in feel, the nut is fine. But if it's noticeable, it's likely the guitar will play sharp at fret 1, as well as being harder than necessary to fret in open position.
 

Bieling3

Member
Messages
2,986
Would a capo on the first fret of a Strat or a Tele give you a simulated 24.75 string scale?
 

halcyon

Member
Messages
3,736
I meant drastic in a relative sense -- relative to the angle were the capo on the second, third or whatever other fret. :)

Even on a well set-up guitar it's rare that notes played at the first fret aren't slightly sharp.

That may just mean your guitars are in need of a proper set-up ;).
There should be no "drastic break angle" over the nut.

There's a couple of possible issues here.

Some spring action capos do exert too much pressure, so it's possible a capo will make it sharper than normal fretting action does. (That could be exacerbated by tuning down as well.)

If that's not the case - if fretting at the first fret (ie finger pressure, not just capo pressure) also tends to be sharp (in comparison with open strings), the more likely cause is the nut is too high. The bottom of the nut slots should be no higher than a fret (it's simply a zero fret, in principle), but because the margin of error is critical (too low makes the guitar unplayable), some guitars get issued with nuts that are too high, to be on the safe side.
(Another possibility is a nut that is set too far forward - too close to fret 1 - but height is a more common issue.)

The capo on first fret is actually a good way to check your action and test the nut height. If the guitar feels easier to play with the capo on (easier to fret the strings) then the nut is too high. If the difference is negligible, or there is no difference in feel, the nut is fine. But if it's noticeable, it's likely the guitar will play sharp at fret 1, as well as being harder than necessary to fret in open position.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,774
I meant drastic in a relative sense -- relative to the angle were the capo on the second, third or whatever other fret. :)

Even on a well set-up guitar it's rare that notes played at the first fret aren't slightly sharp.
Well, to be brutal, it's not a well set-up guitar then.
It may have been done as well as possible,of course, given the nut that's there. (There are complicated string inharmonicity issues which supposedly make perfect intonation impossible with straight nuts and straight frets. I'm not the kind of person who cares, but some do. ;))

Of course there is finger pressure, which can make notes sharp, so - on a perfectly set up guitar - you could still push notes sharp with excess pressure. I imagine a guitar set-up with one's personal playing style in mind would take account of that, aiming for the effect of some kind of average pressure.

Imagine this. You have a capo on fret 1. You put another capo on fret 2. Is that a "drastic" effect, on the angle of the strings coming off the first capo/fret?
It should be identical. If the nut is set properly, it's exactly like a fret, in terms of string height and angle. Pulling the string down to 1st fret should feel exactly the same (require the same pressure, have the same effect on pitch) as pulling the string down to 2nd fret when a capo is on 1.

OK, I may be talking ideal world (ideal set-up), rather than the kinds of guitar many people use, but that's the principle.
 
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JonR

Member
Messages
15,774
Would a capo on the first fret of a Strat or a Tele give you a simulated 24.75 string scale?
Having just measured my Tele Custom - full scale length 25.5" - I can tell you capo on 1 would give you an exact 24.0" scale length. (I'm not sure what a "simulated" scale length would be...)
So, er, no.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,774
I mean more of a Gibson feel string tension-wise on a Fender neck.
Well, that's going to depend a lot on the string gauge, of course.
Given that the Fender-Gibson difference (25.5 - 24.75) is half a fret, it should feel similar to tuning down a quarter-step. IOW, tune a Strat down 1/4-step to make it feel more like a Gibson, tension-wise (given same strings).
Of course, the fret spacing is still not going to match (never mind neck profile etc), so the feel will never be quite the same.

But it does suggest - re the OP's question - that the tune-to-Eb-and-put-capo-on-1 idea, would take a Gibson further from a Fender than it already is, while doing it on a Fender would make it as much shorter than a Gibson as a Gibson normally is than a Fender.

Line the bridges up exactly, and a Fender-Gibson comparison at the nut end would look something like this:
Code:
FENDER  NUT              fret 1
        |__________________^______
.
GIBSON          nut               fret 1
                 |__________________^

      25.5     24.75     24.0     23.3
 




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