So you’re at practice, or worse yet, at a packed gig, and you get to that song. The song the singer can’t sing unless you capo at the fifth fret. You reach into your case for your trusty Kyser, Dunlop, or Shubb….and it’s gone! You know it was in there yesterday! Now what do you do??
Or maybe you finally found tab for that awesome song the cute girl in gym class likes. You’re going to learn it so you can serenade her in the parking lot – only to find out that the song requires a capo at the third fret, and you don’t have one. After you’ve broken most of your strings trying to tune your guitar up a step and a half, you figure you better buy a capo. But, you don’t have enough money for strings and a capo, so what do you do now?
Well, never fear forgetful and cash strapped guitarists! Right here we have a dead simple way of making a capo that will do in a pinch, with items you can easily find in your home, or school, or local watering hole.
First, let’s gather up the supplies we will need. The first thing will be something straight, fairly sturdy, and wider than the neck of your guitar by a couple inches or so. I like to use a pencil, but you can grab whatever works… a pen, lighter, popsicle stick, nail file, sharpie, tuning fork, half of a clothesline clip, one of your drummer’s broken sticks… whatever you have handy!
Second, we need something with some elasticity to hold your pencil (or pen, or drumstick) onto the fretboard of your guitar. Rubber bands are perfect for this, but I have used hair ties, sweatbands, even elastic out of old clothing before… just remember it has to be able to firmly hold your rigid device on the fretboard with a bit of pressure, so it has to have decent elasticity!
Now, you’re ready to assemble your DIY capo! You simply loop one end of your elastic material around one end of your rigid device.
Then, place your rigid device at the correct fret.
Now, wrap your elastic material around the other end until it’s tight enough to put sufficient pressure on the strings to act like a capo.
You may have to double up your elastic device to get enough pressure, or put several wraps on one end of your rigid device. You also may have to ’tilt’ your makeshift capo to get a good sound. The ’tilting’ is similar to the movements sometimes necessary with any capo. This is required more on low radius fretboards than on flatter fretboards. The more curved your fretboard is, you may want to use a rigid device with a little more flexibility, such as a plastic pen. Something that can bend slightly and more easily conform to the curve of the board.
And there you have it! A down-and-dirty, super easy, silly cheap, on-the-spot, do-it-yourself capo that will surely get you out of a pinch. It will get you through that practice or gig, and impress that cute girl (or guy) from gym class!
So, what say you? Have you ever used this technique? Let us know below! We’d love to hear what you used, or what situation it got you out of!
This is one of the easiest homemade guitars I’ve ever built, and it took me only an hour to make.
This lap steel was made from an extra 2×4 I had in my shed, with just a few saw cuts to the wood. I even used a pre-wired acoustic sound hole pickup, so there was no wiring needed. Anybody can build this lap steel guitar!
The lap steel plays great, too. It’s set up with a standard 23-inch scale, just like the store bought-lap steels! The whole thing feels great on your lap and looks absurdly cool.
Here’s a quick video (below). As you can tell, I’m still learning how to play this properly.
These plans will give you a very basic, yet absolutely playable lap steel. It might look like a lot of steps, but trust me, this instrument is easy to build. You are basically just marking down a few lines, making a couple cuts to the 2×4 and installing simple hardware.
This is my first prototype 2×4 lap steel. I have a second one on the shop table right now. Look for a followup column on installing better pickups and adding some cool “hobo” mods.
• 32” section of 2×4 pine lumber. (Note: Due to harmful chemicals, do not use pressure-treated lumber!) • Two (2) 1/2” diameter allthread rods, 3.5” long (Allthread rods are like bolts without a head. You can find these at hardware stores. I found a box of them at a flea market.) • One pack of guitar tuners, three-to-a-side (such as this $8.29 pack of tuners) • Pre-wired acoustic soundhole pickup (such as the $13.49 Gold Foil pickup here) • One pack of medium-gauge electric guitar strings.
• Electric drill + two drill bits: 3/32” and 5/16” • Table saw or circular saw • Small screwdriver.
01. Cut a standard pine 2×4 into a 32” length.
02. Cut out the headstock: Turn the 2×4 on its side and mark a vertical line 4” from the left end. Mark a horizontal line 5/8” from the top (as pictured). Cut away the bottom portion in the headstock area (shaded are in the picture). I used a dado blade on my table saw. You can also do the same thing by running the saw in multiple passes over the shaded area and then using a chisel to remove any extra wood chips. (Still unsure? Here’s a link to a quick tutorial.)
03. Optional: I smoothed out the underside of the headstock on my belt sander. It also provided a little heel curve.
04. Drill tuner holes: Mark your tuner holes on the underside of the headstock. I went in about 5/8” in on each side and spaced the tuners roughly an inch apart. Use a 5/8” drill bit to drill the tuner holes.
05. Turn the 2×4 back over and the following marks on the board, starting from the butt end and going up toward the headstock: a) 1.5” (this will be our through-body string feed) b) 3” (bridge location) c) 4.5” (pickup cavity) d) 6” (pickup cavity) e) 26” (nut location)
06. Cut out the pickup cavity: Notch out the wood between the 4 ½” and 6” line. Go about ¾” deep. Use the same dado technique as above with the headstock.
07. Drill the string feed holes. Use a 3/32 drill bit to drill six holes for the strings to feed through the body. Quite honestly, I eyeballed these holes. The rough measurements from left to right are: 3/4”, 1 1/8”, 1 ½”, 2”, 2 ½”, 2 ¾”
08. Mark your fret guides: Measure out the frets by starting at the 26” nut location and making pencil marks for each fret location. Then use a contractor’s square to draw the fret lines. (I used a Sharpie for some quick and dirty fret lines. You also can paint or woodburn them if you want.)
09. Optional: Carve grooves for bridge and nut. Use a wood rasp to notch grooves at the 3” mark and the 26” mark. These grooves will keep the allthread bolts from moving. (You can see these grooves in the picture at Step 13.)
11. Install the pickup. Depending on the pickup you choose, installing could be one of many different ways. As you can see, I just bent the cheap mounting tabs down on my pickup and shoved a couple screws into them to mount to the guitar. My pickup cavity was too deep, so I put a little bit of cardboard to raise it up. Ideally, you want the pickup to rest approx. ¼” away from the strings.
12. String up the lap steel, but leave the strings slackened. If the strings start to pull through the soft pine wood, place a small nail through the ball loop of the string to keep it anchored.
13. Carefully wedge the allthread bolts into the 3” and 26” marks. These will act as your nut and bridge.
14. Space the strings evenly over the pickup, using the threads on the nut and bridge bolts as your string slots.
15. Tune the guitar. Try an open D chord to start (D, A, D, F#, A, D, low to high).
16. Optional: If the strings keep pulling out of the threads on the nut, use simple roundhead wood screws to act as string trees. Simply slacken the offending string, position the screw beside the string (so the screw head holds the string down) and insert it just deep enough to provide tension on the string.
17. Crank it up! Use your choice of slide or just grab a beer bottle and go. In the video at the top of this story, I’m using a deep well socket!
NOTES: If you can’t find allthread rods to serve as bridge and nut, try other bolts, pipe pieces with notches cut into them or sections of ham bones.
*I used the Stewart MacDonald fret calculator for these measurements. (Thanks, StewMac!) They have been rounded off to the nearest hundredth.
Shane Speal is the “King of the Cigar Box Guitar” and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at ShaneSpeal.com. Speal’s latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.