FretPaw – Banjo Capo Review

Using a capo and retuning fast has been one of the biggest technical challenges for me when playing banjo live. This is because the sound of the banjo is based very much on the open strings and changing keys often involves using a capo. For some reason banjo is also more sensitive to getting out of tune than guitar when capoing. Especially when working with a loud PA it’s hard to get any kind of tuner to work because they pick up a lot of noise that distracts the tuner. I’ve tried different clip-ons and pedals using the internal mic on my banjos. Even though some tuners work better than others, none of them has really solved the problem. FretPaw is approaching the issue from another angle.

FretPaw - banjo capo
FretPaw - capo with individual claw for each string

I’ve used it’s predecessor, the PerfectPitch - capo before which already did the job - although it took me a while to learn how to make it work. Same applies to FretPaw as figuring it out required some detective work. The instructions did explain the procedure, but I found them a bit confusing. I admit that it may be partly due to English not being my first language and thinking outside the metric system is also still a challenge. Nevertheless, after a little trial and error, I found a way to put the capo on so that I could get it pretty consistently in tune. I checked with my Peterson and the accuracy was impressive. Maybe a little adjustment would be in order for studio work, but it seemed definitely accurate enough for playing live.

This week I had a chance to take my FretPaw on the road and do a real field test. We played two shows in Helsinki with Huolestuneet Kansalaiset on consecutive days. The circumstances were less than optimal with very limited sound check time but on the other hand they were perfect considering this field test. The monitors were loud and I had a hard time hearing the instrument between the songs (unless I had played really loud during Karri’s speaks) and using a tuner would’ve been a pain also. So I was relying on muscle memory on the capo positioning I had figured out. I was very happy with the results. The transitions were smooth even when I once remembered upcoming tune’s key wrong and had to change the capo twice between songs. I also think my banjo was better in tune than if I had been working with traditional capo and using tuner/ear to retune while not being able to hear myself well.

All in all FretPaw turned out to be the best capo for my needs and I can warmly recommend it to anyone who’s having the aforementioned retuning issues. You can find out more about it at the manufaturers site.

Pros/Cons
+no need to retune making it
+fast to use and
+more accurate
+works above 4th fret
+excellent service (I had some mailing trouble because of changing locations a lot and had to contact Alan, the manufacturer, several times but he was very helpful and patient with me)

-bulky compared to the traditional models but I was able to cram it in my banjo case even with the container
-easier to lose or forget compared to the kind of capos that you can store behind the nut
-confusing instructions