Help Topics for Banjo Players

Capo Spikes - some guidance on using them.


Capo spikes (sometimes called "railroad spikes") are used on 5-string banjos to raise the pitch of the 5th string.They are very small hooks installed in the fingerboard under or alongside the 5th string. The 5th string is simply slipped under the appropriate spike to hold it against the next fret up the fingerboard. Counter-intuitively, it doesn't seem to make any difference which way the hook faces; it works equally well either way. Capo spikes are a good way of solving the difficulty of how to raise the pitch of the 5th string when using a capo on the 4 long strings.They are economical and, in the event that a player finds them unsatisfactory for some reason, easily removed from the bare wood of the fingerboard leaving little trace.

There are more elaborate ways of doing this job (various kinds of sliding capo etc) - most are considerably more expensive than spikes and many require screw holes to be made in the side of the neck. These screw holes (which are almost invariably through wood with a some sort of finish on it) can be very difficult to disguise if the device is removed.On this basis, we generally advise trying the spikes first - it's a reversible job and pretty economical if you decide you don't like them. The normal fitting on a standard-scale 5-string banjo is on the 7th & 9th frets. It's possible to fit them to other frets as well (8th, 10th etc) but it's then advisable to stagger the spikes either side of the 5th string so as to ensure a clean note all the way up.There is no charge for fitting capo spikes to 5-string banjos purchased from us - capo spikes can be added to other 5-string banjos if required at modest cost.

The use of capo spikes is very simple - if you fit the capo across the 4 long strings at the 2nd fret, slip the 5th string under the spike at the 7th fret. Similarly, if you fit the capo across the 4 long strings at the 4th fret, slip the 5th string under the spike at the 9th fret.

The progression of keys is thus; G tuning (GDGBD, GDGCD or similar) - capo 2 + 1st spike = A tuning - capo 4 + 2nd spike = B tuning. You can then switch to some sort of C tuning (GCGBD, GCGCD or similar) - capo 2 + 1st spike = D tuning - capo 4 + 2nd spike = E tuning. If required, you can then go on to other tunings using the same principle. The illustration shows our standard method of installing capo spikes on a new banjo but there are other ways of doing it!

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