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Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'

GUEST,Uncle Jaque in Maine 28 Sep 08 - 06:09 PM
GUEST,Uncle Jaque (Bewildered) 28 Sep 08 - 06:11 PM
Don Firth 28 Sep 08 - 08:20 PM
Don Firth 28 Sep 08 - 08:33 PM
GUEST,morrisbrendon 29 Sep 08 - 07:41 AM
GUEST,Uncle Jaque 29 Sep 08 - 08:14 AM
GUEST,Uncle Jaque 29 Sep 08 - 08:43 AM
GUEST,Uncle Jaque 29 Sep 08 - 08:58 AM
GUEST,Geoff the Duck 29 Sep 08 - 10:26 AM
Don Firth 29 Sep 08 - 02:57 PM
GUEST,John from Elsie`s Band 29 Sep 08 - 04:43 PM
Murray MacLeod 29 Sep 08 - 05:20 PM
JohnInKansas 29 Sep 08 - 05:53 PM
Don Firth 29 Sep 08 - 07:28 PM
GUEST,Uncle Jaque in Maine 02 Oct 08 - 11:37 PM
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Subject: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: GUEST,Uncle Jaque in Maine
Date: 28 Sep 08 - 06:09 PM

Being inherently lazy and not caring to learn a different set of chords for every key I might want to perform a song in, I have learned to appreciate the benefits of the lowly capo for both guitar and banjo.

With my affection for the music of the 19th Century and the instruments upon which it was typically performed, however, I was left in a quandary of historical authenticity; somehow a modern capo just did not seem right on my little gut - strung "Parlor guitar" that I used in Civil War reenactments and "Living History" performances.

When I tried to work out some of the old beauties that I began to discover in collecting said music, I realized that I needed to develop a vocal range that considerably exceeded the one I come with, learn a lot of exotic chords that my fingers don't get along with all that well, or "capo up".

In doing a bit of research - which as I recall might have been here some years back - it was learned that back in the early 1800s they did indeed have a primitive type of capo that was commonly called a "Choker". Nobody seemed to know much more than that though, and few if any specimens seem to have survived - at least that I'm able to determine.

Eventually I managed to score an antique copy of Justin Holland's ("The Father of the American Guitar") "HOLLAND'S COMPREHENSIVE GUITAR METHOD".

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Subject: RE: The 'Choker' - Continued...
From: GUEST,Uncle Jaque (Bewildered)
Date: 28 Sep 08 - 06:11 PM

OOPS; I hit the wrong button or something and that incomplete post "submitted" quite prematurely. I'll be going to a WP to compose the rest of it now, then copy/paste it in to avoid doing that again!

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Sep 08 - 08:20 PM

Uncle Jacque, this may be what you're looking for (or close to it).

In 1961, I had a chance to buy a genuine flamenco guitar from one of the top luthiers in Madrid. He was sufficiently back-ordered that it took a year and a half before he sent me the guitar (which more than exceeded my wildest dreams!), and he included the customary çejilla (pronounced "Say-HEE-yah"—means "little eyebrow," from the curved shape), which is standard equipment with a flamenco guitar.

Here's a picture, with some history:   CLICKY.

Not very many music stores in the U. S. have them, or even know what they are, but I managed to acquire a couple of them, one for each of my nylon-string guitars. Or if you're handy with simple tools, it wouldn't be that hard to make one. After seeing mine, a friend of mine made one for himself. Or you should be able to buy them on-line. Just google "cejilla."

By the way, the string you wrap around the neck of the guitar is just an piece of a used G-string (save one when you change strings). It's a good idea to glue a strip of leather or felt to the bottom of the çejilla long enough to wrap around the back of the guitar neck so that it sits between the neck and the length of string. The bare string can mar the finish of the neck over time.

These things work like a charm and are about the perfect capo for a nylon-string guitar.

Don Firth

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Sep 08 - 08:33 PM

And since there is no metal in the çejilla, it looks sufficiently "retro." But I'd be most interested to see what "the choker" looks like.

Don Firth

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: GUEST,morrisbrendon
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 07:41 AM

I've seen very old instruments in museums which had threaded bushings permanently inset in the fretboard ( looked like metal position dots with holes in them) and a capo that screwed in from the front...looked a bit like the flamenco capo.

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: GUEST,Uncle Jaque
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 08:14 AM

Yup; that's it all right - one of them "Cejillas".

Ran a search for "Chokers" and "Capos" before I posted but came up dry - I figured someone in here would know something about 'em.

I spent hours last night uploading pictures to my photobucket account, composing the rest of my posting, converting about a dozen of my image links to "blue clicky things", fighting with a program that refused to save my text file (and eventually locked up and shut down; fortunately I saved it as an e-mail draft before that happened) - no dice. It simply would not post.

Do they have some sort of a bandwidth limitation for postings here?
It is a pretty long one, as I went into a lot of detail.

Perhaps I'll try breaking it up into serial installments and see if that works any better. Will still post in case anyone is curious as to how I went about it.

INterestingly enough, I had planned to add a leather "foot" and protective neck strap to mine, as apparently is already done to these traditional rigs.

"Nothing new under the sun", as Solomon said! {;^{D~

Thanks for the tips thus far all!

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: GUEST,Uncle Jaque
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 08:43 AM

It is an 1888 publication of Oliver DITSON, but I rather suspect that much of it's content is a republication of a much earlier edition.
He may have updated some of the music used in the exercises.

Near the beginning is a page of illustrations, labeled "Plate 1.", showing various left hand positions and a diagram of the guitar naming it's various components.   Included in that plate is a drawing of a block of what we may assume is wood, with a fiddle peg stuck in the top, and a string tied to one side, running underneath the block, and coming up the other side to run through the peg hole.

Illustration of early guitar capo from HOLLAND Manual.

It is obviously a primitive capo.

Since there is absolutely no mention of this device in the text of the manual, it further suggests to me that in 1888 DITSON was re-using the illustration plates from an earlier edition.

For some time I have intended to get around to replicating one of these "chokers" to use on my restored "Victoria" parlor guitar.
Having been invited to perform for our local Museum provided the final impetus, and so I dug up a scrap piece of black walnut and unpacked the jig saw.   Having only the illustration to work from, I measured the width of the neck of my guitar at the 3rd fret (which is about as high as I am apt to capo up) at 2 inches, and plotted the other dimensions out on a sheet of graph paper accordingly.

Once the shapes were determined, I laid the pattern out on the wood and jigsawed them out, then drilled the 5/16" peg holes in from the center top about 5/8" then bottomed them out with a 1/4" to allow for the taper.

Prototype Chokers on Plan

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: GUEST,Uncle Jaque
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 08:58 AM

Those links go to my photobucket home page, but not the specific illustration. If I try linking any other way, Mudcat simply refuses to accept my posting.

On most all of the several other forums I hang out on posting photos directly to the thread is a snap. Guess that's one advantage of modern technology that we're going to have to learn to live without here though.
Guess I was spoiled on those other communities where I've been playing for the past year or so while I haven't been heard from much at all here.

I love the wealth of knowledge and information on the cat, but the inability to share technical details, scannings of music from my collections, and that sort of thing has been a persistent frustration.

Might as well give up and strip the photo links right out of my article and post text only, FWIW, now that we all know what the Cejilla / Choker looks like.


The picture shows a block with concave sloping shoulders, but I decided to come up with a couple of alternative shapes which seem to look about as good. I figured that they had best be at least 5/8" thick to resist splitting from the outward pressure of the peg, and considered running a couple of screws in on each side beside the peg to further reinforce it - but since there is no indication of this provided for on the originals, I'll leave them out for now.

One modification that I will probably make is to glue a leather "shoe" to the foot in order to protect the strings, fingerboard and frets from the hard wood.   I also might run the string through a 3/8" leather strap to run between it and the neck to prevent the string from scoring or marring the neck under tension.   Perhaps not authentic, but they aren't making a lot of these old parlor guitars any more, and since mine is an antique (old cracker-box rattletrap though it is) I'd just as soon not ding it up any more than my native awkwardness already does.

I looked all over the place for the little box of spare parts that I had before we moved a couple of years ago containing several fiddle pegs, but to no avail.   Not long ago I picked up the neck of a busted up fiddle from the dump that still had a halfways decent peg left in it... where that went is anybody's guess as well as all my searching was in vain. Finally I just gave up and made one. No big deal; I made all the friction pegs for my minstrel banjo.   I just didn't spend a lot of time making a fancy one as sooner or later I'll find my stash or pick up another "real" fiddle peg.

Not a lot of time or effort was expended on finishing this device just yet, as it is a prototype to see how well - or even IF - it works.

Instead of using a piece of busted gut string (which I have plenty of, as any gut player probably does) I pulled out a length of artificial sinew that I use for sewing heavy duty leather. It looks like the real thing and is as strong as steel cable. The anchor hole was drilled through one end of the block at a suitable angle with a 1/16" hand drill, and a little guide notch filed up the other side. I ran the nearest size taper reamer as I could find into the hole (had to finish it up with a screw driver) and plugged it in. The peg holds pretty well, despite my being unable to find my rosin stick either.

For the sake of science, I tottered upstairs from my basement laboratory and dug the old "Victoria" out of it's case.   I had de-tuned the treble guts since last playing it - which if you play gut strings you know if you neglect that detail the next time you uncase your instrument you will probably be looking at at least one - probably the treble "E" - all curled up on both ends and busted somewhere in the middle.

I didn't re-tune and play it to make sure that it actually pitched the guitar up, but it clamped right on good and tight without having to be wound up much at all, so I have no doubt that it will work just fine.

Now when I go to play "Rock Me To Sleep, Mother" by Elizabeth Akers Allen(which I would be glad to share a scanning of, if I only COULD...)on my Parlor Guitar, I can use chords that I'm familiar with (and plenty of 'em, too!) and sing it within my range (this is one of those old tunes that uses up most if not all of it) at the same time, without committing any technical "Farbyisims".


If anyone wants to see my photographs, drop me a PM (can we do that here?) with an e-dress and I can send as *.JPG ATTs.

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: GUEST,Geoff the Duck
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 10:26 AM

Uncle Jaque - I tried copying the link and pasting into my browser, but it only took me to a Photobucket log-in page, so I deleted the last part of the address, keeping the next directory further back. That one took me to your page "Instruments/Guitar" which has a working link to the page you want us to see.

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: Don Firth
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 02:57 PM

A couple of things to keep in mind about the çejilla:   after a few years of use, the peg and/or the hole wear down a bit and get sufficiently smooth that the peg may not hold tightly. There are a couple of solutions to this. One is to get some "peg-dope" from a music store or violin repair shop. It keeps violin pegs and such from slipping.

Eventually, you might have to replace the peg itself. So if you're making your own, it's better to sand the shaft of the peg to fit the hole in the body of the çejilla rather than the other way around. That way, the hole should still be small enough to grip the new peg, which you may also have to sand down a bit.

But you shouldn't have to worry about it for a long time.

Don Firth

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: GUEST,John from Elsie`s Band
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 04:43 PM

In the excellent "McNeil Modern Guitar Method", an American publication of 1930 copyright, Forster Music Co.Inc. he describes the Capo d`astro as follows:- "A contrivance which can be fastened across the fingerboard, to raise the pitch of all the strings at once.(Not used by legitimate guitarists)" It would appear that even in the 1930`s the mothers of certain guitarists had doubtful morals!

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 05:20 PM

don't know about the rest of you, but my Shubbs are headed for the trash-can forthwith, now that I have seen the light ...

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 05:53 PM

Murray McL -

Were you enamored of the old capos, or responding to JfromEB?

I'd suggest trying the ancient product before discarding the Shubbs (or whatever other modern instrument of instrument torture one might favor).

The "string and bar" devices, with peg torquers, quite probably were well suited to old gut-strung instruments, and should be good for modern flamenco ones; but the higher tension of metal strings may not play well with their best features.

The string direction is at an "adverse vector" direction to apply much pressure in the direction needed against the stings/fret without rather high tension in the wind-up string. You likely can wind the peg up tight enough, but the device may suffer "wind damage."

If they work for you, then obvously the proper course is to make one (or buy one if you must) and use it. I'd lay the modern version aside where recovery is possible until testing is well advanced though.


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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: Don Firth
Date: 29 Sep 08 - 07:28 PM

I would definitely not recommend the çejilla for steel-string guitars. My favorite for steel strings is the Shubb. Compact, easy to use.

But—I much prefer the çejilla for nylon string guitars. When I use a Shubb (or other "store-bought" capos) on a nylon-string guitar, I sometimes get a "wolf tone" out of one or more strings, which no amount of shifting or screw-turning seems to get rid of. But with the çejilla, I can "fine tune" the amount of pressure I put on the strings by how tight I wind the peg. It seems I should be able to do that with the Shubb as well, but somehow it's a whole lot easier with the çejilla. Makes a difference if you're on stage between songs and the audience is waiting.

In the "McNeil Modern Guitar Method" (which I have not seen), I'm afraid Mr. McNeil is mistaken on two counts. First, it may not be used by "legitimate guitarists" such as classic or jazz guitarists, but unless one wishes to relegate flamenco guitarists to the status of illegitimacy, this simply isn't the case. The çejilla is almost always used when playing flamenco, and the primary purpose for doing so has little to do with changing keys. Second, it is "capotasto," which means "head note," not "cape d'astro," which means "head of the star" and makes no sense whatsoever.

Re: Classic guitar. In Matteo Carcassi's method, he included music for a number of guitar duets, in which one guitar is played with open strings while the other guitar is played using a "capotasto." The point was to utilize the different tone colors produced thereby.

True, the capo can be "The Cowboy's Crutch," but to an accomplished guitarist of any genre of music, a capo can increase the guitar's possibilities.

Don Firth (in pontification mode)

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Subject: RE: Tech: 19th Century Capo; The 'Choker'
From: GUEST,Uncle Jaque in Maine
Date: 02 Oct 08 - 11:37 PM

Thanks for that tech tip on the link, Geoff; it seems to help.

When I tried it I got to my "Guitar" page, which was blank for some reason. But when I hit the sub-file "19th Century Parlor" link over on the left hand side of the window, that opened up with all of the thumbnails of the images therein. Just click on a thumbnail pic to see enlarged image. As far as I know I have left this page open to the public so feel free to browse.

When I went to the bottle redemption place to cash in my bottles today, I noticed a bunch of fiddle patterns and panels hanging up in the rafters out back. Turns out the old guy builds fiddles in his spare time, and is into "Old Country" of the 1930-50s era. He pulled out his old fiddle and sawed out a couple of tunes, and when I told him about my project he gave me a bunch of old pegs which ought to finish up my other "chokers" quite nicely.

Goes to show ya; ya just never know!

I'll have to get a proper tapered peg hole reamer though.

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