Thursday, July 1, 2021

Capo Crunch

I only started using a capo on a regular basis about ten years ago, when we lived on a small tropical island that gets among the most rainfall of anywhere on earth. Rarely did a day pass without a tremendous downpour, after which the air became steamy as the equatorial sun pulled the moisture back up to the clouds. Most of the time, I couldn't tell if I was sweating or if the air was just sticking to me, but it was probably both. In the day, the temperature would reach 86°F or so, and at night, it would get down to about 72°F. Sunrise and sunset were at the same time all year. What does this have to do with a capo, you ask?

The only guitar that I brought with me to Micronesia was my acoustic/electric. Between the heat and the humidity, the environment in this place is not kind to musical instruments. Guitar strings corroded within a day or two, and the fretboard absorbed a lot of moisture from the air. Within a few months, the neck had started to noticeably bow. This was also around the time that I realized that I did not have a truss rod wrench (nor did I really want to make any major adjustments to my guitar in this environment)--so to compensate for the intonation being off, as well as the string buzz that I was getting on the first few frets, I started using a capo. Prior to this, it mostly just took up space in my guitar case. 

Many of the songs that would later find their way onto my albums, particularly those that use a capo, started as riffs and chord progressions that I played on our back porch when we lived on the island of Pohnpei. Examples include:

    Tunnel Vision (Out of Habit) from Embers (capo on the fourth fret - DADF#BE tuning)
    
    Wake Up! and Signs from Mechanical Bull (capo on the first and sixth frets, respectively)
    
        and
    
   Particle from Weather Patterns (capo on the fourth fret).

I'm sure there were others, but you get the idea. In most cases, it would be another six to ten years before I turned any of these "practice riffs" into fully realized songs. At the time, I wasn't really thinking about writing music. Playing guitar behind the house was just something to do. For what it's worth, we did not have a television, there were no cell phone towers in the entire archipelago, and the internet service was terrible, so we did a lot of sitting outside. I kind of miss it sometimes.

After living in Micronesia for about a year, we came back to the US. By that point, the pickguard on my guitar had almost completely slid off. I had to take it off the rest of the way and then glue it back on, as well as make some significant adjustments with the truss rod. That said, I'm happy to report that the guitar still works perfectly fine, and it has probably traveled more miles than a lot of people.

I have officially designated it to be my adventure guitar. I still use a capo quite a bit in my songwriting, too. I guess if there's a point to any of this, it's that when I changed how I approached the instrument in order to adapt to this different environment, I came up with a bunch of stuff that sounded cool to me, which later became songs.
    
Change in Environment-> Learning to Adapt -> Finding Inspiration in the Unfamiliar -> Writing Lyrics to Fit the Music

Thus a song is born.

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