A Brief History of the Shubb
As told by Rick Shubb
The Shubb Capo company began in California
in 1974, when Dave Coontz and I collaborated to design and produce
our fifth string capo for banjo. Before that, I worked as a
professional 5-string banjo player and teacher, and Dave was
an auto mechanic and a banjo student of mine. One night at his
lesson, I was talking about my dissatisfaction with existing
methods of capoing the fifth string. I described an idea that
I had for a fifth string capo that operated on a lever principle,
so that it would provide sufficient pressure for a good tone,
and ranted about how I couldn't get anyone in the music products
trade interested in making one. Finally, he said "if nobody
else will make you one, I will."
The following week he came to his lesson
with a fifth string capo true to my description and drawings.
It was roughly hewn out of aluminum, and didn't look like much
...but it worked well. I used it on a gig that week, and had
some ideas for improvements.
For the next few months I would go to
Dave's auto shop in Concord two or three nights a week. I'd
arrive at 7 PM (closing time), we'd eat at the local Denny's,
then work until midnight making improvements on our fifth string
capo. I'd test-drive it at gigs, and return with more ideas
Eventually I was satisfied with it. It
did the job for me onstage, and that was all I had set out to
accomplish. But requests from other
players prompted us to make a few more. Our course was charted
the day we bought a small, second-hand milling machine and set
about making a hundred units.
I spent the summer of '74 in the South,
making the festival circuit and showing and selling our new
fifth string capo. It was very well received, but I returned
home with most of those hundred still in a shoe box. For the
first few years the capo business was a hobby for both Dave
and myself, and didn't really show signs of becoming much more
Around 1975 Dave moved from California
to Iowa in search of elbow room. About that same time, I moved
to Oregon in search of something or other. For the sake of continuity,
we kept the address for the capo sales the same; that of my
mother's house in Oakland.
So for awhile, Dave machined fifth string
capo parts and farmed in Iowa, I assembled fifth string capos
and played in a bluegrass band in Portland, and good ol' Mom
stayed home and shipped fifth string capos from Oakland.
Dave and his Bridgeport milling machine, circa 1976
In 1976 I made a trip back to Iowa with
the intention of designing a new guitar capo. We tried a few
things, but weren't really getting anywhere. I suggested to
Dave that we should tackle another project: a compensated banjo
bridge. At that time, banjos all had straight bridges which
produced intonation problems on the lower strings in the higher
positions. We quickly arrived at the proper scale length for
each string — the principle was already well known on
other instruments — and then spent nearly three months
experimenting with materials, shapes, and measurements to provide
the best tone.
Now having two products on the market
increased our sense of commitment to being in business, and
we resumed our efforts toward designing a new type of guitar
capo. Still working in our spare time, the new capo evolved
slowly. Some of our early prototypes were not too bad, others
might have made a better mousetrap than a capo. But then one
day, practically out of nowhere, we nailed it.
By this time I was living in California
again, and putting together a new band which was to feature
mostly my own tunes. It would have been a good band. But the
moment I snapped our newest prototype capo onto a guitar neck,
my fate was sealed. The band was pushed into the background,
where it faded and dissolved, and my energy was focused on developing
and marketing this new capo.
The very first prototype Shubb Capo
The world, as they say, beat a path to
our door. Dave's farming, like my band, moved to the back burner
as we tooled up to meet the demand for the new Shubb capo. He
created a full scale, dedicated machine shop, becoming an expert
machinist in the process. Music for me, while no less of a passion,
was no longer a profession as I now had to learn to be a business
man. Whether I ever made this transition is open to debate.
Since that time our dedication to the
music products business has never faltered. For a few years
Dave maintained a herd of about a hundred Angus cattle, and
I've been able to keep my touch on the old five string and even
play a gig or two now and then, but we both know what puts the
bread on our tables: a thirty-four year (and counting) partnership
based on a handshake, and a chemistry that starts the creative
sparks flying whenever we get together.
We've added other products along the
way: a banjo pickup and an amplifier, both now discontinued;
a line of guitar steels inspired by our good friend John Pearse,
and a line of computer software for musicians. Somewhat to my
own surprise, I found that I had become an expert at database
development, first for my own business, and then for other companies.
I took a couple of ideas which
I had been using for my own purposes, and polished them up into
two packaged software products for musicians: GigMaster and
SongMaster. These two products expanded our company into
an unexpected direction, but like our capos, they were practical
solutions to the real-world problems of musicians. Recently I finally discontinued the software products, as new operating systems did not support the file format used to make them. They were great tools in their time, but that time came to an end.
In 2000 Dave moved from Iowa to Missouri,
expanding our production facility in the process. Today the
Shubb Company's three facilities total about 20,000 square feet,
and employ about twenty-nine people full time. We exhibit at
most of the major trade shows, which we always look forward
to, since some of our best friends are in the music business.
It is a business and a life which we enjoy very much.
One of our favorite activities remains
product development; both the continuing refinement of our existing
products, and the creation of new ones. We don't come up with
new products as fast or as often as some companies, but that's
our style. We like to be sure that we've got something solid,
and that we know the right way to make it. This approach is
exemplified by our Shubb Deluxe capo: variation on our original
design, we feel that it really elevated the capo to a new level.
In 2000 we introduced the Shubb Transposing Guide (and capo
placement guide); a simple but handy slide chart to use for
changing keys. In January of 2001 we came out with a new type of guitar slide called the "Axys." It permits
the player to alternate between slide playing and regular fretting
-- instantly. And at the 2002 summer show we introduced our
new string winder, which offers mechanical and aesthetic advanages
Anaheim 2003 saw the introduction of
the GS guitar steel, a very innovative product developed by
Gary Swallows and refined and produced by us.
A new Shubb partial capo was introduced
in 2004, along with a revision to the design of our Dobro capo,
and a major version upgrade for GigMaster, our software
product, still going strong after eight years. Mid 2004 saw
upgraded packaging for almost all of our products.
of 2005 we introduced Capo Noir; our original capo
design in black chrome finish, which is proving to be very popular.
A big year for us product-wise, we also introduced the Talon
guitar stand, and the Robert Randolph guitar steel.
2008: Our assembly facility in California moved a few miles from Valley Ford to Rohnert Park, giving us more space and a chance to reorganize some procedures. The Valley Ford location remains in service as warehouse space and creative/administrative office. Also in '08 we introduced an antique finished version of our capos, and the new Shubb Lite ...half the weight of our original capo.
In 2011 we introduced our capo for ukulele, and in 2012 we spruced up our Lite capo line by making them available in several vivid new colors.
2013 saw one of the biggest product changes ever for us, as we applied the roller design to our standard line of capos. The roller was previously available only on our deluxe models.
Whatever new directions the Shubb Company
might take, you can be sure that one thing will remain unchanged:
our absolute dedication to the needs of the musician.
video interview from NAMM's "oral history" project
(me talking about the start of the company)
Well known luthier Frank Ford made a visit to our Valley Ford,
CA, facility awhile back and took some pictures. To see his "visit
to Shubb Capos," click here.