Your Guide to the Capo
One of the essential tools for playing guitar is a capo, even if you do not use it much, they will come in handy. There are a variety of styles, but they mostly serve the same purpose of holding the strings down for transposition. Your guitar and playing style will help you decide which kind of guitar capo may be best.
What is a Capo
The word capo is derived from an Italian term for “head of the fretboard,” which is a fitting term as its purpose is to create a moveable nut. When you clamp or band a guitar capo on, it is like a new nut or head of the fretboard and helps create the higher notes.
Each fret on the guitar is a semitone apart, so you can make your way up the scale depending on the tuning you need. If you play a chord progression of G-C-D, and then put a capo before the second fret, those same fingerings will now be A-D-E. Two frets create a whole tone movement and so the transposition is very easy.
Is It Bad To Use a Capo?
Even if you just started playing guitar and are taking beginner guitar lessons you may have likely heard some hate for the guitar capo. In some minds it can be seen as a way of cheating and not learning the full fretboard of the guitar. Or a lazy player’s way of not struggling through the pain of barre chords. Of course this is an extreme view and far off the mark.
When you make barre chords, you are doing the same thing as a capo, it is just a lot harder to get the strength built up. If you are a new player, there is nothing wrong with the capo to help you play in chords or keys you may be struggling with. Or you may find when playing with other musicians the capo makes it fast to do some of the common key changes you will see.
The only time a capo is bad for a student, is if it is used to avoid barre chords and general advancement. Or if it used to ‘cheat’ learning your guitar scales in all 12 keys. It’s a necessary tool for every guitar case, just don’t let it inhibit any other technique or theory.
The basic idea of a capo is to use rubber or other synthetic material to push the strings down with the tension. Different styles may use springs or screws, some even have small bands. If you want you can create a crude guitar capo with a pencil and rubber band! However it may not be the best at holding all the strings down evenly.
The larger and technically complicated capos will work better, but they will also cause more interference when playing.
Spring or trigger loaded capos are the most common and the fastest to use. You simply pull it open and quickly place it near the fret you want to barre. The major issue with spring loaded capos is the string tension cannot be adjusted, leaving room for problems.
Some capos use variations of the spring-loaded styles like the G7 wrap spring clutch. This has a little more tension and better quality than an off-brand spring clamp, but it essentially uses the same concept.
Another variation uses an adjustable screw to tighten the front rubber piece by increasing the tension on the back. These C-clamp shaped capos are very reliable and great at perfectly adjusting the tension. Schubb capos are a mix of screw and tension lever that make them fast and solid at holding all the strings down.
Rolling or yoke capos will connect around the fretboard, and they quickly allow you to roll the position of the capo. They can be a hassle to get on and off, but once on they are easy to move around if you have a few key changes. Some guitarists like the better pressure along the strings than a spring-loaded lever.
These capos have a plastic or even wooden bar that goes across the strings, and then is wrapped around the back with a fabric strap. It can be snapped on or toggled, and some even have rubber material to help dampen all strings. These are great for being small and less intrusive, but not always easy to get setup or change fast.
Just like the name says, these will only barre a portion of the strings, these are for players that want to play in very specific tunings. Some metal and fusion genres call for some unique tunings and a smaller partial capo may just do the trick.
And some creative capos are complicated and intricate allowing for only certain strings to be fretted. These are for players that get into some interesting alternate tunings. However they are expensive and not suitable for a beginner or weekend strummer.
Guitar Capo Tips and Tricks
- Your guitar model and build may respond differently to capos, if possible try some out to get an idea of what is best. If you aren’t sure, stick with a basic spring or screw model.
- When placing your capo do not rush, even a quick trigger or spring-loaded variety needs to be carefully adjusted so all strings are held down. Sometimes you place it directly behind the fret, other times the middle! There are occasions where it may need slightly angled to mute all the strings. A guitar capo needs to be finessed into the right position.
- Have a tuner when you first start using your capo, that way you can check what notes you’re at and to be sure of the intonation.
- If you are going to play publicly with a guitar capo make sure to practice with it. They can often get in the way of your playing, and you need to be ready to work around such an issue.
- A full-size guitar capo can still be used to partially barre chords. Experiment with leaving some strings open while others are held down. This really sounds nice to leave some open low bass strings. Or if you have two capos you can get crazy and partial barre two separate frets!
- The capo is one of the best ways to help learn your chord progressions. Play one in the open tuning and then place the capo on any fret and try them in different keys.
- And don’t forget that you can use a capo on more than just the standard tuning of EADGBE. Try other guitar tunings and then use the capo. It can really open a world of creativity for being such a simple tool!
There are a huge variety of capos out there to choose from, but they all stem from a few styles. Decide which may be best for your playing, or even grab a couple different models if your budget allows. Capos are essential for every guitar player, just be sure to find the right one that suits your guitar and genre.
By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer