A capo is a device that allows guitarists to clamp down the strings on any fret of a guitar neck, thereby changing the key and pitch of a played chord.
If you want to play in different keys without having to re-tune your guitar or learn new chords, then capos are for you!
In this article, I’ll explain why you would want to use a capo, how they work and the different types available.
So without further ado, let’s get started!
How do they work?
A basic clamping design is the most common type of capo.
It works exactly as expected – by applying pressure across all strings on a fretboard in order to shorten the effective length of a vibrating string.
The amount of pressure applied by a capo can be adjusted according to your preference, and there is often an adjustment screw that allows you to fine-tune how much it clamps down onto the strings (which may or may not cause buzzing).
There are other designs that work differently from a regular capo, such as those that use suction instead of pressure.
The main advantage to these is the lack of contact with the guitar itself – which means less chance of scratching your instrument.
There are also some manufacturers who have created clever capos that only touch two or three strings at once (rather than all six), and then clamp down on the remaining strings using a bar that runs behind each fret.
Types of capos
The most popular types of capos are trigger-loaded, C-Clamp/varying tension, and partial.
Each type has advantages and drawbacks, so it’s vital to understand the differences between them before making a decision.
Trigger-loaded capos – this type of clamp uses a spring or elastic band which is attached to the neck and trigger.
When you depress the trigger, it pulls against the string and closes the gap between itself and your guitar’s fretboard in order to apply pressure.
Most common examples:
- Dunlop Trigger Capo
- Kyser Quick-Change Trigger Capo
- G-Clamp capo
C-clamp/Tension – this type of capo uses adjustable tension to apply pressure onto the string (and therefore fretboard) in order to hold down your instrument’s strings.
Most common examples:
- Shubb Guitar Capos
- Thalia Guitar Capos
Partial capo – this type of capo only touches a few strings at once, which means you can play the same chord shapes without any limitations on your instrument’s fretboard.
The design is often used by classical guitar players in order to get open string notes ringing clearly through their music (without these interfering with the notes being played in standard tuning).
Most common examples:
- D’Addario Planet Waves NS Guitar Capo
- G-band Partial capo.
Why should you use a capo?
There are many reasons why people choose to use a guitar capo when playing their instrument, but here are some of the most popular ones.
Transpose songs to suit your vocal range – most popular pop, folk, and rock songs are written in keys that are difficult or impossible for singers with limited ranges.
By using a capo at the appropriate fret, you can easily change their key so they’re easier to sing.
This is particularly helpful if you play lead guitar but don’t need to do much singing (or vice versa).
Change keys without having to change guitar tuning – by using a capo, you can easily play the same chord shapes in different keys.
This is great if your vocalist needs songs that are tuned lower or higher than standard pitch; it means they only need one version of each song instead of multiple different arrangements.
Add dynamics – by playing with a capo in place, your strumming hand will naturally be closer to the soundhole of your guitar; which means you’ll have less distance between strings when you play them.
This gives you more control over how loud or quiet each chord sounds and is great for acoustic or mellow music.
Change your tone – different capo designs and materials can alter the way that strings sound when pressed down onto a fretboard.
This is one of their biggest advantages for acoustic guitar players who want to change their tonal quality in order to match other instruments (such as flute, violin, etc).
For example, if you’re playing a metal song and want to add some acoustic guitar riffs in the middle, using an unvarnished wooden capo will give your sound more bass notes without making it too overpowering.
Does using a capo make the guitar easier?
This is a common myth and one that causes lots of confusion for guitar players.
While it’s true that capos can make playing chords easier, this isn’t because they change the fretboard or strings in any way.
Instead, it simply means you don’t have to place your fingers as accurately when pressing down on frets (because their pressure is altered by the capo).
This gives you more time to focus on strumming and chord changes instead of finding individual notes.
For beginners, this makes playing guitar easier because they’re able to play certain chords without making mistakes (which allows them to keep up with a song’s tempo or rhythm better).
However, it doesn’t make playing guitar any easier in the long run – you still need to learn what each chord sounds like and how they’re played (without a capo).
Is it bad to play guitar with a capo?
No, there are lots of guitarists who never use a capo, but this isn’t because it’s “bad” for your playing.
Instead, they simply prefer to play their guitar without one and don’t need the extra benefits that a capo provides.
Similarly, there are many electric players who only choose to play open chords (without a capo).
This is usually because they need to access lower registers and don’t want to use lots of different chord shapes (which can make their music more complicated).
Is a capo necessary?
It isn’t necessary to use a capo to play in a different key. Simply transpose all of the chords.
A capo lets you play in new keys while still using the chord fingerings you’re used to on that song.