A Beginner's Guide to the Guitar Capo

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Guitar Capo Basics

Shubb c-clamp capo

A capo clamps onto the neck of the guitar and allows you to play in different keys without learning difficult chords. If you don't own one - you should. Your best bet is to spend the $20 to get the Shubb S Series capo.

A capo is a small tool that clamps a barre across the strings of the guitar (the actual fret clamped is up to the guitarist) effectively raising the pitch of the instrument.

Why Use a Capo?

Capos are often used by guitarists to play songs in different keys. In situations where singers prefer to sing in G♭ or E♭, a guitarist can use a capo to allow for this, while still playing basic chords in open position.

Do I Need a Capo?

Yes. If you play guitar, you should own a capo, no matter what style of music you play. Capos aren't just for beginner acoustic guitarists - blues legend Albert Collins routinely used a capo on his Telecaster.

How to Use a Capo

  • attach the capo as close to the metal fret as possible without causing buzzes when you hit the strings
  • make sure the capo is tight enough that all open strings ring clearly
  • the capo-ed fret becomes your new ​nut

Capo Cautions

  • make sure capo doesn't bend your strings when you clamp it on, as this will make your guitar sound out of tune
  • capos can get in the way of your fretting hand - check to be sure whatever capo you choose doesn't interfere with your technique
  • pay close attention to the points of contact between the capo and the guitar - you don't want your fretboard scratched

There are several types of capos, each of which has relative strengths and weaknesses. The following pages provide a critical look at each type of guitar capo.

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The Spring Loaded Capo

spring loaded guitar capo
The Dunlop Trigger Capo is a popular spring loaded style capo.

The spring loaded capo utilizes a spring-controlled handle that enables you to add or remove the capo quickly.

Pros of the spring loaded capo:

  • can add or remove capo quickly - often mid-song
  • capo can be clamped or unclamped with one hand
  • not expensive

Cons of the spring loaded capo:

  • the amount of pressure applied to strings is not adjustable
  • more prone to string bending
  • bulky

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The C-Clamp Capo

Shubb c-clamp capo
The Shubb c-clamp capos are some of the most widely used and respected capos available.

A c-clamp capo requires manually turning a screw which causes the capo to apply pressure to the guitar strings.

Pros of the c-clamp capo:

  • probably the most sturdy and reliable type of capo
  • less tendency to put the guitar out of tune
  • more compact - less likely to interfere with guitarist technique

Cons of the c-clamp capo:

  • more finicky to clamp/unclamp than the spring-loaded capos
  • costs a couple bucks more than the cheapest capos

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The Toggle Capo

toggle capo
The Dunlop Pro Curved capo is one of the more popular toggle capos.

A toggle capo is a very lightweight piece of hardware, which uses a notched mechanism for tightening the capo onto the guitar strings. The toggle capos are cheap enough that you can afford to buy a few in case you lose one.

Pros of the toggle capo:

  • very cheap to buy - usually just a few dollars
  • small size won't impede your fretting hand

Cons of the toggle capo:

  • many are flimsy
  • tightening mechanism has a tendency to pull strings out of tune