A capo is a fantastic device used to change the pitch of your guitar. It can be used to help singers and musicians alike when trying to achieve higher notes. But could it be causing damage?
A capo can damage your guitar or strings if left in place or with heavy use over a long period of time. The stress on the strings and frets will be greater, and they may need replacing sooner than expected. However, removing the capo after use will help to prevent this.
This article will discuss the capo, its use, and how it may cause damage to the guitar and strings. We will also look into how to avoid this.
What Is a Capo?
A capo is a device used on stringed instruments to raise the overall pitch of the sound made during play. Stringed instruments often have a number of frets along the neck, which are used to change the sound made during play. If the musician presses the frets closest to the soundbox, therefore shortening that string and the vibration that will come from it, the pitch will be higher.
A capo is used to press all of the strings at once and is placed at a certain point on the neck (determined by the musician) to shorten the strings’ length and, therefore, make every note slightly higher.
Changing the key is required when playing certain songs or certain types of music. It can also help if a female singer is trying to sing a song by a man, and they need to change the pitch to match their own.
You can see in the video below how using a capo will change the key and make the guitar pitch higher:
Leaving a Capo on a Guitar
There is some debate on damage caused by capos, and some people will insist they do more harm than good. But the truth is, it all depends on how they are used. If you put a capo on your guitar, you are causing more stress to the strings. However, strings are designed to be stressed and will all eventually break-in time.
The issue comes in with extended use. Leaving the capo in place for a long period will encourage friction and tension on the strings and frets, and they will likely wear out faster.
How a Capo Can Damage the Strings
As with most things, continual wear and tear can eventually ruin or damage your guitar and strings. Hard playing, all day, every day, will likely lead to broken strings that need to be replaced. Even regular play over an extended time will cause the strings to wear out and break.
As you play more and more, the strings will begin to lose their tension, meaning you will need to tighten them to play properly. This creates even more stress and can lead to broken strings. Much like a knot in a shoelace, this becomes a vulnerable spot, as the pressure will lead to damage. Strings often break at the headstock or the bridge, where they have been bent and pulled tight. This is the normal life cycle of a guitar string.
When you place a capo on the neck of your guitar, you are compressing all of the strings at once. This action alone is not enough to damage your strings – at least not quickly. What causes any potential damage that will come from playing. If you leave the capo in one spot over a long time and play often, you might find that they start to wear under pressure.
Fret wear is caused by overuse of an instrument. Most musicians will experience fret wear at some point, as it is normal, and the frets simply need replacing. It is caused when the strings are pressed to the neck and the pressure on the fret increases. Each time the strings (steel strings more so) are pushed against the fret, friction leads to minute changes.
Depending on how often the guitar is played, fret wear can take years to become an issue. The damage caused by the strings is minimal, but over time, with enough use, you might see indentations starting to form on the fret, where the strings touch.
The strings on a guitar lay flat and straight over the frets, parallel to the neck. They attach to the bridge on the body and work their way up to the guitar nut. This spot is where the neck meets the headstock. Rather than bending the strings down, tapering their position on the neck, they reach the nut perfectly straight and then bend to the tuning pegs. This design keeps the strings hovering over the frets at the same distance from the nut to the body.
A capo can enhance wear on the frets closest to the capo itself. The strings are depressed between frets when a capo is used, adding tension to the most relative frets. Instead of laying flat over the neck, the strings are pushed down, causing more friction on the closest fret. There is more stress on these specific frets during play than before, meaning they will likely wear out faster if the capo remains in place.
How To Fix the Issue
The easiest way to fix the issue of added tension and wear on the strings and frets is to always remove the capo when you are not playing. Keep it in place during the day or if you’re playing to a crowd, but take it off it before storing the instrument away. This will help to release the tension on the strings and should lengthen their overall life.
When playing with a capo, if possible, be gentle with the strings. Hard strumming will increase the pressure exponentially and will lead to more damage much faster. Also, be sure your capo has been placed correctly. Check the instructions so that it is not too tight or too loose.
Try a New Guitar Model
If you find that you’re using your capo regularly, and you like to be heavy-handed in your playing, you might consider getting a whole new guitar. Common acoustic guitar shapes include:
- Dreadnought Variants
- Grand Auditorium
There are many other shapes and styles within each of these models, with different soundboards and wood types. These are just the main, well-known guitar shapes.
The most common guitar shape used is dreadnought. It is larger than most and provides excellent sound with more volume and great tones. With a capo, you can change the pitch and play any number of songs or musical styles.
However, if you find you’re using the capo more often than not, you should look into the parlor, orchestra, or auditorium guitars. The parlor guitar is a smaller bodied acoustic, which will give a slightly higher pitch than the dreadnought due to its size.
Also known as the “000,” the auditorium is much like the orchestra model guitar, only the neck is shorter, making the pitch higher. It is the equivalent of using a capo on fret one on the slightly larger guitar.
In the video below, you can see how the pitch is different in two very similar-looking guitars. The dreadnought has a slightly deeper pitch than the smaller guitar, though they both look and play very similarly:
A capo will not damage your guitar or strings if appropriately used. Make sure that it is fitted per the manufacturer’s guide, and always remove it after playing. However, it is possible to see wear and tear sooner than you would expect if you regularly use a capo.
If you like the sound, the capo creates, playing a slightly smaller guitar can provide you with a higher pitch without the need for a capo.