You might be used to seeing acoustic guitarists strap on a capo before playing a song, but it’s less common to see this on an electric guitar. Do capos work the same way on electric guitars, or will a capo ruin their sound?
You can use a capo on an electric guitar, just like an acoustic. However, since an electric guitar is easier to use and played differently, fewer people use them with capos. While capos have drawbacks, they can make songs easier to play and can even provide creative flexibility.
In this article, you will find out if capos have a place in your guitar playing. You might be surprised at the many ways that capos can enhance your understanding of the guitar!
Should I Use Capos or Bar Chords for Electric Guitars?
When researching capos, you may come across a lot of advice warning you against using them. Some guitarists insist that using capos will make players worse or is somehow “cheating.”
This is a myth, but let’s explore why some people think this.
Why Some Guitarists Frown on Capos
If you’ve been playing guitar for any length of time, you may have heard a guitarist say that capos are “for kids” or that using a capo is akin to learning to play only “half of a guitar.” Why do capos get such a bad rap?
“Learn bar chords” is another common refrain for capo users. “Bar chords” are made by pressing your finger down on multiple strings across the fretboard, making them all ring out. Some people think that capos are pure replacements for bar chords.
While it’s true that trespassing a song with capos can make it easier to play certain songs, which can eliminate the need for bar chords, this is not their only use. Writing them off as being “for kids” is simply limiting.
When To Use a Capo
Though there is a place for capos in electric guitar playing, you should try not to let capo use interfere with learning how to use bar chords (Question: Can electric guitars be wireless?). Bar chords are an essential part of most guitar styles, so you’ll want to learn how to use them eventually.
When you’re considering whether or not to use a capo, there are a few things you should consider:
- Did the original artist play with a capo?
- Is the song in the wrong key for your voice?
- Are you experimenting with different kinds of voicings or tunings?
- Are you struggling with the bar chords?
If you’re struggling with the bar chords, there’s no shame in learning to play with a capo at first, then moving to the bar chord version after improving.
Another reason you may want to use a bar chord is when you’re playing with someone else who needs a song transposed to suit their voice better. It can be much simpler to use a capo in a pinch rather than mentally transposing each chord on the spot.
Disadvantages of Capos
While capos don’t deserve their bad reputation, they do unfortunately have some disadvantages. These aren’t good enough reasons to eschew capos entirely, but they are things you should keep in mind before overusing them.
Not Learning To Play Correctly
One of the advantages of capos is that they can transpose the key of songs, which means you can take songs with chords in their open position but are in the wrong key for your voice and move them to a key that suits you.
This can actually help beginner guitarists learn to play faster because they realize that they can play a whole host of popular songs with just the knowledge of a few chords and a cheap tool.
While the capo can be useful, there is also a danger of relying on the capo instead of learning how to play some of the more advanced chords that you will eventually run into. You may find yourself transposing a song to avoid having to form a tricky chord shape or bar chord. If that’s the case, try putting the capo aside for a while to focus on the shapes that give you trouble.
Wear & Tear of the Guitar Neck
You may have heard that capos weaken the neck of your instrument and wear down the fretboard. Unfortunately, this is true, to a degree. Guitars are made of wood, and since wood is a material susceptible to wear and tear, regularly clipping a snug clamp around it will eventually affect its shape and integrity.
However, you won’t need to worry too much about capos wearing down the neck if you’re a beginner. Most guitars are sturdy, and as long as you aren’t leaving a capo clipped on the frets for extended periods, your guitar should still last quite a long time, even with regular capo use.
Creative Advantages Of Using a Capo
The capo is good for numerous pragmatic reasons, but there are reasons beyond that which make the tool so handy. Not only is it useful for beginners who want to make learning much easier, but it can help advanced guitarists stretch their creative limits.
Open Tunings Can Create New Sounds
Some chords and voicings wouldn’t even be possible to play without the capo. While certain voicings and chords must be played in an open tuning, other open tunings are more common on certain guitars.
Open tunings are different from regular EADGBE tuning and can be strummed without any fret pressed down and make a musical chord. The most common open tunings are:
- Open D (DADF#AD)
- Open C (CEGCEG)
- Open G (GGDGBD)
Many other open tunings are possible, like Open A (EAEAAE) and Open F (FCCCCF). If a guitarist wants to achieve certain voicings, it may only be possible with these tunings. If the tuning they need is in the wrong key for their voice, this is another perfectly acceptable reason to use a capo.
Shortens the Strings & Action
A capo can make you approach the guitar differently. Capos can allow you to approach your guitar in different keys and give it a different kind of sound.
The guitar has shorter strings and lower action with a capo on while giving it a brighter sound. Jazz guitarists make semi-frequent use of the capo for just this reason, as it transforms the instrument. Playing the guitar with a capo will force you to think about it differently.
If you’re trying to learn improvisation, you can use a capo to stretch your brain further and understand the instrument better, which is true for beginner and advanced guitarists alike.
What Are the Best Capos for Electric Guitars?
While most capos for acoustics will work for electrics, some capos are designed specifically with electrics in mind:
- The Kyser Quick-Change Capo is specifically designed for electric guitars, with a steel spring allowing quick changes of positions.
- The D’Addario Pro Capo features adjustable tension to make it work for both acoustics and electrics, which also works for 12-string guitars.
- The WINGO Guitar Capo for Acoustic and Electric Guitars has a steel spring with an extra handle for easy removal and will suit many different instruments and comes in a rosewood style with five picks.
Can You Use an Acoustic Capo on an Electric Guitar?
The difference between an acoustic and an electric capo comes down to the amount of tension that is needed to press down on the strings. Acoustic capos tend to be spring-loaded. This is because the action is higher, and more pressure is needed to keep the strings ringing out.
Electric capos usually work with screws, and have much lower tension. However, this will not prevent acoustic capos from working on an electric guitar. Keep in mind that using acoustic capos on electrics may increase wear and tear on the instrument.
Capos can be used in electric guitars and are helpful to both beginner and advanced guitarists. They can cause wear and tear on instruments and even hinder learning and can open up your understanding of what a guitar can do (Related: how much time it takes to learn fingerstyle guitar).
No matter what kind of a guitarist you are, you will be able to find a use for a capo.