There are many components that go into the setup you use when playing guitar, and the capo is just one of those many components. And while many professional guitarists, guitar teachers, and guitar fanatics alike will tell you that it is frowned upon to use a capo, there are several good reasons why guitarists use them and why you should too.
Guitarists use capos to change the key of their guitar without needing to change the tuning, to allow them to sing songs in a register they are comfortable with, or to achieve an interesting sound from their guitars that isn’t possible to achieve when playing it ‘open.’
In this article, you’ll learn about what a capo is, why guitarists use them, and the reasons why you should use a capo when playing guitar too. We’ll also give you a few recommendations of capos you can use if you don’t yet own one. Now let’s get started!
What Is a Capo?
A capo (which is short for capodastro and is Italian for “head of fretboard”) is a small gadget that musicians use on the neck of fretted instruments, the guitar being one of them, as an aid in shortening the playable length (or transposing) of its strings. This, in turn, raises the pitch of the instrument that it is on.
The most common variant of capo that is in use these days is made of a rubber-covered bar that sits over the strings behind one of the frets, and another ‘arm’ that is placed on the back of the guitar’s neck and clamps down to help keep the capo in place. They work similarly to how a washing peg or hair clip works.
Several variations of capos are available on the market, with differences in design and how they attach onto the instrument’s neck. There are also variations of capos made for different fretted instruments, such as ukuleles, mandolins, banjos, and bouzoukis. They are also called different things in different languages.
The capo you use will also factor into how you play your instrument, depending on its size, ease of use, the extent of interference with your fretting hand, and its ability to uniformly apply pressure to all strings without affecting your instrument’s tuning.
Now that we have discussed the basics of what a capo is, we can discuss what they are used for and why you should use one too!
Change the Guitar Key Without Changing the Tuning
The main reason why guitarists use a capo is that it gives them the ability to quickly and effortlessly change their guitar’s key without changing their tuning. Using a capo is an easy way of creating a new (and moveable) nut on the neck of a fretted instrument at a higher pitch than the primary nut. This effect creates some other reasons why guitarists use capos.
Change the Key of the Song
Capos allow guitarists to change the key of the song they are playing to a key that they can sing along with. Many times, guitarists want to play a song but find that the singer either sings too high or too low for their vocal register and by using a capo, they can find a key that fits within their range. This then gives them a larger library of songs that they can sing.
Help the Guitar Achieve a Certain Sound
Capos are also often used to help an instrument achieve sounds that aren’t possible when it is being played open. Some guitarists like to use capos as a creative tool to get some more unusual and interesting sounds from their instruments that wouldn’t be achievable without using a capo. Some examples of this are the songs’ Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ by The Smiths.
There may be other personal reasons why guitarists like to use capos, but those are the three main reasons why many guitar players use capos when jamming out on their instrument.
Why Should You Use a Capo?
So, let’s talk about why you should use a capo when playing your guitar, other than the reasons we’ve already listed above.
Using a capo will allow you to play more songs with fewer chords. If you’re just beginning to learn to play guitar and don’t know many chords, using a capo will allow you to play songs that include chords that you don’t know. If all you know is the five most basic chords (G, D, C, Em, and Am), you’ll be able to play hundreds of songs by using a capo.
This is because a capo changes the key and tone of your guitar. Put simply, the chord shape you make when playing a G chord open will become (or at least sound like) a different chord once you put a capo on the guitar.
Again, if you’re a beginner (or perhaps haven’t played in a long time), using a capo will make playing certain chords easier. This is especially true for barre chords, as they can be tricky for beginners to learn to play properly. But by using a capo, you remove the need to use your finger as the barre of the barre chord and allows you to concentrate on getting the rest of the chord placements right. Once you’re more advanced, you may be able to remove the capo.
Along with the previous reason, using a capo to help barre your guitar will help keep your fretting hand from tiring out quickly. This can happen if you play a song with many barre chords played in succession or if you’ve been practicing for an extended period. Using a capo will take some of your fretting hand strain and allow you to play better for longer.
If you play in a band, a capo will help you change your instrument’s key to match (or at least compliment) the keys of the other instruments being used by your bandmates. You’ll rarely find that everyone’s instruments play in the same key when they’re open (i.e., not adjusted or capo-ed). Having a capo on hand can help you remedy these discrepancies quickly and easily, without having to adjust any other part of your guitar is essential.
Using a capo will also save you from learning how to manually transpose the chords of a song to make them sound the way you need or like them to. Of course, it would be good to learn how to do this if you plan on playing guitar professionally, but this can take a long time, and sometimes you just want to play without having to figure out a bunch of technicalities first.
If you’re new to guitar and don’t know which capo you should use, or you’re an experienced guitarist and just haven’t bought one yet, we’ve compiled a shortlist of capos you can start with. They will be listed by price, ranging from least to most expensive.
Here are our capo recommendations:
- SIIWOO 6-String Acoustic & Electric Guitar Capo
- WINGO 6 String Single-handed Acoustic & Electric Guitar Capo – 2 Pack
- D’Addario NS Tri-Action 6-String Electric and Acoustic Guitar Capo
- Shubb S1 Stainless Steel Guitar Capo for Steel String Guitars
- Kyser Quick-Change Capo for 6-String Acoustic Guitars
Ultimately, the reason you use a capo will be unique to you, but the reasons we’ve listed in this article should give you a good idea of all of the reasons you may want to try out using a capo on your guitar. It’s also vital that you remember not to let anyone’s opinion of capos have an impact on whether or not you use a capo or the reasons why you use it.