The Humble Yet Handy Guitar Capo

The humble guitar capo has a long history you may not know. Though small, this device opens up myriad musical possibilities through rapid key changes, alternate chord shapes, crystalline textures and more. But just how do you use a capo creatively?

Guitar Capo
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The guitar capo is one of music’s most straightforward yet valuable accessories. This unassuming device allows guitarists to quickly change the key of their guitar while using the same open chord fingerings.

Capo Guide for Newcomers and Pros

The capo can enable beginning guitarists to play more songs without learning more difficult barre chord shapes. For seasoned players, the capo opens up options for new voicings, tunings, and textures.

Though the guitar capo may not seem exciting initially, it enables guitarists across all skill levels to explore more musical possibilities.

A Brief History of the Guitar Capo

The origins of the guitar capo stretch back several centuries. Capos were initially used on other stringed instruments like the lute and mandolins before making their way to the guitar. The term “capo” comes from the Italian word “capotasto”, meaning “head of fretboard”.

Early capos were relatively simple, often just elastic bands that guitarists wrapped around the neck to shorten the length of the strings. This raised the pitch while allowing players to use familiar chord shapes higher up the fretboard.

The advantage was that guitarists could quickly change keys without learning new chord voicings for each key.

The modern guitar capo as we know it emerged in the late 1920s. Capos with springs appeared, allowing guitarists to clamp and unclamp the capo quickly.

Over the decades, engineering improvements have led to compact capos that exert enough pressure to clamp down properly. Contemporary guitar capos also often have protective coatings to prevent scratching or denting the guitar.

While early guitar virtuosos like Andrés Segovia performed without capos, many pioneering guitarists helped popularise the use of the capo. Folk artists like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor employed capos to give their open guitar tunings more flexibility.

The Beatles’ George Harrison used capos to create the bright, ringing guitar tones in classics like “Here Comes the Sun”. Capos are now a staple for guitarists across all genres, from classical to heavy metal.

Choosing the Right Guitar Capo

With so many available Capo models, how does one choose the right one? Here are vital factors guitarists should consider:

Size and Weight

Capos come in various sizes and weights. Bulkier capos may not fit curved guitar necks as easily. Lighter aluminium or titanium capos exert less pressure on the strings and neck. This can help improve a guitar’s resonance and sustain.

Heavier capos can sometimes help playability on guitars with higher action. Testing different capos on your guitar is the best way to determine what works.

String Spacing

Not all capos fit every guitar well, unfortunately. Classical guitars often have wider string spacing, while electric guitars have narrow spacing between strings. The capo’s string indentation spacing should match your guitar for the best fit.

Ill-fitting capos can dampen outer strings or even mute them entirely.


Modern capos have some play that allows them to clamp non-flat surfaces better. All capos must exert enough pressure for optimal transposition while not applying excess pressure. Flexible capos with cushioning adapt well to different neck curvatures, so the capo sits evenly across all strings.

This helps prevent deadened tones.

Materials and Padding

Most guitar capos today consist of two arms – one with protective padding that presses against the neck, the other exerting the clamping force. Various materials like aluminium alloy, zinc alloy, stainless steel, and titanium offer different levels of strength, weight and durability.

The protective neck pad minimises potential marking or scratching, with options like silicone rubber, elastic fabrics, and other synthetic polymers.

Specialised Capos

While most capos transpose up, specialised capos offer additional functions. Partial capos depress just 2 or 3 strings, leaving the others untouched. This allows more tuning options. Cord capos wrap around the neck for quick vital changes during songs. Triple capos allow guitarists to capo across multiple fret positions.

Exploring different capo types can uncover exciting new tonal flavours.

Using a Guitar Capo Creatively

Guitarists employ capos for differing reasons: adjusting keys, easing complex chord changes, creating brighter tones, and more. Here are some creative ways to incorporate a capo into your playing:

Change Keys Quickly

The most straightforward application is changing keys. Attaching a capo at the 2nd fret instantly shifts everything to another key while guitarists use the same familiar open chords. This facilitates modulating to higher keys effortlessly mid-song without difficult transitions.

Alter Chord Voicings

Capos change a guitar’s natural chord shapes and voicings as you move up the fretboard. An open G chord with a capo on 2nd fret becomes A shape. Chord qualities also transform – sometimes from major to minor or vice versa. Capo experimentation can uncover fresh new chord possibilities.

Facilitate Difficult Chord Changes

Some guitar chord changes are notoriously tricky, especially for beginners – B to Bb, E to F, G to A changes. Capo-ing midway on the 4th or 5th frets makes these transitions easier by reducing the fret distance between chord shapes. This opens up more songs for novice players.

Create Higher Registers

Attaching a capo produces brighter tones by shortening the strings and moving everything to a higher register. When James Taylor plays with a capo at the 7th fret, his D-shaped chord voicings shimmer due to the higher range.

This lets guitarists access cascading, crystalline textures.

Use New Tunings

Capos enable alternate guitar tunings like open G and DADGAD without difficulty restringing. Capo fret 2 of a guitar tuned to open E mimics open G tuning. Open tunings with a capo reveal lush new harmonies, ideal for fingerstyle playing.

Go Electric

Generally favoured on acoustic guitars, capos on electric guitars generate appealing results, too – chimier textures, wider tonal variety from pickups, and more.

The capo remains one of the most simple and accessible ways to increase the musical scope of any guitarist. This modest piece of equipment enables rapid key changes, fresh chord voicings, more effortless playability, and beautiful tonal shifts.

Much can be achieved with this tiny clamp that modifies a guitar’s range. From novice players to advanced composers, the capo is an indispensable tool for musical expression on the guitar. Let your playing progress and transport listeners by using this little instrument accessory.

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