A Beginner's Guide to the Guitar Capo

outside country party guitar playing
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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.

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.

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