What Is a Capo? Unlock New Sounds With This One Tool

what is a capo

Written by: Cody

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

This post is all about guitar capos. I’ll go through everything including what a capo is exactly, how they work, and which types exist. Whether you’re just starting out or you simply want to learn more about capos, check out the following information.

What Is a Capo?

A capo is an accessory that helps a musician play in a different key without having to change the fingering of chords.

With a capo attached, it raises or lowers the pitch of the instrument to fit a particular key. Capos are also often used to help match a vocalist’s singing range to the key of a song. Additionally, capos can be used to help some recreate the timbre of another instrument (like a ukulele for example).

A capo is an indispensable tool for virtually all guitarists as it can bring great versatility to a musical piece, is simple to use, and is compact.

How to Use a Guitar Capo

As a guitarist, it is important for you to know how to use a capo because acquiring this knowledge will help you in improving your guitar-playing versatility. To properly use your capo follow these simple steps.

  1. Firstly, determine which fret you would like to set the capo on. Applying a capo to your guitar’s fretboard will move up the pitch by a certain amount of semitones (this is dependent upon which fret you set the capo on). For example, if the capo is set on the second fret, then you will have moved up all of your notes by two semitones. This means that if you played a C chord position with a capo on fret two, you would be playing a D chord. See below for a full guitar capo chord chart.
    capo chord chartFor a complete beginner’s guitar chord chart, read our Most Popular Beginner Guitar Chords Chart article.
  2. Second, attach the tool as close as possible to the metal fret but not so close as to cause any buzzing when plucking the strings or tuning problems.
  3. With the capo firmly attached, ensure that the tool is tightly clipped, and it is allowing all open strings to be clearly rung.

If you are learning how to use a guitar capo for the first time and depending on the type of capo you are using, make sure that you do not clamp the capo down too hard as this causes excess pressure on the frets.

This can cause the guitar to go out of tune. Before attaching the capo to the guitar, it is also advisable to first tune the guitar to minimize idiosyncrasies that could arise from guitars that do not intonate well on all frets.

8 Types of Guitar Capos

All capos have a similar purpose, but each type of capo uses a different operational mechanism, and each of them can affect your guitar playing in unique ways.

There is a wide variety of capos available. Below I’ve outlined 8 different types along with a brief description of each.

1. G7th Capos

This revolutionary capo design has grown in popularity for guitarists worldwide due to its slim design, ease of use, and dependability.

All you need to do is press the lever at the back of the G7th capo to open it up, place it on the free you want, and then press both ends of the capo together. The capo will hold itself in place without you having to twist or tighten anything in place.

Read my complete G7th Performance 2 capo review to learn more about why I think it’s the best capo.

2. Roller Capos

Roller capos are made with rollers where one is placed on the neck side and the other on the string side of a guitar. These capos are easy to adjust and allow you to change keys in a quick manner with just your thumb.

If you’re playing a song that has quick key changes in it then a roller capo is a must. Just take the song “Your Smiling Face” by James Taylor.

If you watch the video you can obviously see that he changes the placement of his capo although it would be much smoother if he had a roller capo to do this with.

3. Partial Capos

Just as the name suggests, a partial capo allows you to fret specific strings that you select on the guitar without affecting the strings that you do not select.

This is great for achieving alternate tunings without actually having to deviate from standard tuning when you aren’t using a capo.

4. Spring Loaded Capo

This type of capo has a rubber-covered bar that holds down the guitar’s string and another bar that holds the capo in place by pressing on the back of the guitar. The second bar is often shaped to fit the neck design of the guitar.

The fact that it’s spring loaded and adjustable ensures that the fret will press down all of the strings without creating any unwanted buzz.

These types of capos are super easy to use and the fact that you can fine-tune them is ideal is a traditional capo just isn’t dialed in enough.

5. Trigger Capo

This type of capo is one of the most common types of capos for beginner guitarists. They’re easy to use, fast to change fret placement, and relatively inexpensive.

Trigger capos are somewhat similar to the spring-loaded capo I mentioned above apart from the fact that you can’t fine-tune them. Therefore, if your guitar’s strings are buzzing after applying the capo you’ll either need to perform some guitar maintenance or get a different capo.

6. Shubb Guitar Capo

The Shubb type is unique because it has a lever that uses a locking mechanism you can adjust to hold the device in place and ensure that it does not fall or slip.

The adjustable pressure knob can be fine-tuned to add or release pressure from your guitar’s strings.

What I like about these types of capos is that you can “set and forget it”. In that you don’t need to adjust the pressure knob. On the downside, they are a bit cumbersome if you’re planning on making quick key changes in the middle of a song.

7. Toggle Capo

The toggle capo is perhaps one of the simplest capos. The capo is made of a bar that is attached to a strap and covered with a rubber material. The rubber-covered bar rests on the strings, and the strap is used to tighten its grip on the guitar’s neck.

Toggle capos do the trick however they aren’t very efficient nor do they look great.

8. Screw-on Capos

The screw-on capo is akin to a C-clamp. You can adjust its hold on the guitar with a single screw on top.

Place the capo on the desired fret and start tightening the screw. Once you can play all the strings clearly, your capo is properly set.

The downside is that you’ll need to tighten and loosen the capo every time. There is no way to “remember” the settings you previously used.

Choosing a Guitar Capo

Now that you know how to use a capo and can answer the question, “what is a capo?” how do you go about choosing a capo if you’re looking to purchase one? Before going out and buying a capo, it is prudent to not only consider your budget but also to understand that there are various types of capos, and some are differently suited for specific purposes.

For example, some capos are solely best suited for flat fingerboards, curved fingerboards, electric guitars, classical guitars, steel string guitars, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to choose a capo that is designed and best suited to your type of guitar. It is also important to select a capo that has no sharp edges or protrusions, which may injure you or damage the neck of your guitar.

The pressure exerted by a capo on your guitar’s strings is the primary determinant of the effects of the capo. Therefore, it is advisable to choose a capo that allows you to easily adjust the pressure exerted on the strings. The kind of material used to make a capo is also an important consideration because it determines the capo’s functionality. As such, ensure that the capo you buy is made from a pliable material that is also firm, but not too hard that it could damage your instrument.

Final Thoughts

If you’re on the hunt for a well-designed generic capo, the G7th capo and the Kyser KG6B are both great options. The G7th capo is my recommendation for almost everyone since it allows you to easily make capo adjustments quickly and in a way that won’t damage your guitar.

Most other types of capos are either adjustable tension screw capos or spring-style models with a quick-release mechanism, but the G7th Performance capo uses a patented clutch mechanism for a faster squeeze-on and squeeze-off action.

On the other hand, the Kyser KG6B is also a great quick-release capo option as it can be single-handedly adjusted with ease and is a little less expensive. These two capo brands are easy to use and affordable options that will last years to come and will serve you well in your guitar-playing lifetime.

About Cody
Cody is the founder of Musician Tuts, a free tutorial hub for musicians. He has over 15 years of experience playing a variety of instruments and dabbling in audio engineering. He spends his days blogging, listening to Spotify, and playing music.

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