Why Does My Guitar Go Out Of Tune When I Put The Capo On?

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Written By Musical Scoop

Chief Music Officer

There are various factors that can be linked to why your guitar goes out of tune when you put on a capo. These are some of the most distressing things that could happen to anyone when performing with a capo on. However, there is nothing to worry about because this commonly occurs and eventually happens to anyone who uses capos. 

Listed below are the factors that may have caused your guitar to go out of tune.

Intonation

The first thing you should check before playing or performing with a guitar is its intonation. The entire fretboard of a correctly intonated guitar will be in tune. 

If your guitar isn’t properly intonated, the notes you produce would be out of tune when playing, especially as you go higher up the fretboard. This mainly means that your guitar would always be slightly out of tune most of the time. This problem is exacerbated when you use a capo on your strings, which eventually causes the strings to get slightly out of tune. 

Before playing or performing, a sound check is usually necessary to ensure that your guitar is properly intonated.

Checking Your Guitars Intonation

There is nothing to worry about if you have no clue whether or not your guitar is properly intonated because it is easy to check. However, it may not be easily applicable with electric guitars. 

How To Check Your Guitar’s Intonation:

In checking your guitar’s intonation, you would need a tuner. 

Steps:
  1. Check your guitar’s open strings, and get it perfectly tuned with a tuner.
  2. After this, play the same open chords you played previously on the 12th fret.
  3. Lastly, observe if the note on the 12th fret sounds similar to the open note. If it sounds far from the open note, it is probably out of tune and requires you to adjust its intonation.

It is important to remember that the intonation would always be close but not perfect, especially on acoustic guitars that are equipped with a carved one-piece saddle. When intonation is slightly off but sounds in tune to your ears, then it’s alright. 

However, if the tuning of your strings is noticeably changed when played on the twelfth fret,  you would need a setup. Keep in mind that if your guitar’s intonation is off, the vocalists accompanying you will be singing out of tune as well.

Fixing Bad Intonation:

If the guitar you would be using is an electric or acoustic guitar with a single adjustable saddle, then fixing its bad intonation can be done by yourself. You may watch DIY video tutorials online on how to fix your intonation. 

However, getting a professional’s help is still advisable if you have no idea about this procedure, especially since it is easy to mess up a guitar. Fixing your guitar’s intonation would involve tweaking action, fret dressing, saddle filing, and oscillating tuners to ensure that your intonation is perfect. 

Capo

The capo you use is another aspect that might cause your guitar to fall out of tune. After you’ve checked your guitar’s intonation,  the next thing you should inspect is your capo. This is due to the fact that capos come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. Although many inexpensive wrap-around and latch-style capos are available on the market, it is essential to be aware that they are not without their drawbacks.

The biggest issue with these low-cost capo choices is that they have a tendency to bend your strings laterally when used. They may also put too much strain on your strings due to a lack of adjustability, which can cause tuning issues. This is why it is always essential to use capos that are compatible with the structure of your guitar’s fretboard and neck while simultaneously applying equal tension on the strings. 

Fret Size

The size of your frets is another factor that may cause your guitar to go out of tune when using a capo. Generally speaking, the larger your frets are, the more likely your strings will be twisted out of tune when pressure is applied from the capo.

This does not necessarily imply that you should get your guitar refretted to a technician, but it does indicate that using a capo increases the likelihood of your guitar being out of tune. 

Vintage frets, which are typically smaller, are less likely to be affected by capos. On the contrary, jumbo frets increase the risk of poor tuning and intonation when pressure is applied since there is more gap between the strings and the fretboard.

Capo Placement and Bent Strings

When using a capo, improper placement along with bent strings may also be factors that cause your guitar to go out of tune. There are various reasons associated with improper placement of capo, including situating the capo at an odd angle, placing the capo in a position that does not provide equal pressure across your strings, and installing them in a hurry.

The capo is placed behind the fret in the proper capo placement. It’s essential to verify whether the strings are evenly spaced and parallel to one another. Keep in mind that even minor errors in capo placement will be audible when you play or perform. It is also important to consider your strings’ age. If they are old, they are more likely to be bent out of shape, which will negatively affect your guitar’s tune and intonation, hence, requiring you to regularly change your strings whenever necessary.

How Do You Stay In Tune With A Capo?

There are two main reasons why your guitar goes out of tune whenever you are using a capo: excessive pressure caused by your capo on your strings and your guitar’s general intonation per se. 

Your instrument’s intonation can simply be fixed by grabbing a tuner and adjusting its saddle. A tip of advice is to adjust the saddle by fractions of a turn and check its tune for every slight adjustment you tweak. 

There are two methods for fixing your guitar’s intonation if you are using a capo. Still, before knowing which one to perform, you must first check the type of capo you have. 

If you have an unadjustable capo, the best method for tuning your guitar is to tune it with the capo on. On the contrary, if your capo is adjustable, you may tune it at minimum tension or with the capo off. Fixing your guitar’s intonation before performing or playing guarantees that you stay in tune with the capo.

Another reason why your guitar goes out of tune with a capo is the capo itself. Using one that exerts excessive pressure on your strings will eventually place them out of tune. One of the best ways to fix this issue is to use an adjustable capo rather than a non-adjustable one. Adjustable capos feature a knob or a screw that enables users to adjust the tension the capo exerts on their guitar strings, unlike non-adjustable ones which utilize springs that constantly exert constant tension. 

Adjustable capos allow you to modify the tension of your capo so that it exerts the proper amount of pressure on your string to keep it in tune. It’s essential to understand that applying the right amount of tension on your strings limits any intonation issues. For this reason, expert guitarists and technicians strongly advise people to invest in a high-quality adjustable capo to ensure that they remain in tune with a capo during performances.