Guitar Capo FAQs

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Written By Musical Scoop

Chief Music Officer

We get a lot of questions about capos. Some of them need a full article to explain them, while others don’t justify a dedicated article. As a result, we have collated a lot of the shorter answers into a single post for your convenience.

What Does A Guitar Capo Do?

The word capo is Italian for “head.” It is a piece of tool that is hooked to a guitar’s neck–called the fretboard or fret for short. Once clamped, the capo pushes the strings down, shortening their length and increasing their pitch. It works similar to a barre chord, but the difference is that it keeps the strings depressed all the time, unlike in barre chords where you have to press the strings down manually. 

The capo works by raising the guitar key. For example, suppose you put a capo on the 2nd fret and play an F chord. In that case, the sound that comes out of the instrument is G. You may be holding an F chord shape, but the actual chord that is generated is G because the capo has raised the key.

Is A Guitar Capo Good For Beginners?

If you are a beginner, you may benefit from using a capo. One of the main challenges beginners face is mastering the barre method. A “barre” is a guitar technique in which you press your index finger over all six strings at a specific fret and hold pressure hard enough so that all the notes on that fret sound clearly on each string. This is done manually, and it might be difficult or exhausting at first, especially if you haven’t developed a callus yet.

Many guitarists frequently employ the barre method but mastering it will take a few weeks or more with constant practice if you’re just getting started. 

However, the barre chords are simplified with a capo, and you may not have to lay your index finger across all the strings. Using a capo is a far more convenient way to get the same effect. 

If you are still a beginner, you may have limitations on what songs you can play, especially if those involve barre chords. You may want to play a specific piece, but the chords are too tricky for you. But with the use of a capo, you can modify the barre chords to basic ones and still produce a similar tune. This way, you won’t have to put too much effort into learning the complex chords when you’re merely starting out, and at the same time, you can enjoy playing your favorite songs. 

It’s worth noting, however, that this does not apply to all songs. Many compositions cannot be changed from one complex chord to a simpler one; it all depends. Yet, there is no doubt that capos are suitable for beginners. 

How Long Does A Guitar Capo Last

Like any other product, guitar capos are categorized into cheap and expensive ones. Even though they have the same purpose: to adjust the pitch of your guitar strings, it is worth noting that quality also matters. 

Even though the quality of your capo is essential, it does very little in terms of tone. However, it does play a role in other aspects. For instance, a high-quality capo may provide you with more consistent string tension. It may also be more convenient to use than others, especially if they are made from durable materials that do not deteriorate easily.

The tone of the guitar can only be changed if the capo throws the strings out of tune unevenly across the neck or if it doesn’t grip the strings tightly enough, creating buzzing or muffling sounds. Capos also have the tendency to make the guitar out of tune. Still, high-quality capos will reduce this risk as compared to basic ones.

Basically, high-quality capos should last you a long time if you take good care of them and as long as you do not lose them. There is a reason why expensive capos are marked at that price. They are made from durable materials, and their price is reflected in their quality as well. Suppose you opt for basic and cheaper capo alternatives. In that case, it may not last as long as the expensive ones, and the materials used may wear out over time. 

There is no specific date for how long a guitar capo should last, but investing in a good quality one is always a better option. However, it is important to note that no matter how much you pay for a capo, it will still deteriorate if you don’t take good care of it. With proper care, even a cheap capo can last a long time.

Where To Place Capo On The Guitar?

It’s easy for your guitar to become out of tune if you put the capo in the wrong place. Technically, your capo must be placed in the intended fret, just after the fret bar. If you plan to put your capo on the second fret, avoid leaving a large gap between your capo and the fret bar, but don’t put it right on top of it either. 

If you put the capo too far back in the fret, the tune of your guitar will become sharp. It is important to note that once you’ve positioned the capo on your guitar, you should only play the strings right below it because these are the strings that are raised in a higher key. 

Here is a key chart that shows you the transposed key depending on the fret you place your capo on. Notice that there is a pattern in the keys that have been raised. The capo raises the strings one key higher from the original.

MAJOR KEY WITH NO CAPO:TRANSPOSED KEY WITH CAPO:
1st Fret2nd Fret3rd Fret4th Fret5th Fret6th Fret7th Fret
AA#/BbBCC#/DbDD#/EbE
CC#/DbDD#/EbEFF#/GbG
DD#/EbEFF#/GbGG#/AbA
EFF#/GbGG#/AbAA#/BbB
GG#/AbAA#/BbBCC#/DbD

Is Using A Capo On A Guitar Cheating?

No, using a capo is not considered cheating. It is an essential piece of equipment that even pro-guitarists use. It will be a waste not to use a capo if it improves your performance. 

Claiming that a capo is a form of cheating is an invalid argument. For instance, in the realm of sports, if the capo-cheating theory is true, then it’s safe to say that athletes who use advanced gear like footwear and clothing are also cheating. It would be unfair to equate these scenarios with cheating. 

In a similar sense, capos improve performance and results. It allows you to play notes and music that would otherwise be impossible or challenging to play without one. It expands your boundaries and opens you to more possibilities, so it’s better to make use of that advantage.

Simply, a capo only adjusts the tune of each string. Hence you’re playing in a different key. It’s not considered cheating, nor is it a shortcut to barre chords by any means. It’s merely a tool to achieve the sound you want in the key that you want.

Do Pro Guitarists Use Capo?

Technically, pro-guitarists, or any guitarists in general, don’t need capos to play. Still, they like to use them to achieve certain effects that they otherwise couldn’t do. They can most certainly barre most of the chords, but a capo is used to add harmonic complexity to rhythmic sections. Professional guitarists avoid playing at the first fret because it limits all finger placements to the higher frets, which is a known primary limitation. Hence, they use a capo. 

A capo is a useful instrument, at least for composing music, and professional guitarists often make use of them. Classical guitarists don’t use a capo, but they’ve been known to transpose classical pieces to make them simpler to play on the fretboard. Jazz cats also don’t utilize a capo because they rarely play tunes with open strings. The same goes for rock guitarists.

The last remaining guitarist is an acoustic steel-string guitarist. Many skilled acoustic steel string guitarists use capos, not because they’re mediocre, but because the capo helps them sustain the open strings’ vibration no matter what key they’re playing in. They are in no way cheating; they’re just trying to achieve a specific rhythm.

The majority of phenomenal musicians’ songs were composed and performed with a capo. Singers like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Eric Clapton use capos. Examples of widely popular songs that were composed using a capo include Hotel California, Here Comes The Sun, Wonderwall, and The Chain. A capo is more likely to be used by a singer composing a song. But if the composer doesn’t sing, he may not be concerned with the performer’s ability to hit the notes and instead will write in any key. But this key will still be adjusted if it does not fit the singer’s voice. Hence, a capo will still be used.

Can You Play Guitar Without A Capo?

Yes, you can play any song on a guitar without a capo. In order to unlock your full potential as a guitarist and musician, you should learn to be able to play any song in any key without utilizing a capo. To do so, one must have sufficient knowledge about movable chord shapes. As the name suggests, these are shapes that you perform on your left hand, which you can move up and down the fretboard. 

Before doing so, you must know the five open chord shapes, including C, A, G, E, and D. Open chord shapes are the opposite of movable chord shapes mainly because they can’t be moved around. They rely on open strings and are typically played on the first three frets. 

Nonetheless, we can utilize these open chord shapes and move them around the fretboard by simply changing our fingering position. For instance, if you are in the C major, instead of using your ring finger (A), middle finger (D), and index finger (B) in pressing down the notes, you use your pinky (A), ring (D), and middle finger (B) instead. 

You need to change your finger position so that you free up your index finger to become our imaginary capo. This enables you to move up and down the fretboard to get an entirely new chord without using capos. Additionally, it does not matter what chord you use as long as you apply this method to all other shapes and free up your index finger.

However, it does not necessarily mean that a capo isn’t useful. Capos are one of the most versatile tools used by guitarists, but it doesn’t mean that it should always be used. You can play the guitar without a capo. Still, if a song is composed using a capo, it will almost certainly be difficult to play without one. The use of capos is not technically a requirement; it depends on your preference and, of course, if the song you’re playing uses a capo.

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.

Does a Capo Affect Tuning?

Capos can affect your guitar’s tuning. When capos are mounted to the neck, their principal function is to shorten the length of all guitar strings, thereby acting as a new nut. All “open strings” will now be played at higher pitches compared to them without a capo.

With the capo on, all strings are pitched half a step higher. A capo makes it easier for a guitarist to perform as it enhances the tone produced by their guitar. 

Despite all these benefits that come along with the use of a capo, three factors can affect the intonation of your guitar negatively with a capo on. 

Capo Compatibility With Guitar

Your guitar’s intonation may be negatively affected if the capo you use isn’t compatible with the structure of your guitar, specifically its neck and fretboard. The two main different structures of a guitar fretboard are: slightly radiused or entirely flat. 

If your guitar has a radiused fretboard, you must use a capo built for radiused fretboards and a flat capo for flat fretboard guitars. This is because if you utilize a capo that isn’t compatible with your guitar, the capo would not be able to apply sufficient and equal tension to all your strings. If that happens, this may cause your guitar to go out of tune eventually. 

An unequal amount of tension on your strings will cause buzzing sounds, making it essential to examine your guitar’s structure to ensure that you purchase the right capo.

Capo Quality

Another factor that may negatively affect your guitar’s tuning when using a capo is the capo’s quality. It is highly advisable to invest in a high-quality capo mainly because cheaper capos are typically non-adjustable and have the tendency to exert excessive tension onto your strings, pulling them out of tune.

Proper Application and Placement Of Capo

Improper application and placement of a capo will surely cause tuning problems. To put it into perspective, the strings installed on your guitar are already under tension to produce sounds. By using a capo, you are applying additional tension to your strings. Therefore, if you place a capo improperly, it would have an imbalanced distribution of tension on your strings resulting in them going out of tune.

Is It Bad To Leave Your Capo On Your Guitar?

It is highly discouraged to leave your capo on your guitar. One of the most important things you should never forget when using a capo is removing them on your instrument when you are no longer playing. This is primarily because leaving them too long may inflict physical damage on your guitar. 

When guitarists leave their capo on, it is constantly holding down the strings on the fretboard. If this is done for an extended amount of time, it can cause particular portions of your guitar to wear away and develop apparent dents or scratches. It is crucial to know that these strings, in themselves, are already under tension. By clamping on a capo, you exert an additional load of pressure onto these strings. Leaving these strings under excessive tension for longer periods would eventually wear them out and, worse, cause them to break and bend.

Your guitar’s saddle and turning pegs also wear off, causing them to loosen with time. This will be inconvenient for you to play because your strings will be more easily out of tune, requiring you to tweak them more frequently.

In terms of your guitar’s aesthetics, leaving a capo on will result in obvious scratches and dents on your guitar’s neck and fretboard due to the unequal amount of tension applied to your guitar strings.

Capos that are left for an extended period of time will lead to weak spots on your guitar. These weak spots will be commonly seen on the neck and fretboard of your guitar, which are the most common places where guitarists leave their capos on. Even while some might argue that guitar parts need to be replaced sooner or later, leaving the capo on hastens up the process and inconveniences you in terms of time, effort, and money.

Can I Tune My Guitar With A Capo On?

Before using a capo, make sure your guitar is in tune. If you’re concerned that using a capo may throw your guitar’s tuning off, then you’re mistaken. A  good and high-quality capo that exerts the exact amount of pressure equally on your strings shall be able to maintain the strings’ tune. But if your strings go out of tune after you apply a capo, readjusting its position will ultimately bring them back into tune.

Many people believe that tuning your guitar with a capo on is acceptable, but this is strongly discouraged. You are risking damaging your strings by just tuning your guitar with the capo on.

Remember that even without a capo, your strings are already under tension. The capo, in turn, exerts additional tension on your strings, which, if you continue to tweak and tighten, will cause them to snap. 

Can Electric Guitar Use a Capo?

Although it is rare to see an electric guitar with a capo on, it is something anyone can do effortlessly. In fact, you can use a capo on all types of guitars, including electric, acoustic, and classical guitars. 

However, due to their structure and design, electric guitars are more suitable for performing guitar solos. This is owing to the fact that when compared to acoustic and classical guitars, this specific type of guitar has more frets and is superior in higher registers. Since electric guitars have been used more frequently by guitarists for solos, it makes capos unnecessary to use with them. 

Capos are primarily used to play chords in specific shapes that aren’t commonly used in soloing. Aside from that, because electric guitars have smaller necks, it is easier to play barre chords, which are otherwise challenging to play on an acoustic or classical guitar, so you won’t really need a capo for it. With all these features, capos have become more useful for acoustic and classical guitars rather than electric ones. Still, there’s nothing wrong with using a capo on an electric guitar, or any guitar for that matter.

Can Guitar Capos Be Used On Ukulele?

It is essential to note that there are various categories and subcategories of capos. Guitar and ukulele capos are considered to be one of the two main categories of capos. Basically, in terms of functionality and purpose, both capos work similarly. However, in terms of dimensions and design, both are different.

For the most part, using a guitar capo on the ukulele is applicable, but that is if you use it rarely. But if you see yourself using a capo on your ukulele on a regular basis, then it is highly recommended to invest in a capo designed exclusively for that instrument. This is primarily because using guitar capos frequently on your ukulele means risking the sound quality it produces. 

Are Guitar And Ukulele Capos The Same?

Although guitar and ukulele capos perform the same purpose, they differ in specification and design. 

Size and Weight

One of the most noticeable distinctions between a guitar and a ukulele capo is its size and weight. As their names suggest, guitar capos are designed specifically for guitars, making them larger so they can be compatible with the instrument’s neck. Additionally, their size is larger because they are meant to clamp six strings, not four. Applying a guitar capo on the ukulele will result in an excess of a few centimeters of the accessory’s frame past the ukulele’s neck.   

This may cause inconvenience to you whenever you are playing the ukulele. In addition, you are diminishing one of the benefits of playing the ukulele: its compactness and lightness. Using a guitar capo on your ukulele produces an imbalance between its neck and body, one of the things some players find unpleasant.

Tension

Another difference between a guitar and a ukulele capo is their clamping strength. Guitar capos, compared to ukulele capos, have stronger clamping capabilities since they are designed to firmly clamp on thicker strings and prevent them from buzzing, whereas ukulele capos are intended to hold down nylon strings that are thinner and softer than guitar metal strings—because of this, using guitar capos on your ukulele may not be a good idea. 

A guitar capo’s gripping strength can easily wear out a ukulele’s nylon strings, making them prone to breaking. Apart from that, if the strings break, you risk injuring yourself. However, electric guitar capos typically have a less powerful clamping force compared to acoustic guitar capos and thus are considered a fine substitute for ukulele capos. 

The differences between both guitar and ukulele capos simply show us that, while guitar capos may fit with ukuleles, they are not usually recommended. This is owing to the inconvenience and harm they may cause to you and your instrument. Investing and having the proper accessories for your specific instrument is important.

Can You Use A Guitar Capo On The Mandolin?

It is possible to use a guitar capo on the mandolin. Despite mixed remarks by others, there is generally nothing wrong with it. In fact, the use of capos in mandolins may sometimes even enhance your playing performance. 

Capos are used on mandolins for the same reason you use them on guitars–to achieve a higher pitch. It also enables you to play different keys without changing your chord positioning. However, because mandolins already have shorter fretboards, the capo’s benefit of shortening fret length falls short in this aspect.

Using capos on mandolins is not without its drawbacks. They might be too wide for the instrument and thus interfere with your playing. But if this is not an issue for you, then a guitar capo will suffice. 

Some types of guitar capos you may use on your mandolin include strap, toggle, trigger, spring, adjustable screw, yoke-style/Shubb, and partial capos.

Regardless of the fact that guitar capos are compatible with mandolins, the ones that will guarantee the best results are still capos specifically designed for the instrument. If you rarely intend to use capos with your mandolin, then a guitar capo would work fine. However, if you see yourself using a capo most of the time, then investing in a mandolin capo is highly recommended.