What is a guitar capo? Well, if you’re looking for a capo definition, a capo is a device that’s clamped on the neck of the guitar (or any stringed instrument) to shorten the length of the strings. The name comes from the Italian word “capotasto,” which means the “head of fretboard.”

But what do you use it for? Why have one? Is it because it looks cool? No, of course not. If you’re playing guitar you already look cool.

No, the capo is an important next step in your guitar-playing lifestyle, especially if you’re also a vocalist, because . . .

Guitar Capos Change the Pitch of a Song

Whether you’re doing the singing or you’re just a part of a combo or a band, the fact is not every song was created for every vocalist. 

A guitar capo is a great little tool that will allow you to change the key of a song to better match your vocalist. You know how when you’re doing karaoke the DJ tunes the song slightly to save you and the room from a bad note? A capo is basically this – for your guitar.

It also allows you to keep the same fingerings of the song without having to retune your guitar. If you learned a song in E but have to play it in G for the vocalist, a capo can save you a lot of time.

How to Use a Capo

Using a capo is simple – all it’s doing is essentially “tuning” (temporarily) all of the strings upward. How far upward is going to depend on where you clamp the capo, and what song you’re going to play.

Before you clamp on the capo, you’ll want to tune your instrument as normal. Then, you decide where you want to put the capo. Consider that the capo pitches the open strings up a half step for each fret: if you put it on the second fret, it will pitch the strings two half-steps up.

When you place it, be sure not to clamp it on top of the metal fret itself. Instead, drop it just short of the fret to achieve the best effect.

Then, when you’re done, you simply remove the capo.

Quick Tips to Watch Out For

There are a few quirks to using a capo that you should be aware of. First, you can only play above the capo on the fretboard – anything below it isn’t going to work.

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Be aware that depending on the capo you use, you may have to make sure you’re not sounding out-of-tune. A spring or trigger capo, while easier and quicker to use, don’t hold the strings as tightly, which may throw your strings a bit off-key if you’re not careful.

You’ll also want to make sure that your guitar is still in-tune after the capo is removed. In theory, it should be, but no two guitars are alike. Maybe the strings are more likely to slip, maybe the nut is a bit loose – either way, do a quick check to make sure you’re still good to go if you want to play more songs after the capo is removed.

What Capo is Right for Me?

It’s a good question, and it depends greatly on what kind of instrument you’re using, and what your needs are. There’s no perfect capo guitar – you can use them on electric, acoustic, and even other instruments like ukuleles.

Spring capos (also called trigger capos) are about as simple-to-use as they come. Because they’re spring-loaded, all you have to do is squeeze the jaws to open it, not unlike a huge, fancy clothes pin or a pony clamp.

An adjustable capo is a little slower, but the adjustable screw allows you to put a bit more pressure on the fret. This allows you to not only cut out some string buzz, but it’s far less likely to slip or move doing a performance. This is especially helpful for more energetic players.

Wrap-around capos do exactly what they sound like – they fully engulf the neck all around and clamp down on the strings. These are generally very stable and allow for a lot of adjustment.

There are even cool custom capos to add a little flair to your axe: there are capos shaped like a shark eating your fretboard, or others that look like a chrome skeleton is holding on to your guitar.

Don’t Be Afraid of Trying a Guitar Capo

Are there capos that cost $50? Sure. But there are also plenty of capos of varying styles anywhere from $5 bucks on up.

If you’ve never tried one, now’s the time to give a guitar capo a shot. They’re available online for cheap, or you can swing by your local shop and grab one.

You never know if you’ll love guitar capos until you give them a try!

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