The 10 Best Capos
This wiki has been updated 15 times since it was first published in October of 2016. These capos can raise the pitch of a fretted instrument so musicians can play in a different key using the same fingerings as playing open. They accomplish this by shortening the length of all the strings, essentially creating a new nut. Performers commonly place them on guitars, banjos, and mandolins to add a bit more versatility to their style. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best capo on Amazon.
How Does A Capo Work?
For one, thanks to a shorter string length, the guitar will sound brighter, perhaps giving a sound more like a mandolin.
That’s because even though the capo raises the pitch of the strings, the pitches do not change relative to one another.
One of the most common guitar accessories, a capo is a clamp-like device that raises the pitch of a guitar’s strings. The device, which is pronounced with a long “a” sound like "cape-oh," works by applying pressure to all of the strings evenly at the fret on which the user places it. This effectively makes a new nut, although technically the capo must work in addition to the existing nut, since the former doesn’t have grooves for the strings as does the latter.
The pitch sounded by each string, once shortened by the capo, becomes higher by a half a step for each fret. So, if you place the capo at the first fret, the E of the first and sixth strings in standard tuning becomes an F, which is the note that’s one half step (also called semitone) higher. You could achieve this same type of change by turning the guitar’s pegs to manually change each string’s pitch, a process commonly called tuning up or tuning down. A capo, however, gives results much faster and with less hassle.
The handy capo offers guitarist several specific benefits. For one, thanks to a shorter string length, the guitar will sound brighter, perhaps giving a sound more like a mandolin. For another, a capo makes it easy for a guitarist to quickly change the key of a song to suit a singer’s vocal range. Playing around with a capo can be fun, too, as it’s a great tool for experimentation.
Perhaps one of the more prominent reasons guitarists pick up a capo, though, is to make playing in difficult keys a little bit easier. For example, many newer guitarists struggle with barre chords, which require pressing down multiple strings with one finger in a bar position, as opposed to open chords, where a finger only has to press one string at a time. Without getting too technical, a capo allows a guitarist to use open chord shapes to play in keys that would require a barre chord on a capo-less guitar. That’s because even though the capo raises the pitch of the strings, the pitches do not change relative to one another. Thus, open chord shapes still produce chords, just in a different key.
Tips For Capo Use
A capo is a simple device, as it’s little more than a clamp or elastic strap with some padding, usually rubber, that provides pressure to the guitar strings. Although it seems simple enough to use, following a few dos and don’ts will make your time more productive and help you protect your valuable instrument.
Leaving the capo on the strings for extended periods of time could bend your strings or reduce a fret’s lifespan.
First, for the best results, you’ll want to tune your guitar before you put the capo on and after you remove it. Even if you’re gentle, it’s possible, even probable, that you’ll change the strings’ tension when adjusting the capo. Be sure you don’t slide a standard capo up and down the fret over the strings; always gently unclamp it, then slide it or move it. If your guitar is in tune before you add the capo, and it goes out once the capo is on, check and see whether you’ve inadvertently pushed the strings sideways. Even the smallest amount can make a difference.
Second, make sure that you’re placing the capo in the right place, which will help eliminate tuning issues. Most guitar teachers and experts agree that the best position for the capo is directly behind the fret, not on top of it or midway between two frets. Essentially, the capo will mimic good finger position; you wouldn’t barre on top of a fret, for instance, so you shouldn’t do so with a capo, either.
Next, remove the capo when you finish playing. Leaving the capo on the strings for extended periods of time could bend your strings or reduce a fret’s lifespan. If you’re afraid you’ll lose the capo, you can clip it on the headstock so it’s easily available when you’re ready to play.
Finally, and it should hopefully go without saying, make sure that the capo is clean and in good condition. Time can cause gunk to build up on the rubber padded part that rests on the strings, as can ample use. Using a dirty or cracked capo could hurt your guitar’s neck or strings, however, and you’ll end up with more trouble in the long run than you’d have by simply replacing it.
A Brief History Of The Capo
Although most historians agree that various capo devices were available as early as the 1600s, the first capo as we know it was patented in 1850 by James Ashborn. Born in England, Ashborn emigrated to the United States in the 1830s and set up a guitar-making shop. By all accounts, this shop was successful, probably due to both the large amount of guitars he was able to produce, as well as his innovative designs. His instruments were always of excellent quality and receive high regard, even today.
There are glider capos that can roll up and down the fret board, novelty capos shaped like animals, clamp capos, deluxe capos, quick-change capos, and more.
That first capo patent paved the way for many others — over 130 to date, in fact. One of the most important patents was granted in 1931 to W.H. Russel. This was the elastic capo, a model that guitar players still enjoy today. A second significant change to the capo market happened in the 1970s, when the Shubb side-clamp screw-adjustable capo became available. These were a big success, and Shubb remains one of the top choices for capos.
Capos have continued to change and evolve since the 1970s. There are glider capos that can roll up and down the fret board, novelty capos shaped like animals, clamp capos, deluxe capos, quick-change capos, and more. One type that’s receiving more and more attention is the partial capo, which lets the user shorten only three, four, or five strings, instead of all six. These let users explore a whole host of alternate tunings or adjust the tuning without entirely losing the fuller sound of un-shortened strings.
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