You want to use a capo to change keys, play familiar chord shapes or find cool voicings. There are a few things you need to know to make the capo work its best for you.
Choose the right capo. All capos apply pressure to the strings in order to clamp them down. However, they use different mechanics to do this. The features of your capo will determine if it meets your needs or not.
- Old-school capos use a strap that tightens with grommets or a lever. These capos tend to bend the strings; there are much better versions on the market. Avoid these.
- The most popular capos available today are spring-loaded. They can be changed with one hand and can “park” on your guitar’s headstock when not in use. Kyser is the market leader for this type of capo, though Dunlop, Fender and others make similar products. These capos are easy to use but their pressure is not adjustable and they may apply pressure that is too heavy (over-fretting, causing slightly sharp notes), too light (can cause buzz) or uneven (some notes out of tune) depending on the neck dimensions and setup of your guitar.
- The best quality capos use a thumbwheel to adjust the pressure applied to the strings. Many of these capos also have a slightly curved bar. These features make the capo function more like a human finger. This style of capo is less likely to bend the strings because it requires two hands to apply. However, it is not as easy to change and will not “park” on the headstock. Because of the thumbwheel, this capo can be adjusted to apply pressure the same way a human finger would and avoid over-fretting the strings. Shubb is the most famous manufacturer of this type of capo.
Pay attention when you set the capo. Make sure that the capo is straight across the strings. If it is angled, it will cause some strings to be slightly sharp and others slightly flat. Be sure that the capo grabs every strings. Do not let the capo drag the strings when setting it; this will cause unintentional bend in the strings and sharp pitches. Set the capo closer to the fret on which the strings should sit.
Tune the guitar after setting the capo. This is one of the most critical pieces of advice when using a capo. Tuning after setting the capo will correct any over-fretting and ensure that the guitar sounds its best.
Capos are not very expensive ($15-30) and come in a variety of makes and designs (see #1). It is a pleasure to use a capo that you like and a frustration to use one that you don’t. Go ahead and pick up the one you want. Capos are also easy to lose, so keep up with it. Be sure to put it in the accessory compartment or pocket of your case or gig bag. Some guitars have enough clearance in the case to let the capo stay on the headstock.