What is a guitar capo & when do I use it?

When playing songs with your guitar and singing, there will most probably be situations where a song is too high or too low for your voice. It just doesn’t sound good any more.
Then it is appropriate to transpose the song into another key. That can be either done by really playing different chord shapes – or by using a guitar capo.

What is a guitar capo?

A guitar capo is a kind of clamp that is put onto the guitar neck. Thus, the strings actually get shorter (… at least the vibrating part of the string…), and thus sound higher. So while still playing the same chord shapes, you’re actually playing in a different key. And chances are that at some point, you voice will fit to the sound of your guitar perfectly.

G7th Guitar Capo on acoustic guitar

When Do I use a capo

The first situation has already been described above: When you have to change the key you are playing in, you can use a capo.

But there is another reason to use one. Because when using a capo, your guitar will sound differently! The notes will get a kind of bell like character to it. Sounding “lighter” … and for some pieces that sound can be just wonderful. Hitting exactly the sweet spot of some tunes. They might just sound “right” with a capo at the second fret … even instrumentals.

Sometimes, you hear people saying that “only beginners use a capo”. That’s definitely not true! I will show you later … scroll down for a little goodie :-)

How to use a Capo

How exactly you use the capo depends on the model that you use. There are a lot of different Capo models on the market. But the general rules have to be followed with all of them:

  • Always place the capo straight on the neck, parallel to the frets.
  • Always place the capo pretty close to the next fret. (Like in the picture above.) If you place it too far in the middle between the frets, or to close to the lower frets, chances are that the guitar either sounds detuned, or the strings buzz.
  • Don’t over tighten the capo – than the guitar will sound detuned
  • But also don’t leave the capo too loose. Than the strings will buzz on the next fret.

It’s always a little trial and error to find the right tension of the capo. So don’t worry if it doesn’t fit right in the first place. I mostly need two or three trails when setting up a new capo.


All right, I promised a little goodie, right? Here’s one of my absolute heroes, Tommy Emmanuel. Using a capo. Show that video to everybody who claims that just beginners use a capo :-)

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