An Acoustic Guitar Capo can Simplify Your Approach to Playing the Guitar

Using an acoustic guitar capo is sometimes the only way some things can be played. It can also create some interesting effects when you learn how to use it.

What exactly is an acoustic guitar capo? A capo, whether for acoustic or electric guitar, is a padded bar that is put across the fingerboard of the guitar.

The purpose of the bar is to hold down all of the strings at the fret the bar of the capo goes across. Doing this replaces the guitar's nut with the bar. The capo is held in place by tension.

Capos have ranged from a pencil held in place by string to precision cut, polished pieces of metal that sell for over $100 each.

The history of the capo goes back to at least the 1700's. The earliest models were held in place by a string and tightened with a friction peg.

As time passed more models were developed. Some worked better than others. Let's take a look at the most common type used today.


The least expensive manufactured capo is the toggle capo. It's a padded bar that's held in place with with a strap. The strap is held in place with a toggle handle that fits into notches on back of the padded bar.

Another inexpensive style uses an elastic strap that hooks over the end of the padded bar. Both types work pretty good. The downside of each is that the straps can stretch over time. You have to use 2 hands to put both of them on, too. The upside is that they're cheap. If you lose it, you're not out much money.

Another type of acoustic guitar capo is the type made famous by Shubb, Paige and Hamilton (that's not the name of a law firm, by the way).

All of these manufacturers make variations on the same type of capo. They all feature a padded bar that's held in place by a mechanical fastener.

These all tend to be a more precise, higher quality item than the lowly elastic strap capo. They also all tend to be more precise in the adjustments that they let you make.

You can apply just enough pressure for your strings to sound clearly.

Another advantage is that, with the Shubb you can buy replacement parts. So if you can keep up with small items, this type can be a good choice.

I'm a fan of the Shubb GC-20A Acoustic Guitar Capo in Nickel and have used one for years.

The only real disadvantage to the mechanical type is that they all take two hands to put on your guitar neck.

The next type of acoustic guitar capo that we're going to look at is the spring assisted or trigger type. One of the first, and most popular, is the Kyser capo. All of the capos in this family use a spring to keep pressure on the bar of the capo.

The advantage of this type of capo is that it can be put on and taken off with one hand. Most of them can also be clamped to the headstock when not in use.

The disadvantage to this type of acoustic guitar capo is that you can't adjust the pressure being put on the strings. This can cause tuning problems.

Another problem that I've seen with the Kyser is the tearing of the plastic sleeve that covers the bar that goes on the back of the guitar neck. I've seen one incident in which the back of the neck on a very nice Collings was gouged. Ouch!

The other concern with this type of acoustic guitar capo is that the spring can weaken over time. When this happens it won't effectively work anymore.

The other choice to consider when buying an acoustic guitar capo is whether the underside of the bar should be flat or curved. For most steel-string flattop guitars a curved bar is what you need.

The reason for this is that the steel-string guitar has a curved, or radiused fingerboard. A flat bar would be used on a classical guitar, which has a flat fingerboard.

As far as which one is right for you, you'll just have to experiment some.

If you are mainly an instrumentalist, you might want to consider a mechanical type like the Shubb. This will let you adjust the tension of the clamp for more precise tuning.


How do you use a capo? For most people this means " where do I put it on the neck"? There are a couple of ways to figure this out.

If you're primarily a singer who's trying to figure out the right key to play in, you may just need to move the capo around until it sounds right. This is especially true if you're learning the song from a recording.

Another way to use an acoustic guitar capo is when you're learning a song from a piece of sheet music. This may be a case of figuring out the key that best suits your vocal range. When you've figured that out, you may may decide not to use the capo. Here's how that works.

Play the first note in the melody as it's written in the music (you can read a melody line, can't you? If not get a basic music book and learn how. It will really help.

Find that note with your voice. Place the capo where the nut would be in relation to the fretted nut. What? Here's an example.

Let's say that the first note of the melody is a C at the 3rd fret of the 5th string. When you try to sing that note you sound like a hungover frog. You need for the note to be a higher pitch.

You play the 5th fret of the 5th string and it sounds perfect. So the whole point of reference has shifted up the neck by 2 frets. Place your acoustic guitar capo on the 2nd fret. It's like the nut of the guitar has been moved 2 frets closer to the body.

Let's say that our song was originally in the key of C. We now have a choice of playing it in the key of D without a capo or we can use key of C chord shapes with the capo at the 2nd fret. That will be a matter of your personal preference.

An acoustic guitar capo can also be used to create different tonal textures. If you're playing in a group you may want to capo up the neck so there's more variety in the sound.

Say the song's in the key of C. The chords used in the song are a C,F and G. There are 3 other guitar players besides you. It can get pretty boring if everybody is chopping away down at the 1st fret. Try this instead.

Place your capo at the 8th fret. Use the chord shapes of E,A and B. The same chords as everybody else but with a brighter, punchier sound.

If you are an instrumentalist you may decide to change keys by using a capo. This allows you to use open strings in your arrangement. The use of open sustaining strings can be a big help for the soloist. It allows you to change positions on the neck without there being silence while you're doing it.

How do you know where to put the capo on the neck? It helps to know a little music theory.

There are 12 notes in each octave. The names of the notes are E,F,F#,G,G#,A,A#,B,C,C#,D,D# and E. The sharp notes also have a flat name. For that name go to the natural note above the sharp note and add a flat to that name. For example a F# is also a Gb. Two names for the same note.

The distance between each note is 1 fret. So if you place your capo at the 1st fret and play an E shape you are really playing a F chord. This is true for any chord. To continue with our example, play an C chord shape and you're playing a C# chord.

Using an acoustic guitar capo can add variety to your playing and can help you play in keys that would otherwise be hard to play in.

To explore the world of partial capos, check out PARTIAL CAPO: THE BASICS, TIPS, TRICKS, AND MORE BK/CD (Songbook)

If you have any questions, please contact me

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The CAGED Guitar Method goes hand-in-hand with using the guitar capo.

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