The guitar capo is one of the most basic but useful of guitar accessories. Clamped on the guitar neck just behind the desired fret, the primary use of the capo (short for the Italian capotasto, or "head of the fretboard") is to raise the pitch of the strings by shortening the string length, enabling a guitarist to transpose a song to a higher key, and still use the original chord shapes.
The guitar capo can be used to figure out new chord shapes and fingerings for familiar songs by playing in the original key, but in a different position on the guitar neck. For instance, a song in the key of E, played with the capo on the seventh fret, would use the A chord shape in place of the E chords, and all the riffs, fills and other chords in the song would have to be similarly changed to fit the tune. This can be an invaluable aid in learning your way around the fretboard. And while some may say that using a capo is cheating, that a guitarist should be able to use barre chords and transpose a song on the fly, those who know better will say that a capo is just another tool, one with which every guitarist should be familiar. Just look at some of the better-known capo users - Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan, George Harrison ("Here Comes the Sun"), Keith Richards, and many of the old delta blues and folk players have all used capos to great effect.
As to which type of guitar capo will best suit your playing, you will need to match the capo to your guitar, the primary factor being whether you have a flat fretboard, like a nylon-stringed classical or some steel-string acoustics, or if the fretboard is curved, like on most steel-stringed acoustics and electrics. The most basic type of capo consists of a rubber-coated bar to clamp the strings, and a rubber or elastic band that wraps around the neck to hold it securely. These are small and inexpensive, but require two hands to put on or move around the neck. Players who like to change capo positions frequently, or add and remove the capo quickly between songs, prefer spring-loaded clamp models like the Dunlop Trigger, which can be moved or removed with one hand.
Other popular designs use an adjustable screw to regulate the clamping force, or springs and a roller for quick key changes. Also, there are specialty capos which cover only three adjacent strings, like the Kyser Short Cut 3-String capo, or the Third Hand partial capo, which has six individual rubber pieces that can be used or flipped out of the way, so you can strum an E minor or an A chord, for example, without using your fretting hand at all. The rest of the notes above the capo are unchanged, so you don't have to relearn all your scales and fingerings like you would if you used an open A tuning. And while there are even effect pedals like the Digitech Whammy or the Morpheus Capo pedal that will transpose your music electronically, they are quite a bit more expensive, and don't allow you to explore the various positions on the
fretboard like a capo does.
If you have several types of guitars, it's not unusual to have several capos, as your 12-string will likely require more pressure than your nylon stringed classical, and you'll need another one designed specifically to fit your banjo or mandolin. If you've never used a guitar capo, you owe it to yourself to get one and start experimenting. You'll be surprised at the new possibilities such a simple device can bring to your playing!
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