A Beginner’s Guide To The Best Guitar Capos & How To Use Them

A capo is an acoustic guitarist’s best friend, and if you’ve been playing the guitar for a bit, you’ve probably seen players use a capo on the neck of the guitar at some point. Perhaps you’ve also been learning some new music that recommends that you use one of these funny-looking devices in order to play the song properly. In this article, I will be giving you an overview of them and teach you why they are used, how to make them work, as well as showing you the various kinds that are available.

Why Do People Use Capos?

The capo (pronounced like kay-poh) is a pretty underrated tool that is most often seen used with acoustic guitars. Can you use a capo on an electric guitar? Sure; but it’s not seen as frequently, and some may argue that it’s quite unusual.

Nonetheless, a guitar capo has one primary function, and that is to shift the pitch of the strings and notes upward. This allows the player to change the key of a song right on the spot without having to think about different chords or fingerings.

This is nice for those who heavily utilize a lot of the basic open-note chords like the C major, G major, or A minor ones to name a few. It is especially useful for situations where there are vocalists whose voices are more suitable for a particular key, and the guitarist needs to adjust to it.

It’s much quicker than changing the tuning of the guitar itself, and way more practical – people don’t usually tune the pitch up on a guitar, only down because tuning up can result in snapping your strings.

To benefit from the capo, all the guitarist needs to do is place it on the desired fret, but they should also make sure it’s on the wood area, and not the metal part of the fret. However, at the same time, you want to be close to this fret wire and not in an arbitrary spot on the fret.

Placing it in a less-than-ideal position can make your tone weak or even make it excessively noisy. Examine closely- when you put one on, it should look a lot like the picture below:


best guitar capo
Notice how close this capo is to the fret wire? This is what you want.


How The Guitar Capo Works

The last section already established how you should place your capo on your fretboard, but how does one know which fret to place it on?

It’s actually straightforward to remember. Each fret is a half-step value. It’s kind of similar to if you were using an alternate tuning. Say you wanted to go half-step down from standard tuning, if you wanted to play the same notes from a riff in standard tuning, you would have to play them shifted up one fret.

When you use a capo, your pitches move up as well, but it works differently than messing with your tuning pegs. Instead of changing a tuning, the device essentially functions as a “replacement” nut on the guitar, and the string length is reduced as a result.

Here’s an example for you. Say you’re playing a chord progression in D minor consisting of the chords Dmin, Amin, Fmaj, Gmin but you feel like your friend’s voice would be sound better in the key of E minor. What do you do?

Since E minor is a full step-up from D minor, you would need to place the capo on the 2nd fret of the guitar. You can play the same exact chord shapes as you were using before except they will now be higher pitched.

That’s right! By using one of these, you can still use your favorite basic open-chord shapes but play in an entirely different key. The open chords from our previous key of D minor (Dmin, Amin, and Gmin) will sound like Emin, Bmin, and Amin because the tone has been moved up a whole step.

By doing this, the guitarist can comfortably accommodate a vocalist or play a song that is in a different key and still use the same chord shapes from the previous one. It’s super convenient!

Additionally, many popular songs were written with a capo. A couple of guitar songs that use one that I can think of are “Hotel California” by The Eagles and “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty.

It’s important to note that even though you might end up using a guitar capo frequently, be sure to NEVER leave the capo on your guitar when you’re not playing it since it applies constant tension on the strings and the rest of the neck. They apply a lot of pressure to stay in place – much more than your fingers – and this can be unhealthy for your guitar, so remember to remove your capo when you’re done using it to improve the longevity of your frets and the finish on your fingerboard.

What Is The Best Guitar Capo Type?

Like many other guitar accessories out there, there isn’t just one kind of capo on the market. It may be a surprise to many guitarists (even experienced ones) that there are actually quite a few different guitar capo types that one can use on their instrument. There are:

  • Clamp Capos, also known as Trigger or Spring-Loaded
  • Screw-On Capos, like a Shubb
  • Banded Capos, which are usually elastic and made from fabric
  • Partial Capos

All of these do the same fundamental purpose which is to fasten onto the strings and allow you to shift pitches forward. So, if they all do the same thing, what guitar capo is best? It really comes down to preference, durability, and maintaining intonation. Let’s go over each of these to help you understand the basic differences between them.


Clamp Capos

The clamps are easily the most common and popular type of guitar capos for sale. The reason for this is that it is the most classic kind, and they’re usually quite cheap and very simple to use, which makes it nice to have as a first capo. Many of them you can find under 10 dollars, but their reliability is questionable.

On the other hand, there are clamp capos out there that are a little bit pricier and aren’t a piece of junk, and will last a very long time. The best guitar capo that comes to mind for this category is the Kyser Quick Change. It is made from aluminum and steel, which contrasts with all of the low-quality plastic ones out there.

For clamps, I’d say “buy nice, or buy twice.” It’s better to spend a little extra to get a nice one like a Kyser rather than having to replace a super cheap guitar capo a few months down the road if you’re going to be in this for the long haul. You can’t go wrong with convenience and quality, and the Kysers are still very reasonably priced, in my opinion; they usually sit around 20 dollars.



Screw-On Capos

Next, we have the screw-on capos which aren’t as easy to use as a clamp, but the difficulty or learning curve is basically negligible in my opinion. The screw mechanism on these is designed to help keep the apparatus locked in place.

The best guitar capo when it comes to this group is the Shubb Deluxe Series S1. In general, Shubb is known for creating some of the most reliable capos that you can get your hands on. They are incredibly well-made and this one is made from stainless steel and rubber and they work together to keep the tuning on your guitar stable.

No one wants to have to keep adjusting a capo and re-tune their guitar constantly, so this is a great solution for your capo needs. The Shubbs are quite affordable for being so well-received, so save yourself the frustration and a headache and pick one up if you’re interested in a screw-on type. You can sometimes grab one of these capos for under 20 bucks.



Banded Capos

In my opinion, banded capos may actually win against clamps if we’re trying to decide which type is the most convenient.

These are extremely easy to adjust, and sometimes you don’t even need to take it off the fretboard at all. An excellent example of one that works this way is the Dunlop 7191 Bill Russell capo which allows you to just slide it around if you need to change to a different key.

The catch is that these may not be as durable and finely engineered as a metal one; however, they will still do their job and press firmly against the fretboard. These are under 20 dollars, so if you’re looking around for a guitar capo for sale, keep these in mind – you may prefer them over a clamp one.



Partial Capos

Partials are unique in their own ways; while they are most commonly seen as a clamp-style capo, but other types are also available. Nonetheless, these are designed to only fasten down on a specified number of strings. Most of the time, they will cover 3 to 5 strings and may work on inner or outer strings.

The Kyser Short-Cut is a well-known partial capo that works by clamping down on 3-inner strings. This means that either the A, G, and D strings will be altered as well as B, G, and D ones, depending on which side it’s being applied to.

Most people use this kind of capo to experiment and play with alternate tunings. The Kyser Short-Cut is actually marketed to people who want to play tunings like D-A-D-G-A-D.

To do this, you would need to tune down a full step, so you have D-G-C-F-A-D (from thickest string to thinnest) and place the partial capo on the 2nd fret and make sure it is covering the A, D, and G strings, which are now G, C, and F notes, respectively.

Since a capo shifts the pitch up one half-step per fret, placing it on the 2nd fret gives you a whole step. Because of the capo’s positioning, the G, C, and F notes will now be shifted up to A, D, and G.

Your D notes and the A (which were formerly the two E-strings and a B-string) are untouched. As a result, you now have D-A-D-G-A-D, a useful alternate tuning for acoustic guitarists!


Summary & Conclusion

You can do some pretty cool and interesting stuff with a capo, and if you’re an avid acoustic guitarist, I highly recommend that you have at least one of these.

In this guide and commentary, we took a close look at a few different types of these gadgets that you have the option of choosing from and made some comparisons. In my opinion, the top guitar capos for sale are not usually highly regarded because of their shape or mechanisms, but rather their reliability.

Does it get the job done, and is it built to last? Those are are the most important questions. Still, all capos are pretty simple to use.

You can find durable products from many different guitar capo brands and Kyser and Shubb make great ones. However, if you’re looking for something more comfortable to work with and have no hassle, maybe a clamp or band type is right for you.

On the other hand, if you’re much more concerned with having better tuning stability with your instrument and device, and don’t mind having to tighten and loosen a screw every once in a while, a screw-on capo may be right up your alley.

Lastly, a partial capo is neat for specific situations and can be useful for experimentation, but if it’s not very necessary, I’d say just stick with a more traditional one that covers all of the strings to avoid any confusion with what notes you’re playing.

At the end of the day, adding one of these to your guitar accessories collection could be highly beneficial, and may even open new doors for you. You wouldn’t run into a song that you really want to learn that requires a capo, but you don’t have one, right?

Like string winders and cutters, you’ll want to be prepared for when you may need to use one. The best guitar capo will always be there for you no matter what!