After a performance in the L.E.S. the other night a beginner guitarist approached me with some questions about the capo I was using. After the conversation I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog with my thoughts on the device. In deciding which capo for guitar to buy it’s important to understand the principle of how they work.
A Capo is a clamp like device that connects onto your guitar neck. When it’s clamped to the neck it raises the tuning of the guitar. It allows you to play the same G chord shape that you already know, but it will sound higher. Each fret you place the capo for guitar on raises the guitar by a half step. So if the capo is on fret 2 the guitar is 2 half-steps 9one whole-step) higher. Woah!! I didn’t sign up for math class!! I know, there is some math here but you don’t have to become a corporate accountant to understand. Check it, so in the example I mentioned above where we place the capo for guitar at fret 2, our G chord is the same shape but actually sounds like an A chord now. This is because we raised the pitch of the guitar by a whole step. A is a whole step higher then G.
This little device is like the invention of the wheel for guitarists. The capo has been unfairly nicknamed a “cheater”. Some narrow minded musicians see it as a work around for knowing how to play more chords. Using a capo for guitar has as much to do with making playing chords easier as it has to do with sound. Each chord shape has a sound to it that is much deeper then “this is a D chord” or”this is a G chord”. The fingerings of chords change the metabolic makeup of the chord. In today’s class we’ll be dissecting a chord kids. Scalpels!!
Chords are made up of stacked intervals. In which order those intervals are arranged makes a difference in their sound or presentation. Kind of like having your shirt tucked in or out. A C chord has the notes C E G in it. If you play E G C (1st inversion) it’s still a C chord but has a different flavor. It has a dash more pepper in my opinion.
Now that I tricked you into learning a little music theory let’s get back to how this relates to a capo for guitar . Each chord shape you play has an identity. Do make sure to card as some of these are minors!!!! har har har (worst joke of the year ya think?) I think I got that out of my system now. Because each one has it’s own identity or “shape”, a capo allows you to get that shape for other chords. So if you love the sound structure of a G chord but the song is in Bb you can use a capo to get a G shape sound and the chord will be Bb. Brilliant!!!!
This isn’t cheating. When I use a capo for guitar it has everything to do with the timbre I want to get out of the instrument NOT making it easier. Some chords just sound better in an open position because of the added sustain. Someone who says using a capo is cheating doesn’t understand the instrument.
Now that the tech details have been discussed let’s talk about which capos are best. They all do the same thing in theory but like most things there is the cheap less effective way and more expensive better designed way. For me the G7th Performance capo for guitar work best. The design allows you to place the capo on the fretboard without bending the strings out of tune.
There are capos with a strap that wraps around the neck. These are most often the cheapest version of a capo. They work but have a tendency to knock the guitar out of tune more then a trigger capo. They are ok for a beginner but for the little extra to upgrade it’s worth it The straps often stretch over time resulting in the need to buy a new capo.
My second choice capo for guitar is made by Shubb. It has a lever on the back that you close to tighten the capo after it’s placed on the guitar. Along with the lever there is a screw adjustment to tweak how tight the capo will clamp the strings. Because of this it’s the second most accurate capo second only to the g7th. The only problem is it takes a little more time to place as depending on where you place the capo you have to adjust the screw.
Capo designs like Trigger capo’s are designed to change quickly but often end up bending the strings out of tune. Trigger style capos are the most popular capo for guitar and far from the best. They are non adjustable. They advertise “quick release” which seems like an attractive quality, but not really considering all the extra tuning you’ll need to do. I’ve seen a lot of songwriters just throw a trigger capo on their guitars onstage and not check tuning. The audience then has to suffer through an out of tune guitar for the entire song. It doesn’t matter how good your song it if your guitar is out of tune. Trigger capo’s also tend to be pretty cheap which draws a lot of guitarists to them. It’s worth the extra money believe me.
This will get you on your way with your first capo for guitar purchase.
For more info on what makes chords sound different check out my post on G Chord Personalities: