Guitar Capos Compared | Hub Guitar

How to Use a Guitar Capo: All the Basics You Need

A capo is a device used on the neck of stringed instruments to shorten the playable length. It is commonly used on mandolas, ukuleles, mandolins, banjos, and guitars. The capo got its name from the Italian word for head.

The capo lets the player play a tune or song in different keys while using the first-position open-string chord forms. However, experienced guitar players find it easy to use the capo, because they already understand chords. In this article, we will look at how to use a guitar capo.

Understanding What a Capo Does

Many beginners tend to wonder how the capo works and want to try it as soon as they learn the chords. For starters, you will need to understand the importance of having the nut on the guitar.

The Relation of the Nut and the Capo

The guitar’s headstock has a thin strip of bone, metal, or plastic called the nut. It straddles the joint where the headstock meets the fretboard. The strings pass over the nut – often at an angle – as they leave the fretboard and are terminated at the headstock at their respective anchoring points.

The nut has grooves that ensure the correct lateral placement of the strings along with the fretboard. The capo, on the other hand, acts as a movable nut. It can be fixed at any fret below the joint and provide a similar vibration termination.

However, a guitar capo does not have grooves since its purpose is to change the pitch of the strings. In this light, the capo works in addition to the nut instead of replacing it. Generally, the capo changes the pitch of the strings without adjusting the turning keys at the headstock. This means that the pitch and the timbre of the open unfretted strings will change when you use a capo.

Construction of a Capo

There are different types of guitar capos, but they all have similar construction. The capo has a rubber-covered bar that clamps down the strings and is fastened to the neck of the guitar with nylon, elastic, or other fabric straps. However, the most common capos in the market today have a screw, spring, or cam-operated clamp.

Using a Capo

Source: Guitar for Beginners and Beyond

Recent innovations have seen the introduction of the partial capo that does not encircle the neck. This means that the capo can be attached between two and five strings instead of cramping all six strings. This opens you to dozens of tonal variations without affecting the tuning of the guitar.

How to use a Guitar Capo

As discussed earlier, using a capo ensures that all the open strings on the fret play at a higher pitch than they would normally do without it. However, positioning the capo can be challenging especially if you have not learned the chords.

When using the guitar capo, each fret represents a half step in changing the pitch. For example, if you place the capo at the third fret, the open E strings become Gs, and all the corresponding strings gain a higher pitch. That is, B becomes D, D becomes F, G becomes Bb, and A becomes C.

However, there are two parts to understanding how to use a guitar capo:


The positioning of the capo is crucial to playing the guitar at the intended pitch. You might need to turn to the sheet music that shows you where to position it. However, as a beginner, I recommend that you place it on the first three frets to understand how the capo affects the tone.

The Underappreciated Art of Using a Capo - Guitar Noise

Source: Guitar Noise

You should ensure that the capo distributes the tension of each string evenly to produce a smooth sound. However, avoid tightening the capo while it is in the middle of the fret. The correct way to position the capo is to move it close to the fret’s edge and guitar’s body before tightening it.

Playing Guitar With the Capo

Before you attach the capo, ensure that your guitar is correctly tuned, as this will determine how the notes sound when playing. While there are several guitar-tuning techniques available on the internet, I recommend that beginners start from the top going down. That is, E, A, D, G, B, E. You could use a tuner or one of the many tuning smartphone apps.

After correctly tuning your guitar, play a few open chords without using the capo. This will help you understand how the chords sound. This makes it easier for you to pick up the higher-pitched sounds when you start using the capo.

With the capo on, play the chords and note the difference in sound. Moving the capo further down the neck of the guitar enhances the tone of the chords. However, before you settle on where to place the capo, try positioning it on each fret and learn how it affects the tone.

Transposition Charts

Remember that the capo assists in transposing the chords, and as a beginner or intermediate guitar player, transposition charts will come in handy. They will help you learn the various chord shapes and the chord you are playing with the capo.

There are tons of transposition charts on the internet. Pick one that best describes how the chords are altered. Remember that even if you are fingering chords using a capo as you would without a capo, the sound and tone will be different.

Which Capo Is Right For Me?

I have seen certain capos fail to work for several of my students. In this section, we look at the factors that will help you pick the right capo for you.

Before buying one, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which is the best size for me?
  • Is the capo adjustable, and how easy is it to adjust?
  • Will the capo interfere with my playing style?
  • Can the capo hold the strings evenly?


Using a guitar capo can enhance your guitar playing experience. In time you will start playing full-bodied music. If you are keen enough, most musicians use capos on stage. However, it will take a lot of practice to get around to use it properly.

I hope that the above tutorial has helped you find answers to ‘How to use a guitar capo.’ Remember that the capo will brighten the tone of the guitar, but it requires practice and time.

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