How To Choose And Use The Best Capo Type For Your Guitar
By Billy Cokes
A capo is wonderful tool for guitar players as you can change the key of a song and use the same chord shapes. Predominately capos are used on an acoustic guitar however, there are plenty of electric players now using them to get that open chord position sound. There’s a certain wonderful jangle and shimmer to open guitar chords. As a plus, playing full bar chords when using a capo is a relief as the capo clamps down all the strings at the same level as the frets thus making playing bar chords bearable for those with hand strength issues.
Why do some capos work better than others? It mainly has to do with the type of capo, the radius (curve) of your fingerboard and the radius of the capos padding. In a perfect world they should match up and put even pressure on all six strings. Another yet minor consideration is what your guitars neck profile (shape) is like. The back side of a guitar neck can be a variation of a D or C shape and some capos work better on one or the other depending on how the capo is curved to grip the back side of the neck. Capo designers have a tough job trying to make their capos work evenly well on a variety of guitar necks.
Illustrated in the photo are three basic capo styles:
(A.) Spring-Loaded/Clamp On capos are the most popular because they are inexpensive and they are easy to store on the headstock when not in use. Some tone purist suggests not to clamp capos on the headstock because it hampers the vibration and sound of your guitar. I tested this notion with my capo on the headstock while picking a few notes and I did detect some minor degradation to the sound. The same theory can be said about clamp on tuners.
(B.) Yoke Style capos tend to work better than spring loaded/clamp on capos because the pressure is placed on all the strings in the center evenly by the rear design. Also, with the yoke style capos you can place it behind the nut when not in use which is very convenient.
(C) Adjustable Screw Clam Shell capos are very good capos. The capo in the photo is my fifteen-year-old nickel plated C1 Shubb capo. It’s extremely well made and the high precision screw adjustment is excellent in dialing in just the right amount of pressure. The other thing I like about this particular capo is the soft rubber padding which creates a softer pressure on the strings without over doing it. The only downside with this capo is you cannot park it on the headstock when not in use. They also make a yoke style which you can put behind the nut when not in use.
Tips to follow using your capo.
Placement: Place your capo very close to the fret but not on it. Doing this will ensure better pressure at the key point for string to fret contact to eliminate string buzz.
Tuning: Always check your tuning after you apply the capo as some of the strings may be sharp in pitch. Usually it’s the high or low E string that tend to go sharp with some capo models.
Pressure: Adjust your capo’s pressure exactly to the point where all strings do not buzz. Check each string for muting or buzzing. Applying more pressure than what is needed will only throw your tuning out.
Orientation: I have seen many players place their capos from the bottom side of the neck over the fretboard. An example would be with a spring-loaded clamp on style capo, put it on your neck coming from the 1st string side. This would ensure more pressure is on the first three strings. I tried this and it seems to be true but it all depends on the string gauge. On that note, I was thinking, why doesn’t somebody come up with a capo the let’s you adjust the pressure on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings together and likewise for the 4th, 5th and 6th string. I think doing this would hone in on the different string pressures between the heavy and the lighter strings. That would be a cool experiment for a bench mechanic to figure out.
Don’t throw out your capos: Keep all your capos as you might find out one day that the one you thought wasn’t any good just might work well with your new guitar purchase.
Return policy: If you plan on purchasing an expensive capo make sure that you have a 30 day return window for a full refund in case it’s just not working well with your guitar.
Soft vs hard padding: I’m a fan of capos that have a softer padding as they tend to have less problems pulling strings sharp.
Keep a Spare: Always keep a spare capo in your case even if it’s a cheapo. It’s always good to be prepared with a backup.
Brands that are top drawer: I have come to know many top-notch bluegrass players through Picker’s Grip and the two brands that they rely on are Elliot and Shubb capos.
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Thanks William, much appreciated! ~Billy
Great info on capos. Learned more that I’ve read before on other capo use.