A guitar capo is a device that is used to raise the pitch of the strings of a guitar without manually altering the tuning with the tuning pegs. It is a stiff bar that is placed across one of the frets on the neck of the guitar to allow the guitarist to play in certain keys more easily.
The word capo (meaning head) is the common English word used for this device, but there are other words that are used in musical notation. Because a large amount of guitar music comes from Spain and quite a bit of music is notated in Italian, it is helpful to know the terms used in those languages. Capo d'astro and capodastro are two common Italian words. In Spanish the two most common words in use are capotraste and cejilla.
When To Use A Guitar Capo
A guitar capo is used to change the pitch of the guitar strings without changing the individual tones with the tuning pegs. Usually this means that a capo would adjust all of the open strings up a half tone per fret away from the nut. However, there are some guitar capos that allow the artist to only stop some strings while letting others play at full length. Some people think of using a capo as "shortening" the neck of the guitar.
Some musical keys are difficult to play on the guitar because fingering the chords is difficult. With the use of a capo the player can use a simpler set of chords, but play in a higher key. Here is a simple example. If the guitarist wants to play a song in the key of A, but does not feel comfortable with the chords A, D and E (the primary chords for the key of A), then he can place a capo on the second fret to move the tuning up 2 half steps. This then allows him to play the fingerings for the key of G, but sound the notes of the key of A. When a capo is placed on the second fret and the G chord shape is played, the actual music will sound in the chord of A. The D and E sounding chords are played with the C and D chord shapes.
There are other reasons to use a guitar capo than just making the fingerings easier. Sometimes a guitar will sound brighter when a key is played at a different position. In an ensemble of guitars this can give a fuller sound to the music.
It is also possible to have a capo that only covers some of the strings. This allows for creative fingerings and string tunings to achieve different sounds from the instrument than could be accomplished without a capo.
A Kyser capo is one of the simplest capos to use, yet has excellent build quality. Many capos are complicated requiring two hands and advanced contortionist skills to put into place. The Kyser capo can be positioned with one hand.
This capo has a very strong spring that holds it into position. The rubber "finger" that actually stops the fret is heavy and not likely to wear out. There is also a protective rubber foot on the back of the guitar capo to protect the neck of the guitar.
There are several versions and colors of the Kyser guitar capo. They have standard 6-string acoustic and classical guitar models. There are also versions specific for electric guitars, banjos and 12-string guitars. If there is a need to barre only a couple of strings, Kyser has a capo for that as well. When needing to barre only the first 5 strings and leaving the 6th string open, Kyser has the capo for those needs.
Kyser guitar capos list for $25 to $40. Most of their capos are available at Amazon for under $15.
The G7TH line of guitar capos are elegant and functional. For sheer beauty, these capos are in a class of their own. At a $60 list price, they should not only look good, but function extremely well. G7TH has accomplished that with their clutch and spring driven capos.
A clutch mechanism is used to operate this capo. There is no spring that has to be squeezed to position the capo. This allows the user to concentrate on placing the capo in exactly the spot he wants. He doesn't have to worry about the spring pushing the strings into odd positions, and thus changing the pitch of one or all of them. Once the capo is in the right spot, a single hand can clamp it into place. It is then held with the spring and clutch mechanism that keeps it from moving around on the neck. When it is time to move or remove the capo, the user just has to press a lever that pops it open.
G7TH capos are available for many different instruments. Specific capos are available for 6- and 12-string guitars, along with banjo and classical models. They also have a more affordable model that looks a bit like a Kyser capo.
Even though the list price is $60, these can be purchased at Amazon for under $40.
The Third Hand capo has a unique design which allows the guitarist to stop some strings while leaving others to be played in the open position. This gives a very wide range of creative possibilities.
The capo is positioned on the guitar's neck and held in place by a strong elastic band. Individual "fingers" can be placed on the strings by rotating them into position. While this capo is not as easy to position as the others mentioned, it earns its keep by the ability the user has to be much more musically creative.
The Third Hand capo sells for less than $20 in most places.
Not everyone will see the need for a guitar capo. However, a great way to expand one's guitar abilities, or at least help with some creative playing, is to use a guitar capo.