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Capo Basics: What Are They & Why You Should Use One


If you are like many acoustic guitarists you probably prefer to play in certain keys – with C, G, D, E and A being the most popular.  That’s why you see lots of acoustic, folk and roots music written out in those keys.

What if you find a song you really like that’s written in another, less familiar key – say F#?  Or you need to raise the key in order to sing along more comfortably? Maybe you show up to a jam session and somebody wants to lead a bluegrass classic in Bb? 

Fortunately, there is a handy device called a capo just for situations like these.

What the Heck is a Capo?

A capo is a device used on stringed musical instruments to temporarily hold down all the strings at once anywhere on the fretboard.  This makes it easy to change keys while continuing to play your favorite chord shapes.  For example, standard tuning on a guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E.  If you put a capo on the third fret then each string is now three half steps higher.  So, if you play a G chord with the capo on the third fret it’s now a Bb chord.

In short, a capo opens up the number of keys you play in without requiring you to play a lot of barre cords or learn new chord progressions.

Capos Aren’t Just for Guitars

Capos are manufactured for a variety of instruments. Guitars, banjos, mandolins, dobros  and even lutes can make use of capos.

Different Capos at Different Prices

Capos come in a variety of styles. Strap-on capos were one of the first types created and were quite popular through about the 1970s. They used a strip of elastic or cloth to hold a padded bar to the strings.  There were other early forms of capos many of which had the disadvantage of leaving imprints on the back of the instrument neck.

More recently two more efficient capo forms have emerged.  The spring clamp-type capo usually consists of two padded bars and a spring to squeeze them together around the neck of the instrument and it boasts quick release and is easily stored on the headstock of the instrument. The other commonly used capo is the screw-type capo. An adjustable screw on the back side of the device tightens to hold the two halves together around the neck.

Prices on capos start at about $25.  

Whichever capo style you choose it’s important to place it about 1/8” behind the fret and straight across the fingerboard to get accurate and consistent tone.

Ready to Buy a Capo? Visit Us!

If you’re ready to give these innovative devices a try, or if it’s time to step up to the next capo level, check out the Denver Folklore Center’s spectacular selection of capos from brands like Keyser, Shubb, Paige, Kala, Taylor and Elliott, for your fave stringed instrument. Contact us for assistance.