Sometimes, you may notice guitarists use a clamp-like device on their guitar strings. Once clamped, the sound of the guitar changes and somehow sounds sweeter and nicer to hear. Why does the guitar sound better with a capo?
A guitar may sound better with a capo, as there may be fewer overtones. A capo does this by increasing the pitch of the strings. Higher pitched sounds tend to have less bass or overtones, producing a cleaner, crispier and sweeter sound that you may perceive as better.
In this article, we discuss why your guitar sounds better with a capo on, as well as other questions you may have about using capo when playing your guitar. These include the pros and cons of using a capo and if capo damages guitars.
We also looked at if the capo is a good tool for newbie guitar players and if you can use a capo on your electric guitar.
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How Does A Capo Do Its Job?
A capo clamps down the strings of your guitar to a certain fret. It raises the key of your guitar, which may help you to match singers or your own playing style better. Capo can also reduce the number of barre chords you need to play. Capo can be divisive; some see it as a crutch for lazy and unskilled players.
A capo clamps down on all the strings at a certain fret, which moves the guitar’s nut to that fret.
The word capo comes from the Italian capotasto, which means the nut of a stringed instrument. Giovanni Battista Doni used the word capotasto for the first time in 1640 in his book Annotazioni. Modern capo may be attributed to James Ashborn of Wolcottville, Connecticut, who patented it in 1850.
Capo helps many guitarists use it to make songs easier to play. Some also rely on a capo to change how they sound. With some calculation, you can even use a capo to reduce the number of barre chords you need to play in a particular tune.
Guitarists that play with singers also use the capo because they can use it to adjust their guitar’s sounds to the singer. For example, if your singer does not feel comfortable singing a song in the key of C, you can just move the capo until you find a key that feels right.
However, a capo can be a divisive topic amongst guitarists. Some guitarists see that using a capo is a big no-no and shows that these players do not know what they are doing. Some also think that capo is a way to play lazily. This is further fueled by many players using them to replace barre chords.
On the other hand, some songs are impossible to play correctly and freely without a capo. Many popular musicians, like George Harrison, John Mayer, Keith Richards, and Eric Clapton, use capos to make their chords sound interesting.
How Many Types Of Capo Are There?
Generally, capo may come in several shapes and styles, such as screw-on, Spring-clip capo, or rolling capo. They may have different mechanisms of action, but they essentially function similarly to pressing on the guitar strings evenly to adjust the position of the guitar nut.
You may see different types of capo in the market, and they may come in so many shapes, sizes, colors, and options you may be a little overwhelmed.
However, in general, you may break down capos into three major types:
Clip-On Capo: Probably the most popular and most widely seen type of capo. It usually comes with three hands and a spring. One hand rests against your guitar neck, one presses the strings, and the third is for you to manipulate the hands.
As you press down on one help, the other hands open up like a mouth. You then place the hands on the desired fret before releasing the control hand. The spring now locks and keeps the hands in place.
Screw-On Capo: Screw-on capo may be preferred by some players, as they want to have a very secure capo. A screw-on capo may function like a C-clamp, with two hands and a screw to open or close up the hands.
You unscrew the clamp to open the hands. You then place the capo in your desired position and tighten the screw to tighten the capo’s grip. This is a more secure capo, but you trade away ease and mobility, as it can be difficult and troublesome to adjust.
Rolling Capo: A rolling capo is created to allow easy adjustment. A rolling capo consists of two hands connected on both ends by two springs. One of the hands pushes against the fretboard, while the other is on the neck. The hand of the neck may have wheels allowing it to move about and roll on the guitar neck.
What Are The Advantages Of Using A Capo?
The advantages of using a capo are that you can play more songs with fewer chords and easily change the key of your playing to suit singing. Your chords are also easier to play, and your fingers may be less sore as you are not playing barre chords all the time. Finally, you get to play with a different tone.
When you play with a capo, you stand to enjoy some benefits. These benefits usually help you play better and reduce physical strain on your hands and fingers when playing guitar.
Play More Songs With Fewer Chords
One of the most obvious upsides of using a capo is that it allows you to play more songs with fewer chords. This is because when you use a capo, you adjust the position of the guitar nut, which helps you to reduce chord use.
For example, if you know how to play the G, C, D, Em, and A chords, you can already play these songs with a capo’s help:
- Stand By Me – Ben E. King
- Times Like These – Foo Fighters
- Red, Red Wine – UB40
- Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley
You can play Stand By Me in five chords if you clip on a capo at the second fret. You may also achieve the same results if you clip your capo at the 7th fret when playing Don’t Be Cruel.
Without help from capos, you may be looking at having to play using much more chords, which may make things much more difficult. That may just take away the fun of playing your guitar.
Changes Key To Suit Singing
Suppose you are one of those guitarists that play in accompaniment to vocals or a singer. In this case, if you have a capo, you can adjust the vocalists’ voice key better to make the singing easier.
Singers usually have a key in their singing voice. Some start naturally with a higher voice, while some have a lower key. This means the key is the level they are comfortable singing in. It may be harder for a vocalist to adjust than a guitarist, so if you can adjust to the singer, you may help the performance.
For example, Times Like These by Foo Fighters usually starts with the chord D. However, suppose your singer is a lady with a higher natural voice. That means she may be unable to sing the song in the vocal range similar to Dave Grohl.
However, if you clip your capo a few frets up, you may be able to play in keys that work for her voice. You can also apply the same approach if you play and sing along yourself.
Simplify Chords Playing
With a capo, what happens is that your playing becomes simplified. You achieve this by reducing the number of chords you must press to play a song. A capo also can be used to help remove less common chords that may be hard to play.
Another way capo helps to simplify chord playing is it can help to remove barre chords from a song. A barre chord usually requires you to use your index finger to press on all the strings on the fretboard, essentially making a temporary capo.
Barre chords are hard to play, especially for beginners. As a result, a capo may be a good option to remove these chords to make playing easier.
Reduce Finger Soreness
You may still appreciate a capo even if you are an experienced player and have no issue hitting barre chords. It lessens the strain on your fingers and wrists.
This is because capo can help reduce the number of barre chords, which may help you reduce finger soreness.
Barre chords usually require you to use your index finger to press down on all strings on the fretboard. As a result, you may need to exert some pressure using the muscles on your fingers. Do this repeatedly, and your fingers may tire and become sore.
You can check this issue by using a capo. Aside from having less finger soreness, you also get to play easier chords, which further reduces finger issues as you play.
Create Different Tone
Sometimes when you watch a live performance, you may notice some guitarists seem to have a very nice sounding guitar. It’s clean, clear, and to some, sweet.
You may attribute it to them using very good guitars such as a Martin D18 or a good amp, but the nice sound may just be from their capos.
READ MORE: Martin D18 vs. HD-28
When you use a capo, what happens is that you increase the key of your guitar. Higher pitched sounds tend to have fewer overtones, meaning they tend to sound cleaner, nicer, and to some, different.
Why Does Guitar Sound Better With Capo?
Guitars tend to sound better with capo because it increases the guitar’s pitch. Higher-pitched sounds tend to have fewer overtones or ‘dirty’ sounds. When you strum a guitar chord with a capo on, it sounds cleaner, purer, and sweeter. You may notice the effect becomes more pronounced when you clip at a higher fret.
You may notice this when you hear some acoustic guitarists play live, on stage, in the studio, or at home. They are playing the same songs as you, but their guitar sounds much better.
You may think it’s their guitar, or they have a good amp, but the nice sound may just be from their capo.
What a capo does when your clip is on is that it raises the position of the guitar’s nut. This means the overall sound of your guitar moves up in pitches. You may hear a higher-sounding C chord, for example.
In many stringed instruments such as guitar, lower-pitched sounds tend to produce a lot of overtones or ‘dirty’ sounds that are not the tone you want. This explains why you may hear bass guitars sounding more ‘dirty.’
When the sounds are higher-pitched, there are fewer overtones, which helps the sounds to sound pure.
When you clip on a capo, the sounds your guitar makes become higher in pitch. This results in fewer overtones and an overall nice-sounding guitar. Some describe these sounds as nice, sweet, pure, and creamy.
In fact, if you clip your capo higher up your fret neck, you may notice your guitar may sound even better and sweeter. This is because the pitch becomes even higher, removing even more overtones.
Does Using Capo Damage Guitars?
Capo usually does not damage guitars, as they are designed to work with guitars. However, if used incorrectly, it may damage your guitar’s strings, fretboard, or neck. It helps to learn how to use a capo properly to avoid damaging your guitar.
First of all, a guitar capo is designed to work with guitars. This means the materials used are usually selected with the performance and protection of the guitar in mind.
For example, for firm pressure on strings, when you clip on a capo, the body of the capo may be made of steel. A sturdy spring is added to the capo to ensure a good grip.
However, capo makes us understand that guitar fretboards and necks are made of wood, which is very soft and may dent if the steel capo applies too much pressure. As a result, you may see the parts of the capo that get in touch with your guitar are given a soft rubber wrapping or coating.
You will not damage your guitar if you know how to use a capo properly.
Capo, however, may damage the guitar if not used properly. Usually, they may damage the guitar in several ways:
Improper Removal: Players often remove the capo too quickly or unevenly, causing some of the strings to be pulled too hard. It may not break the strings but may result in structural damage to guitar strings.
Headstock Damage: Guitar players like to clip their capo at the headstock of their guitar. If the clip is not installed or removed properly, it may scratch the headstock, leaving marks.
Drops: Guitar players usually like to casually clip their capo at the headstock of their guitar. If the clip is not secure enough, the capo may fall. If your guitar is placed on a stand, the capo will fall down and perhaps hit the guitar’s body, leaving possible dents.
Is A Capo Good For Beginners?
Capo is good for beginner guitar players, as it simplifies playing and helps to reduce the learning curve. Capo also may be able to help cheaper guitars sound good. However, capo may harm a player’s natural development, especially if the player relies on it too much to avoid playing harder chords.
For many reasons, a capo may be a good companion to a beginner guitarist. However, if misused, a capo should also be treated like a pacifier. It should be weaned away slowly and not be constantly relied upon by a beginner player.
Beginner guitar players often have issues such as pressing chords well or transitioning between chords fast enough. They also may lack the finger strength to execute harder chords, such as barre chords.
A capo can help with these by reducing the number of chords needed to play a song. This reduces the number of chords, which may also help with the transitions. If used well, a capo can also help to reduce barre chords, which may also help new players play their songs faster.
However, it is always good that once a beginner player becomes better, the player slowly starts to execute complicated chords and also plays more barre chords. This helps the player to become better technically.
If the player continues to rely on chords to keep playing simple and easy, then the player may not have much chance to improve. The skill may stagnate as well.
Can You Use Capo On Electric Guitar?
You can use a capo on electric guitar, bass guitar, or stringed instruments. However, it is uncommon to do so on electric instruments since they are played differently than acoustic guitars.
Generally, a capo is used on acoustic guitars to help raise the pitch of your guitar sounds. It also helps to reduce playing difficulty and improve the sound quality of your guitar. This may lead to some thinking if you can use a capo on an electric guitar.
Technically you can use a capo on an electric guitar, and you should be able to achieve a similar pitch-raising effect to acoustic guitar.
However, this is rather uncommon since electric guitars tend to be played very differently than acoustic guitars. Unlike acoustic guitars, electric guitars have things such as wah pedal or sound quality adjustments. These may not work well if your electric guitar has a capo on.
For example, say if you rely on a wah pedal to create some special sound effect on your guitar. Wah pedal works by pulling the entire strings on your fret to produce the ‘wah’ sound effect. With a capo on, it may not be able to pull the strings well since the capo is pressing it down.
Do Professionals Use Capo?
Professionals do use a capo to play their guitar. In fact, many use it during live performances to help their guitar to sound nicer. Many popular guitarists such as Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Jason Mraz, and Chris Stapleton play with capo from time to time during their performances.
Capo can be a divisive subject amongst guitarists. Some see it as a crutch, used by mediocre players to cheat and try to make difficult songs easier to play. These people can be correct, as capo can be misused by many beginner players especially.
Some see capo as an excellent tool to help their guitar sound sweeter. Some live performers know they will be playing for long hours during shows. A capo can help reduce the demands on their fingers, helping them to play better for longer.
However, despite the issues, professionals are known to use capo occasionally when playing. A quick search on YouTube can easily reveal many live acoustic performances from these guitarists.
This means if you ever get judged for using a capo, simply tell them that if professionals use them, you can too.