I’m still shocked by how many guitarists I meet who don’t use capos, but maybe I shouldn’t be. I was once one of them, thinking they were some sort of crutch for those who couldn’t play barre chords. But when I started to explore the music of Paul Simon (and George Harrison, James Taylor, and others), I found that capos were essential tools that opened up tons of possibilities. Later, when I got heavily into recording and layering guitars, I learned that a capo was indispensible in the studio. So, for anyone who still hasn’t gotten onboard, there is no time like the present. Capos are one of the cheapest ways to expand your sonic palette, so buy one or dust off your old one and think about these points.
The first cool thing you’ll notice is that all your same old same old cowboy chords and open-string licks will sound fresh and new when you slap a capo a few frets up. Place it directly behind the fret, with even pressure (don’t ever nudge it side to side or front to back), and you shouldn’t have to retune.
When you’re playing with another guitarist or layering in the studio, a capo can be your best friend. Let’s say Guitar 1 is playing a “Sweet Home Alabama”-style progression of D-Caad9-G. Guitar 2 can place a capo at the 5th fret and use the shapes of A, G, and D for a bright, higher-pitched accompaniment. But don’t stop there. Do your same schtick on those shapes—like an Asus4 shape or a Dsus2—and you will effortlessly add vibe and dimension as those notes mingle with the lower part. Go to the magical 7th fret (where “Here Comes the Sun” and “Scarborough Fair” live) and make the shapes for open G, Fmaj7, and C and hear what that adds to that time-honored progression. Try both strumming and arpeggiating. Cool, huh?
Obviously, capoing up will give you all new harmonics you can hit. Is your song in the key of F? Capo on the 3rd fret and hit the chimes at the 10th on the D, G, and B strings. Yum.
This one’s subtle, but it really does work. Next time you record a guitar part, for the double, tune down a half-step, put a capo on the 1st fret, and then play the exact same part. The notes will be the same, but the shorter scale length and the decreased string tension will impart different overtones to the track.
Once you start messing with capos, you will find them incredibly addictive. Keep them handy, not tucked in the accessory compartment of a case. Clamp it on the headstock of your guitar so it’s readily available. It’s way more musical and far less dorky than a headstock tuner! And remember: They’re not just for acoustics. All of these applications work just as well on electric.
Hopefully by now you’re totally jazzed about working capos into your guitar life. Here are a few choices choices out there to do exactly that.
If you’re not content to capo across just one fret, you might want to check out Capo Clips ($9.95 per Clip, Capo Clip capo $24.95, complete kit with everything $96). These consist of a plate or “Clip” with rubber feet that you clamp onto the guitar with a spring-loaded capo or with a specially designed Capo Clips capo. I took the E major Clip and positioned it on the A and D strings (2nd fret) and the G string (1st fret), to give me E major drone strings but keep all my other notes up the neck the same. It’s a little tricky to position the Clip properly, and I definitely had to retune. But once I did, the results are pretty mesmerizing. I rigged it up for a Dmadd9 by putting it at the 5th fret on the D, G, and B strings and that was beautifully mournful (and I could play behind the capo on the open strings). If I were to use this on a gig, I would want to bring a guitar specifically for the Capo Clip, set it up beforehand, and not change it. But in the studio, with the benefit of retuning, this would add a ton of color to any track. capoclips.com
D’Addario Planet Waves NS Artist DADGAD Capo
In the “not your grandpa’s capo” category we find the DADGAD ($21.24 street) model from D’Addario. It clamps down three inside strings, which, if you choose the A, D, and G, will give you a simulated DADGAD (actually EBEABE). Unlike DADGAD, all your chord shapes up the neck will remain normal, however. Placing at the 5th fret on the D, G, and B strings sounded great, and you can play behind the capo on the open strings. Cool! It has a micrometer tension adjustment to optimize it for any neck and features a smooth operation, although some notes did pinch sharp slightly. A small price to pay, though, for the cool chordal possibilities that await. daddario.com
D’Addario Planet Waves NS Artist Drop-Tune Capo
Another high-tech entry, the Drop-Tune ($21.24 street) covers only five strings, so you can get dropped-E tuning at the 2nd fret by leaving the low or high E string open. Don’t stop there, though. All kinds of cool voicings can be had by placing it further up the neck (7th fret with the high E open is particularly cool). It has a micrometer tension adjustment to optimize it for any neck and features a smooth operation and great intonation. This is a definite creativity booster. daddario.com
Dunlop Trigger Capo
Jim Dunlop has been in the capo game a long time. The Trigger ($11.15 street) is a spring-loaded, easy-to-move option from Dunlop that you’ve seen on tons of instruments. This chrome version looks sharp and feels good to the touch. The spring is no joke—you really need to squeeze it to place the Trigger on your neck—but the pressure is very even and I experienced no tuning issues. I was able to move it around from position to position lickety-split and stayed sweetly in tune through it all. A great choice if you want a mobile capo. jimdunlop.com
The Dunlop Victor ($16.14 street) is a beautiful-looking capo that features a worm gear for infinitely adjustable tension—you only tighten it as much as you need. That is great for tuning stability. I really like the heft of this capo, too, which kind of reminds me of the Groove Tubes FatFinger (remember those?). I can’t say for sure if it eliminates dead spots, but it definitely feels great—solid and substantial. And if capo cosmetics are a concern, the Victor is one of the most low-profile capos out there. This is not a fast-change capo by any means, but it’s a beauty. jimdunlop.com
G7th Performance 2
I fell in love with the G7th Performance Capo a few NAMM Shows ago, with it’s elegant, slim design and variable clutch mechanism for clamping. Well, they’ve improved it with the Performance 2 ($38.24 street) and it has to be the greatest capo I’ve ever tried. It goes on smoothly and easily, has superb tuning integrity, and is actually very easy to move around by simply pinching the clutch lever. And while I don’t mind a capo that weighs a little, the G7th weighs practically nothing. It is a marvel of engineering and a real work of art. Bravo. g7th.com
Kyser Quick-Change Capo
The first quick-change capo that most of us ever saw, the Kyser ($13 street) is a classic and an industry standard. Our review model has a super-slick hammered-copper look. It goes on easily and switching positions is a breeze. Tuning stability is very good, with only a couple of minor tweaks required. There is a reason so many guitarists rely on Kyser on stage and in the studio. keysermusical.com