Guitar Capo Guide: Why You Should Have One and How to Use It

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar Accessories Selection

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using a guitar capo

If you’ve thought about using a guitar capo but didn’t know what you would use it for or how to use it then read on.

Capos can help you to mix it up on guitar, and make it easy to play in a different key and can be convenient for playing certain songs on guitar.

It’s also great when you want to sing in a different key that is more suited to your vocal range.

Table of Contents

What a Capo Essentially Does

I was trying to think of a good explanation of what essentially a capo is or what one does and then I found an article that described it perfectly.

It’s a floating nut!

When you place a capo across your strings (see below for how to use a capo), you are essentially moving the nut position.

For example if you place the capo across the 1st fret then you essentially have a new nut position which starts at the 1st fret. You can play an open E chord (as if the capo was the nut) and you now have an F chord.

Thanks for the awesome definition!

Why You Should Have a Capo

As I eluded to above, there are a number of reasons why you might want to use a capo.

Changing keys

acoustic guitar's tonality

One of the most important reasons is to change the key of a song without having to re-tune and – depending on how far you are tuning – having to adjust the set-up of your guitar!

This would just be far too onerous for your average guitarist who might have 1 or 2 guitars. Certainly you wouldn’t want to re-tune every time you needed to change keys even if you didn?t have to adjust the set up.

This is particularly useful when you are playing with other musicians. They might want to play a song or piece of music in a certain key – but you might know it in another key!

Rather than trying to transpose the song and work out the chords you should be playing in the new key – you can add the capo to the appropriate fret and voila – just play it how you usually would but now your nut (the capo) is just in a different position on the guitar.

For singing along

acoustic guitar capo singing
By Heinrich Klaffs [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Certain voices are better at singing in certain keys. By changing the key of a song you might find that it’s easier for you to sing. The notes may now fall into your range a lot better.

Yes you can learn how to transpose the song and learn the chords that you need in the new key. But sometimes this means having to learn new chords or relearning the song in a way you aren’t used to.

This isn’t a bad thing of course! Learning new things should be something you are doing everyday on the guitar.

However, if you are stuck for time and need to be able to switch keys quickly the capo is the perfect tool.

Playing certain songs

Some songs are created in such a way that the picking pattern or the chord structure might be difficult if you tried to play it in the original key of the song but the song used a capo.

Often when you try and transpose a song and play it in standard tuning without a capo but want to play along with the track for example – then the song is made a lot more difficult than it should be.

In this case the artist probably initially wrote the song with a capo. So do yourself a favor and do the same. It will save a lot of hassle and frustration.

How to Use a Capo

Okay, so we’ve discussed what a capo essentially is – and why you should have one. Now let’s see how they work and how to make sure you use them properly.

A capo, as we have said, is essentially a floating nut. But it’s a really simple tool to attach.

How you attach it will depend on the type of capo you have but there are some things that you need to make sure of with every type of capo.

  1. Make sure that your strings are all still in their proper spacing. If you clamp the strings down with the capo and some or all of them are bent the guitar will sound out of tune.
  2. Make sure you get the right tension. If you don’t have enough tension on the strings you will get fret buzz. If you have too much pressure it’s probably not good for your guitar’s neck. Depending on the capo type you may not be able to attach it if it’s too tight. Most capos (except spring loaded capos) are adjustable so you can adjust the tension for different size and shaped necks and fingerboards.
  3. Make sure you set your capo up so that it doesn’t interfere with your fretting hand. If it is getting in the way no matter what you do (spring loaded are usually the most bulky), then you might need to get a different type of capo.

What Type of Capo is Right for You

There are a few different capos on the market these days. Which one is right for you will depend on your budget among other things.

Check out my blog post on the different types of capos available and find out which one is best for you.

Final Thoughts

Every guitarist, especially if they sing or play with other musicians, should own a capo. They make life as a guitarist much easier. Plus, they’re easy to use and are very convenient.


What does a capo do on a guitar?

A capo is a small device used on the neck of a guitar to clamp down on the strings, effectively shortening their playable length and raising their pitch. When using a capo, it’s important to note that while it makes certain aspects of playing easier, it also changes the relationship between the strings and the frets, potentially affecting your familiarity with the fretboard.

Is capo the same for all guitars?

In general, most capos are adjustable and versatile enough to work on a variety of guitars. It’s a good practice to test a capo on your guitar before purchasing to ensure a secure fit and proper functionality.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)


  1. Hey Nate, thanks for the great article! This is so full of useful and extremely helpful information. I’ve seen plenty of guitarists using capos, but I’ve never truly known what they were used for. You cleared it up wonderfully! I’ve been playing guitar for a number of years now (self-taught) and think it might be a good time to try something new. I guess it might be time to get myself a capo. 🙂 Thanks again!

    1. Hey Christian – thanks for your input. Getting a Capo can definitely help to expand your repetoire. I think every guitarist should own one and know how to use it. Even if you don’t use it that often, you’ll find there are times when it is essential and you’ll want to have it near by.

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