Acoustic Guitar: Buying And Using A Capo

A capo is a clamp-like device which allows the guitarist to change keys at a moment's notice. This article outlines different types of capos and what to look for when selecting one.

Usually, an acoustic guitar is tuned to the key of E. But what if the other musicians you're playing with want to play in a different key? Or suppose you sound better and more natural singing in the key of F#. In situations like this, you will need a guitar accoutrement known as a capo.

A capo is simply a clamp-like device which attaches onto the neck of the guitar, allowing the musician to change the key of a song almost instantaneously. Although there are hundreds of designs for capos, most capos fall into two general categories: the spring-controlled, "quick-change," capo; and the c-clamp style capo, with small screws to hold the device in place.

In order to determine which capo is best for you, you need to know how you are going to use it. If you plan on changing keys frequently - some guitarists change keys between every song, or even in the middle of songs - then a spring-controlled capo might be the better option. This capo somewhat resembles a clothespin, with a spring-controlled handle that allows you to unclamp and clamp at a moment's notice.

The advantage of this style of capo is that it allows you to move the capo up and down the fretboard rather quickly. It is also more affordable. However, many guitarists refuse to use them because they feel the design of the capo - with the handle that just out from the guitar neck - inhibits their playing, especially if they are doing a lot of finger-picking. Another drawback is that because of the clip-style design, the clamp of the capo does not always go on perfectly flat, and can bend the strings ever so slightly before securing to the neck of the guitar. This can cause problems, such as sounding slightly out of tune or a buzz being emitted from the higher strings.

If you're planning on giving a performance where you need a capo, but don't need to change keys in the middle of a song, the c-clamp capo might be a better option for you. These capos are generally more sturdy, and when they are put into place, have less of a chance of putting your guitar out of tune. This is due to the way they are secured to the guitar - usually two small screws or nuts on the bottom of the capo tighten the device against the neck of the guitar, which in turn tightens the top part of the clamp to the strings.

The advantage of this style is the capo will most likely not bend the strings very much upon application, giving a truer sound, because the capo clamps onto all of the strings at the same time. Also, because of the design, there is no handle sticking out from the neck, eliminating the potential hazard of blocking your hand and wrist while performing. Of course, the process of using this capo takes a little longer, so if you need to change keys, you need to have a few minutes between songs to do so.

Other capos that are popular are types with a notch cut into the back of it, so that the E-string remains un-capoed (if you are playing in an alternate tuning), and other partial capos which allow the guitarist to leave certain strings in the original key. These are specialized capos, and unless you frequently play in alternate tunings, they are probably not worth the money.

Unfortunately, no capos are perfect, and you may find that when you use one, your guitar sounds out of tune or certain notes produce a buzzing sound. This may not be the fault of the capo, but of your guitar. You may have a problem with intonation, which is the way the frets have been set up on your guitar. This is a common problem with guitars, and can easily be remedied by any guitar repair center. However, if you have your guitar checked out and everything is fine, then maybe it's time to get a new capo.

A capo is a much-needed and valuable addition to a guitarist's gig bag. Ask friends and acquaintances about their capos - they may even lend you theirs to try out. Choose wisely, and at your next jam session you'll be ready to play in any key.

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