What is a guitar capo?

One of the more common acoustic and electric guitar accessories--along with tuners, string winders, humidifiers, etc.--is the capo.

Taking its name from the Italian word for "head," a capo is a small device that clamps onto the neck of a guitar and shortens the length of the strings, raising their pitch. A capo is usually fastened across all the strings of a guitar or other fretted stringed instrument, although less often they are used on only some strings rather than all of them.

The main advantage of using a capo is that it lets a guitarist play a song in different keys while still using first-position open-string chord forms, which have a more droning and fully resonant tone than, for example, many bar chords.

Here are 4 awesome reasons for using a capo on your guitar!

1. A capo enables you to instantly change the key of a song.

The capo causes all the strings to sound two half-steps higher than normal, and the music sounds in D! In fact, you can move the capo to any fret, sliding it up and down the neck, until you find the fret (key) that’s perfect for your vocal range.

Of course, if the notes and chords in the song you’re playing have no open strings, you can simply change positions on the neck (using movable chords) to find the best key for singing. Use a capo only if the song requires the use of open strings.

2. A capo gives the guitar a brighter sound.

Just place a capo on the neck (especially high on the neck). The guitar will sound more like a mandolin (you know, that teardrop-shaped little stringed instrument that you hear gondoliers play in films set in Italy).

Capos can prove especially useful if you have two guitarists playing a song together. One can play the chords without a capo — in the key of C, for example. The other guitarist can play the chords in, say, the key of G with a capo at the 5th fret, sounding in C. The difference in timbre (that is, the tone color or the quality of the sound) between the two instruments creates a striking effect.

3. A capo allows you to move, to any key, certain open-string/fretted-string combinations that exist in only one key.

Some people refer to capos as “cheaters.” They think that if you’re a beginner who can play only in easy keys (A and D, for example), you need to “cheat” by using a capo to play in more difficult keys. After all, if you’re worth your salt as a guitarist, you could play in, say, B flat without a capo by using barre chords.

But in folk-guitar playing, the combination of open strings and fretted ones is the essence of the style. Sometimes these open-string/fretted-note combinations can become quite intricate.

4. A capo “moves” the frets closer together as you go up the neck.

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