Is A Capo Considered Cheating? And Other Common Capo Questions for New Guitarists
Capos are indispensable tools for guitarists but some musicians perpetuate a stigma towards them. Are they helpful or hurtful to a beginner guitar? And how can they benefit a singer-songwriter who accompanies his/her voice with a guitar? Let’s discuss the humble guitar capo, it’s benefits, and whether it has any disadvantages.
What is a Guitar Capo?
A guitar capo is a device that lets you play open chords in any key. You attach the capo behind any fret on the guitar to transpose the chords that you play. For example, if you play an open C shape without a capo, it creates a C major chord; but if you put a capo behind the 2nd fret and play the same shape it’s now making a D major chord.
When you use a capo, remember to clamp it down behind the fret, not on top of the fret or in the middle between frets. This will give you a clean and even sound. When capo location is written down in a tab, it will tell you what fret the capo should be placed directly behind. So if a guitar tab says “Capo on 3rd fret” it means place it behind the third fret of the guitar. Don’t clamp it directly “on” the metal fret.
Lastly, there are two main types of capos: spring-loaded and c-clamp. As you could guess, the spring-loaded capo is held onto the guitar by the tension of a spring; the tension on these capos is not adjustable. A c-clamp capo, however, is one that has a thumbscrew that allows you to manually tighten it onto the neck and as thus adjustable. Either one can get the job done, but there are some notable differences between the two:
- Spring-loaded capos are generally cheaper, but the really cheap ones may have a spring that’s too loose or too tight. If the spring is too tight and you don’t have a lot of hand strength, it could be a pain to get one on.
- Spring-loaded capos are bigger and may get in the way of your fretting hand.
- C-clamp capos are usually more expensive, but allow for far better control of tension.
- C-clamp capos are much smaller and less intrusive, which means you won’t be smacking your hand on one when you are fretting chords near it.
Are Capos Bad for Guitars?
A capo is not bad for the health of your guitar neck. The spring may feel very tight, but your guitar’s neck can handle quite a bit of pressure; there’s no need to worry about it warping your neck. However, do not leave the capo on your guitar neck when you’re not playing it! If you leave the capo pressed against the strings of your guitar for extended time (like, if you keep it there overnight) it can cause a few issues: your frets can wear out faster, and the spring in the capo could fail due to the excess amount of tension placed on it.
Is Using A Capo Considered Cheating?
Some people may claim that using a capo is “cheating” because beginners may use one to avoid making barre chords. Using a capo is not cheating. A competent player will need to learn barre chords anyway and that is not the primary purpose of a capo. It is meant to allow for key changes and alternative chord voicings. In that respect, it’s an invaluable tool for expression.
There are some chords you just cannot make efficiently without a capo and, if you did manage and used them repeatedly over the course of a full song, it would not be very comfortable for your hand. Think about playing a “Big Four” progression in the key of E major (the chords would be E, B, C#m, A). Playing that for 3 minutes straight in barre chords on an acoustic guitar with 12 gauge strings will tire your hands out and likely lead to a lot of extra buzzing when your barring finger gets fatigued. It just makes more sense from a utilitarian standpoint to add a capo to the 4th fret and play the same chords with open shapes (you could then play the shapes of C, G, Am, F).
Making music is not a contest of whose fingers can withstand the most torture on a guitar neck. And likewise, the majority of people listening to your music are not going to see what your hands are even doing. If a capo allows you to make diminished or suspended chords easily and cleanly, then it’s a vital tool to expanding your tonal palette.
How Can I Make a Capo At Home?
If you want to try a capo but you don’t have the cash for one, there’s a pretty common trick for making your own at home. Follow these steps:
- Grab two pencils and two rubber bands.
- Put one pencil over the fretboard and the other behind the neck in the same location..at the fret you want to capo, of course.
- Tighten the pencils down to the neck using the rubber bands on the top and bottom.
Voila! Home-made capo. It may look silly, but I’ve seen some pretty great songs played with the ol’ pencil capo trick and it did not diminish the quality of the chords. Obviously, it’s not very practical if you need to keep moving it around between songs, but it works just fine in a pinch.
Capos are tools that allow you to effectively tune up your guitar without having to touch the tuners. They are not bad for your guitar and they are not a cheat for learning new chords. For a singer-songwriter, capos allow you to:
- Change keys quickly, and
- Try different chord shapes to change the color of your chord voicings
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