Capos are essential pieces of gear for helping you get that coveted open-chord sound up and down the fretboard.
But in learning how to use capos effectively, one thing that is often overlooked is how they affect the guitar’s tuning.
Remember that the amount of pressure your finger exerts on a string plays a part in keeping the notes in tune. Too much pressure and you’ll force the note to go sharp. You need enough firmness to make the note sound out, but no more.
A capo is used in place of your fingers, so the same idea applies to it. We want it to be just firm enough to make the notes sound out clearly.
Feel the Tension
When I was kid, we only had access to those cheesy, multicolored elastic capos. They were notorious for not putting enough pressure on the strings. The result was usually a few open strings that rang out and a few that were dead. Not cool.
By contrast, the modern capo, especially the popular Kyser, can put a strong grip on the strings. These types of capos are favored because they can be operated with one hand. The disadvantage to the single-tension capos is that they will typically force your strings to go a bit sharp. And the further up the neck you place the capo, the sharper the pitch will get.
An adjustable capo, like the also-popular Shubb, can be loosened or tightened as needed. This will minimize any tuning issues. However, the downside to an adjustable capo is that it’s usually a two-hand operation.
Capo Up, Tune Up
No matter which capo you use, you should always check your tuning with the capo in place.
You’ll probably notice that the lower strings (6 and 5) go sharper than the higher strings, so prepare to lower their pitch more to compensate. When you go back to a song with no capo, though, you’ll have to re-tune.
A great example of this is the classic intro to “Hotel California” by the Eagles. Capoed at fret 7 (!), this song has a high potential for out-of-tune notes. So carefully adjusting your tuning with the capo on is a must.
Enter the Electric
Although capos are most closely associated with acoustic guitars, there are plenty of guitarists who use a capo on electric guitars. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, for example, is often pictured with a capo on his Telecaster. I also capo my Strat for two songs that I currently play with my band.
If you’re going to capo an electric, I highly encourage you to use an adjustable capo. The Kyser types are typically too strong and can force an electric wildly out of tune.
But no matter what guitar you use or what fret you’re on, the best practice is to always tune up after you capo up!
QUESTION: What type of capo do you use? Does it leave your tuning stable or cause problems? Leave me a comment below!