Using the right tools can aid you in your guitar journey and will only improve your playing. Capos are a handy tool, especially for beginner guitarists. Placing a capo onto the guitar’s neck allows you to transpose the strings and raise the pitch. But since it clamps onto the delicate neck of the guitar, you might wonder: are capos bad for your guitar?
In this article, I will answer this question, go over my tips for using a capo, and answer other commonly asked questions regarding this well-used tool.
Short answer: Are capos bad for your guitar?
In short, yes. While using a capo is not inherently bad for your guitar, using it frequently can lower the action of your guitar and damage the frets over time. But for occasional use, it is completely fine to use a capo. If you do use a capo frequently, just be sure to use a variable tension capo as they cause less damage to your frets.
Do capos damage guitar frets?
Some guitarists avoid using capos altogether as they have earned a bad rep for damaging guitar frets. While this is true, the degree to which they damage the frets is often minuscule, especially if you don’t use capos often.
Capos lower the action on the guitar, meaning that they cause the guitar strings to move closer to the frets, which is what causes this damage over time. Leaving a capo on your guitar neck can lead to scratches and dents on your frets and fretboard. This will eventually lead to you having to replace frets prematurely and repolish your fretboard. To prevent this damage, when you use a capo, avoid the traditional spring-loaded capo. Instead, go for the variable tension capo. A properly fitted variable tension capo on your guitar neck won’t damage your frets, even when it is used often.
Pros and cons of using capos
If capos eventually damage the guitar frets, why do some guitarists use them? Here are my top pros and cons of using capos, and you can decide for yourself whether or not you should get one.
Capos lower the action: Lowering the action of the guitar is a huge help for beginners learning to play barre chords. In addition, it can help to train your barre chords.
Capos make barre chords easier: On a similar note, capos allow guitarists to take a break from barre chords since you don’t have to press down on all strings. As a plus, using the capo also makes it easier to play fast songs.
Capos change the key: When playing a song, you can easily change the key by using a capo without needing to work in music theory. This is also a useful element when you are composing, as you can easily transpose and change the key quickly.
Capos change the guitar sound: With the capo creating tension on the strings and the fret, your guitar will make a lighter and brighter sound.
Capos restrict you from playing all notes: Since the capo is placed over a fret of your guitar, you won’t be able to play the notes that are lower than that fret.
Capos restrict bending: Due to the tension on the strings, capos limit the ability to bend the strings, so you won’t be able to get as creative with the sound.
Capos restrict the strings from vibrating: Similarly, capos restrict the strings from vibrating, so you won’t be able to play vibrato, harmonics, or hold out notes for as long.
Tips for properly using a capo
Here are my top tips for using a capo to prevent damage on your guitar frets.
Use a variable tension capo
Although the trigger capo is much easier to use and way more convenient during live shows, opt for the variable tension capo if you have the choice. Unscrewing and rescrewing the capo may be a pain every time you use it, but your guitar frets will thank you! This type of capo will prevent your guitar frets from wearing out too soon.
Take it off when you don’t need it
Develop a habit of taking off the capo every time you’re done using it. Forgetting to remove the capo and leaving the capo on your guitar neck will only cause your frets to wear down faster and even wear down your strings. Even when you’re not playing, if you leave the capo on, it’ll continue to press down on your frets, leading to premature replacement or refinishing of your beaten-down frets.
Tune your guitar before using the capo
Tune your guitar before using the capo, not after placing it. Keep in mind that the notes of each string will change depending on where you place the capo on the guitar neck.
Is using a capo cheating?
No, definitely not! A capo is a tool to help you with your guitar playing. Though most advanced guitar players prefer to play barre chords naturally rather than use a capo, it definitely comes in handy in certain instances. They can not only make it possible to play open chords in a different key, but if you are playing a long set at a live gig, capos offer relief to your tired fingers. However, when using a capo for this purpose, it’s worth keeping in mind that the sound will be very different from when playing a barre chord. So, for many guitarists, it’s a stylistic choice as well.
Although the capo is often used to help with those pesky barre chords, it is also used for other purposes: to experiment with a lighter sound, to try out different chords, and to strengthen the fretting hand when first learning to play guitar.
In fact, some guitarists purposefully tuned their guitars down and placed capos on their guitars to get that distinctive high pitch. A famous example of this is the Beatles’ George Harrison, who often played in the seventh fret in a D formation. The most famous example of Harrison’s famous capo usage is “Here Comes The Sun.”
As you can see, there are many different usages for the capo. And it is certainly not “cheating” in any way or form!
Whether or not you use a capo is entirely up to you and your musical tastes. Using a capo is definitely not cheating, it can make your life easier while also adding some more variety to your sound. Don’t slack on this useful tool, but also don’t use it as a crutch to avoid having to play barre chords! When used correctly, a capo can open another wide musical avenue for you to explore.
Do you have more questions about the capo and other guitar-related questions? Let me know, I’m always happy to help!