What Is a Guitar Capo and How Do You Use One?

  • September 2, 2021
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Updated: September 2, 2021

Have you ever wondered what the heck that little clip is on the guitarist’s guitar neck and why they keep moving it in between songs? What you were seeing was the guitarist using a capo. In this guide we will be discussing what a guitar capo is, the various styles of guitar capos as well as a 12 fret capo chord conversion chart cheat sheet.

What is a Guitar Capo?

A guitar capo, coming from the Italian word “head”, is a small clamp-like device that is placed across the strings on the neck of a guitar.

How Does a Capo Work?

A guitar capo can raise or lower the pitch of a song by clamping down at a certain point of the neck.

A clever way to think of the capo is like a movable nut on your guitar. Let’s say, for example, a song is played entirely on the first 2 frets of the guitar neck. If you were to place a capo on the 2nd fret, you would then be playing the song on the 3rd and 4th frets, which is a whole step up in pitch.


A capo does not have grooves to keep the strings evenly placed like the nut, though so it’s important to make sure you don’t place the capo down with the strings bent.

What Is a Guitar Capo Used For?

A guitar capo serves a few main functions for guitar players. One use we already touched on is raising the pitch. But a guitar capo can also be used to:

Make a song easier to play: If a song has heavy barre chord usage or if you notice a certain group of strings are never played below a certain fret, you can place a capo over that point to give your fingers a break from the barre chords.

Quickly change the key of a song: 2 frets on the guitar neck is a whole step. If a song is in D and you need it to be in E, move the capo up 2 frets and play as if that is the new nut.

Different kinds of Guitar Capos

Capo Sizes

Full 6 string capos: These capos span across the entire neck of the guitar. I personally prefer these as they can be used as a partial capo, as well.

The downside to full 6 string capos are they take slightly more grip strength to open. Also, if you have a 7 or 8 string guitar, you likely will need to buy a capo specially made for that size neck.

Partial capos: Partial capos typically will cover 2-3 strings on the neck. These are great for the tip I mentioned earlier about making songs easier to play. If you notice the top 3 strings are never played lower than the 5th fret, place a capo across those strings at the 5th fret and simplify the song for yourself.

Capo Styles

Trigger Capos:

Trigger Capos are probably the most popular of all capo designs. Trigger capos use a spring-loaded clamp to create tension.

One downfall of Trigger capos is that their tension is generally not adjustable.

A couple of considerations when using a Trigger Capo:

  • If the clamp tension is too weak you will likely have fret buzz issues as it is not going to fully press the strings down
  • If the clamp is too strong it could cause intonation problems by bending the strings, though this is less common.

Screw Capos

Developed to address the biggest downfall of trigger capos – screw capos allow you to adjust tension using only a single knob on the back of the capo. This allows you to get the capo fit just right regardless of the size and shape of your neck

Roller Capos

Roller guitar capos are a little goofy looking, and not very popular

However, this style of capo does allow for quick repositioning on the fretboard.

Another benefit of this style of capo is that it is easy to slide over the nut of the guitar to “remove” it from the neck, instead of having to squeeze the capo to open it.

One drawback of roller capos is that, like trigger capos, the clamp pressure is not adjustable

These capos may not work as well with other neck sizes due to its fixed shape and tension. So if you’ve got an 8 string, double-check that the roller capo will fit your neck before purchasing.

Toggle Capos

Toggle guitar capos use an adjustable strap on the back to create tension. There are often several notches on the strap allowing you to fine-tune the tension.

Many guitarists find that the ideal tension lies in between notches oftentimes, making these a pretty inconvenient option compared to capos like the screw capo.

However, this could be remedied with a leather belt hole punch.

Shubb Capos

Developed in the early 80s, the Shubb capo was designed to answer the problem with trigger capos by essentially creating a hybrid between a trigger and a screw capo.

The Shubb capo has a small knob that can be turned to adjust the capo tension

Significantly more expensive than other capos, but well worth the extra cost in my opinion

G7th Capos

Developed in 2004, the G7th company created this capo that really revolutionized capos in my opinion.

The G7 design takes the Shubb one step further and creates a minimalist sort of design with no big levers in your way while you’re playing.

Lots of padding and no metal edges make these very gentle on your guitar’s finish, as well.

The G7 capo automatically locks in place at the tension you squeeze it to, so the tension can be fine-tuned to exactly the right amount.

These capos also feature a small release lever when you want to remove them from the fretboard.

The biggest downfall of G7 capos, in my opinion, is they can be easy to drop when flipping the release. Easily avoided by paying attention, but I’m not always paying close enough attention.

How to Use a Guitar Capo

As mentioned there are no string grooves so it is important to make sure the strings are not bent in any way before clamping the capo down

Open the capo wide, hovering over the neck, so that it easily fits over the neck without touching the strings.

Gently close the capo down onto the strings

Do not ever try to slide a capo on – this will break strings and damage your guitar’s neck. If you need to move the capo, release its tension and change the position of the capo, then add the tension back.

Guitar Capo Chord Conversion Chart

How to use the Chord Conversion Chart

Treat the capo like a movable nut on the guitar.

So when you place the at on the 5th fret, pretend the nut is now at the 5th fret

Play a normal C major shape with the new nut position

This C-shaped chord is now an F chord.

Follow the same process for other chord shapes and capo positions to transpose to any key you need, quickly and easily!

Wrapping It Up

I hope you found this lesson on what is a guitar capo and how to use it helpful. If you have any questions, leave them down in the comments below. I try to get back to everyone within 24 hours.

Wondering What to Learn Next?

How to Play the C Major Guitar Chord

How to Play Barre Chords

posted September 2, 2021

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