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i just want to ask if using a capo affects the tuning of the strings. I bought my first capo and I played my guitar with the capo on all day long. When I removed the capo, I played another song and it seemed like my guitar was out of tune. It seemed that the higher strings especially were out of tune. Can you help me? What will I do to make it go back again into its original tune? What is the remedy for this?

-Thanks very much for the reply.

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John McLaughlin is credited with saying, "Guitarists spend half their time tuning, and the other half playing out of tune." Tuning your guitar is something you'll have to get used to doing, whether you use a capo or not. –  gomad May 5 '11 at 18:38
    
    
related: music.stackexchange.com/q/1308/133 –  Anonymous May 6 '11 at 3:24
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Duplicate of this one? Capo that won't detune my guitar? –  Jduv May 6 '11 at 13:08
    
@InternalConspiracy, @Jduv - The previous question asks for a capo that won't detune the guitar, this one asks for the how and why. The answers to both are similar, though. Is is possible to merge the two questions? –  neilfein May 9 '11 at 18:57
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4 Answers 4

The capo can affect your tuning in two ways: by pulling the strings down towards the fretboard when you clamp it down and pulling them sideways accross the fingerboard when you are putting it on or taking it off. Pulling strings stretches them slightly and can cause them to go out of tune if you have some leeway in the windings on the capstan or in the worm gear of the keys.

I'm afraid the only way to get your guitar back in tune is to retune it. Here are some tips how to avoid tuning problems with the capo in the future.

  1. When you change strings, make sure you end up with neat, closely-packed windings around the capstans (the little poles you wind strings on with the tuning keys). This will prevent movement of the strings on the capstans when they are stretched.

  2. Always tune up to the desired pitch. If you find that you've overshot it and need to tune down, tune down something like a semitone lower (say, if you want to tune the E string, tune down to Eb first), give the string a bit of a tug and then bring it up to E. The reason for doing it is to make sure there is no room for movement in the gears of the tuning key.

  3. After you've tuned up to pitch, give the string a bit of a stretch to see if it is stable (I usually do this either by bending the string aggresively or pulling it away from the fingerboard a bit - no King Kong moves, though! You don't want to snap it). If there was still room in the windings or gear, the string will be a bit flat (below pitch) after stretching. Tune it up to pitch again and repeat until stretching the string doesn't alter the tuning.

  4. When putting on and removing the capo, aim for as little sideways movement of the strings as possible - try to avoid the capo touching the strings as you slide it across the fingerboard. Apart from keeping string stretch to a minimum, the guitar should play in tune much better once the capo is clamped down. Most tuning problems with the capo can be traced to the strings being bent ever so slightly when the capo was put on (that's assuming the guitar was set up correctly.

  5. When clamping the capo down, use only enough pressure to get clear ringing from each string. Generally, you want the capo pretty close to the fret you are putting it on so if the strings don't ring clearly, see if adjusting the position of the capo towards the fret closer to the bridge helps first, before you apply more pressure.

If you've put on and tuned the strings correctly and exercise care when putting on and removing the capo, you shouldn't have much problem with the guitar staying in tune. Of course, you should always check your tuning before playing, just in case.

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Point 5 is a big reason why Kyser-style spring-loaded capos are more problematic than Shubb-style screw-controlled capos, because you can control the tension better. –  VarLogRant Sep 1 '12 at 18:08
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If your guitar's intonation is spot-on, the frets are all straight, the neck isn't warped, and the guitar has been strung meticulously, using a good capo that doesn't clamp down on the strings too hard won't throw your guitar out of tune. (See below for more information on specific capos.) However, most guitars aren't perfect like this, and the reality is that a capo can throw your tuning off from a little to a lot.

The best way to combat this is to learn how to do all these things: String your guitar well so the strings stretch more evenly, and keep your intonation set properly.

If your guitar won't allow for this level of adjustment, you may be stuck retuning after putting a capo on and removing it, especially for guitars that aren't as well put-together. (Not everyone can afford a $900 Martin!)

What's a "good" capo? A claw or quick-change style capo (like a Kyser) will throw your strings off more than a capo that you adjust with a thumbscrew to get just the right amount of tension to avoid frets buzzing, but not enough to throw the tuning off. Shubb capos are wonderful for this, and the extra few seconds to get them adjusted is easily negating by saving time on tuning.

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Sorry for the down vote but this actually isn't true: "If your guitar's intonation is spot-on, the frets are all straight, the neck isn't warped, and the guitar has been strung meticulously, using a capo won't throw your guitar out of tune" See Faza's answer as to why. A perfect setup won't fix an overly strong capo from pulling your strings to the side or clamping them down too hard. –  Jduv May 6 '11 at 13:06
    
Good point, a too-strong claw capo will throw you out of tune. (I already made that point in my last paragraph, so I edited the section of text you mention to make that clearer.) –  neilfein May 6 '11 at 15:27
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Thanks! DV removed. –  Jduv May 6 '11 at 21:13
    
It looks like SE's question migration may have caused the link in your answer to go somewhere unintended. –  overslacked Jun 3 '11 at 16:23
    
@overslacked--indeed it did. Fixed, thanks for noticing. –  neilfein Jun 3 '11 at 16:25
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It's up to the amount of pressure the capo puts on the strings. Normally a capo shouldn't affect the tuning at all, but It could be an issue if your guitar has scallopped or high frets (>jumbo-frets).

Another possibility could be that the intonation of your guitar needs to be re-adjusted.

-> Check your intonation, if it's alright, try another capo and try your capo on another guitar.

Markus.

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When you apply the capo it will alter the tuning very slightly. If you don't clamp it too tight this won't be noticeable.

When you take the capo off, the chances are the guitar will return to where it was tuning wise. Remember though, you might have knocked the tuning pegs a little while the capo was on and you wouldn't have noticed this until you took the capo off.

The golden rule is - tune the guitar before you put the capo on. Tune the guitar when you take the capo off i.e. you need to tune your guitar regularly when you're playing!!

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And in the studio, tune with the capo on the guitar where you'll be using it. –  neilfein May 6 '11 at 22:56
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