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?

  • 4
    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, 2011 at 18:38
  • related: music.stackexchange.com/q/1308/133
    – Anonymous
    May 6, 2011 at 3:24
  • @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? May 9, 2011 at 18:57

9 Answers 9


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 across the fingerboard when you are putting it on or taking it off. Pulling on the 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 re-tune 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 aggressively 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.

  • 1
    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. Sep 1, 2012 at 18:08
  • I second the mention of Shubb-style capos - if you are using light strings than you'll definitely have to adjust the tension very carefully, so that it's just enough to stay firmly attached and not slide around. Nov 7, 2014 at 23:11

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.

  • 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, 2011 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.) May 6, 2011 at 15:27

I recognize this is a question resurrected from 4 years ago. But after reading all the answers, there is something missing that I feel compelled to add for the sake of anyone who comes across this question in the future.

Adding a capo will almost always cause the tuning to go sharp to some extent. That's not a problem if you are playing solo with no other instruments that you must be in tune with. The degree of sharpness can be minimized however in a couple of ways.

The reason the guitar sounds sharp when you place a capo on, is that the pressure of the capo on the strings tends to stretch the strings by bending them over the fret. If you have a capo with adjustable tension, this effect can be minimized by using the lowest possible tension that does not mute any of the strings.

But another way to minimize the effect on tuning, is to place the capo as close to the fret as you can get it without muting the strings. The closer you put the capo to the fret, the less room the string has to be stretched out of tune. Theoretically, if you placed the capo directly on top of the fret, it would not stretch the string at all and would not affect the tuning. This is not usually practical however because it gets in the way of your fretting fingers.

Most people tend to put the capo right in between the frets or too far away from the fret like in this picture.

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This common placement will sharpen your tuning the most. To minimize the effect of the capo on tuning, install it closer to the fret like this.

enter image description here

You may find that putting the capo that close to the fret and parallel to the fret makes it tight for your hand when fingering certain cords. So to add a little more maneuvering room for your hand, you might want to slightly tilt the capo away from the fret on the treble side of the fretboard like in this picture of James Taylor.

enter image description here

This is the best compromise between playing comfort and minimizing the sharp tuning effect. I put the capo just at the edge of the fret on the low E string and angle it just enough to give me the clearance I need. That usually keeps me pretty close to being in tune with the non-capo using members of the band. If I am going to play several songs in a row with the capo in the same position, I will tune with the capo on. And of course - re-tune when off again.


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.



While most of the above is undoubtedly true, it is mainly about tuning guitars per se, and how to reduce or eliminate the effect of the capo on tuning. But the crux of the matter is whether you should ever tune a guitar with a capo on. A friend of mine is an opinionated guitar snob (despite not being a great player), and he regularly spouts two misinformed beliefs: (1) A good guitarist doesn't need a capo, and (2) You, who by rule (1) is NOT a good guitarist, should never tune your guitar with a capo on.

In answer to (1), a capo has generally got very little to do with the guitar. It is about playing with other instruments, in most cases the voice. To play the same relative notes in a different key is not usually about making it easier, it's about making it POSSIBLE.

In answer to (2), you have to ask yourself what the aim is here; and my answer is that you want the guitar to be in tune with itself WHEN YOU PLAY IT! Let's not lose sight of that. So, having tuned you guitar to perfection, you put the capo on, hopefully in accordance with all the good advice above, and the guitar ends up out of tune. If you wish it sound OK, you must now retune it with the capo on. It's not rocket science.

The final, and by far the most important piece of evidence, you can get from Youtube. Watch live solo videos of Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, etc, etc, and you see them all tuning their guitars with the capo on, and then playing in tune. Maybe you don't think they are good guitarists?


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!!

  • And in the studio, tune with the capo on the guitar where you'll be using it. May 6, 2011 at 22:56

I have three high end Martin Guitars, a D-41 (1993), Custom HD28 1934 copy (1979), A D-18 1937 Authentic (2010) and an Aria D-150 (custom with Brazilian rose wood and Engleman top) which is probably the best made of the bunch. ALL THE GUITARS GO OUT OF TUNE WHEN I PUT THE CAPO ON. Even though it's slight, and some strings don't need any retuning, depending on the guitar and the capo used (The turn screw is slightly better than the Kyzer), the guitar is out of tune. And yes it depends on how much you screw down, therefore the turn screw is probably a little better than the Kyzer although when using the Keyzer I recommend clamping down, then release it again and clamp. That usually takes care of the sideways "bend." Therefore, I disagree with anyone saying that your guitar should stay in tune with a capo and therefore you have an intonation problem. Maybe I do and all four of my guitars need work, but who can afford or wants someone to mess with your bridge and everything else when all one needs to do is tune before you put the capo on, retune again when it's on, and then again when it's off. This should also influence the sequence of the songs you sing, so you're not playing capo on, capo off, and then on etc. unless you're prepared to retune each time. Nikos1121


My band plays in many different capo positions and it can really limit the way you arrange live set lists due to the tuning issues (and the time that it takes to effectively tune) that capos present.

My experience is that when you attach a capo to the neck of the guitar, you will generally be sharp and will need to tune down some.

I'm a lead player, so when playing leads where you bend a lot of strings, it tends to wreak havoc on tuning because capos don't seem to be designed to hold the strings down with enough force to keep them from slipping some on the capo, so it's not unusual for me to need to tune after every song and oftentimes I get out of tune during a song.


I'm telling you a way to use a capo & not go out of tune & be able to change frets in 3 seconds or less. 1-use a planet waves adjustable capo. 2-buy from a store a set of feeler gages, you will need the .022 strip. Cut it with a pair of snips to 2 -5/16 long. (the strips are 1/2 inches wide). Use a file & round the edges. Slip this strip under the stings where you put your capo, you can even put the strip in the middle between the frets. I use mine constantly from the 2nd fret to the 6th, always in tune. I use this method on a acoustic dove & a double neck electric SG, I cannot stand to be out of tune.