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Apparently some guitarists use a capo in certain circumstances, while some others use one never or rarely.

This question is for those who use it reluctantly or never. Why? Why are some people reluctant to use a capo?

  • 5
    You use a capo to accommodate a vocalist while still being able to play the same chords. – Emanuel Landeholm Aug 28 at 13:00
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    Or to have open strings at different notes without retuning. Or to play the same open chords with different voicing. There are many different reasons. – ojs Aug 28 at 18:46
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    I cannot write an answer because the question is protected now, but I feel that all the answers are biased against capos. The reason might be the classical training of the authors. However, in my band I regularly use a capo for rhythm guitar to accomodate our singer. Sometimes even in high frets like 7th. I could easily transpose the chords without capo, but I like the sound of open chords on high frets for some songs. And especially when you are playing fast songs, every barred chord that you can circumvent is helpful. – Ian Aug 29 at 6:26
  • @foreyez - That's worth writing an answer. – aparente001 Aug 30 at 22:14
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    @WayneConrad -- these answers aren't biased against capos; they are written by people who don't like to use capos. Everyone knows that capos are used by some players (but certainly not all players of folk or Americana choose to use capos, either). If you have something to add, please write your answer, but observe that the question is not "are capos a good thing", but rather more like "why do some choose not to use capos". – David Bowling Aug 31 at 1:22
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The number one problem of capos is they usually throw off the tuning a bit and it’s a pain to fix the tuning with the capo in place.

They also change the action - sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad.

The main reason a lot of guitarists rarely or never use capos is probably because capos are not widely useful. They only help in fairly specific situations. When you want or need to play open chords and want or need those chords to be different from the open chords available with standard tuning, you either have to use a capo or retune your guitar. Personally I play and write a lot of guitar music that doesn’t use open chords. It’s not that I’m avoiding open chords, it’s just that I don’t find them to be particularly useful or interesting.

That said, I did write a song a few months ago that called for a capo. But that’s pretty rare for me. It’s not about having reasons to not use a capo as much as it is about not having any reason to use one.

  • Can't see why tuning is a pain with a capo in place - yes, re-tuning is often the order of the day - and re-re-tuning after, but 'a pain'? – Tim Aug 28 at 6:27
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    @Tim The capo interferes with the re-tuning though, because it is holding down the strings, so the change in tension behind the capo is not directly communicated to the vibrating part of the string. So have have to slack it off and re-clamp it, or other ways to persuade the string to register the tuning change. It's definitely more fiddly than without a capo. – blueskiwi Aug 28 at 11:43
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    @blueskiwi - that's the problem with a lot of capos - their tension is over the top. I ocasionally use a G7th capo, which seems to alleviate that problem - so much so that it doesn't untune it in the first place. We could use the same argument about a barring finger - which can still put a chord out of tune - but we learn to temper pressure. – Tim Aug 28 at 11:49
  • @Tim I have a G7th and still have tuning trouble with it. It’s definitely the best capo I’ve ever used, but that doesn’t make it perfect. – Todd Wilcox Aug 28 at 12:43
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Well, I'm one of those, and the reason is just not being used to it (and laziness).

For a long time, I haven't had a capo at all. Then I got one, but it's quite clumsy to use and it tends to disassemble itself, so it would probably take 30 sec to put it on the guitar and tighten it up. (My grandfather handmade that capo years ago, in the time when our country was deep in the Communism era, and you couldn't get even basic stuff in stores back then, let alone something as highly specialized as a capo!) So it's more of a family relic than a capo, and I don't even try to use it (30 sec is just too much).

Combine that with the fact that I'm a classical guitarist, and the classical guitar doesn't make any use of capo whatsoever (don't ask me why, it just doesn't)... and you probably see how it comes that I don't even try to put on a capo when the other people decide that it would be great to play a song in B flat minor. It's just easier to grit my teeth, recite "B flat E flat A flat D flat G flat"... and play. It worked 1000 times before, it will work one time more.

So... not that I have anything against capos, I just can do without and I got too much used to it. (Let me add that I just don't meet situations where a capo would be necessary — I either play classical guitar that uses no capo ever, or some songs with other people, and then there's no reason to.)

P. S.: I just tried playing with the capo. It truly did take 30 sec to put on, and I found that it messes up my fretboard orientation quite badly. I just see the higher positions as if the capo wasn't there. So I maybe put a capo on the third fret and play in "E minor". I tell to myself "Now I want a high E". And that's on the 12th fret, so I hit that. Unfortunately the high E is not much usable as a tonic in G minor.

  • It truly did take 30 sec to put on - What kind of capo takes 30s to put on? I got two, one is spring loaded and the other is a clamp and both take a few seconds. Apparently your playing style doesn't lend itself to playing with a capo, which is fine. But don't blame the capo for that. – Ian Aug 29 at 6:20
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    @Ian: Please read the whole post. The capo in question was handmade, sort of a closable U shape. You need to first insert a screw with a pad into the U, close the U around the neck and tighten the screw. Also I really don't blame the capo. I just explain that having this kind of capo leads to me not using it. – Ramillies Aug 29 at 14:00
  • It's still a bad argument to make when virtually every capo you can buy takes a second or two to put on. – Ian Sep 2 at 5:40
4

When I first started playing out, I had to switch between guitars almost every song, and we tried to keep the show moving, so I didn't have time to retune and didn't have money to buy multiple capos.

Also, I already had internalized the "learn three voicings of every chord" mantra by the time I started playing out, so it wasn't a big deal in terms of being able to play in any given key. Because I was often playing lead, I needed to be able to switch between single-note lead lines and rhythm/chord work instantly, so cutting off access to parts of the neck and/or sticking to 0-position "cowboy chords" was not a good solution.

At this point, capos are a millstone, and I only use them if I'm jamming with other people and I'm tuned down a half step.

So my motivations not to use a capo were:

  • rhythm of the performance as a whole/intersong transition speed
  • retuning speed
  • money
  • proficiency was already there
  • Also, I used to run a guitar store, so I saw a lot of repairs, especially of street musicians' guitars. The heavy capo users had MASSIVE premature fret wear at their favorite capo frets. Some of them would have a second capo in place to account for the fact that a lower-down-the-neck fret was so divoted that it was now little more than a nut/string guide, and the second capo forced the next available intact fret to be the new nut. I realize this makes no sense, but this is what I saw. – schadjo Aug 28 at 18:19
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I think you question has a skewed assumption in it. I wouldn't say that the lack of use is reluctance. It's training. Classical guitarists are trained to not need it. We use out index finger as a capo when needed.

  • Most capoists (capoers?) seem to rely on their capos to permit an easy change of key. But unsuccessfully when the key needs dropping..! – Tim Aug 28 at 11:30
  • Funny, a drop D capo would be quite an anomaly. And I've seen classical guitarist drop tune in the middle of a song. Key twisting in real time is a technique. – ggcg Aug 28 at 11:35
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    True! I've just started messing (I won't say playing!) with a Spyder capo. Dare say that could facilitate drop D with no trouble. Might even work as such with everything except bottom string capoed on fret 2? Re-tunung on the fly is sometimes a necessity - and those who don't rely on tuners are the best! – Tim Aug 28 at 11:39
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    @Tim Not quite. Partial capos have been around for a very long time. Every new user is under the misapprehension that it'll "let them play in <insert fashionable tuning> without trouble", because marketing for every partial capo says that, and they all find pretty quickly that this isn't true. If you only want drone strings, then OK; but the distinctive tones from altered tunings are far more about what they make available (or unavailable) with fretted playing, and that is fundamentally unchanged with a capo. – Graham Aug 28 at 12:52
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I don't ever play with a capo; that is not to say that I haven't played with a capo, just not in the last 30 years or so. My first capo was a piece of utter garbage, and that probably didn't help to raise the value of capos in my estimation. I have had better capos since then, but still I don't use them.

There is nothing inherently wrong with capos or with using a capo; a capo is just a tool. I don't use capos because I don't need them. Unlike some others, I don't think that it is "lazy" to use a capo (although, I did think this when I was a younger player). There are certainly valid reasons to use a capo, but for me and the way I play a capo causes more problems than it solves.

Capos can be helpful for playing in unfamiliar keys, but I don't have any problems playing in any key without a capo. Capos are very helpful for playing cowboy chord voicings in positions higher on the neck, but I don't really use those big Mel Bay voicings anyway. Capos can provide open string notes that aren't usually available (and this is the only reason I would think about using one).

Capos do get in my way, by cutting off my access to the frets below the capo. Frankly, having a capo on the neck just feels awkward to me. I do use open strings in my playing fairly often, and if I took the time to develop some capo technique I might be able to extend my open-string technique. But there is so much to work on, and so little time. Alternate tunings also offer many open string opportunities, but I don't use those either; it seems like there is barely enough time for me to work on playing in standard tuning.

So, I don't use a capo because it has almost nothing to offer for me as a player. That doesn't mean that other players don't derive benefits from using a capo, and I actually think that there is potential to use a capo to great effect; maybe one day I'll make the time to work on this.

1

I'm of the impression a lot of guitar purists think using a capo is cheating. I use one occasionally ( mainly to avoid first positon Bb chording) so I guess in fact I'm cheating when when I use it. I know some folks like the way open strings ring out in first position and avoid using a capo for that reason.

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    'Open strings in the first position'? How's that? – Tim Aug 28 at 6:30
  • @Tim- I asked the same question to a much more experienced player than I many years ago and this was his answer. I had never noticed until he mentioned it, but open strings seem to sustain or ring out longer when playing without a capo. Or perhaps it's all in our head, either way, its one of the reasons I'm aware of that some folks avoid using a capo. – skinny peacock Aug 28 at 14:32
  • @skinnypeacock — Yes, capo makes the whole guitar sound a bit more muffled and mellow. However, in keys with lots of flats you can't use any open strings anyway, so you may as well as use that capo. – Ramillies Aug 28 at 19:46
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Here are my reasons:

  1. I keep losing them. I have two that I bought and they might be in some drawer or under my bed or something. I don't even have the motivation to go and find them. But for over a decade that I've been playing guitar, I keep losing capos. It's just the way it's always been and I've accepted it.

  2. They're hard to put on. That spring clamp is a pain to squeeze. This might be a bit of laziness, but still, it makes me not want to do the "work".

  3. It's not a part of the guitar. This is in relation to 1. but because it's not a part of the guitar, when my guitar is thrown around somewhere in my room I don't feel like BOTH getting my guitar AND getting the capo. I'll just get the guitar.

  4. I like to experiment with alternative tunings. Especially open tunings where I can use the open strings as drones as I play fingerstyle guitar alot. Capos keep the same tuning, just make the pitch higher. Also for alternative tuning all I need is my phone + a tuning app when I retune. I don't need to go "find the capo".

  5. I feel like using a capo is cheating. If you want higher pitches you can play chords in higher octaves. Without a capo, you're forced to practice important techniques such as CAGED to find alternative versions of chords so you get better at understanding the entirety of the fretboard. If you just use a capo then you're inclined to stick to playing open position chords.

That said, sometimes I like playing the same song in a higher pitch in a quick way, so that's why I keep buying capos (and losing them).

protected by Dom Aug 28 at 13:56

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