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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Here are my reasons:
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.
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".
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.
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".
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).
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