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A capo (short for capotasto) is a small device that locks across the neck of a stringed instrument to instantly raise the pitch without requiring one to manually tune the instrument keys up. They are chiefly used on guitars and banjos. With its placement as close to the fret as possible, a capo raises the pitch one half-step, also called a semitone, at each successive fret. It was invented by Flamenco guitarist, Jose Patino Gonzalez (1829-1902) of Spain
A capo can be a very handy tool. For example, let’s say a guitarist plays a particular song in the key of C, but is getting together with a friend who plays the same song in D. Rather than transposing the song from C to D, a capo on the second fret will raise the guitar’s pitch by a whole step. Now a C chord will be the same as playing a D chord in standard tuning. The two friends can play the song together, each using the chording they’re familiar and comfortable with.
It is also common to learn a song by a favorite recording artist that is not in your singing range. A capo allows the guitarist to move the song into a comfortable key while maintaining the same chording and fingerwork of the original song.
In some instances a musician might elect to use a capo on four of the strings, while leaving the bass strings open. This is an easy way to achieve unique tuning for specific songs. A musician might also use this tool to write a song in a flat or sharp key, while using the more familiar and comfortable chording of a major key.
Capoed chords have a slightly different quality than their uncapoed counterparts, in the same way a barred chord sounds different from its corresponding open chord. On acoustic steel-stringed guitars, the further up the neck one places a capo, the more mandolin-like the effect. The different sound that it creates can be a pleasant difference that adds something extra to a song, especially when played against an open guitar. Acoustic bands such as the Indigo Girls, make great use of this technique in many of their songs.
Following are three popular types: the traditional strap capo, the clamp or lever Shubb capo, and the newer G7 clutch-activated capo.
The traditional strap capo features a harness strap that encircles the neck, coming back around to lock into teeth on the upward facing bar. This is the least expensive type, and arguably the least obtrusive. The teeth can make for crude adjustments, however. An overly tight capo can pull the instrument out of tune, while an insufficiently tight one reduces pitch and brightness.
The Shubb capo features an adjustable lever that clamps down on the back of the neck to keep the front bar in place via tension. Since this type does not encircle the entire neck like a strap capo, it is more flexible and can be used for unconventional tuning strategies. It is also quicker to place than the traditional type, but can require some strength to set and release it.
The G7 capo uses an internal hub and spring mechanism that tightens according to how strongly it is squeezed when placed on the neck. A finger tang on the back side allows for easy removal, by releasing the spring. This type works on many different neck thicknesses without having to make manual adjustments to the capo itself, as with a Shubb. There is also direct control over how tightly the tool is applied, lessening the chance to pull the instrument out of tune, or conversely, setting it too light. For all of these reasons, some believe the G7-style to be a superior tool.
Capos are available wherever stringed instruments or their accessories are sold.