Capo: What is it and how does it work?

  • Comes from the Italian word for "head". 

  • When used on fretted instruments, it changes the "head" of the string from the nut to whatever fret it is placed behind.

  • This enables you to play in various keys while using chords you're accustomed to using when playing a particular song.

  • In practice: a song may say "Key of A" and "Capo 2". This means you'll place the capo behind the 2nd fret and play the chords that are listed. In this case, they would likely be G, C, and D. Although your fingers are playing in the key of G, the use of the capo makes it sound like the key of A. 

  • Things to consider when purchasing a capo:

    • Adjustable tension - You only want as much pressure as is needed to make all of your strings ring clearly. ​Too much can pull your strings out of tune.

    • Matched fretboard radius - Depending on the instrument, your frets might be completely flat, or may have a significant curve to them. You want a capo that matches the radius of your frets. 

    • Storage - Where do you keep it when you're not using it? Some can stay on the instrument while others will need to be completely removed. 

    • Cost - They range from a few dollars to many, many dollars.