Ask any experienced guitarist and they will tell you that a guitar capo is an absolutely essential bit of kit for any guitarist from novice to a professional. Without one youll soon find that there are loads of your favourite songs, from Wonderwall to The Chain and Hotel California to Here Comes the Sun, that you simply wont be able to play!
But what does a capo actually do?
A guitar capo is a device that clamps across the strings on your guitar fret board, shortening the length of the strings, meaning that you can play standard open chord shapes in a different pitch. So if you have a singer who can not reach the lowest note(s) in a song you are playing you can simply put a capo a few frets up and this will raise the singers lowest notes up a few tones so they can sing it comfortably - you can then play the same chord shapes on your guitar as before without the need to learn new chords/progressions. Guitar capos come in slightly different sizes for classical, acoustic and electric guitars, due to the variation in neck width and curvature of the fret board. The very first capos were around as early as the 1700s and the very first guitar capo was patented in 1850; since then there have been many technological innovations that have led to the guitar capo that you will find in every guitarists kit today.
What makes a good capo?
As well as the variation in the size and shape of capos to suit a variety of styles and preferences, there is also a great diversity in the quality of capos available and it can be hard to work out what really represents value for money. The most important job a guitar capo does, and the most common fault in a cheap capo, is to apply pressure on all the strings across the fret board evenly if a capo depresses the strings unevenly it will result in some of the strings buzzing or being out of sync with the rest of the guitar. The other problems that commonly occur with a poorly made capo are more due to bad construction than design, such as the capo slipping off and losing grip when youre playing, or the trigger mechanism tightening up making it harder to take the capo on and off.
Different types of capo - which is best?
So what actually is the best guitar capo? Well there isnt actually one type of capo that will suit every single guitarist, but weve put together a handy guide to a few different capos that will suit a range of budgets and preferences to help you choose the one thats right for you:
The D'addario Ratchet Capo is a great capo for anyone looking for something simple and affordable for their electric or acoustic guitar. The molded plastic body makes this capo lightweight and functional, whilst the intuitive ratchet fastening device and quick release trigger make removal and repositioning as easy as possible. Overall, a great mix of functionality and usability at an affordable price.
The most common design of capo youll see nowadays is the standard trigger release capo, which works by pulling the two arms together to open up the jaws of the capo and clamping it over your fret board. The Dunlop Trigger Capo features a metal body which is durable and heard-wearing, whilst the rubber bars which clamp on either side of the guitar neck hold the strings firmly in place without damaging or scratching the instrument. We highly recommend the Dunlop models, which come in electric, acoustic and classical models, due to their robust construction and overall reliability.
Another common type of capo is the screw-on capo which is popular due to its combination of slim, unobtrusive design with precise, reliable performance. The capo uses a micro-dial to adjust the tension on the strings, allowing you to get exactly the right amount of pressure, but the protective rubber padding means that you wont damage your guitars neck even if you screw the capo on very firmly. Our favourite of this type of capo has to be the Fender Dragon Capo which boasts a lightweight and durable black aluminium body with a stylish white trim running along the edges of the capos surface. If youre looking for an easily usable and reliable capo with looks that stand out then the Dragon Capo is right up your street!
Every now and then a company brings out a new design of capo which raises the bar for design and usability, and the Fender Smart Capo, available for acoustic, electrics, classical and 12-string acoustics is our favourite capo innovation from the last few years. Despite its lightweight plastic construction the German-made Smart Capo is as sturdy and reliable as any other capo on the market.The main strength of the Smart Capo is in its slimline design, doing away with the protruding arms of the trigger capo in favour of a clamp and release mechanism which is activated by pressing down on either end of the top of the capo. For ease of use, reliability and innovative design its hard to look past the Fender Smart Capo.
The Shubb capo has been a popular choice amongst musicians for decades and it is not hard to see why. The unique over-centre locking mechanism makes the capo easy to use and adjust, whilst the rubber grip is probably the best amongst capos at re-creating the effect of using your finger to barre a chord, resulting in a very natural sound. The Shubb capo has a great vintage feel about it as well, featuring a very attractive polished nickel body which not only looks great but also feels remarkably solid and well-built. Reliable and easy to use, its no wonder the Shubb capo has remained popular choice for such a long time!
Probably the stand-out Capo out there right now is the G7th Performance 2, combining innovative design, stylish looks and rock solid durability (available in silver or black). Pick up the G7th capo and its not hard to see why its won the Best Capo at the Players Choice Award every year from 2005, with everything from the smooth, sleek metal body to the tough rubber grips exemplifying the hard wearing robustness that the G7th capos have become known for. The simple grip/release mechanism is activated by squeezing the capo together to clamp it down, and pulling a trigger to release it, making this one of the easiest capos out there for one handed operating. Overall, the G7th capo scores pretty much full marks for design, durability and performance.