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A capo, as seasoned guitarists know, is a device that attaches to the neck for changing keys. It’s useful for simplifying chord progressions, especially for musicians who play and sing at the same time. It’s a great tool for singer/guitarists to experiment with to find their natural vocal range. Here are points to keep in mind when selecting an appropriate capo for a specific guitar.

Starting with Fingerboard Width

For many guitarists who play both acoustic and electric, many capos can be used for either. Guitars come in many shapes and sizes, but if one were to divide them into categories besides electric and acoustic, two broad musical categories are classical and contemporary. Classical guitars have wider necks than those designed for folk, rock, country and soul. Physically, capos are categorized by their designs, such as:

  • Clutch – clamps onto the neck
  • Lever – squeezes onto the neck
  • Partial Capo – short arm that clamps on certain strings

A capo designed for classical guitars with nylon strings are wider than those for steel string guitars. Capos for 12-string guitars will also be wider to accommodate the wider neck. The clamp-style capo is usually based on spring-tension or thumbscrew mechanisms for making adjustments. The thumbscrew capos put less pressure on the strings and allow for better fine-tuning, whereas the spring-tension capos are easier to move faster but often lack a component for adjustments.

Quality, Feel and Aesthetics

Not all capos are created equal, as prices range from about $10 to $40. High quality capos are usually more lightweight and easier to move up and down the fingerboard. These type of capos may also have features such as the capability of being stored on the peghead or behind the nut.

Part of a guitarist’s decision for an appropriate capo should be based on whether it helps or hinders playing style. The capo should not get in the way of the hand that fingers the notes and chords. One of the problems with the thumbscrew model is that the capo can interfere with palm action, depending on hand position.

Finally, capos come in various colors, which matters to the more esoteric players who play close attention to detail and want the capo to match the color of the guitar. Just like picking a guitar, finding the right capo will be different for each individual based on their playing style and personal preference.