A good guitar capo is integral to acoustic guitar life. The ability of capos to recreate luscious open chords in new keys is critical to the acoustic guitar’s versatility.
For example, if a singer wants to move the song up a key, it usually sounds best to simply capo up a whole step and keep all the voicings, fingerings, and “sound” of the chords the same. So without further ado, we’re going to take a quick look at the options.
Note: For a quick run down on what capos are and how they work, see this previous post.
Guitar Capo Styles
1. Strap Capos
Strap capos do what their name implies – they attach to the guitar neck via a strap. The capo is nothing more than a bar with an elastic or “tightenable” (is that a word?) strap attached to it.
- Easy to use.
- Easy to slide up and down the neck.
- Straps tend to wear out (especially elastic ones).
- May slip around a bit in position, which affects intonation.
- Dunlop 7191 Bill Russell Elastic Heavy Capo
- Jim Dunlop 70F Flat Strap Elastic Guitar Capo
- Performance Plus GC-F Flat Elastic Capo for Classical Guitar
2. Toggle Capo
Same as the Strap capo, but in order to tighten the strap, you pull a toggle that snaps the capo tight. Kind of like latch on a toolbox.
- The toggle mechanism can bring the strings out of tune.
3. Trigger Capos
Trigger capos function just like the “chip clip” you put on your bag of Doritos. You press the clamp, place over guitar neck, and release, allowing the capo to clamp down on the neck. These are very popular.
- Very easy to use.
- Easy to move quickly, which helps in “live” situations where time is of the essence.
- Firm attachment.
- Last a long time.
- As you apply the capo, the design makes the capo apply pressure beginning on one string, then, the next, etc. Because you apply the capo so quickly, you don’t really think about it. But by having all the tension exerted from one side of the fretboard, it can make the intonation screwy.
- I’m also not a fan of the angle that some of these clips have on the back side of the fretboard. It can feel off-balance, or even dig into the wood a bit.
- Kyser KG6B 6 String Capo
- Dunlop 84FB Acoustic Trigger Capo
- Nordic Essentials Aluminum Metal Universal Guitar Capo
4. Spring Capos
Same as the Trigger capo, but uses a slightly more sophisticated spring mechanism to apply pressure.
- Easy to move with one hand.
- The direct spring feels more “solid” to me than the chip-clip style spring of the Trigger Capo.
- Intonation is still a problem because the tension is still coming from one side of the capo.
5. Adjustable Screw Capos
Adjustable screw capos have been around a long time. It feels like any old acoustic guitar case I open has a Shubb hanging out in the pocket inside. This capo operates by having a screw that you tighten down, applying pressure to the back of the guitar neck (typically through an arm). This allows the screw to apply pressure evenly from the back. A good capo for recording or home practice.
- The screw applies pressure evenly, helping it to keep in tune better.
- They’re less jerky than spring-loaded capos when applying them.
- They’re inexpensive.
- Not easy to change position quickly.
6. Yoke-style Capos
Yoke-style capos are similar to adjustable screw capos. They both use a screw on the back of the guitar neck to apply pressure to tighten the capo. The yoke-style capo, though, compeletly wraps around the neck. This allows the screw to apply pressure from dead center in the back of the neck. The front capo pad swings open using a hinge. These capos look very cool (or maybe a bit elaborate, depending on your taste).
- Great even pressure from the centered screw in the back.
- Looks very striking.
- A bit more work to put on and take off (though sliding it around once it’s on is not so bad).
7. Unique Designs…
There are a host of unique designs for capos, as well. Check out the links at the bottom of this article if you’re interested in exploring. Here are a few more popular examples:
The Performance 2
G7th has a popular capo – the Performance 2. This capo uses a unique tension system so that you close the capo and it holds (with good strength) at whatever position you place it. No springs, chip-bag-clip-like pinching – very neat and easy.
Partial capos are also popular with acoustic guitarists using alternate tunings, or complicated chord voicings. The capo is typically a spring or adjustable screw style capo. It only has a short piece that clips to the fretboard, maybe covering 3 of the 6 strings.