We take various capos through their paces but feature only those we feel are worth the investment.
The capotasto (or capo d’astro) has been around for centuries. The modern capo basically consists of a clamp that depresses a bar across the fingerboard of a stringed instrument, behind a given fret. The bar acts as a temporary nut, in effect shortening the strings and increasing their pitch. But there are many designs to achieve this one goal.
A capo allows a player to instantly change the key of a tune without having to learn new chord shapes or tuning the strings up past their breaking point. It is ideal for singers wishing to raise the key into their vocal range, and for guitarists who wish to play higher harmony when accompanying other instruments without resorting to advanced finger gymnastics far up the neck. Fingerstyle players will often employ a capo to work in various octaves, so the numbers in a set do not start sounding too much alike.
Capos also provide a player with a simple way to harmonize alongside other guitars and are used to great effect by some of the most sought after session players and side men. For instance, if the main rhythm guitar is playing in the key if E major one simply has to put a capo on the fourth fret and play a transformed version of the same song in the key of C to add a whole new dimension to the arrangement. Put the capo on seventh fret and play the song with chords from the key of A and suddenly you have the chiming, angelic harmonies of a pseudo-mandolin. A good capo can instantly infuse interesting variations into anyone’s repertoire.
A good capo can allow the player to avoid a lot of micro tuning to make up for strings that end up slightly off-center once they are clamped in place. A bad capo can allow a player to permanently scar the exotic wood used to make the neck or distort the tuning of the instrument until the strings need considerable adjustment. Avoiding the bad ones is the goal.
As simple as that sounds, it takes serious engineering to perfect a capo that will not damage an instrument or disrupt its intonation. According to the Capo Museum there have been almost 140 patents granted for capo designs between 1858 and 1999. In other words, capos are important to musicians and many people have tried to invent better ones.
Within the modern selection of good, working capos there are very few that stand out from the pack.
Here are some capos you may find worth checking out:
Planet Waves NS Capo – Ned Steinberger’s simplified design
Shubb Delux Capo – Screw-on, flip-off convenience
Shubb Partial Capo – Instant alternate tunings
G7th Performance Capo – Self-locking, post-modern design
Paige Capo – Secure yoke, can live on the headstock