Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Capo: Putting the squeeze on it

Capo: A capo, or, rarely, capo tasto (from Italian capo, "head" and tasto, "tie or fret") is a clamp-like device used on the neck of a stringed instrument to shorten the strings, hence raising the pitch. (

Wikipedia says it well, but they don’t mention that capos can be your best friend when you are learning to play (and beyond). (Actually, the Italians said it first, and no one can talk about music the way Italians can! Accelerando, mio tesoro! Or something like that.)

So far, I’ve talked about string gauge and action (or string height). The more tension in the strings, the more pressure required to press ‘em down accurately (so that you get a clear sound)…and after a bit, the more pain - until you get used to it.

A capo is one more tool that can bring the strings closer to the fretboard. You can do this whether or not you had the action lowered.

Just one thing…you’ll notice that the capo raises the pitch when you use it. That’s its primary purpose. Each fret = one-half step; capo 1 (capo at the first fret) will raise a C to a D#; capo 2 (at the second fret) will raise a C to a D. (If this doesn’t make sense, don’t worry about it right now. Whatever you do, don’t stop playing!)

Now…if you really want to Be Kind To Your Fingers, get some light electric strings on your acoustic guitar, have someone lower the action (or not), tune the strings DOWN one-half step and then capo at the first fret. Your guitar will probably sound a bit weird, but you will be able to play for quite a while without pain!

Seriously, you probably WON’T need to do ALL of that. But you can if you need to! The long and short of it is…do whatever you have to do to make it easy to play if you are just starting out (or if you haven’t played in a while, and have, as a friend of mine says, “soft fingers.”)

Tuning. Ah, yes, tuning. Until next time --