Clutch or Crutch? 2 Things Every Guitarist Needs To Know About Capos


Capo use can be a polarizing subject, but here’s how to not let your opinion get in the way of a great guitar part.

I goofed on capos with a Captain Picard meme this week and as of this writing it has reached over 30,000 people.  While it was all in fun it provoked some interesting takes on the subject.  So here's the question: how does a good musician use a capo?

Capos are a crutch

...and that’s okay.  As someone who has had three knee surgeries, I’ve spent a lot of time on crutches and I can tell you they are incredibly helpful.  Both crutches and capos allow people with limited ability to do things they otherwise could not. 

If you think you are above using a capo, you're doing it wrong.

This is a great thing and should be encouraged.  (Seriously, if you laugh at someone on crutches you are a bad person.)  However, NOBODY has ever preferred crutches over walking.  You can play a lot of songs by moving your capo around and playing G chords, but more often than not there is a better option.  Be willing to find it. 

Totally Clutch

If you think you are above using a capo, you probably don’t know how to use one well.  (I’m talking to you, Snobby Lead Guy.)  Open strings fill out riffs and they change the overall tone of your chords.  Why wouldn’t you want more tone options?  It’s okay to swap your Tele for a Les Paul when it fits and it’s okay to admit an open G shape fits a particular song better than a bar chord.  Capos can also facilitate a new spin on and old song or help you break that songwriters block you’ve been struggling with.

See how capos make these lead riffs sound better

Your Love Never Fails

I can't tell you why but this song is just fun to play. Crank up the overdrive.
Fun song and pretty simple!
Easy and fun. Drivey 8ths and groovy parts.
Break out the EP!
Song Key: 

Your Grace is Enough

No lack of work in this one. Strong riffs and strumming should keep you busy.
Straight forward grooves. Overall it's an easy tune to learn!
Straight forward with a nice little riff in the intro.
Break out the B3
Song Key: 

Our God Is Love

This one moves so get moving.
Easy arps!
Song Key: 

Everything Glorious

A great groove with some nice challenges for both rhythm and lead.
Song Key: 


Good musicians do what it takes to make a song sound it’s best.  Capos are simply a tool to help you achieve that goal.  If you’ve avoided capos because they knock your guitar out of tune or you don't know which capo is best for you, be sure to check this out and don’t be afraid to offer your own thoughts in the comments below.  What creative ways have you used a capo?

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I use them all the time when playing on an acoustic to match the lead singers 'sweet spot' range, but I never go over the third fret. I feel you lose the essence of the guitar when you capo higher then that. And I often times capo on 1 or 3 so my floutist has flat keys, which she likes.

The most important thing about that comment

is that you have a flutist. Nice! Seriously, that's a great point. I actually have a voice that can muddy up the lower range so I capo higher (usually around the 4th fret)

the capo is a tool, not a crutch

I play acoustic, electric, and run sound. So I view this in a lot of different ways when I get to play. When there is more than one acoustic on stage it really gives the sound guy some extra options if the two acoustics are playing in different places on the neck. I try to be super aware of those playing around me and in what range they are playing. Capos can really help me occupy a space in the mix that no one else is taking up. Often a capo can give me 2 extra options rather than just playing the open chords. It's also a fun mental exercise to transpose the chords for the capo. The capo is more of a tool than a crutch.


I couldn't have said it better myself and I'm very jealous of the church you play at. A sound engineer who is also a proficient musician that enjoys transposing. You are a triple threat, my friend.

Capos are helpful.

When I first started to play with a church band a few years back, I was not very good with chords and chord changes. Trying to play Eb without a capo was difficult for me. The other guy playing with me was at the same skill level, but he knew more about capos than I did. He taught me how to use a capo to change the key, to make the songs easier to play. I did this for awhile then decided to work on playing songs in the same key as they were written. When I learned the CAGED system it blew the doors off the fretboard. I still use a capo to change keys or if I need to get a different tone.

For the longest time

I was a "capo is for rookies" snob and believed for a long time. Of course, I also thought a real musician doesn't use a tuner. Basically, I was an idiot :)

Anyway, I finally came around to the capo when I was auditioning for the music ministry at my university. I fully understood how to play the song they were throwing at me with a capo but chose to impress by playing bar chords instead. Well, they weren't very impressed when I hit about five wrong chords. They gave me one more shot and I nailed with a capo. Not only was it easier but it actually sounded better. My eyes were opened. I also bought a tuner not long after...


I'm glad you feel that way about tuners. There have been some people who have tried to make me feel like I'm somehow inferior because I use a tuner. I find that it's fast, easy and accurate.

A Tool and a Crutch

When I first started playing guitar 12-15 years ago I knew nothing about the guitar. I played trumpet for 10 years (through High School) so I could read music and had some music theory training. I had a great guitar teacher at the beginning, but she went to heaven after a little over a year. I joined the worship team at our current church and the leader taught me about using a capo to have a different sound, so in that sense it was a useful tool.
About 6 years ago I developed severe arthritis in both of my thumbs at the wrist joint. It was so bad I couldn't even hold a pick. At this time I started playing bass which had little to no strain on my right thumb, which was the worst one. I eventually had surgery on the right thumb joint and after I recovered continued playing bass. Last September (2014) I was anointed and appointed the worship leader at my church. The arthritis in my left thumb is pretty bad making it difficult to nearly impossible to play many bar chords. So now the capo is primarily a crutch, but also a tool as it creates a different sound than what the other guitar player is playing. I'm waiting for the Lord to heal my left thumb, but continue to play and lead worship in His strength.

God is glorified in you, Neil.

Stories like this impress and encourage me so much. It's such a picture of God using the broken for His glory. I pray strength for you now continued hope for your healing. Thank you for sharing with your Worship Artistry community. I'll stand with you in prayer.

Not always an option

I find it's best for me to always learn the songs without the Capo for the simple fact that there really is no time in between songs to set the capo and then tune the guitar then remove the capo and retune the guitar again. I find it near impossible to set the capo perfectly without knocking some strings slightly out of tune. My 2 cents.

I would highly recommend the G7th Performance 2

I reviewed it here:

It's a little pricey but it's well worth it for the performance.

G7th Performance 2 is the answer!

I have a Godin Icon 2 (which I really cherish) that is THE most out of tune guitar with a Kyser capo... I got many raised eyebrow looks and retune request from our keyboard player with each capoed song. Until I got my G7th Performance 2 capo. That thing should be listed as the best invention of the 21st century. I can easily and quickly put it on, with correct, non-tune adjusting tension, and get it off one-handed without missing a beat between songs. It is pricey but you most definitely get what you pay for in this case.

Just out of curiosity...

bicycle or motorcycle?

All of the above

I second (third?) using the capo to play at different places on the neck. That can really fill out the sound.

I've also used it to make a song more accessible for one player while others are playing in the original key. I see that as a double bonus because it meets the person where they are, fills in the sound, and keeps some of the original voicing.

G7th Nashville works for me!

I play electric on my church's worship team and there's barely a worship set that I don't use my capo. My capo of choice is the G7th Nashville--I've never had any tuning issues with it.

I always capo the 4th fret whenever I'm playing in the key of E, I've preferred it this way for the last 7 years.

I think the capo becomes a crutch when you have no idea what chords you are actually playing.

That's last line

is a great point!

My Two Cents...

Our worship team typically consists of two acoustic guitars, a piano, and 3 vocalists on most Sundays. Since I'm the guitarist who doesn't sing, I make a point to use the capo most of the time to differentiate my sound from the other acoustic guitar. And since I don't sing, that allows me to fingerpick some of those chords to fill that different space. BTW, I also use the G7th Performance 2 but have an original G7th Performance as a backup in my gear bag.

And as far as how far up to capo - remember that the intro to "Hotel California" is capo'ed at the 7th fret - and I believe that's also true of the Beatles "Here Comes the Sun".

Hotel California is capoed?!

For 15 years I've been teaching it without one. I'm going to have to try that.

Y ep! At 7th...

See this link from a lesson at Guitar World.

I wish

the track of Don Henley singing that song in Em was around here somewhere...


I once saw a video of Don Felder teaching it and indeed it is.

That, and Fire and Rain. All those years of trying to play that stinkin song...only to see JT do it on YouTube. :o(

It makes singing much easier as well...

While sure I can play barre chords and sing at the same time, it makes it much more difficult than just sucking up some pride and using a capo. Trust me, the congregation will look at you much more strangely if you mistakenly play an Eb instead of an E than they will if you have a funny looking device on your guitar.

And plus 3 to the above posters regarding different voicings. I've found the capo tends to ring clearer and brighter than a full barre chord. My opinion, just use whichever method sounds the best. Try playing the lead riff of Holy Spirit without a capo and then with it and see if you still hate capos!

Phil Keaggy on Capo

I like what Phil Keaggy says around 2:00 about capos

If it's good enough for Phil, it's good enough for me!

What chords do you "think" when using a Capo?

I am ancient, I have been playing for over 55 years, 40 or so in church. I came from the banjo (New Orleans Jazz, not Bluegrass) where one doesn't use a capo. (Why did I sell it? It would be useful for those Rend Collective songs now!) When I started on guitar I was playing barre chords at first. This taught me that, for instance, an E shape played with a barre at the 6th fret was Bb, Bb was also an A shape with barre at the 1st fret. When I started using a Capo I just thought of it as a barre. So it was an easy step to say a G shape on Capo 5 is a C and so on. Do we teach our beginners this? So many folks seem to have to transpose to use a Capo.
When leading I play a Godin G12 with a G7th Capo and I love to play in C at the 5th fret, what a great chiming sound with 12 strings ringing! When I get to play my Tele I use a G7th Performance. These capos do not put the guitars out of tune.
My hands are getting arthritic, the left pinkie's main joint is fused now but luckily at a good angle. I don't like playing the G12 with a C shape as the root and the capo enables me to get to an E, D or G shape instead. Maybe one day I'll be allowed to retire to the back line permanently with my bass. I wonder which one I'll get to play in the band across the Jordan.

I'm a bit of a banjo man myself

Clawhammer mostly. As far as thinking about shapes I always think about the root note of the chord and it makes the change easy but it's funny how there are so many ways to think of the same thing and it all comes down to what makes the most sense. I reverse engineered all my theory meaning I learned what to play and then went back and figured out why it worked so I think about it a lot differently than most who start with theory.


Capo!! absolutely a tool.. I've been playing guitar for more than 20 years and they are a blessing and absolutely I have found new ways to write because of using a capo. I'm not ashamed to say I use it all the time

Capos - a Guitarist's Best Friend?

Capos are not only a great resource for easily playing in more challenging keys, but they lend themselves to allowing multiple guitarists to play together in various chord inversions without "muddying up" the sound. I learned to play guitar initially from an Eagles songbook, so I'm quite familiar with their generous use of capos, not only on the intro to Hotel California, but many other songs as well. I then went on to soak up other great guitar licks from the likes of James Taylor and Pink Floyd, who also make frequent use of the capo. When I came to know Christ and was called to the worship ministry, I was hooked on a little college-aged folk-rock ensemble from Texas known as Caedmon's Call... (Derek Webb, anyone?). These guys not only rocked the capo on acoustic and electric guitars, they also made use of a partial capos (Wha?!). Kyser makes a partial capo that covers the 3rd, 4th, and 5th strings, and a "Drop-D" capo, which leaves the E string open. The partial or "short-cut" capo allows you to play in DADGAD-type tuning without having to retune. The Drop-D capo does just what it says, only you have to capo 2nd fret or higher and play in concert key of E or higher to sound right. I like to do this in live environments to keep from having to set up a separately tuned guitar just for one or two songs, and I also like to take this madness a step further - use a standard capo 2 frets behind the cut capo!! allowing me to capo anywhere on the neck and play DADGAD or Drop-D in virtually ANY KEY!!! Crutch indeed... more like a busy guitarist's best friend! PS - Your guitar should be in tune with or without a capo; if your guitar is out of tune when you capo, try placing the capo closer to the higher fret, rather than right in the middle between two frets. Also, check that your guitar's action is not too high to begin with, capos shouldn't sound any more or less out of tune than a standard barre chord. God Bless!

A must have for me.

I have short fat fingers and my pinkies are crooked. If i didn't use a capo I would be limited to Johnny Cash and Tom Petty songs for worship. Amazing as that would be I would be out of a job and I lead worship at my Dad's church. Capos help the sonic texture when using an Acoustic guitar by allowing more open strings, and also when using an electric. Our bass player stole mine as a joke the other night in practice and he liked the sound so much he asked if he could use one of my extra capos.

Question: what are your thoughts on cut capos?

I haven't played with cut capos very much

I hate the sales pitch of "It makes playing guitar so easy", though. I much prefer to use them to get crazy voicings than to make everything sound like a droning E.