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A basic guitar capo

A capo tasto (from Italian capo, "head" and tasto, "tie or fret"), or simply capo, is a device used for shortening the strings, and hence raising the pitch, of a stringed instrument such as a guitar, mandolin or banjo. The term was used first by G.B. Doni in his Annotazioni of 1640, although usage of the capo likely began earlier in the 17th-century.[1] Alternative terms are capo d'astro and capodastro, also Italian.

There are several different styles of capo available, utilizing a range of mechanisms, but most use a rubber-covered bar to hold down the strings, fastened with a strip of elastic or nylon, a cam-operated metal clamp, or another device.

A Shubb capo which uses a lever operated over-centre locking action clamp
A G7th Capo Company capo which uses a wrap spring clutch
A makeshift guitar capo

Capos are used to change the key and pitch of the open strings of a guitar without having to adjust the strings with the tuning keys. The pitch of fretted notes does not change; only the open, unfretted strings are affected. It should be noted that the capo is placed as close to the fret as possible; some practitioners recommend placing the modern clamp-style capos directly on the fret, rather than behind it.

With 12-string guitars a capo used to be necessary to play in tune with a six-string because manufacturers would strongly recommend that the instrument not be tuned above a tone below standard guitar tuning to reduce stresses on the neck. Modern 12-strings can be tuned up to pitch with ultra light gauge strings, but many players still prefer to tune a tone lower and use a capo to play in tune with six-string or bass guitars.

Because of the different techniques and chord voicings available in different keys, the same piece may sound very different played in D or played in C with a capo at the second fret (at the same actual pitch). Additionally, the timbre of the strings changes as the scale length is shortened, suggesting other short-scaled stringed instruments such as the mandolin. Therefore the use of a capo is as much a matter of artistic expression as of technical expediency.

The use of a capo also obviates the need to learn a song in several different keys if accompanying singers sing at different pitches.

For guitar playing, some styles such as flamenco, Irish traditional music, British and American folk music make extensive use of the capo, while it is used very rarely, if at all, in other styles such as classical and jazz playing. Many Rock & Roll musicians who are influenced by Folk and Blues, such as Richard Thompson, Ry Cooder, Steve Earle, Noel Gallagher, and others, also use the capo. In many cases, they have extended its use past the traditional purpose of changing the key, and broken new ground, employing it in new ways.

Variations in the design of capos allow a range of advantages to players. A capo with two rollers, one over the neck and one under, facilitates quick key changes in the middle of tunes or sets. This is a particular advantage in playing Irish music on the guitar, as it enables the player to move quickly between keys without sacrificing drone strings. Clamp-style capos fitted from the side of the neck (as distinct from those which encircle it) can be placed so as to leave one or two strings open. This gives some of the advantages of variant tunings (such as a capoed dropped D), without requiring a change in fingering of chords above the capo. Steve Earle uses a Kyser Loqo clamp-style capo at the second fret, leaving the 6th (low E) string open, to create the effect of Drop D tuning on his song "Ellis Unit One" from the Dead Man Walking movie soundtrack. Capos with fine adjustment of the clamping force have the advantage of being less likely to upset the tuning of the instrument.

One of the newer developments in capo design is the partial capo, which allows individual control over which strings are clamped. In theory this puts a vast number of variant sounds at the player's disposal, without changing the tuning of the instrument. In practice it is most often placed either on the 2nd fret of the 3rd, 4th and 5th strings (producing the effect of DADGAD tuning raised two semitones), or on the 2nd fret of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings (open A major). Again, this requires no change of fingering above the capo. A little experimentation with the two methods of producing variant tunings (partial capo or actual retuning) will show that each has its own advantages. There are many companies making partial capos, among them Kyser, Shubb, Woody's G Band, Transpo Products, and the Third Hand Capo Company.

Guitarist Dominic Frasca uses unusual single string "mini capos" attached by drilling through the neck of his customized 10-string guitar. These are similar to the single-string "capos" many Eastern instruments use, which look like nails driven down into the fingerboard; the string is hooked under the head of the "nail" when one wants to capo it. This is often done during the performance of a musical piece, so that the "tuning" at the end of the piece can be quite different from the one used at the start.

The five-string banjo, with its short fifth string, poses a particular problem for using the capo. For many years now it has been possible to buy a specialised fifth-string capo, consisting of a narrow metal strip fixed to the side of the neck of the instrument, with a sliding stopper for the string. Other options are to use model railroad spikes to hold the string down at higher frets or simply to retune the string to fit with the pitch of the other strings with the capo applied.

Capos have been used on many other stringed instruments, including mandolins and their relatives, the mandola and Greek bouzouki, and 4-string banjos. There is a special two-piece capo available for the square-necked Dobro, or resonator guitar, which does not contact the neck, but clamps above and below the strings themselves.


  1. ^ Harwood, Ian: 'Capo tasto [capo]', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (accessed 06/26/08),

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to capo article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also ĉapo, and capo-






capo (plural capos)

  1. A movable bar placed across the fingerboard of a guitar used to raise the pitch of all strings.
  2. A leader in the Mafia; a caporegime.





Latin caput, capitis


  • IPA: /ˈkapo/, [ˈkaː.po], SAMPA: /"kapo/
  • Hyphenation: cà‧po


capo m. (plural capi)

  1. head
  2. boss, chief, leader
  3. end (of a rope etc)
  4. cape (especially when capitalised in placenames)
  5. ply


Related terms




capo m. (plural capos)

capo m.

capos m.

  1. gangster


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