What’s a guitar capo – and why do you need it?

If you’re new to guitar, you’re probably wondering “what is a guitar capo?”

A capo is a small guitar accessory – a clamp which is placed across the frets on an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar. It shortens the guitar string lengths, raising their sound. It’s an easy way to play in a higher key without having to use more difficult chord shapes or alternative tuning. It’s great for beginners who haven’t yet mastered barre chords, since the capo itself acts as a “barre”.

If you’re a singer, you can use a capo to easily transpose a song into a register that better fits your voice.

Some songs will call for “Capo 1”, “Capo 2”, etc. This means to clip the capo onto all six strings at the fret specified – so if a song calls for “Capo 4”, clip the capo horizontally across all six strings on the fourth fret.


Capo takes its name from the Italian word “capotasto” – “capo” is “head” and “tasto” is “key or fret”. The first known version of a capo originated in the 1700s, and was made out of a single piece of metal that was slipped onto the side of an instrument. The first patent for a capo was filed by a Connecticut luthier in 1850.

Use by artists

Capos are frequently used in pop, rock, blues, folk and flamenco music.

Here’s a small list of artists who use or used capos:

  • John Denver
  • Tom Petty
  • Pete Seeger
  • Pete Townshend
  • Paul Simon
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Lisa Loeb
  • Garth Brooks
  • Keith Richards
  • David Bowie


Here are some of the songs on Fret Zealot that use a capo! It’s an affordable addition to your guitar arsenal that will make playing easier.

Tom Petty – Free Fallin’
Hotel California – The Eagles
Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
This One’s For the Girls – Martina McBride
You’re Beautiful – James Blunt
I’m Yours – Jason Mraz


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