If you’re here, you’re probably on the lookout for a new capo. Good move, they’re handy things to own.
In this article, we guide you through all the considerations you need to think about – and believe it or not, there are nine different types of capo to choose from that do different things.
If you’re in a rush, here’s a glance of our top picks.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Guitar Capos on the Market
- Nordic Essentials Deluxe
- Shubb Deluxe Series
- Kyser Short-Cut Partial
- Donner DC-2
- D’Addario Planet Waves
- Dunlop 83CB Trigger
- Kyser 12-String
- Jim Dunlop 11F Advanced
- G7th Newport 6 String
Here’s what we cover in this article:
- What is a Guitar Capo?
- Types of Capo
- Buying Guide – Key Considerations
- Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Guitar Capo
- So, Which Should I Pick?
What is a Guitar Capo?
Capos have been popular with musicians throughout history with evidence of them being used as far back as the 1640s. They are small, clamp or strap-like devices that work by clamping down across the guitar’s fingerboard and applying pressure. The increased tension on the strings changes the tone pitch they produce (they always make your strings play at higher pitches, never lower).
Here are a few famous examples of songs that use them:
- ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles (7th fret)
- ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis (2nd fret)
- ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ by The Beatles (7th fret/ 2nd fret)
- ‘Free Fallin’’ by Tom Petty (various frets)
- ‘Fire and Rain’ by James Taylor (3rd fret)
- ‘The Boxer’ by Simon and Garfunkel (2nd fret)
- ‘Aqualung’ by Jethro Tull (3rd fret)
So what are they used for? Their primary benefit is to remove the need to play tricky barre chords higher up the neck. Instead, you just clamp or strap (depending on the model) it into place at a fret of your choosing. And then, with the open chords you already know, you can move it up the neck and play any chord in any key.
As much as we all love the open tuning, adding one to the 2nd fret, for example, can make all the difference to a piece of music. Some models, such as partial capos also help more advanced players vary sections of bassline or melody in a piece of music.
Types of Capo
Although they may seem like relatively simple devices, there are several different types.
Trigger / Spring-Loaded
Its simplicity makes the trigger or ‘spring-loaded’ capo a favorite among both beginner and experienced players. You attach one to a guitar by squeezing the trigger portion (which compresses the spring and opens the rubber coated clamp), then releasing the trigger to apply pressure to the strings at your choice of fret. Their release mechanism means they’re really easy to move around the fretboard with one hand. One downside is that unlike the C-clamp variety (see below), their tension is not adjustable. This can lead to problems – for example, if the tension is too high it makes your guitar sound out of tune, whereas if the tension is too low, the strings might ‘buzz.’
C-Clamp / Variable Tension
This type applies even pressure to the guitar’s fingerboard using a manually adjustable thumbscrew. The advantage is you can adjust the tension to suit different guitars, lessening the need to retune during use. These are mostly used for acoustics as they exert too much pressure for most metal based, electric guitar strings. They also feature a clever release mechanism which lets you move up it and down the neck. The one disadvantage with these, though, is they tend to be harder to change position compared to the trigger variety (see above) as you need two hands to remove and reposition the device.
Yoke-style capos work by completely wrapping their cushioned, metal frame around the neck and applying pressure on the strings via a screw on the device’s rear. Although slightly bulky, one benefit is they provide a uniform amount of pressure across all the frets, which is good for maintaining the guitar’s intonation and tuning. They’re also great as they can be moved up and down the guitar neck effortlessly which is convenient for performers that need to change position quickly. One downside is they are often trickier to secure on the guitar’s neck compared to other models.
Partial capos are smaller than the three we’ve just mentioned, as they only cover some of the strings. They are most commonly used by fingerpicking guitarists to change the notes in the bassline of a piece. While most people will be on the lookout for an ‘all-string’ version, any player will benefit from trying this type – especially if you’re into fingerstyle – as they produce some really interesting harmonies.
Toggles are very small, lightweight devices which keep the tension using an adjustable strap (rather than a clamp). The strap is adjusted to the correct tension using one of the several notches on the metal bar. Although they can fit both curved and flat-radius fretboards, in terms of design they aren’t great. The ideal strap tension is often found in-between two notches, meaning one notch is often too loose, and the next is too tight. Unfortunately, even if a notch setting is perfect, the strap will eventually stretch and become slack over time. To counteract this issue, you can twist to the strap to shorten it to the length you need, but eventually, constant stretching will cause the material to break. Fortunately, toggle capos are usually very cheap, so most players simply buy a replacement if they encounter any issues.
Strap capos are by far the smallest and lightest of all the types. Their simple elastic/nylon-based strap can be adjusted to fit different fingerboards by fastening a steel rod into one of the several grommets present along the strap. They’re made to fit both six and twelve string guitars and usually come in separate sizes to fit curved or flat fingerboards. These capos are some of the cheapest on the market, so although they are prone to stretching and breakage after frequent use, replacing them is usually inexpensive. Unfortunately, they experience similar problems to toggle capos, in that often the grommets don’t fit the neck properly and don’t always provide good enough tension to prevent buzzing strings.
The G-band is a type of partial capo that applies tension by clipping onto one or two strings on the outer edges of the fretboard. This makes it form a ‘G’ shape against the fingerboard – hence the name. The major advantage of these is they create interesting harmonies and can be combined for additional sound variation. Due to requiring a little bit of prior playing experience, G-band capos are best suited to more experienced players with some knowledge of music theory.
Sliders (sometimes known as ‘gliders’) are unique in that they allow you to slide the capo from one fret to another without releasing or removing it. They distribute uniform pressure on both sides of the neck using springs. The built-in front roller allows the device to glide over the fingerboard with ease, while the rear roller functions to stabilize and center the capo so that the guitar stays in tune well. The rollers are usually coated in a soft material to protect the guitar from damage. These capos are great for performing musicians that need to change key a lot, due to their ability to glide up and down the neck without detachment.
Finally, the spider is a novel partial capo that allows you to create interesting harmonies and alternative tunings by changing the tension of individual strings. They are unique as they use individual depressors to select different strings, rather than a set at once. They are secured in place using two metal prongs, either side of a rubberized clamp at the back of the neck. Spider capos can be hard to fit as the metal prong by the 6th string is sometimes hard to see from a playing position. This also makes them prone to accidentally scratching the guitar’s neck.
Buying Guide – Key Considerations
Ok, now you know a bit about the types of capo out there, what are the key considerations if you want to buy one?
Fixed Point or Movable?
First up, it’s important to bear in mind exactly how you intend to use it. Some people prefer a fixed anchor point (i.e., one you can’t move up and down the fretboard easily) while others prefer to move their capo at a moment’s notice (e.g. when performing). Movable capos (see Trigger/Spring-Loaded above) are easy to shift from one fret to another, meaning they’re great if you are rehearsing with a singer who is experimenting with different keys to see which suits their voice best. You can also immediately shift up or down a fret or two without any hassle (usually just with one hand). If you’re more bothered about getting the best possible sound, and not planning on jumping up and down the neck too much, a fixed point capo is a better option (see C-Clamp/Variable Tension above)
Going Up the Neck?
The size of the neck on many acoustics gets thicker as you get nearer the body. Trying to use a clamp capo won’t work if you’re that high up, whereas a toggle (see above) will. If you’re never planning to go beyond the 4th fret, then a Trigger/Spring-Loaded or C-Clamp/Variable Tension will work just fine.
Number of Strings?
Chances are you’re buying one for a six string. But what about if you start playing a 12 string guitar in the future? Perhaps future proofing your purchase with one that does 6 and 12 string is a better option.
Some capos are explicitly designed for alternate tuning. If you want to switch between a conventional EADGBE tuning to something like, say, DADGAD, then capos such as the Kyser Short-Cut Partial (reviewed below) are fantastic tools for letting you do that.
Keeping Your Guitar in Tune
If you want to keep your guitar in tune at all cost – let’s say you’re performing live – you should avoid capos that use a spring-loaded clamp mechanism. It’s easy with this type to overdo the amount of tension, and too much tension will knock your strings out of tun. In this case, opt for a Yoke-Style (see above) which consists of an adjustable screw rather than a clamp.
Is Your Fingerboard Curved (Radiused) or Flat?
If you own a nylon strung guitar, chances are your fingerboard is flat. In that case, beware of curved (often called ‘radiused’) capos which are design for steel strung acoustics. And vice versa, if you have a steel string acoustic then choose a curved one.
Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Guitar Capo
Nordic Essentials Deluxe
The Nordic Essentials deluxe is a sleek, professional looking capo. The metal frame comes in five different color options so will blend in well with most styles of guitar. An advantage of its design is that it can be used with both 6 and 12 string electric and acoustics, as well as ukuleles, banjos, mandolin and bass guitars. The spring release clamp is quick and easy to reposition with one hand, and doesn’t require huge amounts of force – stiffness is a common issue with some cheaper models. It’s also protected with silicon pads, to prevent the neck and fingerboard from damage and scratches.
This one is also very durable, being made from a lightweight, but sturdy zinc metal alloy and you get a lifetime warranty. It also comes with a handy carry pouch.
Who is the ideal buyer?
This versatile product is great for people who own more than one-stringed instrument. It’s simple application, and portability make it great for beginners too.
- Portable – Small, lightweight (59 grams) and easy to secure onto your instrument with one hand
- Versatile – Applicable to different instruments, can be used on most 6-String and 12-String guitars
- Quality material – Extra stable steel spring and zinc alloy for durability, with a lifetime guarantee
- Slightly more expensive than budget options
- May not fit all makes of 12 string guitar – Some 12 strings have fretboards that are slightly too wide for this one to fit.
Shubb Deluxe Series
The Shubb Deluxe Series features an attractive, silver, stainless steel frame, which is lined with protective rubber and is ideal for intermediate players and learners. Designed for repeated repositioning, it attaches to the fretboard and then tightens using a screw thread at the back. Although this allows you to regulate the amount of pressure it applies to the strings, it also means it’s not quick to remove and shift to another fret (which could be an issue for some people who need to make quick alterations).
The stainless-steel frame makes this product very stable while it’s screw and roller mechanism means it’s easy to install and release. It’s specially designed to apply equal amounts of pressure on all of the six strings, to combat the common problem of the instrument sounding out of tune. You can also modify the tension using a screw, to ensure, so the product works well on most radiused fingerboards.
Additionally, this product is very portable, thanks to its sturdy but small frame. It’s worth noting that it may not be suitable for classical guitars or those with flat fingerboards. Having been around since the early 1980s, few designs have remained as popular for so long.
Who is this for?
This capo’s durability, but slightly longer setting up time make it best suited to players that want to practice at home. Performing musicians may find it makes changing key take longer, due to having to adjust the tension screw.
- Small, lightweight design – makes it easy to transport and able to provide good hand space.
- Adjustable and versatile – The screw can be adjusted to change the tension, allowing it to fit different size necks. The locking action is patented, so it is best to go for a Shubb if you want this style because any similar sort of product does not have quite the same mechanism.
- Price – Not overly expensive compared to others on the market.
- Pressure can damage your guitar – Trying to force it to fit the wrong size guitar can damage your instrument, so don’t try forcing one on.
- May not be suitable across all frets for 12 string guitars – Some players find it doesn’t provide enough tension to hold down the thinner strings on lower frets.
- Locking bar can become stiff – When applying higher tension, the padded locking bar can become hard to release, so players may find removing it fiddly.
Kyser Short-Cut Partial
This is a specialist product for players who like to experiment with alternate tuning and is one of the best ‘short-cut’ capos on the market.
It has a trigger (or ‘clip-on’) design which means you can squeeze the capo in your hand and place it exactly where you want on the fretboard. Some guitarists use one of these so that their hammer-ons and pull-offs sound distinctive and fresh. Then again, other guitarists simply use them to make certain chord progressions easier to play with less finger position work.
- Highly creative. Aids songwriting and inventing new musical arrangements.
- Best for creating alternative tunings but without ever touching your machine heads.
- Sitting over just three of your strings it allows droning strings to be heard or to create other, alternative harmonies.
- 18 grams in weight. Requires some harmony theory to make the most of.
- Cannot be used as a conventional capo.
The Donner DC-2 is a minimalist style, spring-loaded product that sells at nearly half the price most of the other models on the market. As well as being affordable, the Donner DC-2 is easy to move along the fingerboard and extra safe – it’s silicon pads protect your instrument by ensuring that the tough, zinc alloy frame doesn’t scratch the fingerboard or neck.
The Donner DC-2 is designed to fit a variety of stringed instruments, including both electric and acoustics, banjos and ukuleles with minimal fret buzzing. It’s also made to be used single-handedly so that the player can change the capo’s position between frets quickly while performing. It’s high quality, steel spring even has internal memory for extra strength and wear resistance. With that in mind, this capo is designed to put a safe amount of pressure on your neck for optimum tension, no string buzz and good intonation across all frets.
Who is this best suited to?
The Donner DC-2’s low price is attractive to anyone on a budget, and the ability to navigate the fretboard easily makes it ideal for performing players that need to change key quickly while onstage.
- Low cost – Cheap price for the quality of materials used
- Quality materials – Strong steel spring and lightweight zinc alloy frame
- Lifetime Guarantee – You can order another if your product ever breaks
- Versatile – Can be used on different types of instruments
- May not fit certain guitar models – There are reports of the Donner DC-2 creating tension that is too high for some guitars, leading to out of tune strings. To avoid this, read the product description for specification before purchasing, to prevent damaging your instrument.
D’Addario Planet Waves NS
This capo is the result of a collaboration between Ned Steinberger, Jim D’Addario and Planet Waves. It’s made from high quality, aircraft-grade aluminum for durable use on 6 or 12 string guitars with radiused fretboards. One big advantage is the micrometer adjustment mechanism that allows you to set the exact tension needed for tonal clarity, in any position on the fretboard. This neat little feature ensures that tension is correct on every fret, so you don’t inadvertently increase the pitch of your notes by applying too much tension to the neck (an issue common with many non-adjustable capos).
Additionally, the sleek frame design adds very little extra weight or obstruction to the guitar. It can also move up and down the neck single-handedly thanks to its smooth light-weight design.
Who is it for?
It’s most suitable for players with radiused fretboards who are seeking the optimal sound (and willing to fiddle about with the screw to get the right pitch). With its adjustable screw, it isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ option.
- Unique design – Micrometer adjustment screw enables you to dial in the precise tension needed for great note tone, without having to apply excessive force to the neck. This can help reduce the need to retune during and after use
- Durable construction – Made from high-quality aluminum for long lasting playability
- Convenient – Can be moved along the fingerboard single-handedly
- Not as versatile as others on this list – Can’t be used on other stringed instruments
- Not always able to produce a good sound on 12 string guitars – Some players find that it doesn’t distribute even tension across 12 string guitar fretboards, resulting in buzzing strings or out of tune notes.
- Only for use on radiused fingerboards – This won’t work for classical guitars.
Dunlop 83CB Trigger
The Dunlop 83CB is a versatile, spring-action option that comes in five different colors to suit classical guitars. It’s high quality, aluminum frame and spring-loaded mechanism give this capo decent tension and a strong grip with the ability to change position easily. It’s curved, ergonomic shape is specially designed for easy re-positioning along different frets, and the clamp itself is also well cushioned to protect your instrument from damage during use.
Thanks to it’s small, lightweight design, the Dunlop 83CB will allow acoustic guitarists to play up and down the fingerboard without obstruction. It’s mid-range price also makes it a very affordable option.
- Variety of color choices – With the option of maple to suit your acoustic guitar
- High-Quality material – Portable, lightweight aluminum frame is built to last
- Simple to use – Easy to fit by simply squeezing the handle and moving into position
- Less versatile than other brands – Only fits six-string acoustics
- May not grip semi-acoustic models with even tension – Strings can sound out of tune or make unwanted buzzing sounds
- Spring can apply too much tension – Be careful when first applying this to your guitar, if the tension feels too strong don’t force the device onto your instrument, as this can cause damage!
The Kyser 12-String is a strong, aluminium framed, spring-based offering, specifically designed to apply extra tension required for use with 12 string guitars.
The difference between 6 and 12-string products is that the 12-string type adds tension across a wider surface area and therefore require more spring force. A 6-string capo can be used on a 12-string instrument. However, it usually doesn’t provide enough tension to prevent unwanted string buzz completely.
This 12-string option is from their mid-price range and convenient as you can move it up and down the guitar’s fingerboard single-handedly. You’ll need to make sure not to apply too much force to the instrument, which can cause the strings to go out of tune.
Who is this best suited to?
Any owner of a 12 string guitar is going to love this.
- Great for owners of 12-string guitars – Strong, steel spring provides extra tension to supply the wider surface area of 12 string necks
- Convenient – Allows single-handed movement across the guitar’s fingerboard
- Portable – Small, lightweight aluminum frame is easy to take along to gigs and can be secured to the guitar’s headstock when not in use
- Lifetime guarantee– Always nice to have!
- Less versatile – But this product is specifically designed for 12 string guitars
- Spring can loosen over time – Can weaken with heavy use, meaning eventually it may not prevent string buzz
- Can’t adjust the tension – This is a bit of a disadvantage. This issue is less apparent with 6-string guitars (because the capo’s tension has to hold down fewer strings), but with 12-string guitars that have more strings to hold down, it can cause tuning issues.
Jim Dunlop 11F
This is a budget strap capo that functions very well for its price. Ideal for a child’s size guitar or a classical guitar, it’s fitted with webbing that sits at the back of the fretboard. You simply slide the clip around into the recesses on the other side and flip it down to make a secure clamp. You can adjust the 11F using a clip on the webbing or choose different recess positions.
- Cheap and universal – Able to fit on all types of guitars and in many different fret positions.
- Highly advantageous if the depth of your guitar’s neck gets bigger as you approach the body because you can adjust the capo to fit perfectly anywhere from the first fret to the twelfth, or beyond.
- Positioning – Not all capos offer this degree of flexibility when it comes to positioning.
- The simplest of all the product on this list, it’s also the weakest in terms of construction.
G7th Newport 6 String
The Newport 6 String is perfect if you’re looking for a fine-tune adjustment, and it’s ideal for recording musicians as well as gigging performers. It has an incredibly lightweight feel and comes in at just 9 grams. Along with its low profile, it’s almost undetectable when fitted properly over the fretboard.
- Weight – Light, well engineered and unobtrusive.
- Pressure – Because it is squeezed onto the strings, rather than clamped on under a spring loading, or a similar mechanism, the minimum amount of pressure can be applied thus helping players to avoid putting the strings out of tune or generating problems of fret buzz.
- Versatile – Ideal for players of steel-string acoustics and electrics alike.
- On the pricey side.
- Takes a little practice to perfect fitting one.
So, Which Should I Pick?
Hopefully, by now, you appreciate the different types of capo and have a fair idea which one would suit you. If you’re in any doubt, let’s summarise the options.
If you’re looking for a trigger based, spring-loaded capo that’s great for quick, one-handed movement up and down the fretboard, I recommend the Nordic Essentials Deluxe, or for a minimalist alternative, the Donner DC-2
For fans of alternate tuning and fingerstyle in general, you’ll want to have a look at the Kyser Short-Cut Partial.
For a C-Clamp/Variable tension option that lets you control tension, you’ve got the classic Shubb Deluxe; or for something a bit more modern, the D’Addario Planet Waves NS.
Finally, if you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful, the Jim Dunlop 11F is the most affordable and simplest on the list.
We hope you’ve found this useful — best of luck.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.