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Someone doesn’t even need to play the guitar in order to have a vague idea of what a capo is. It’s one of the first accessories that a beginner guitarist will usually purchase to accompany their acoustic guitar.
After years of cherishing their musical heroes, they’ve probably seen a capo employed a time or two. And well, you’re more than likely familiar with the notion of copying and imitating those whom we look up to.
Capos are undoubtedly more ubiquitous on acoustic guitars, but can one be used on an electric guitar?
Do Capos Work On Electric Guitars?
If you want the cut-and-dry answer: yes, you can use a capo on an electric guitar. The capo will work in exactly the same manner as it does on the acoustic guitar.
With that being said, there are a few things you’ll want to know before using one in this manner. Using the wrong capo can actually make your electric guitar go out of tune.
What Kind Of Capo Works Best For Electric Guitars?
Capos are interesting tools that essentially allow the guitarist to easily transpose a song into a different key. When applied, the capo takes over the role of the guitar’s nut and shortens the overall string length.
While acoustic guitars and electric guitars are similar, they are quite different in their overall construction. Acoustic guitar necks do usually run a little bit larger and beefier than electric guitar necks.
Along with this, acoustic guitars tend to have much higher playing action than what is usually found on an electric. If you don’t know, playing action is the amount of space between the fret and the string.
High playing action requires you to exert more energy just to be able to make a pitch sound out cleanly. Playing action can essentially be set to the lowest possible distance on electric guitars due to adjustable hardware.
Capos come in a variety of different types, and some are more oriented toward a specific type of guitar. Hybrid variants aside, the most basic delineation between capos can be categorized as manual-clamping and spring-loaded clamping.
As you might guess, manual clamping requires you to set the tension of the capo yourself. Spring-loaded camping capos are always under tension when not in resting position.
For electric guitars, both types of capos can be readily used. However, you might experience more tuning issues with a spring-loaded capo.
Manual-tension capos allow you to precisely apply only the necessary amount of tension to do the job. This means you can ensure that your already-tuned guitar stays in tune with a capo.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these types so that you can be familiar with how they work. You’ll also be able to easily tell them apart if you’re looking at them in a music store.
Kyser Quick-Change Capo
The Kyser Quick-Change Capo (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is the most common capo out in the wild. It works by means of spring tension, providing a constant grip when applied to the guitar’s neck.
Take a moment to study the construction of this capo and you’ll quickly see how it works. This capo is composed of 2 parts, connected by a pin, and loaded with tension from a fairly beefy spring.
More often than not, you’ll find these types of capos commonly attached to a headstock when not in use. It will clamp onto anything that is just slightly larger than its resting location.
Each part that comes into contact with the guitar itself is given a protective rubberized padding. Even the edge of the capo (coming in contact with the side of the neck) has some protective tape.
There’s a reason why these capos are the most common to be found. These Kyser models are essentially the industry standard by which all capos are measured.
If I’m being totally honest, I’ve had the same Kyser Quick-Change capo for over 16 years. It’s holding up just as well today as it was on the day I purchased the capo.
D'Addario NS Capo Lite
This particular capo is much sleeker and a bit more inconspicuous than the spring-loaded capo. To use, simply slide the capo onto the neck and turn the adjustment wheel to close the capo.
The NS Capo Lite might not exactly be as quick to use as the aforementioned Kyser capo. However, the difference is literally only a few seconds of extra effort required to use.
And, for the application of using it on an electric guitar, this D’Addario model is perhaps a little better. That isn’t to say that the Kyser won’t work, it’s just that there is more precision to be offered here.
Plus, you could easily purchase 2 of these capos for the price of the aforementioned Kyser model. This capo from D’Addario is actually currently awaiting patent approval because it is a bit of a revolutionary design.
Why Aren’t Capos Commonly Seen On Electric Guitars?
Part of the reason why people are unsure about capos on electric guitars is that the combination isn’t commonly seen. At least, not in the way it might have appeared in mainstream media over the last 60 years.
However, to really get a grasp on this, you need to consider how acoustic and electric guitars differ. Though each variety is a type of guitar, they are practically played entirely differently from one another.
An acoustic guitar might be the last thing one reaches for to employ Van Halen-tapping techniques. Similarly, the acoustic guitar primarily seems the be the tool of choice for the songwriter needing depth and percussion.
Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco, explained in each of his books that he loved using capos on acoustic guitars. He confessed that he primarily loves how a capo subtly mutes the acoustic’s resonance and adds a hint of warmth.
Acoustic guitars have been in use this way far longer than the technology for electric guitars has existed. There is essentially well beyond an entire century of history that has gone into forming this perception guitarists have today.
In practical terms, the capo is a valuable and necessary tool for the singer-songwriter, especially in a band. Singers during the golden oldie years of recorded music generally weren’t the most knowledgeable musicians and focused on songwriting primarily.
The capo allowed them to only need to know how to play a small number of chords. Using the capo easily adds some diversity to a band’s overall sound rather than staying in the same key.
Electric guitars not only sound different, but these types of guitars have their own set of strengths. For starters, it has the distinct ability to be able to change and morph its sound into something completely unique.
And really, when you think about it, the way each guitar is utilized plays to each guitar’s strengths. However, that isn’t the only reason why capos aren’t commonly found on the electric guitar.
Is It Acceptable To Use A Capo On An Electric Guitar?
You’ve already learned that it’s okay to use a capo on an electric guitar. But, you might wonder whether it’s socially acceptable or if you’ll catch guff for doing so.
When it comes down to it, fear of what others might think is a big problem for any musician. Think about it, every musician wants to at least be appreciated for the music that they create.
It would be such a shame if using a capo on an electric guitar caused others to dislike you. Perhaps an even bigger shame would be if nobody would give your music a chance because of this.
Are you starting to realize just how asinine such a notion really is? For starters, there are more non-musicians in the world than there are guitarists.
Do you really think the average non-musician would care if they saw a picture of you using a capo? Think back to before you became a guitarist and you’d realize that you might think the capo was actually cool.
And really, it’s pretty vain (and admittedly pretty stupid) to worry about someone accepting you for using a capo. But musicians are known for being somewhat exclusive and for being socially cruel for no reason.
If you have these types of fears or anxiety, consider yourself to be one of the lucky ones. You’re given a golden opportunity to shift how musicians should connect and relate with one another.
We’re all in competition for somebody else’s attention, but nobody is capable of keeping it 24/7. There is plenty of attention and notoriety to go around for everyone that is deserving of it.
Unfortunately, musicians get into a competition mindset, as if any other musician or group is a competing brand. In some ways, this isn’t too far from the truth, but not everybody plays the same kinds of music.
However, just know that the only thing you have to fear is not being yourself authentically as a musician. If you’re authentic, it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a capo or not.
In fact, some styles of music and guitar playing can actually benefit from using a capo on the electric guitar. Capos can provide a different sonic foundation that can make the boring normal sound unique.
Who Has Been Known To Use A Capo On Their Electric Guitar?
Over the years, there have been multitudes of guitarists employing a capo on their electric guitars. After looking through and listening to the following examples, you’ll quickly see that it doesn’t matter.
Each of these guitarists uses a capo for the sake of achieving their musical means and artistic goals. You’ll find that there isn’t much that those nitpicky societal guitar purists can chafe a bone over.
Albert Collins is an extremely famous blues guitarist who reached massive success during the 1970s and 1980s. He is known for playing a Fender Telecaster and using a capo for almost every song.
Seriously, if you don’t believe me, watch the entire performance of the video provided above. Throughout the duration, you’ll find that the capo is indeed in use, and unmistakably so.
Why would Albert Collins use a capo for a musical foundation as simple as that found in the blues? The answer to that is in the fact that he primarily played in alternate tunings rather than traditional E Standard.
Despite this, the capo works exactly the same as it would in regular E Standard tuning. Collins likely moved the capo to any particular song's associated key.
As a guitarist overall, Albert Collins was incredibly influential to other guitarists, many of who were directly inspired by him. He was unbelievably expressive on the guitar, and could easily emulate the sound of somebody talking in a conversation.
Are you somebody that keeps up with all of the newest guitar pedals as they are announced and released? If so, you likely know that JHS released an interesting version of vibrato in the latter half of 2022.
Of course, this wasn’t like any other standard, garden-variety vibrato pedal you can find on the market. This particular model (the Artificial Blonde) was designed specifically to be Madison Cunningham’s signature pedal.
Cunningham’s guitar tone has a subtle hint of warble that seems to persist throughout her catalog. This pedal from JHS aims to capture that sound by combining vibrato and chorus in one sleek package.
What does this have to do with using a capo on the electric guitar? Well, Madison Cunningham has been known to use a capo when playing the electric guitar.
Cunningham is considered one of the most innovative guitarists of the modern era. The capo plays a vital role in adjusting the guitar’s foundational pitches for the songs that require it.
Like Albert Collins, Cunningham has clearly not given much care to what others think about using capos on electric guitars. You don’t land a pedal deal from JHS while having these types of concerns.
Can You Use A Capo On An Electric Guitar? Final Thoughts
With all of that being said, you will want to avoid allowing the capo to become a crutch. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of getting comfortable and not learning anything new.
Challenge yourself to learn the different chord shapes so you can play the same progression anywhere on the neck. Doing this will vastly expand your fretboard knowledge while reducing the need for a capo.
But, at the same time, don’t be afraid to reach for the capo, as it can unlock some creative doors. Just be mindful and discerning of whether it’s creatively enabling, or preventing your progression as a competent guitarist.
If you look at it differently, you’ll see how the capo could be used to teach oneself new chordal information. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!