The humble guitar capo has earned a permanent place in the accessory pouches of many guitarists across the world. This little tool allows guitarists to change up their sound and play songs in different keys with ease. If you have recently lost your capo and are unable to purchase a new one, do not fret!
Today we will be answering the question, “What can I use as a substitute capo?” and examining which objects work best for this purpose.
What is a Capo?
Before we answer the primary question this article is based around, it is worth learning what exactly a capo is.
A capo is essentially a small tool consisting of a bar with a tension mechanism. The capo is fixed onto your guitar’s neck where it pressed down the row for frets evenly. For example, setting a capo at the third fret of your neck allows it to press down on the third fret of each string. Doing so essentially pitches up your guitar’s tuning by three semitones.
Guitarists often use capos when they want to transpose a song into a higher key. They may also use it to play chords at a higher pitch for compositions and recordings. Many famous songs in recent decades were composed and performed using a capo. This includes:
- The Beatles – Here Comes the Sun (Capo at 7th fret)
- Eagles – Hotel California (Capo at 7th fret)
- Oasis – Wonderwall (Capo at 2nd fret)
Types of Capos
There are many different types of capo designs out there. Each one functions on the primary principle of a “bar”pressing down on a row of frets with the help of tension applied from behind the device. The most common types include:
- Trigger Capos
Trigger capos feature a simple “clamping mechanism” powered by a spring. These capos are in their “closed” position by default and can be “opened” by the clamp’s handles. Trigger capos are favored because they can be opened and adjusted with just one hand. This makes them popular for musicians who need to apply or move their capo in a couple of seconds during a performance.
- Screw Capos
Screw capos are special because they allow you to adjust the amount of tension applied to your guitar’s neck and frets via an adjustable screw. Guitarists can position their capo in their desired neck location and begin tightening the neck until each string is being pushed against the frets properly.
Screw capos ensure the right amount of pressure is being applied. This helps avoid any unwanted buzzing from the tension being too low, or damage from the tension being too high.
- Strap Capos
Strap capos feature a bar that has tension added onto it using a strap. This strap is usually made from an elastic material that stretches. This strap’s tension can be increased by pulling it and fixing it using various notches. Many guitarists use strap capos because they are gentle on your guitar’s neck. However, the tension they provide may not be consistent due to the elastic nature of the straps.
What Can I Use as a Substitute Capo?
If you have recently lost your capo and need one for an important performance in the next few minutes, do not fear! It is possible to fashion a capo from a set of household objects quite easily. Let’s look at the steps below.
What you will need
You will need the following items for your makeshift capo:
- Small wooden pencil, a few inches longer than the width of your guitar’s neck
- A strong rubber band
How to Make Your Capo
The capo we will be constructing will be similar to the strap capos mentioned above. To make this, you should follow the steps below:
- Place the pencil perpendicular to your guitar’s neck and at the fret position you would like it to be.
- Place the rubber band around the pencil’s top end.
- Place the back end of the rubber band around the pencil’s bottom end. The end result should have the rubber band draped across the back of your guitar’s neck.
You can now strum your guitar and check if each string sounds right. If you hear buzzing when you pluck certain strings, it means the tension from the rubber bands is too loose. In this situation, you should reconstruct your capo using a smaller rubber band.
If you want to reposition your capo up or down the neck, simply hold the pencil from each end with one hand, lift it and slide it along the neck. This method allows you to adjust the capo’s position without having to take the mechanism apart.
Can I Use a Pen Instead of a Pencil?
You may be able to use a pen instead of a pencil for your makeshift capo. However, a pencil is recommended due to its flat sides. These sides allow the pencil to sit evenly against the strings.
The pencil’s wood material is also less likely to damage your guitar’s wooden neck, especially when compared with a pen’s plastic or metal material. However, if you are in a pinch, you may be able to get away with using a pen. If possible, look for a pen that has flat sides like a pencil does.
How Long Can I Use the Substitute Capo For?
You may be able to use a substitute capo for the duration of your performance. However, you should avoid leaving it on your guitar for extended periods. This is because your guitar strings may eventually dig into the pencil’s wood, and this may affect the sound produced.
The rubber band’s tension may also lessen over time, so it is best to take your substitute capo apart after your performance.
As you can see, creating a substitute capo is a fairly straightforward process that can be accomplished using a few household materials. You may never know when you will need a capo in an emergency. So keep the above guide in mind before your next performance.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.