Arlen Roth

I would say that among the most misunderstood things in the world of the guitar, the capo lies right near the top of the list. For many, many years folks would call them “cheaters” as if the only point behind using them would be to keep playing positions that only novice players knew, while the “advanced” players didn’t need them at all. Well, if you really know guitar, you know that this is a totally false assumption, and that the capo is a very valuable tool for the guitarist who really wants to expand their horizons on the instrument!

Of course, it does enable us to maintain our “open” positions at any fret we so desire, but that is the point! With this ability, we can now maintain a consistency of sound, utilize open strings, and be able to adjust the guitar’s pitch to match someone’s vocal. After all, as players we must acknowledge that each position, whether it be G, C, E, A or D, all have their own unique characteristics and qualities that lend themselves to certain kinds of sounds, licks and ideas. It is this very notion that makes the capo an extra-special and important tool for any guitarist. In this way, if I so desire to stay in an open G mode and an open G way of thinking, I can capo up to any fret, and decide which position I choose to work with. If the key is D for example, and I want a G position, I simply have to capo up at the 7th fret.

It gets a little crazy when you try to communicate with a singer who is capoed up due to pure necessity, since you may need to call out the chords as if they are all 1st position chords, and not the actual chords being played. So for example, in the scenario I had just described for the G position at the 7th fret, which would be a D chord, I’d still have to call it “G” rather than “D”, since that’s their only point of reference for that particular chord.

I like to use a capo sometimes just to change the overall “timbre” and sound of a given song, and by shifting positions, you are always making an adjustment that is supposed to change the guitar’s role and sound within the context of a given song, or group of players.

So, always know that a capo is your best friend, and that it is an extremely useful and creative tool that can be an absolutely invaluable tool for the guitarist who really needs to get the most out of his or her instrument. It ain’t no “cheater” at all!

Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.