capo guitar tuning

REVEALED: Can You Tune A Guitar With A Capo On?

Did you get yourself a guitar capo but not really sure what is the right way to tune your guitar – with or without the capo?

Can you tune a guitar with a capo on?

Yes, technically you can tune a guitar with a capo on. However, it’s not recommended as the only way to tune it. The capo effectively changes the guitar’s physical tension, resulting in a different sound.

I find that this is especially true with acoustic guitars.  An electric guitar with a capo sometimes has this issue as well, but a lower action electric guitar usually doesn’t have as many of these issues.

So you want to make sure the guitar is perfectly in tune before adding the capo.  Then, you fine tune the standard tuning from there.

Changing the degree of tension changes the tone. What you are looking for when you tune a guitar with a capo on is to retain as much of the original harmonic content as possible and, more importantly, to retain its fundamental tone.

But, I can see specific reasons why you would want to tune your guitar with the capo on.  For example, during a live performance.  You may want to quickly tune up in between songs – so for this case, it is fine.

Should You Tune With A Capo?

Yes. As long as you start with a tuned guitar in standard tuning or baritone tuning if you have a baritone guitar.  It’s not a good idea to tune with the capo all the time.  Unless you find yourself back at that scenario often enough to justify it.

But, if you are doing that, then take care of your guitar. If your guitar is not properly adjusted before putting on the capo, you are asking for trouble after having added it on. Then all the tension adjustments will be compromised.

How To Tune A Guitar With A Capo

To begin, you are going to want to start with a guitar that is in tune to standard tuning without the capo.  So tune it as you normally wood with a guitar tuner.

Next, place the capo on your guitar neck and play a guitar chord.  You may notice some strings are slightly out of tune.  Sometimes, the pressure from the capo presses down on the strings and can case notes to go sharp.

The capo does not affect the tuning of the neck of the guitar.  The capo only changes the tension of the strings at that point on the neck.

Once you have observed this, proceed to tune the rest of your guitar either with the capo.

Tuning With Capo On 2nd Fret

There really is no difference on which fret you put your capo on in regards to tuning.  You can put the capo on the 1st fret, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th fret.

It makes a difference in regards to how hard it will press down on the strings compared to the pressure from your playing style.  The capo that’s too tight will be difficult to play. And less likely to cause any problems with tuning other than making it more difficult simply because it presses down on all of the strings.

Common Capo Tuning Problems

Some issues that happen with capos and your guitar tuning are:

  • A buzz when you are playing a chord, especially a barre chord.  This is generally caused by the capo pressing down hard enough on the strings that it pushes up the open notes of that chord into a higher pitch.
  • A change in tone or sound, or an in-harmonic tone when using a capo with your favorite guitar tuner.  The most common cause of this is dulling of your guitar’s strings.  Dulling of your strings causes some strings to sound differently than others.
  • A change in volume or loudness when using a capo on some of your strings.  This effect is caused by the tension of the capo affecting certain strings more than others.

A lot of these tuning problems can be corrected by just adjusting your tuning slightly with your guitar tuner.  However, it is much easier to tune without a capo if you can do that properly and take the time to fine tune it using this method.

Best Capo For Tuning Stability

If you are looking for a good capo that is also going to maintain your tuning stability, I would recommend the D’Addario Pro Plus Capo.  It works with any fretboard radius and the tension is adjustable so you can dial in just the right tension you need without it being too much.

Conclusion

This is not the only way to tune a guitar, but it does work. You can even use different tunings with or without the capo.

By playing the chord under the capo, you are forcing it to hold that particular tone.  That will keep your tuning stable because if you are always having problems finding the right combination of strings you are looking for, it likely means your guitar is out of tune due to string dulling or incorrect tension adjustments.

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