The bluegrass guitar capo is one of the most important tools you have in your guitar case for controlling your tone. The capo allows the bluegrass picker to play out of the G position in almost any key. This gives you access open strings while soloing and flatpicking melodies at speed. Norman Blake points out that when you capo up, you make your guitar project more through the sound system. This is true whether you play through a microphone or play plugged in through a DI.
With so many different guitar capos out there, how do I know which one is best suited for bluegrass style playing and is also of a high quality which will last a long time? Different capos can deliver varying results but which style of capo you use is largely a matter of personal preference. Like guitar picks, almost any capo will work but there are some that are better suited for traditional style guitar playing than others. In this post, I’m going to review the many different kinds of capos that I have used and would recommend specifically for the bluegrass flatpicker. I wanted to create a list of capo options that are affordable but have been proven to hold up to the rigors of touring and heavy use.
(Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.)
What is the best capo for bluegrass style guitar?
There are basically 3 kinds of guitar capos, wrap-around capos, clamp capos and hybrid clamp/wrap-around capos. They each differ in the way that the capo applies the tension on the neck required to compress the strings, thus raising the register. Too little tension and the strings will buzz and you won’t have good tone. Too much tension and you can increase wear on your frets. Let’s take a look at these three different styles of guitar capos.
Hybrid Clamp/Wrap-Around Capos
Let’s start with my preferred style of capo: the hybrid clamp/wrap-around style capo. I like this style of capo the best because it has a slim profile and a strong adjustable clamping mechanism that can be adjusted the same way that a standard wrap-around capo can. It provides a strong hold and can be adjusted on the fly pretty quickly. I currently use the Shubb Deluxe Series Capo as my main capo and I carry a Shubb Standard Capo in my case as a backup.
The most classic and possibly the best choice for the bluegrass flatpicking guitarist is the traditional wrap around style capo used by the likes of Tony Rice and Norman Blake. This style of capo was probably the first with a simple threaded screw like mechanism that secures the capo to the neck of the guitar. The holy grail of capos, Elliot Capos, are made in this style. I also used this style of capo for many years before I switched to the hybrid clamp/wraparound style capo. Here are a few more affordable options for the wrap-around style capo.
Partial Wrap-Around Capos
Here are some other capos I’ve tried over the years. This style of guitar capo but can be good alternative to the other capos mentioned in this post. With this style of capo, you have to adjust it while the capo is under full tension on the neck. This can make it difficult to determine how much tension is being applied to the guitar neck.
Last but not least, clamp capos! When I first started playing guitar, I used a Kyser clamp capo which is probably the most widely used and most common guitar capo found in music shops. Clamp capos are cheap, easy to use and provide good hold on the neck of the guitar. However, they do not have the ability to adjust the tension on the neck. This is fine if you don’t use a capo very often, but if you are playing bluegrass style guitar odds are you are using your capo on almost every song. Clamp capos also don’t allow you to adjust to different neck shapes and adjust the tension so that you are getting optimal tone out of your particular instrument. Here are a few clamp capos that I have used in the past. They are a great option for a beginner or someone just trying out capos for the first time.
*The alligator capo is just for fun. I have tried it and it’s very heavy, but it is great for showmanship!