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How, when and why you should use a capo: Justin Johnson explains the essential guitar accessory

Kyser recently released its 40th anniversary capo, a limited edition design (just 2,020 will be produced) featuring a chrome finish with a Milton Kyser signature and blackout appointments, including a special low-tension spring.

And given that Kyser is essentially the first name in capos – “it’s basically what I think of when I think of a capo,” says guitarist Justin Johnson – it’s only fitting that Johnson has shared a video demoing the 40th anniversary design, as well as detailing everything you need to know about using a capo.

Johnson begins by explaining how a capo theoretically replaces the first finger in a barre chord. He then runs through directions on how to properly use a capo, from why it’s important to retune the guitar after placing the capo on the neck in order to compensate for differences in string tension, to cautioning about placing the capo near the guitar’s nut when it’s not in use. “It’ll pull things out of tune,” he says.

(Image credit: courtesy of Kyser)

Next, Johnson discusses some of the various advantages of using a capo, including to easily transpose the key in which you’re playing without having to alter any of your chord shapes or patterns.

It can also be used to add ringing, “chimey” accompaniment to progressions; to make open-string-dependent riffs possible to play in various keys; and to move a guitar part further up the fingerboard, where the frets are closer together, to compensate for wide finger stretches. 

“Using a capo not only allows you to be versatile when it comes to playing with other people, it also allows you to get the guitar to feel the way you want it to, it allows you to play riffs that would normally be impossible to play, [and to] thicken up your arrangements in the studio or when you’re playing with other guitar players by moving songs up in register,” Johnson concludes.

“It can really open up new doors as far as the tone the feel and the style of your playing. Basically it’s just a very versatile tool.”

For more information on the 40th Anniversary capo, head to Kyser (opens in new tab).

YouTube: (opens in new tab)
Instagram: @justinjohnsonlive (opens in new tab)
Facebook: @justinjohnsonlive (opens in new tab)
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Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.