Why Does My Guitar Sound Out of Tune When Using a Capo?

Why Does My Guitar Sound Out of Tune When Using a Capo?
Acoustic guitar fitted with capo

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you put on your guitar capo and you suddenly find your guitar sounds out of tune despite being in perfect tune beforehand?

Causes of Capo Tuning Issues

  1. Poor intonation. If your guitar isn't intonated properly, the notes will sound progressively more out of tune higher up the fretboard. The capo exacerbates this.
  2. The capo itself. Cheaper spring-loaded capos can bend strings or squeeze them too tight, pulling them sharp.
  3. Large frets. These can increase the distance between string and fretboard leading to a bigger impact from the capo to the tuning.
  4. Wonky capo placement. Putting the capo on hastily can bend strings, causing flat or sharp notes.
Acoustic guitar fitted with capo

Troubleshooting Capo Tuning Problems

First, check your guitar's intonation using these steps:

  • Tune open strings perfectly
  • Fret the 12th fret and recheck tuning
  • Check 12th fret harmonics

If tuning varies more than a few cents across the fretboard, a guitar setup is needed.

If all is well, then examine your capo. As said previously, cheaper models bend strings more. Perhaps consider an upgrade to a better quality one.

Place the capo carefully right behind each fret, keeping string spacing parallel.

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