I was reading a thread on The Gear Page about David Grissom explaining how to play a couple of tunes where he was using a capo. As usual with subjects that are potentially controversial, this thread had lots of posts, and most were replies to those who thought the use of a capo as cheating.
I’ve always been intrigued by this issue. I’ve used a capo for years for both acoustic and electric without even thinking about it. But there have been a few people throughout the years whom I’ve run across who say using a capo is cheating. I have a one word reply to that: Bullshit!
Tell that to James Taylor, or Paul Simon, or Davey Johnstone or even Albert Collins. They’re cheating? Ha! Especially with JT, there are some things that you just can’t do very easily without a capo when playing his tunes.
I look at a capo as a tool to help me play more comfortably. For instance, my Friday night solo acoustic gigs are four hours long. My first set is always at least two hours, and I play a lot of songs that require a capo. While I could play barre chords for almost all the songs, my question is, “Why?” If I have a tool that will let me play chords in the first position, it’s easier on my left hand.
What’s easier to frequently fret for a Bb chord, a standard G-chord shape at Capo III, or using an E-chord shape with a barre chord on the sixth fret? You could argue that doing a barre chord is pretty easy, but try doing that for all the chords in a song on an acoustic guitar. Lots of pain.
Here’s a James Taylor cover I do called “Something in the Way She Moves:”
I play that song in Db, so I play an A chord-shape at Capo IV. The opening riff is an A chord-shape that slides up to an Asus4 (add 6). Without a capo, you can easily pluck the 2nd and 4th strings. But to play that chord accurately according to the original composition, you need to pluck the 1st and the 3rd strings as well, which are open with a capo. Unless you have some super-long fingers (which I don’t have), then playing this chord is virtually impossible if you’re barring on the 4th fret.
So in the case above, the capo simply greases the wheels. A couple of years ago, a dude came up to me at the restaurant and asked how I played that tune. I put my capo on my guitar, to which he said, “Oh… You use a ‘cheater.'” I knew he was joking, but that statement irritated me a bit, so I took off my guitar, held it out to him and said, “Okay, if it’s a cheater, I want you to show me how to play it without a capo. If you can, then not only will I play it your way from now on, I’ll give you all the money in my tip jar,” which had about $50 in it. He politely declined…