“Oh no!” I think everytime I discover I forgot to take off my capo from the last time I played. It might not seem like a big problem, but over time it can become one; capo damage can be a bit issue. Even though capos are the most popular accessory for guitarists, they can cause damage to the guitar, strings and even the capo itself. So, if you use a capo, or are thinking of using a capo, you need to be aware of the steps to take so you can keep everything in good condition. Listening to the advice below you can minimize the chance of damage.
What damage can a capo cause?
There are two ways in which a capo can damage your guitar. Firstly, by leaving a capo on, secondly whilst taking the capo on and off.
Here are the most common issues:
If a capo is left on, the strings will be pressed hard against the frets and the fretboard for a long period. Over time this will cause extra ware. We expect strings to be replaced, so whilst this problem might cause strings to break more often and strings to need replacing more often, it’s not a big deal. Unless of course the string breaks in the middle of a big performance… and that’s just awkward!
Whilst string damage is no big deal, damaging the frets is. Having the strings pressured into the frets for long periods of time will eventually cause grooves to form in the frets. These grooves can soon result in string buzz and intonation issues.
Fret ware is a normal part of playing guitar. But the pressure from a capo is significantly higher than the pressure from your fingers. So leaving a capo on will bring the need for fret leveling or re-fretting much sooner. These repair jobs are a big task, and expensive, so it’s better to take care of your guitar and avoid it for as long as possible.
If you do use a capo, using one with tension adjustment, will certainly help to prolong the life of the frets.
A guitar is a feat of engineering. The tension from the strings pulls the neck forward, but the truss rod (on electrical and steel string acoustics), pulls the neck in the other direction. Hopefully leaving a flat and easy to play fretboard. But if the string tension increases for long periods, it can cause problems, and the neck can slowly warp. Unfortunately, capos can increase the string tension. For short periods of time, it is OK. But over long periods who knows what could happen. Therefore, always remove the capo after playing, this should prevent this problem from starting.
The rubber of plastic parts of the capo which touch the guitar neck in any way can discolor it. This is more likely to happen with nitrocellulose finishes often found on vintage guitars. Whilst this is not necessarily ‘damage’, nobody wants their guitar to look tarnished.
Nicks, dents & scratches
When taking a capo on or off, it is possible to scrape the capo against the side of the fretboard. As careful as we all are, accidents do happen. This can cause scratches, nicks and dents on the edge of the fretboard. Capo design is the key to prevent this damage.
Buying a quality capo with padded surfaces is the best option to prevent this.
Leaving a capo on the guitar can also damage the capo itself. The pressure from the strings will slowly wear out the capo surface which holds down the strings. Some capos, such as the Standard Shubb Capo have replaceable sleeves, therefore should it wear down, it can be replaced.
But other capos without a replacement sleeve will become useless and will need to be replaced.
Leaving a capo on your guitar may not appear cause you any serious issues, but over time you are more likely to see adverse results..
If you do need to re-fret your guitar, contact a professional who is competent and experienced.
Long-term damage can be avoided by ensuring you take care when you use a capo to play.