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What is this device strapped around the nut of the guitar in this image?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

It is a string damper - it stops open strings ringing. This can be very useful for a range of playing styles.

I tend to use a handkerchief tucked under the strings for some Satriani-style tapping melodies, as it allows me to use two hands at speed up the neck of the guitar without having to damp every note.

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May I extend this saying the damper is used heavily when sweep picking as it mutes out the previous strings, stopping them ringing out. –  Corey Ford Nov 3 '13 at 20:56
    
Interesting. I'm trying to perfect my sweep picking and hadn't thought of this. –  Dr Mayhem Nov 3 '13 at 21:35
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