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I have seen many bass players that add this rubber band (not sure what it is) on the top of their basses' necks:

enter image description here

What is this and what is the purpose of it?

Usually I see it on the top of the neck, but on some players, I have seen it over the 1st fret.

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It looks like a string mute of the kind made by e.g. http://www.gruvgear.com/fretwraps.

It would be used to mute the string somewhat to reduce sustain and the number of higher overtones.

In some circumstances you can mute easily enough without needing such an accessory, e.g. by using right or left hand muting, but with some techniques and for some pieces it's good to have a helping hand... well, at least a helping 'band'...

  • Beat me to it !! A girl's hair band is a good alternative - scruncher, I think. For the players who can't mute their strings. He's only got 3 to mute - not difficult, surely? – Tim Mar 26 '15 at 21:29
  • @Tim - yes, actually that's an important extra point - in the pictured position its use would be to mute the strings you're not playing (at the expense of giving you a muted open string sound). There's another use for a mute which is to also mute the strings you are playing, for a deader sound, in which case you need to place the mute at the bridge .An old sock works under the strings here, though I love the Ovation Magnum with its built-in mute... – topo morto Mar 26 '15 at 21:56
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    I would add that this is particularly useful if you are tapping. I tend to see this more on guitars, since they have more strings and a higher tendency to tap but tapping on bass tends to create a lot of extra noise without this sort of mute. It is also really useful on guitar in certain types of situations like unison bends (not sure if that's actually what they are referred to as). I did end up wrapping one of my (clean) socks around my guitar players neck when he was recording an extended section of unison bends. – Basstickler Mar 26 '15 at 22:30
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The bassist in your photo is using a technique popularized by jazz bassist Victor Wooten about 25 years ago. (I was a friend of his back in the day.) Wooten uses one or more of an ordinary and cheap girl's hair-tie: an elastic and yarn hair-band, or "scrunchie", of the kind that can be found for 50 cents in any drug store or department store. He got the idea from his brother, guitarist Regi Wooten, to whom Victor credits most of his playing techniques.

The idea would be to roll the hair-tie up above the nut when one needs to play open strings, and to roll it down below the nut when one wants to use two-handed tapping or other techniques, to damp the unwanted sounds of the open strings when one does pull-offs.

For certain songs, Victor Wooten also uses a single, thin hair-tie in a precise position high on the fretboard to create unusual pinch harmonics in conjunction with distortion.

The use of the "scrunchie" has been widely discussed in many discussion forums, and there are videos by Victor Wooten and others demonstrating the techniques.

Google search on "victor wooten hair tie".

The Gruv Gear FretWrap, a product for bassists referred to by others on this page, is nothing other than an expensive commercial product designed to capitalize on the trend popularized by Victor Wooten of using cheap, disposable hair ties.

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It's a mute. What the other answers appear to be missing that in the position in the picture, the mute is off. If you want it to have a significant effect, you have to pull it down to a position on or beyond the nut. As long as it is above, its effect should be negligible.

So the reason you mostly see it above the nut is that it is sitting dormant there but ready in case you want to use it.

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