When you record in a studio, especially if you have lead parts, you want your playing to sound as clean as possible.
That’s where a string dampener comes in handy because it helps you record correctly on the first take by keeping the strings quiet.
My top pick is the Gruv Gear FretWrap String Muter because it’s a cheap and practical string dampener that works for most guitars.
It helps you record clean lines every time by eliminating unwanted string noise. It’s easy to slide on and off and doesn’t require assembly.
In this review, I’ll discuss the Gruv Gear Fretwrap, fret wedge, and of course, Michael Angelo Batio’s unique system.
As a bonus, I’m sharing my top DIY option, too (and hint, it’s not a hair scrunchie)!
|Best string dampeners/fret wraps||Images|
|Best affordable string dampeners: Gruv Gear string muter||
|Best fret wedge: Gruv Gear||
|Best string dampeners: Chromacast MAB||
What is a string dampener & why do you need one?
A string dampener is commonly known as a fret wrap, and it is just what it sounds like: a small device that you place on your fretboard to dampen your strings and reduce fret and string vibrations and noise.
This type of device helps you play cleaner. It also enables you to record cleaner leads in the studio. But it’s also useful during live shows because it gives you a better tone.
But, overall, all string dampeners do the same thing: they keep the strings quiet when you play.
Here’s how the string dampeners and fret wraps affect the sound & tone
String dampeners can be very handy, even if you have excellent playing technique. If you are still working on developing better technique, dampeners can help you play cleaner.
String dampeners suppress sympathetic resonance and overtones
You’ve surely noticed that guitars aren’t always perfect because they can pick up hums and the guitar amp feedback. As well, the strings vibrate more than you’d expect as you play.
When you pick a certain string, sometimes the string next to it vibrates unexpectedly.
This effect is known as sympathetic resonance and refers to the fact that when parts of the guitar (usually strings and fret) vibrate, the other parts of the instrument vibrate too.
You might also notice that some notes on the fretboard make the open strings vibrate, but you might not hear it immediately.
However, it does affect the overall tone when you play. Even if you have a good muting technique, you may not be able to mute it properly, so that’s how string dampeners can help you out.
They suppress unwanted string noises
When playing leads, there’s a high likelihood that your strings vibrate and make lots of noise. You’ll likely hear a note sustain when you play, which affects your tone.
Chances are you or your audience won’t hear the noise because the main notes are louder and overtake these string vibrations.
But, if you’re playing high gain and high frequency, your audience might be able to hear a lot of buzzing!
So, if you want to cancel out the background noise, use a string dampener when you play and record melodies that don’t use open strings.
When do you use string dampeners?
There are two widespread instances when you might want or need to use a string dampener.
When recording lead parts where you’re not using open strings, a dampener can help make the sound clearer.
On a recording, string and fret vibrations are noticeable, so players who want to “clean up” their playing will use dampeners.
Lots of extra noise can be distracting on the final recording, and it makes players have to do several takes until it sounds perfect.
But the dampener and fret wrap makes the strings quieter, leading to better studio recordings.
Many players choose to use string dampeners during live shows because it helps clean up their playing.
You’ll notice the dampener on the headstock because it affects the guitar’s tone.
Players like Guthrie Govan slide the dampener on and off depending on what they’re playing.
Also check out my review for the Best Microphones for Acoustic Guitar Live Performance
Best string dampeners & fret wraps
Now let’s have a look at my favorite gear for cleaning up your playing.
Best affordable string dampeners: Gruv Gear String Muter
If you want to play like the pros and skip those silly hair ties, a padded fret wrap is a great choice.
By far one of the most popular options when it comes to string dampeners, the FretWraps are an affordable yet much-improved alternative to scrunchies and hair ties.
Not only do these provide a lot more padding, but they are available in several sizes, so they’re sure to fit your guitar’s neck.
Some of my favorite players use it like Guthrie Govan and Greg Howe, and I of course use it all of the time as well.
What makes the FretWraps better than scrunchies is that they stay put, and you can tighten or loosen them as needed because they have an elastic Velcro strap.Check prices and availability here
How do you put the Gruv Gear FretWrap on?
To put the Fretwrap on, you slide it on the neck, tighten the strap, and then secure it in the little plastic clasp/buckle, and it sticks to the Velcro.
Is it a one size fits all option?
Well, no, because the fret wraps come in 4 sizes. You can choose between small, medium, large, and extra-large, so these are versatile accessories that can fit electrics, acoustics, classical, and large basses.
So, the one downside to these dampeners is that you need different sizes, depending on your instrument.
It’s definitely not a one size fits all option, but once it’s on your guitar, you can tighten and loosen it however you want.
Since it’s one of the most straightforward dampening systems to use, FretWraps requires no installation, and all you have to do is slide the pad onto the headstock and tighten it using the velcro system.
It’s easy to slide up and down, even as you play. When you don’t want to use it, simply slide it over the guitar’s nut and then slide back once you need it again.
Best fret wedge: Gruv Gear
Just like the FretWraps, this small accessory helps clean up your playing.
These wedges help get rid of secondary overtones. But, unlike the FretWraps, these go under the strings behind the nut of the guitar.
It’s best for high gain and high-volume settings. So, when you play anything at gain 8 or higher and very high frequency, you can really hear the high-pitched overtone.
If you want to avoid it, you can use the fret wedge and still play heavy live music.
Since it stays in place behind the strings, it virtually eliminates most unwanted string vibration and background noise.
You can use the wedges combined with the FretWraps for even cleaner sounds, so it’s a great combo when you are recording in the studio.
The wedges are made of plastic and memory foam material, minimizing scratching when you place them under the strings.
However, you need to be careful when using them with expensive guitars as there can be a slight scratching. Using it is easy, simply pinch the wedge and slide it gently under the nut.
One thing to keep in mind is that when you use the dampener, your strings may go out of tune slightly, so make sure to tune them before playing.Check the latest prices here
Best string dampener: ChromaCast Michael Angelo Batio
Guitarist Michael Angelo Batio invented and patented his own string dampener, and it’s known as the MAB string dampener among players.
If you like to sweet pick, alternate pick, economy pick, tap, and play many styles, this type of dampener significantly improves your tone, and you sound much cleaner.
The ChromaCast is different from the FretWrap products because it’s much more durable and made out of aluminum. Its design differs, too, because it clamps down and lifts up as needed.
The main advantage is that you don’t need to have the dampener on your guitar’s neck, and it doesn’t disturb your guitar’s tuning.
Michael recommends this tool for tapping and legato style playing, but it’s an overall really excellent string dampener. Whatever style you play and regardless of how good you are, this little device will help you sound better.
Like the others, it’s adjustable, so you can move it when you’re not using it.
It’s different from FretWraps because you don’t slide it up or down, and instead, you have to clamp it down on the guitar. It lifts up when you don’t want it, but since it’s easy to use, there’s no fidgeting around with it.
I recommend this device if you are prone to making mistakes while playing and hit open strings because it blocks that loud buzzing from the neck of the guitar so that it will be less noticeable.Check prices and availability here
How to make a DIY string dampener
You can use a hair tie around the neck of your guitar as an alternative to a fret wrap.
But, the truth is it’s hard to find a hair tie that’s thick enough and fits tight enough. Some are too loose and will actually mess up your playing.
So, what else can you use, and how can you make a cheap string dampener at home?
My tip is to make your own DIY FretWrap copycat with a black sock, a Velcro strip, and superglue.
Here’s what you need:
- A black crew long sport sock made of good material (something like this).
- A Velcro strap: you can use an old microphone cable wrap or cinch straps. The key is to make sure it’s not too long, but it fits around your guitar neck and then also has material, so it’s not all Velcro.
- Gel superglue because it sticks to fabric better. Some superglues can burn some materials, so test the sock first.
- Small scissors
If you already have these materials at home, it’s worth making this DIY.
How to make your DIY string dampener:
- Lay out your Velcro strip and check the sock width at the tube part to make sure it’s a similar width to the Velcro part.
- Fold the neck of the sock over twice or three times if it’s very thin.
- Now cut the fabric. It should be almost rectangular in shape.
- Apply superglue to the bottom third of your sock material.
- Now fold it over 1/3. Apply pressure and let it dry for about 20 seconds, then put more glue on the glue-free part and fold over again.
- You should end up with a pressed piece of fabric.
- Take your Velcro strap and apply glue on the Velcro part generously.
- Now check how your strap works and before you glue the fabric to the strap, make sure you glue it to the correct side.
- Superglue the sock fabric to the Velcro, apply a good amount of pressure, and let it dry for a minute.
Watch this video to see how it’s done:
String dampener & fret wrap FAQ
Do famous guitarists use string dampeners?
You may notice that guitarists like Guthrie Govan have a hair tie, fret wrap, or string dampener on the guitar’s headstock.
Even with excellent muting technique, you can’t mute the strings behind the nut, and it affects your playing tone.
So, Govan uses a dampener or hair tie on the headstock, which suppresses the unwanted vibrations that affect his tone.
Other players like Andy James and Greg Howe also use dampeners and even hair ties during live performances.
The best example is Michael Angelo Batio, who invented his own string dampener, called the MAB.
Does using string dampeners ruin your technique?
No, using a string dampener doesn’t ruin your technique, but rather it helps you play cleaner.
Think of it as a special crutch to improve your tone since it reduces string vibrations. As a tool, you can make playing just a tiny bit easier, especially when you have to record.
Is it cheating to use string dampeners and fret wraps?
Some players accuse others of “cheating” when using string dampeners.
Many believe that great players have impeccable techniques, so they don’t need the help of dampeners. However, there are no “rules” to forbid using such guitar aids.
Using a fret wrap is not some type of crutch, and it’s also not a sign of poor technique. After all, famous players use these dampeners for clear sound.
If you think about it, then some might accuse those who use noise gates of cheating too, but it all comes down to personal preference.
The main takeaway is that a string dampener is a tool that helps players perform better and improves the sound in recordings; thus, it’s a helpful accessory to have, whether you’re a pro or an amateur.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe