How to cure a choke out

Can't get that big bend? Try this out...

If your top E and B strings are too low they will choke out when you bend the strings, and the easiest fix is to raise the string height. On Fender-style guitars, such as this Tele, you can adjust the string heights individually – and a radius gauge can help you to maintain an even curve

Why you need this

  • Notes cut out when you bend strings

What you need

  • Large flathead screwdriver
  • Allen key
  • Small flathead screwdriver
  • Radius gauge

You’ve probably experienced this: it’s the climax of your solo, you hit that high note and start to bend up to finish with your carefully honed vibrato and then, suddenly, the note just fizzles out and dies on you. It’s called ‘choke out’ and it’s a drag.

Almost every guitar has a fingerboard with a radius, and the radius varies from guitar to guitar. For instance, vintage Fenders had a 7.25-inch radius, whereas modern ones tend to be 9.5 inches. Gibsons have traditionally had a 12-inch radius, while vintage Gretsches had several different radii – often on the same fingerboard.

Look at your bridge or bridge saddles and you should be able to see that the string heights are set to create a curve that more or less matches the fingerboard radius. The high E will be the lowest string on the curve and, as you bend it upwards, the section of string between the fretted note and the bridge will get ever closer to the top of the frets.

If the string height is set too low, the string will actually touch the higher frets when you bend it up, and that’s what causes ‘choke out’. Assuming the frets are level and neck relief is properly adjusted, the only solution is to raise the string height at the bridge.

Wrapover bridges usually have large bolts at each end, and you’ll need a large flathead screwdriver to adjust the bridge height. Take care because the plating flakes off easily. Try wrapping some masking tape or insulation tape over the screwdriver to prevent metal-to-metal contact. If you find that a lot of force is needed to turn the bolts, slacken the strings to make the adjustment then tune back up to check your progress.

Advertisement

To adjust Strat and Tele saddles, you will need an allen key, although some Tele saddles require a mini screwdriver. Tune-o-matic bridges are usually set using thumb wheels and, again, you may need to slacken the strings before you can get them to move.

Whichever bridge you’re dealing with, the idea is to set the high E string so that you can bend it at least a whole tone before it begins to choke out. With 7.25-inch radius fingerboards, you will usually be obliged to set the action relatively high. Even if you prefer a low action, the geometry of the guitar partly determines how low you can go.

Check out more of our DIY guides here.

Advertisement