Do guitar pickups go bad and will they wear out in time? What are the factors that can damage or affect the performance of a guitar pickup? An electric guitar’s pickup is one of the instrument’s main components and it plays a huge part in defining your sound and musical style.
Some guitar players often overlook the importance of taking care of pickups, until the sound quality just starts deteriorating. In worse cases, the guitar pickup could suddenly just cease to function and the only solution would be to replace them with a new one.
We need to be aware of the factors that can be detrimental to your guitar pickups even before we buy our first guitar. This way, we can prevent problems right from the start and prevent these issues from ruining jam sessions and live performances in the future.
Factors that can make your guitar pickups go bad
Improperly installed pickups
A vast majority of guitar players buy their instruments fitted with pickups that came from the factory, so there is very little possibility that the guitar pickups are not installed properly. However, somewhere along the way, there is a chance that you’ll need or want to replace your pickups, either because they are already beat up or you simply want a better-sounding pair.
Taking matters into your own hands or seeking the help of an inexperienced friend, can result in incorrect wirings and uncomfortable pickup positioning, which can cause further problems on your guitar pickups.
Humidity, which refers to the amount of vapor or moisture in the air, is one of the main reasons why guitars go bad or wear out. This is because the most important parts of a guitar pickup are made out of metal and they are prone to rusting.
When moisture or water is in prolonged contact with metal, oxidation will take place and create rust, which speeds up the metal object’s corrosion. The magnets of a pickup are usually made of alnico, ceramic and neodymium, while the wire that is coiled around it is made of copper, various types of metal that are vulnerable to rust.
Sudden temperature/climate shifts
Fluctuations in climate and temperature is a huge problem for guitar owners living in countries with changing seasons. The same challenge has troubled touring musicians who had to suffer various guitar problems from the neck and the bridge, to the pickups and other electronic components.
Extreme temperature swings will make the insulation material, as well as the metal and polymer parts of a pickup expand and contract. Everytime this expansion and contraction occurs, the insulations and wirings are jeopardized to the point that they could short circuit.
Combine the acids, salts and toxins present in human sweat and you have a highly-corrosive biofluid that can cause the metal parts of your pickups to rust. Sweat is probably the most common reason why guitar pickups go bad and wear out faster than expected.
In more extreme cases, the sweat can penetrate the pickup’s cover and cause a short circuit if it touches the coil and the wires.
Exposure to strong magnets
Although magnet decay takes hundreds of years for magnets to lose their properties, its power can decrease when exposed to some very powerful magnets. Since equipment that makes use of super magnets are not too common, you don’t have to worry about your guitar pickups demagnetizing anytime soon.
Soldering joints turn brittle
The soldering joints on your guitar pickups can also become brittle and detach some crucial connections. Brittle soldering joints can definitely make your guitar pickups go bad, but this will take a long time to happen and they can be soldered back easily by a professional guitar technician.
Pickups can be damaged easily by blunt force that can come from over-aggressive strumming, mishandling and other accidents. There have been countless cases of guitar pickups, as well as other parts, getting wrecked due to their abusive owners. However, that level of trauma can also come from traveling and shipping, especially if your instrument is not properly protected.
Not only will your guitar suffer from dings and scratches, there is also a chance that your pickups will go bad or wear out faster after suffering from the physical shock of getting hit by hard objects.
How to make your pickups last longer
Curb your sweating
If you are touring all over the country along with a band that is teeming with energy, it’s going to be difficult trying to control your sweat. But still, you can minimize the amount of body fluids that’s going to drip on your guitar by wearing some sort of wrist or arm band that you can find at some sports shop. Metallica’s James Hetfield wears something similar not as a fashion statement, but to prevent sweat from drenching his guitar pickups.
Keep your pickups clean
Always clean your pickups and strings right after using your guitar, to get rid of the acids, dust and oils. A clean microfiber cloth would be enough to remove the body fluids and grime that can damage your pickups.
In case rust starts appearing on your pickup’s magnet poles, you can remove it using a lemon and salt solution. Using some masking tape, cover up first the surrounding parts of your pickups to prevent them from getting wet. Apply very little drops of the lemon and salt solution on each pole (you may use a dropper or a syringe), and then wipe off the rust from each pole with a q-tip.
Treat your instrument nicely
Don’t be harsh on your guitar, scratches are easy to deal with, but when your pickups suddenly bail out on you while you’re performing or recording, the setbacks can be more problematic. Treat your guitar with utmost care so that it may serve you well in the years to come.
Store your guitar properly
Whether you are planning to store your guitar at home, or travel to the other side of the world with it, you should keep your instrument in a hard case to protect it from extreme heat or cold and physical harm. Desiccants such as silica gel can also help minimize moisture inside your guitar case, throw in a few bags to defend your pickups from rust.
Storing your guitar in a cool and dry environment will not only prevent your guitar pickups from going bad and wearing out, it will also ensure that the entire instrument will remain in good condition for a very long time.