Do guitar pickups have a break-in period? Do pickups get better with age? Do wear and tear help the guitar pickup to sound better? Does a pickup change its sound after how many years? Usually, when you buy a guitar amplifier, you would want to break in its speaker as they tend to sound better after going through the process, but the question now is would it be the same with the guitar pickups? That is what we are going to find out.
So, what is a guitar pickup, and how does it work? As the heart of an electric guitar, it is a device that was made to convert the string vibrations produced from strumming the guitar strings into electrical signals. These converted signals are sent to the guitar amplifier, which boosts them to make them audible to people.
Pickups work by using magnets that are wound by thousands of turns of copper wire, and these create a magnetic field that is focused on the individual pole pieces that are centered under each of the guitar strings on the electric guitar. Most guitar pickups have six pole pieces that can individually affect the sound of the pickup it will produce.
There are two types of guitar pickups that you see in electric guitars; one is the single coil, and the second is the humbucker. Single-coil pickups have a reputation for sounding bright and with more boost with the high frequencies. Single-coil pickups are usually on Fender guitars like the Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jaguar, and Mustang. There are also many guitar companies that use single-coil pickup in their electric guitars.
On the other hand, humbucker pickups are built by combining two single-coil pickups that are wound together in reverse polarity. This design enables the humbucker to cancel out the natural 60 Hz hum. Humbuckers are perfect for playing jazz, hard rock, heavy metal, and blues. You can also usually see humbuckers on Gibson guitars like the Les Paul, SG, ES-335, ES-150, and ES-135. Gretsch, Ibanez, Jackson, and many more guitar companies also use humbuckers for their guitars.
There are also active and passive pickups that you should be familiar with. A passive pickup does not need electricity or a power supply to be able to function, while on the other hand, an active pickup uses active circuitry to boost its output. It needs to have an external power source, like a 9-volt battery, to have a higher output.
Do Pickups Get Better With Age?
Although most musical instruments and audio equipment tend to sound better with time, for guitar pickups, age won’t affect your pickups to sound better. Old pickups degenerate through time, which results in it producing a lower output. This means that the pickup is also starting to provide lesser sound signals for the amplifier, giving it a softer and lower-pitched sound.
There are some musicians who like that sound, but this does not mean that the guitar pickup is starting to sound better as it gets older. If you are the lead guitar player of your band and are required to play loud and do some shreds, then having old guitar pickups should not be an option for you.
Old pickup does not get quickly worn off, as most concerns many guitar players have with their pickups is if they are short-circuited or improperly installed. The magnetic coil of the pickups must not be disturbed to keep the pickup at its optimal condition, and they can only be slowed down when they are exposed to moisture and too much heat.
Can Rust Affect The Guitar’s Sound?
Ideally, rust on pickups won’t affect the sound they produce, but it would still be better for you to remove the rust than let it built-up, as it can damage your pickups and could result in you changing them, which can be costly. Though rust can limit the number of vibrations that the guitar pickup would pick, it is still not that big of a deal. However, leaving the rust on your guitar pickups would be a big deal in the future in terms of the physical damage it would inflict on your pickup.
What Is The Lifespan Of A Guitar Pickup?
If you just take care of your guitar and its pickups and protect it from rust build-up, the pickup can last for a very long time. Usually, the tone can decay after a long time, but you usually notice a difference in the tone after it reaches five years and more.
Passive humbuckers sound at their optimal condition within the first nine months before their performance starts to degrade slowly. Alnico magnets, which are one of the most used magnets in electric guitar pickups, have a permanent magnetism, making it very hard for you to notice the decline of the guitar’s tone quality.
Single-coil pickups are built to last for a long time, while P90 pickups, which is an example of a humbucker, are known to have a longer life span compared to other competitors. P90 humbuckers have a design to disperse vibration with ease from the poles to the magnet ends and resonate it into a frequency that is transmittable by the wound coil.
What Can Improve Your Guitar’s Sound Over Time
One thing that could help improve your guitar’s sound without making any upgrades is the wood that it is made of. As the wood from your guitar starts to get older, it also starts to lose some of its natural properties, resulting in it becoming dryer and more resounding after some time.
Natural degradation can help your electric guitar to sound better even though it is not the primary factor in how a guitar would sound good, but it still makes some difference to it. As the vibration from strumming the guitar strings produces energy and is transferred to the guitar’s nut and bridge, the wooden parts of the guitar are also impacted eventually.
So, how long is the guitar pickup break-in period? There is really no such a thing as break-in when it comes to guitar pickups, as they don’t get better with time, but on the other hand, guitar pickups can start to degrade slowly after nine months to five years, but you can still use them for a long time without any issues.