Do Guitar Pickups Wear Out?

Do Guitar Pickups Wear Out Image

When you are investing in a guitar, it is obvious that you want your instrument to last for a long long time. In that case, your instrument needs to be taken care of, in a proper manner.

Surely it is not unknown to you that taking care of your guitar or any instrument is not an easy task. Your instrument, especially your guitar, has many parts, the strings, the pickup, the body. With time and usage, they may wear out and become faulty.

Well, it is a general concern to more or less every guitarist, if the guitar pickups wear out or not. Even if they do, what causes them to wear out and how to protect them from wearing out real soon?

The main answer to this question is, Guitar pickups do not usually wear out as they do not have any moving parts with them. Pickups, however, frequently become faulty, due to corrosion, improper installation, broken wires, or a short circuit.

In this article, I am going to point out and explain all the things you need to know about your guitar pickup and what to look out for.

So why not give this article five minutes read to learn everything that can affect the performance and general functionality of guitar pickups!

How Exactly Does A Guitar Pickup Work?

Let’s begin with the topic of how guitar pickups actually work.

Pickups are often based on basic electromagnetism. Each pickup has at least one permanent magnet, which is often alnico or ferrite. A copper wire is coiled around this permanent magnet.

Several thousand wraps of very thin copper wire are used in guitar pickups. That’s pretty much it. The permanent magnet generates its own magnetic field, and when we pluck a string, we make a disruption in the magnetic field, which causes a little current to flow through the coil of a guitar pickup.

The magnetic field will interact with this circuit, producing an electromotive force as a result. This is also known as electromagnetic induction.

While this current is modest, the signal is amplified by a guitar amp, and we can hear the well-known sound of an electric guitar. If you possess a Stratocaster, you can most likely see the magnetic poles placed beneath each string. The purpose of those poles is to concentrate the magnetic field produced by our magnet in the pickup.

Because the pickup’s construction is basic, there are a few things that can easily ruin or destroy your guitar’s pickup.

What Makes Guitar Pickups Faulty in the First Place?

Breakage Of a Copper Wire

Copper wire is one of the key challenges and genuine problems that might emerge in pickups and have some link to the main subject. The wire used to induct electromotive force in the pickup is rather thin.

The average truck has nearly a half-mile of copper wire wrapped around it. The copper wire may be damaged in this situation.

The wire might break due to the effects of time or other harm. Because it is so thin, you will be forced to have your pickups rewound.

While it is not something that happens every day, it is still a possibility that the wire gets damaged or broken, so you should take extra precautions if you remove the pickups or experiment with them in any way.


Climate can be one of the major factors here. Changing weather patterns might cause the pickup’s metal components to expand and compress. This can degrade the insulator and cause a short circuit over time.


Sweat is the most common cause of moisture-related harm. Sweat carries a high concentration of salt, which can enter the coils and cause a short circuit.

Magnet Decay

The decay time of a magnet is relatively gradual, and you will not be able to detect or feel it. In roughly 700 years, a normal samarium cobalt magnet will lose 50% of its characteristics.

This implies that even if you have a fifty-year-old guitar, there is no chance that the magnet will wear out or that you will notice a difference. Demagnetization can also occur when the pickups are exposed to a strong magnetic field.

A diminishing magnetic field is described by the process of degaussing. Gauss, a German scientist, inspired the process’s name. Finally, because it is not feasible to lower the magnetic field to zero, the only loss that may occur is insignificant.

Poor Winding

If a pickup is coiled incorrectly, kinks in the wire may occur. The wire will ultimately break as a result of this improper winding.

Improper Wiring

If you’ve just replaced your pickups, they might have been connected incorrectly. This can result in a phenomenon known as ‘phase cancellation,’ which occurs when two pickups interfere with each other’s frequency response, lowering total output.

Foreign Items

Foreign objects (particularly iron wool or pieces of metals) can definitely cause considerable damage to the pickup coils of your instrument.

Signs That Your Pickup Is Faulty

Your guitar may show the following signs once the pickup becomes faulty – 

Decreased Output

You might notice that the pickups are a little quieter than normal. This is often caused by phase cancellation or, in rare situations, demagnetization.

Sound Cutting Out

The sound may cut out for brief periods of time before abruptly returning to normal. This generally happens when the wires become brittle or damaged.

Unwanted Hum or Buzz

The pickup may emit an unwelcome humming or buzzing sound. This is frequently caused by grounding or shielding problems.

Total Lack of Output

The pickup will frequently have no output at all. Unfortunately, this is the most prevalent indication of a bad pickup. In most cases, it is the result of a short circuit.

How Should You Fix Your Faulty Pickup?

You need to remove the pickup from the body of your guitar to fix the faulty pickup. Here’s a little guide on how to fix the pickup of your guitar!

In Case of Decreased Output

Look for phase cancellation if the output is lowered. When inspecting a set of pickups with phase cancellation issues, you’ll most likely discover that one of the pickups’ wirings is reversed.

Swap the hot and ground leads if this is the case. If the wiring is correct, demagnetization is the most likely reason. Tap the poles with a screwdriver to check for demagnetization to see if there is any magnetic resistance.

If there isn’t, the magnets must be recharged.

If The Sound Is Cutting Out

Check for damaged wires if the sound is cutting out. If damaged wires are discovered, they must be replaced.

If There Is Any Unwanted Hum or Buzz

If the pickup only hums when you contact the strings, this indicates a grounding issue.

To correct this, look for any loose wires or connections and reconnect them. If the pickup only hums while you’re not touching the strings, you’ve got a shielding problem.

In order to fix this, protect both the guitar cavity and the pickguard. It is also advised to replace any standard wire with shielding wire.

If There Is a Total Lack of Output

If there is no output at all, you definitely should look for short circuits. Then repair any short circuits that are discovered.

Learning to fix any issues with the pickup of your guitar, is a major plus for you. It is a must-have skill for everyone who is into guitars and other instruments. It is not going to only save your money; it is definitely going to save some of your precious time as well!

How Can I Keep Pickups from Becoming Faulty?

You better store your instrument in a climate-controlled environment.

  • If at all possible, avoid exposing the guitar to extreme temperature variations. This can cause not just the pickups to fail, but also substantial harm to the rest of the instruments.

As a rule of thumb, if the weather is unpleasant for you, it is equally unpleasant for your guitar.

  • You should not act too cost-effective.

When making low-cost pickups, producers sometimes take shortcuts by utilizing low-quality components or performing shoddy wiring work.

If you have someone else install your pickups, be sure they know what they’re on about.

  • You should avoid playing while you’re sweating.

While this is sometimes inevitable, try not to play your instrument when you’re sweating as it may cause harm to your guitar pickup.

  • Last but not the least, keep foreign things away from the pickups. If you’re doing unrelated maintenance on the instrument, try to keep foreign objects (such as metal fragments) away from the pickups.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Other Electronic Affect Pickups?

It takes a really strong magnet or any other source will be needed for the magnet to lose its properties. Since none of us have an MRI at home, there is no worry about anything happening to your pickups from any other electronic machine that you can find in houses.

The current that appears in pickups is not strong enough to cause damage to the winding so there is only physical damage that can destroy your pickup.

How Long Do Guitar Pickups Last?

They usually last around half a decade before starting to deteriorate as well. Active pickup ages the fastest. Usually, the output will have dramatically decreased, as well as the treble frequencies, after around 2 years of solid use.

Do Guitar Pickups Degrade Over Time?

In most cases, the tone does not appreciably degrade if the coil is still intact. However, there are 2 main factors that can affect your guitar pickup over time. A change in either of these can cause a loss or change in the tone of your guitar pickup.

Final Words

With good care, you should be able to avoid any form of corrosion or oxidation of your pickup’s pole parts. While it is possible that the pickups could become weaker with time, the cause will most likely be the soldering or any other electrical component of the instrument.

Physical damage is the most common type of damage to guitar pickups. If you manage to break the wounding or otherwise damage the pickups, this will very probably be the cause of their poor sound and quality.

However, if you play the guitar without causing any external harm, your pickups will remain good to go for a long period of time.

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