There’s a large debate going on amidst the guitar player online community about whether rusty pickups affect tone. Okay, that’s something you’d call an overstatement, the whole talk about this debate being a large one, but it still doesn’t make this issue less important. So, do rusty pickups affect tone? You’ll find out in a jiffy!

Also, while we’re on the subject, we’ll expand our talk to cover some of the basic guitar-pickups-related info. For instance, we’ll show you just why rust appears on them and if there’s a way to clean the item in question. Stay tuned for some useful stuff!

Rusty pickups won’t have a significant effect on the tone your guitar will produce. Also, they don’t contain much iron, so they won’t catch rust that easily and you’ll most usually find it just on the tip of the pickup poles. However, this shouldn’t mean you don’t need to maintain and clean your guitar pickups once in a while.¬†

As always, reading only the snippet above isn’t going to help. You’ll want to read the whole thing!

Table of Contents

What is a guitar pickup?

Before we kick-start the main section of this article, it would be best to consider some basic guitar-pickup-related knowledge. Naturally, we’ll begin by defining the main term we’ll be using in the text below: so, what exactly is a guitar pickup?

We’re talking about a device (also known as the heart of an electric guitar) that serves to convert the vibrations of your instrument’s string into electrical signals. Afterward, those signals are transferred to your guitar amplifier which will boost them to levels at which you’re able to hear them. Additionally, these signals might be colored by various stompbox effects (such as a wah pedal, for instance). They can also be colored by amplifiers themselves.

Speaking of amplifiers, here’s an article on why they have 2 inputs.

How do guitar pickups work?

Okay, so here’s some info for the nerds:

  • Most electric guitar pickups utilize electromagnetic induction to transform the abovementioned string vibrations into electric signals. They use magnets that are usually made out of ferrite or alnico. These magnets are wound by thousands of turns of copper wire and they form a magnetic field focused on each individual pole piece that is found under each string. Since most guitars come with six strings (and here’s why that’s so), most guitar pickups have six pole pieces.¬†

Also, keep in mind that the spacing, power, and alignment of these pole pieces will greatly influence the sound your instrument will produce. Also, ever heard of humbucker pickups? Here’s how you’ll brighten a muddy humbucker pickup.

What’s inside guitar pickups?

Electric guitar pickups use coils. If you remember certain science experiments during your school days, you might remember coils, too. Anyway, a pickup consists of the following elements: a black bobbin that has 6 magnetic bars (as we’ve said, six strings equal six bars) inside of it, and the wire that’s wound around the magnets. Also, you’ll want to know that certain electric guitar pickups utilize metal rods instead of good ol’ magnets.

Why do guitar pickups go rusty?

In our last introductory section, we’ll show you just why guitar pickups sometimes end up rusty. In other words: why do magnets inside electric guitar pickups tend to rust?

Since pickup magnets have a bit of Iron inside them, they’re able to rust due to various factors. For instance, if you keep your guitar in a high-humidity storage area, there’s a good chance that the pickups will go rusty. Also, rust can come as a result of your guitar pickup coming into contact with the sweat from your hands while you’re playing your favorite instrument.

That should’ve done it for the intro section. Let’s tackle the main issue: do rusty pickups affect tone?

A yellow guitar with non-rusty pickups laid on the ground.

Do rusty pickups affect tone?

If your pickup is the medium through which the vibration you’re making by strumming the strings is being turned into electrical signals, it’s only natural to question whether a rusty pickup will affect the way your guitar will sound. Let’s dig our hands deeper into the subject!

You’ll be quite happy to know that rusty pickups don’t have a significant effect on the tone that’s coming out of your guitar. Since most eclectic guitar pickups don’t possess much Iron, there’s a small chance that rust will have any noticeable effect on the tone. Also, rust will most probably only affect the tips of the magnet poles, so, yeah, it’s pretty safe to say that a rusty pickup ain’t a reason to be concerned.

Now that we’ve confirmed that rusty pickups actually don’t affect the tone of your guitar, let’s consider some other info concerning this crucial piece of your guitar setup!

How to clean rusty guitar pickups?

Here we’ll show you a couple of methods you can utilize to clean your rusty guitar pickups!

Method #1: Salt & lemon

There’s no need to emphasize the fact this is probably the easier way to clean your rusty guitar pickups. That’s because all you’ll need are simple household items. Anyway, you’ll want to squeeze half of a lemon into a small bowl. Afterward, simply add a single teaspoon of salt and mix the combo. Once you’re done, you’ll have your homemade cleaning solution ready!

Now, before you get to do any cleaning, you’ll need to secure your guitar pickups. The best (and easiest way) to do this is to utilize some ordinary tape. Just cover everything around your pickup poles with some masking tape. That way, you’ll make sure that none of your homemade cleaning solution ends up on the plastic. You’ll need to make sure that there’s no plastic left uncovered.

Once you’ve finished covering the plastic, you’ll be ready to apply the solution. Stick to this motto: one pole, one drop. Apply the solution to the poles by using a Q tip and gently rub the surface of the poles until the rust is no more.

Method #2: Penetrating oil

Preparations here are absolutely the same as they were with the method above. Cover everything around the poles with some masking tape. You can use just about any penetrating oil you’ve got on your hands. To see whether WD-40 is good for this task, simply click on the highlighted text.

Anyway, you’ll want to apply a little bit of oil on the poles, and deal with the rust with some cotton swab. Once you’ve taken care of the rust by rubbing the pickup poles, use a regular brush to gently clean the poles for a minute or so. That should help you handle the rust on your guitar pickups!

How to restore rusty guitar pickups?

Here we’ll talk about the ways you can restore a rusty guitar pickup to its former glory. Of course, the methods we’ve shown you above are absolute prerequisites for the strategies we’ll show you below. In other words: first, you’ll clean the rust off your electric guitar pickups. Then, you’ll want to try some of the following tips!

#1 Dust removal

Okay, so we’ve talked about how to clean the metal parts of your pickups, but what about plastic? How to take care of the plastic portion? Here’s how you’ll clean it:

  • As you’re well aware, dust can often turn out to be stick and somewhat difficult to clean. Therefore, you’ll want to use a one-teaspoon-of-vinegar-mixed-with-hot-water-mixed-in-a-bowl solution. Soak some cloth in the mixture you’ve made and wring the plastic in a thorough manner. Now, the cloth shouldn’t be totally wet, just dampen it a bit. This way, you’ll handle the dust on the plastic part of your pickup quickly and without much hassle.

Oh, while we’re on the subject of cleaning, here’s something for the drummers: an article about how to clean Roland mesh heads.

#2 Washing your hands before playing

To avoid undermining all the effort you’ve invested into cleaning your guitar pickup, simply wash your hands each time before you play your trusty instrument. That way, your guitar will stay clean and shiny for greater periods of time.

The thing is: our hands are pretty well known as something you’d call dirt collectors. Needless to say, by avoiding washing your hands before playing, you’ll transfer all of that onto your guitar, which clearly ain’t good.

#3 Maintain your pickup using a non-abrasive cloth

Now, we didn’t mean to say that you should clean your pickups only when the dust and dirt are pretty evident and noticeable. You don’t have to wait for the dirt to accumulate actually. Anyway, use a piece of microfiber, non-abrasive cloth to clean your pickups on a weekly basis. This will prolong the clean-as-a-whistle period of your favorite instrument.

Final thoughts on the subject

Alright, that should’ve completed our little or not-so-little talk about guitar pickups and whether rusty guitar pickups actually affect the tone of your guitar. Now you’re aware that there’s no need to worry about them having a significant effect on the way your trusty instrument will sound. Anyway, if you’re on the lookout for more guitar-related tips and everything, simply click here to reach the page we’ve dedicated to the subject.