how to clean guitar pickups

It came to my attention that there is not a great deal of information available on the internet on how to clean guitar pickups. And while I believe that the incorrect approaches should be fairly evident (using soap and warm water is not one of them), I don’t think that the most effective ones are truly mentioned. On all of my electric guitars, that region collects a lot of dust, and after some time, the dust begins to congeal, at which point it needs to be cleaned off thoroughly.

Inevitably, this has an effect on the pickups, which, if you are familiar with how guitar pickups function, require a magnetic surface that is free of debris in order to effectively transfer the vibrations produced by the guitar strings.

Because of this, I believe it is beneficial to have at least a fundamental understanding of how to clean the pickups on a guitar.

Avert all liquids and fluids from coming into contact with the electronic devices

First and foremost, make sure that the electronics of the guitar are not exposed to any kind of fluid or liquid under any circumstances. It is possible to cause damage that cannot be repaired if water gets into the pickups or any of the other electrical components.

Therefore, regardless of what other people might suggest, you should never clean your guitar with soap and water. In a similar vein, the use of lemon juice and salt to remove rust from your pickup poles is not something that I would encourage.

When working with electrical components, exercise extreme caution

When working with the electrical components of your guitar, you need to exercise an increased level of caution. Be careful not to knock anything critical loose when you’re working with the wiring. Additionally, take care not to touch any live wires at any point. When working on the guitar, you should always unplug it and remove the cable from the instrument first.

Because the electrical socket that my amplifier was plugged into was not properly grounded, my amp and even my instruments have been the source of more than their fair share of electrical shocks for me.

You Should Not Clean Your Pickups With Steel Wool.

There is a good chance that you have perused the internet in search of further information concerning the elimination of rust from your pickups. If this is the case, you’ve probably heard that steel wool is the best thing to use to remove rust from metal surfaces. On the other hand, I cannot stress enough how strongly I advise you against using steel wool in this manner on your guitar.

The pickup poles will become covered in very fine steel shavings if you use steel wool. If you are not careful, these shavings might even make their way onto the body of your instrument. They will get into every nook and cranny, and they may wind up damaging the finish on the instrument.

When you rub the poles of your magnetic pickup with steel, you run the risk of accidentally changing the polarity of the poles. This is a more important risk. Altering the polarity of your pickups can have a negative impact on their ability to function, and it may even render them worthless.

It’s Important to Avoid Bringing Magnets Near Your Pickups

This topic is connected to the controversy regarding the steel wool, but in my opinion, it warrants its own separate discussion.

There has been some discussion regarding the issue that has arisen with steel wool and the shavings that have been left behind. After scrubbing, it has been recommended by some that you make use of a magnet in order to gather and dispose of the shavings. Having said that, this is the very worst thing that you could do to a pickup truck.

Your pickup poles are magnetic in order to pick up the vibration of the strings, as was previously described. This is the first stage in turning the plucking and strumming you’ve been doing into actual sound.

However, if you move a magnet in close proximity to the poles, you might be able to alter the polarity of the poles. Even a single brief pass over them with a magnet that is powerful enough could harm your pickups permanently and alter your tone in a negative way.

How About Cleaning the Pickups on Your Guitar or Bass?

You are need to take the strings off your instrument before you can perform any kind of maintenance on your pickups. If at all possible, you should try to time the replacement of your strings with the cleaning of your pickups. This will make things a little bit easier for you.

Detaching the pickguard and taking the pickups off the guitar will produce the greatest results, so I recommend doing that first. You will lower the likelihood of tarnishing the body, electrical elements, and other guitar components if you proceed in this manner.

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Take off the Pickguard and the Pickups

Instead of a screwdriver drill bit, you should use a portable precision screwdriver while removing the pickguard from the guitar. If you slide when using a drill, you run the danger of damaging the finish or the guard of the instrument. If you tighten the screws to the point where they are excessively tight, you run the danger of cracking the pickguard of the guitar.

When removing the pickguard, exercise caution, and don’t quickly pull it off the instrument as soon as the screws have been undone. Keep in mind that there is a live cable as well as a grounding wire flowing out of the jack. Earthing the bridge is another function of the claw. Therefore, slowly and carefully raise one side of the pickguard while being careful not to yank any of the wires out of their sockets.

Unscrew the pickups in order to take them off the instrument once you have ensured that the pickguard is in a secure position and that the wires are not damaged. After loosening the screws, you should be able to remove the cover from your pickup if it has one. The clips on the tops of some plastic bobbins can be undone and the tops removed, exposing additional magnetic poles that can then be cleaned.

If your pickup has a row of pole screws on it, you should unscrew them gently and then remove the screws from the pickup. Please note that for this stage, a precise handheld screwdriver is required. Take special care not to round off the screw heads. And ensure that none of them are misplaced by placing them in a compact container. Take into account the possibility that an Allen or hex wrench will be required to remove certain pole screws.

It should be noted that not all guitars and basses are created equal. For instance, there are some guitars that do not have pickguards at all. Neither are all pickups created equal. It’s possible that your guitar or bass has single-coil pickups, P90 pickups, or humbucker pickups. It’s also possible that the pickups don’t have any covers over them. As a result, I ask that you exercise your best judgment and modify the procedure as necessary as I walk you through each step below.

Dust Removal and Prevention

You will want the following materials in order to clean the dust that is already on your pickups:

  • an aerosol can containing compressed air and featuring an expanded nozzle (such as this one sold on Amazon).
  • A brand-new paintbrush with fluffy, dry bristles
  • A microfiber cloth that has been cleaned and dried.

Make sure there is no visible dust by using your paintbrush with delicate bristles to lightly brush it away. Make room for the bristles to enter any grooves or openings that are present in order to clean the surface dust from such areas.

The next step is to take your can of compressed air and insert the long, narrow nozzle into any cracks or gaps that you find. To clean the dust from these confined spaces, use some compressed air to make a few quick blasts from a squirt gun.

Once more, give the pickup a little scrubbing with the paintbrush, and then thoroughly wipe it down with the cloth. This ought should clear the most of the dust from the pickup, if not all of it.

Moving ahead, you won’t need to take the strings off in order to use the clean paintbrush with the soft bristles to dust off the pickup. It would be ideal if you could complete this task after the conclusion of each gaming session. I would also suggest storing your guitar in a bag or case to reduce the amount of dust that accumulates on it.

Purifying the Front Panel Faceplate

It’s possible that you’ll also need to clean the metal faceplate that sits atop your pickup if it has one. They frequently become covered in grime, and after some time has passed, they frequently lose their luster. Humbuckers and P90 pickups are the types of guitar pickups that typically have faceplates.

You are going to need the following items in order to clean your pickup faceplates and restore their shine:

  • Good quality guitar polish (like Music Nomad Pro Strength Guitar Polish)
  • Two clean and dry microfiber cloths

Rust Removal and Prevention

A small amount of the guitar polish should be applied to one of the microfiber cleaning rags. The polish should then be rubbed in a circular motion onto the faceplate in a gentle manner. Wait a few of seconds before applying the polish. After that, remove any extra polish with a clean cloth, then use your second, unused towel to buff the faceplate until it sparkles.

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In addition to that, you can use a very small amount of your guitar polish to rub onto the pickups themselves. After you have dusted them and placed them back together, you can move on to this step. Repeat the steps you took when you were dealing with the faceplates. The poles and screws will be given a thin protective layer by the polish, which will prevent rust from forming.

Caution is advised, though, if you are not using the Music Nomad Pro Strength Guitar Polish. On faceplates with a gold finish, some polishes and cleaning products will work, but not all of them will. There are several cleansers and compounds that can make the gold look dirty and potentially ruin the finish. If your faceplates have a gold finish, you should opt for a polish that is designed for use exclusively on gold finishes.

Applying Penetrating Oil to the Poles in Order to Remove the Rust

Don’t be concerned if your garbage collection poles have a rusty layer on them. You won’t have any trouble getting rid of the rust. You won’t need anything else besides the following things to get rid of the rust:

  1. Penetrating oil (such as WD-40)
  2. Masking or painter’s tape
  3. A small cotton swab or Q-tip
  4. Paper towel
  5. A clean, dry old toothbrush
  6. Small, shallow container (the lid of an old jar will do)

Cover the surface of the plastic bobbin all the way around the magnetic poles using either the masking tape or the painter’s tape. To cover the bobbin so that only the poles are visible, cut the tape into thin strips and carefully adhere them to the surface of the bobbin. It requires some effort, but doing so is essential in order to protect the bobbins from being damaged.

When working with penetrating oil, it is important to take precautions to avoid getting any oil on any of the other components of the instrument. Your guitar’s finish and its electrics could both suffer damage if you apply penetrating oil on them.

After you have finished covering your bobbins and have ensured that the poles are visible, it is time to add some penetrating oil.

Put a few drops’ worth of penetrating oil into your container by spraying it on or pouring it in. The next step is to dip your cotton swab or Q-tip into the oil that you have. Move the cotton swab in a circular manner while rubbing the oil on the first pickup pole. It’s possible that you’ll need to put in a little bit of extra effort. However, you should observe the rust beginning to lift and the oil beginning to darken in a reasonable amount of time.

To remove the oil from the pickup pole and to remove any loose rust flakes that may be present, you can use your paper towel. Use an old toothbrush to give the pole a quick scrub in order to remove any rust that is particularly tenacious.

After following the methods outlined above, if you discover that you are unable to remove all of the rust, you will need to repeat the process. After then, begin tackling the remaining poles one at a time in the order that they were listed. When you are satisfied that all of the rust has been removed and the poles have been well dried, you can remove the tape.

Vinegar can be used to remove the rust from the pole screws.

You will need the following items in order to remove any rust that may have formed on your pole screws, assuming you have any:

  1. White vinegar
  2. Shallow container
  3. Paper towel

White vinegar should be poured into the container until it reaches a depth of approximately one quarter to one half of an inch. After that, put your corroded screws into the vinegar and make sure they are well submerged.

Before checking on the screws, let the hardware soak in the vinegar for approximately one day. You can repeat the operation with clean white vinegar if the screws still have a slight rusty appearance after the first attempt.

Pour your rust-colored vinegar, which should be done preferable outside owing to the unpleasant scent, down the drain. After that, add new vinegar to the container until it reaches the same level as the last batch, and then insert the screws into the container. Give them one more day, and then check on them once again to see how they are doing.

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In most cases, removing the rust from screws only requires a single session of soaking in vinegar, unless the screws are extremely rusty. The rust should be completely removed after two sessions of treatment. When you get to this point, you can use the paper towel to fully dry the screws.

Repeat the same for any other rusty screws that are located on your guitar. For example, the screws that secure the bridge and pickguard to the instrument.

Finishing with Polish

It is not necessary to polish the pickup poles and pole screws on your truck. However, I strongly suggest doing so as an additional measure of defense against the possibility of rust. You will require the following components to proceed with this step:

  1. Good quality guitar polish (like Music Nomad Pro Strength Guitar Polish)
  2. Two clean and dry microfiber cloths

Before beginning the polishing process, check that your poles and pole screws are both clean and dry.

Apply a very small amount of polish to one of the cloths, and then rub it all over each pole and screw in the pole. Give the polish a few moments to settle before applying it.

The residue left behind by the polish should next be removed from the poles and screws. After that, take your second clean, dry cloth and use it to buff and shine the areas that were just polished.

After you have completed everything, you can next reassemble your pickups and reattach your pickguard.

Note that if you are using Music Nomad Pro Strength Guitar Polish, it is perfectly acceptable for the polish to get on the plastic bobbin. It is not necessary to polish the pickup poles and pole screws on your truck. However, I strongly suggest doing so as an additional measure of defense against the possibility of rust. You will require the following components to proceed with this step:

Reassemble When Done

When you are satisfied with the final product, you can reassemble everything. This is true regardless of whether you are removing rust or simply dusting.

To begin, put the pieces of the pickup back together. When re-torquing any pole screws into the pickup, make sure to make use of the appropriate portable screwdriver or hex wrench. Take precautions to prevent the screws from becoming stripped. Also, ensure that any plastic bobbin covers that you may have removed are reattached to the bobbins. They ought to be able to snap back into position.

The next step is to reattach the pickups to the pickguard using the screws that were already there. It is important to remember to work softly and to be careful not to rip any electrical wire connections apart while working under the pickguard.

Replace the pickguard and make sure it is securely fastened before playing again. However, make sure not to go to extremes. It is possible to shatter the pickguard or peel the screw if the screws are tightened to an excessive degree.

Restringing your guitar is the very last thing that needs to be done. After that, you will be able to jam with a guitar that has pickups that are gleaming and clean.

To sum everything up

To clean or remove rust from your truck, you do not require the assistance of a mechanic. However, you will need to work cautiously and make certain that you use the appropriate tools and detergents for the job. You definitely don’t want to do something that will leave a permanent mark on your pickups. They are absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of your guitar as well as the generation of its tone.

When you play your guitar, make it a practice to use a clean paintbrush to remove any dust that may have accumulated on your pickups. Also, once every few weeks, give them a thorough cleaning with a dry towel by wiping them down. This will avoid the accumulation of filth caused by sweat, which could eventually lead to corrosion. Then, when you have replaced your strings, ensure that the pickups receive a thorough cleaning by following the techniques described above.

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