Are Rusty Guitar Pickups Bad? (It Might Be!)

Ever find one of those old guitars in the attic with rusty pickups and a few years worth of dust on it?

Sometimes vintage guitars have this issue.Ā  Unfortunately, pickups are not corrosion resistant.

Are rusty guitar pickups bad?

Yes. Ā Rusty guitar pickups can cause all sorts of problems, from diminished sound quality to major electrical shorts. Rusty guitar pickups are bad news. Ā 

The body of an electric guitar pickup is a metal shell that’s full of magnetism. The pickup’s components are built onto the shell to tap this magnetism and turn it into an electric signal. But the shell itself is often made out of brass, nickel silver or a similar soft metal that quickly corrodes in moist environments.

Over time, this corrosion can spread to include the other parts of the pickup and cause major problems.

Do Rusty Pickups Work?

Yes. Guitar pickup corrosion is caused by oxidation, which occurs when air reacts with the metal in the pickup. This gives the pickups an oxidized or “rusted” appearance.

But just because a guitar pickup or the pole pieces are rusted doesn’t mean it’s broken or nonfunctional! Guitar pickups are very durable and often last decades before they require replacement.

When a guitar pickup looks like it’s rusted, you can probably rest easy and keep using the guitar. Just be sure to turn on your amp or guitar effects pedal and listen for any strange or unexpected sounds; this will tell you which pickups aren’t up to snuff.

Do Rusty Guitar Pickups Sound Bad?

Yes. Guitar pickups are designed to draw out the nuances of the strings to create an electrical signal that then has its sound further altered by effects pedals and amplifiers. But electrical noise and interference in the pickup itself is usually undesirable and will make the sound worse.

The more oxidation in a guitar pickup, the more likely it is that additional electrical noises will occur.

This is the same for both single coils and humbuckers.

Do You Have Rusty Guitar Pickups – Keep Reading!

Want to learn the solution for rust? Hopefully the following will help.

Why Are My Guitar Pickups Rusting?

The ideal environment for rusting to occur is high humidity. Usually this occurs when the guitar stays in the attic or some other place that gets a lot of humidity.

This environment is ideal for corrosion. The corrosion in these environments spreads to any part of the pickup that’s made out of metal.

What Is Corrosion?

Corrosion is when metals lose electrons over time, turning them into ions. The rusting process occurs when the ions flow through pathways in the metal until they reach an area where they can flow freely again. This causes them to combine with building blocks like oxygen and make what’s called an oxide, which results in rust or oxidation.

How To Prevent Rust On Guitar Pickups

One of the best ways to prevent rusting of your guitar pickups is simply to store them properly.

That means keeping the guitar in a dry, warm environment without too much exposure to humidity. It’s always best to keep a guitar in a gig bag or case as opposed to just hanging it up on a wall.Ā  Especially in a humid environment.

You can also get either a room humidifier or guitar case humidifier to help maintain the right humidity levels and keep the rust and other issues away. Ā If you are looking for recommendations on these things, check out:

  • Room humidifier recommendationElechomes SH8830 Humidifier.Ā  You can easily set this up to maintain the ideal humidity level of 45-55%.
  • Case humidifier recommendationVertigo Single.Ā  Quick and easy – just throw it in your guitar case.

How To Clean Guitar Pickup Rust And Corrosion

First, remove the guitar strings.

Start with a q-tip or dry piece of cloth and rub the pickup with it using a circular motion. Dip the cloth or qtip in some WD40, vasoline, dab of metal polish, alcohol or some kind of penetrating oil. Ā Use a bit of pressure to make sure you clean the pickup as best as possible.

Next, take a can of compressed air and spray away the loose corrosion on the pickup around the pole pieces. This should also remove any built up dust on the remainder of the pickup.

If you find that this is not enough to get rid of the rust, you may try carefully using steel wool.Ā  But too much pressure with this is a bad idea.

If you have a guitar cleaning kit, you can give it a go with that too. Many guitar cleaning kits come with things specifically designed to clean rust off of guitar pickups.

Do Magnets Ruin Guitar Pickups?

Yes, magnets do ruin guitar pickups. A magnet placed too close to a guitarā€™s pickup can lead to permanent damage.

A pickup itself is a magnet with a certain polarity on the top and bottom. If you get a magnet too close, it could flip the polarity of the pickup.

After this, the pickup may still work, but flipping polarity could cause phasing issues with the other pickups on the guitar, output issues, and much more.

Keep magnets away from guitar pickups!


So there you have it! Rusty guitar pickups are bad news. But don’t throw your guitar away yet! Guitar pickups are very durable and often last decades before they require replacement.

You may want to do it from time to time to prevent this problem.