Can Guitar Pickups Go Bad?


Before we talk about can the guitar pickups go wrong, let’s first understand what a guitar pickup is and establish how important it is for a guitar? A guitar pickup is a magnetic structure on your guitar attached to the coils and the strings. You can call it the “heart of the guitar,” as many guitarists do. Pickups are the most critical component of an electric guitar.

They convert the mechanical vibrations into electrical signals, amplifying them by an amplifier connected to the guitar and produce a versatile signature sound an electric guitar possesses.

Eventually, everything wears out, and so do the guitar pickups. Yes, the guitar pickups can go bad over time. Usually, they lose their magnetic properties, and the sound and tune they produce deviates from what you expect. That is when you know that they have begun losing their properties and would need replacement.

However, the process of guitar pickups going bad takes hundreds of years. If you are using a guitar pickup regularly, the rotation speeds up, and in about five to six years, the guitar pickups may require replacement.

How Can You Tell When a Guitar Pickup Is Terrible?

Guitar pickups are crucial to the sound a guitar produces. Any changes in the guitar’s sound will alarm you that there are some issues. So, the first thing you must do is check the guitar pickup.

Pickups generate resistance which affects the tune of the guitar. Also, you can use a multimeter to check the resistance to determine whether your guitar’s pickup is functional.

Electric Guitar Pickup

Here is how you can do so:         

  • Set the multimeter to ohm settings
  • Next, set the switch to the pickup you want to test.
  • Plug one end of the lead into your guitar and put one end free
  • Make sure the probes are touching the tip and the earthed wire and wait for the multimeter to show a reading.

If the ranges are accurate, you know there is nothing wrong with the guitar; however, if there is deviation, you know the guitar has gone wrong.

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How Do Guitar Pickups Go Bad?

Guitar pickups can last for years if you handle them properly. Since guitar pickups have no moving parts, they are less likely to get damaged. However, mismanagement and mistreatment of the guitar can cause damage to the pickups. So, the most common reasons for guitar pickups going bad are bobbin deterioration and loss of magnetism. Other factors that can make the guitar pickups go bad are; moisture, sweat, improper installment, climatic fluctuations, heat, etc.

Bobbin Deterioration

The bobbin holds the magnets upright in the guitar. If the bobbin deteriorates for any reason, the magnets shift their position, which directly affects the guitar’s output. The bobbin can corrode or break due to moisture in the atmosphere or the sweat released while playing the guitar. Also, you will have to replace the bobbin, and you can get away without having to replace the whole pickup. However, if the magnetic potential is lost, the pickups must be changed entirely.

Loss of Magnetism

The second most common reason guitar pickups go wrong is the loss of magnetism. So, the magnet loses its magnetism over time naturally, but it takes many years to happen. However, suppose the magnets are exposed to other stronger magnets for a long period. In that case, it will affect the functioning of the magnet and, ultimately, the functioning of the guitar.

Magnets can also get oxidized if they come in contact with water or are placed in a humid environment for a long.

Improper Installation

Improper installation of pickup wires is another common mistake that most of us make. If the cables are not wound up properly, there is a greater risk of them breaking down and the chance of pickup wires going bad.

Climatic Fluctuations & Heat

The pickups are often made up of metallic elements. Moreover, if the climate fluctuates a lot, the expansion and contraction of the pickup material can cause the wires to break and short circuit, eventually causing the guitar to go bad.

Taking care of the factors mentioned above can help you prolong the lifespan of your pickups.

How Do You Replace a Guitar Pickup?

Changing your guitar pickup becomes essential if they go bad. Since pickups affect the tone and the quality of sound a guitar produces, we are sure you do not want tunes unpleasant to your ears. Also, it is easy to replace a guitar pickup yourself. Listed below is a step-by-step guide to how you can replace guitar pickups after they have gone bad. Indeed it is a great skill to learn too as you can save a lot of money by doing it yourself.

Electric guitar Pickup and guitar string
  1. Find a good workspace to keep your guitar on. 
  2. Then take pictures of the wire so you can quickly put them back using it as a reference.
  3. Remove the strings of the guitar and make sure the area is clean
  4. Undo the cables and remove the pickups
  5. Mount around the new pickups
  6. Redo the wiring as it was. You can use the picture for reference
  7. Put back the guitar strings and test the guitar.

What Happens if You Do Not Replace a Guitar Pickup That Has Worn Out?

Guitar pickups are essential for the appropriate tune and quality of sound. Therefore, not changing or delaying them just means compromising the sound quality and tune. 

Worn-out guitar pickups may have a weaker output that causes them to sound quieter and flatter. Also, the punching and energetic element is missing from the sound. They may also have trebled responses that cut off the clarity of the sound.


If you are ineffective in taking care of your guitar pickups, handle them carelessly, and do not keep them clean and covered in a safe space, they are likely to go bad.

So, yes, guitar pickups can go bad over time. Decay is a natural process, and however, if left unused, they may remain outstanding in optimal condition for years

Sourav Biswas

Music is my life and I love to play guitar so much. It's been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a musical family, and my parents were always supportive of my passion for music. I am also a freelance writer who has been writing for over 10 years. I have written for both online and offline publications, including Amazon and Medium.

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