A good-quality pickup can last decades without a hint of damage. This could lead to the belief that pickups can resist every human or environmental action. However, magnetic pickups are composed of various metal components that can potentially oxidize or rust.
These are the top 5 main tips that will allow you to keep your pickup from rusting:
- Store the guitar or bass in dry and cool places
- Wipe your strings and pickups after playing
- Clean your fingers before playing
- Use a pickup cover
- Place the guitar or bass in a bag or case
In this article, we'll examine these five tips to prevent pickup rust in greater detail and discuss how rust affects pickups and how to clean rusty pickups if they're already rusted.
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Rust & Guitar/Bass Pickups
As disclosed above, there are various ways to prevent a pickup from rusting, and they all involve avoiding contact with moisture.
Rust is a common term used interchangeably with corrosion or oxidation. It's caused by a process by which iron loses electrons to water's acidic electrolytes and transforms into iron oxide. This produces a reddish-brown surface on many metals that feels irregular and flaky to the touch.
This happens when the iron is in persistent contact with water particles and oxygen. Water is key to rusting, as it causes the oxygen molecules to break up, allowing them to absorb electrons from iron.
Rust can be accelerated by certain variables, such as the presence of sea spray in the air and the salt contained in sweat. Salt is a highly corrosive product that heavily contributes to the rusting process because electrons move quicker in saltwater than in pure water.
How Does Rust Affect Pickups?
Rust causes a significant impact on a metal's magnetic properties because it introduces atoms from other elements such as oxygen, effectively altering the interactions between neighbouring electrons.
Magnetic pickups function by means of electromagnetic induction with an electromagnetic field that comprises the magnets embedded within and the metal strings. If the magnets contain rust spots, the ability to interact with the strings' vibrational energy becomes weaker. This means that weaker electrical audio signals will be produced and transferred through the coil, and, consequently, the output of the pickup will suffer.
How To Prevent Pickups From Rusting
In this section, we'll be unpacking the tips mentioned earlier, outlining some details about the measures we ought to take to prevent rust from forming on our pickup magnet poles and wiring.
1. Store The Guitar Or Bass In Dry And Cool Places
It needs to be reinstated how detrimental moisture is to our guitar's metal components and accessories. Pickups are no exception. Damp basements are not optimal storage spaces for guitars or basses.
It's always recommended to pick drier storage rooms with free-flowing access to sunlight and fresh air. Don't leave your guitar exposed to direct sunlight, though, as that could damage other components.
No space in a house is completely devoid of humidity, but relative humidity should optimally be between 45 and 55 percent.
2. Wipe Your Strings And Pickups After Playing
Cleaning your guitar can greatly increase its lifespan. This correspondingly applies to the strings and the pickups, especially in terms of rust prevention.
Strings are the most manipulated components in a guitar and, as a result, the most susceptible to corrosion. Nevertheless, strings sit at a very close distance from the pickup magnets, and they collide at times.
Furthermore, pickups can get in the way of your playing hand, transferring sweat and other corrosive pollutants to the magnets. Furthermore, the salt contained in human sweat can damage your pickup's wiring and cause a short circuit.
By wiping your strings and pickups with a microfiber cloth (or similar), you ensure that they are not in permanent contact with moisture or sweat and no rust will form.
Related article: Top 6 Tips To Prevent Guitar & Bass Strings From Rusting
3. Clean Your Fingers Before Playing
Inversely, you can prevent sweat, moisture, and dirt from being transferred to the pickup by eliminating any trace of them from your hands before playing.
There is, nevertheless, no guarantee that it will not happen despite your efforts. However, you will reduce the instances of this occurring by wiping your hands, particularly if you have palmar hyperhidrosis or “sweaty hands.”
Related article: Is It Bad/Damaging To Touch Guitar Pickups?
4. Use A Pickup Cover
Many pickups come purveyed with covers or screens that fend off Radio Frequency Interference (RFI). They also provide the additional advantage of protecting the pickup from the elements and environmental hazards.
Some guitarists are inclined to remove the covers from their pickups to attain a sharper tone from their guitars. In this case, the pickups are more exposed to corrosive agents. However, as long as the other measures are followed to a tee, this should not be a major issue.
Related article: Do Guitar Pickup Covers Affect Tone?
5. Place The Guitar Or Bass In A Bag Or Case
Sometimes, it's virtually impossible to avoid moisture, especially if you live near coastal areas filled with sea spray. In situations like these, a good guitar cover, bag or case can come handy to provide your instrument with a strong barrier against any saltwater particles that can oxidize your pickups.
Nonetheless, this should become a habit even in drier places. A guitar case or bag can protect your guitar from various other situations that don't necessarily involve humidity (accidental falls or spills, dust buildup, bumps, etc.).
Of course, if you play regularly or are developing the habit of playing regularly, it's probably best to have at least one guitar in plain sight, ready to be played at any moment.
How To Clean Rusty Pickups
This topic may be worth a separate article. Still, we will summarize some cleaning tips for your rusty magnet poles:
- Apply lemon and salt mixture on your magnet poles with a Q tip, but not before protecting the plastic housing with duct tape or other similar tools.
- Use penetrating oil, following the same procedure described above. Then, rub the oil off with a cotton swab and brush the poles off for a minute with a regular brush.
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