How to Clean Guitar Pickups: A Step-by-Step Guide for Rusty Guitar Lovers

How to Clean Guitar Pickups: Hey there, fellow guitar enthusiasts! We all know how important it is to keep our beloved instruments in tip-top shape. And when it comes to guitar maintenance, cleaning those rusty guitar pickups should be at the top of your to-do list. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the process of cleaning guitar pickups, so you can keep rocking out with a clean and clear tone on acoustic or electric guitar. Let’s dive in!

How Do You Clean Tarnished Pickups?

Now, dealing with tarnished pickups can be a real buzzkill. But fear not! We have a few tricks up our sleeve to help you bring back that sparkle, on both the pickups and the pickup covers. One popular question we get is, “Can you use WD-40 to clean guitar pickups and remove the rest?” Well, the answer is a resounding no. WD-40 may work wonders elsewhere, but when it comes to your pickups, it can cause more harm than good in rust removal. Instead, we’ll guide you through safer and more effective methods to clean your pickups.

Can Guitar Pickups Get Wet?

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Ah, the age-old question – can guitar pickups get wet when you are cleaning guitar parts? The short answer is yes, they can get wet, but it’s best to avoid it if possible. Water can seep into the delicate components of your pickups and cause damage. So, keep your precious guitar away from any water-related mishaps to ensure its longevity.

Am I Better Off Just Replacing the Pickups?

Now, before you dive into cleaning your guitar pickups, you might be wondering if it’s worth the effort. Well, replacing pickups can be quite expensive, so cleaning and maintaining them regularly can save you some serious cash on this clean magnetic top that transmits the vibrations of strings. Every time you change them, the guitar become a bit more fragile. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to bond with your instrument and understand its inner workings which makes cleaning fun. So, roll up our sleeves and get to work!

How to Clean Guitar Pickups:

Image by Do Hoang Anh from Unplash

Cleaning your guitar pickups doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In fact, it can be quite a therapeutic experience, and you can reward yourself and your instrument by buying a new set of strings (especially if yours are heavily rusted). Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

1.       Gather your materials: You’ll need a microfiber cloth, some mild cleaning solution, and a small amount of elbow grease. Cleaning pickups with a microfiber cloth will prevent scratches. If you are a participant in the Amazon services or an Amazon associate, it is very convenient to order everything there, and your favorite guitar website might earn from qualifying purchases.

2.       Remove the guitar strings: Before you begin cleaning, it’s best to remove the guitar strings to avoid any accidental damage, because there should be nothing covering the entire surface. Pickup covers look clean sometimes while under them there is a lot of dirt. All these parts should be removed to give you full access to the pickups.

3.       Wipe away the dirt and grime: Use a microfiber cloth to gently wipe the pickups, removing any dirt and grime. Be sure to pay special attention to the dirt around the magnetic poles.

4.       Remove surface rust: If you spot any surface rust, you can use a mild rust remover to get rid of it. Apply a small amount of the rust remover to a clean cloth and gently rub the affected areas, especially the exposed pole pieces, to remove rust.

5.       Polish the pickups: To keep your pickups looking shiny and new, apply a small amount of guitar polish onto a small area of the cloth. Gently rub the surface of the pickup in circular motions until it shines. The remaining rust will disappear after polishing, and you are going to be happy with your guitar looking brand new.

6.       Wipe off any residue: Using a clean cloth, wipe off any remaining polish residue from the pickups. Be careful if you have a humbucker pickup, a double coil pickup, not a single coil.

7.       Reinstall the guitar strings: Once your pickups are clean and shiny, and you checked the pickup pole for damage, it’s time to restring your guitar and get back to playing! Every guitar needs this process from time to time, do not forget to remove the rust regularly.

What Else Can I Use to Clean My Guitar Pickups?

If you’re looking for alternative cleaning methods, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few additional options:

1.       Compressed air: Use compressed air to blow away any dust or debris from your pickups. It won’t work with excessive rust. But if you are keeping your guitar in good shape and want to do low-key cleaning, this is for you.

2.       Steel wool: For more stubborn rust and corrosion, you can use fine-grade steel wool to gently scrub away the buildup. Just be careful not to scratch the surface of the pickup, especially because a pickup has a metal pole that is easily scratched.

3.       Lemon juice and salt: Create a mixture of lemon juice and salt and apply it to a clean cloth and then onto the pickups. Gently rub the pickups to remove any rust, without removing the strings. After that you should apply soap and warm water to get rid of the salt and lemon. If you are not getting the polish out, let the instrument and metal pickup covers dry.


          Wash your hands before you play to prevent rust and dirt transfer. Rust on your pickup is not good for the instrument. Keep your pickups clean and remove rust from your pickups if you want a great sound.

          Consider changing your guitar strings regularly to prevent rust from affecting your pickups. Consider buying metal polish to apply when you change your guitar strings, but look for a specific one, because there are many polishes for many different types of guitar pickups.

          Keep your guitar pickups clean by using a microfiber cloth to wipe away any smudges or fingerprints. Baking soda and water is not a recommended solution.


          Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials on your pickups, as they can cause irreparable damage to your guitar’s finish, even if there is a greater amount of rust.

          Be cautious when cleaning pickups with metal covers to prevent scratching the surface. You would want to clean carefully. The rust won’t get worse if you take your time. Use a polish that’s usually used on the type of the guitar that you have, for example, silver polish.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully learned how to clean your rusty pickups and the top of the pole like a pro. By following these simple steps and regularly maintaining your pickups, you can keep your guitar sounding its best for years to come. Remember, a clean guitar is a happy guitar. Clean your guitar pickups today, if you can, the rust on your pickups affect the tone of your guitar. Happy playing!

Kristy Bennett/ author of the article
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