Like any other thing, Stratocasters will eventually get dirty when frequently used and not properly stored back in their case. If you use your Stratocaster daily, whether for performances or practices, the time will always come when you will have to clean your guitar’s pickups if you want it to look brand new and prevent it from deteriorating.
Playing with sweat on your palm and fingers is another thing that will result in your guitar having dirt and grime, which often leads to rust. These three components — dirt, grime, and rust, can negatively impact the tone it generates. However, there is nothing to worry about because grime, dirt, and rust are easy to remove.
In this article, I will discuss the proper procedure for keeping your Stratocaster pickups clean and free from rust, including the materials and solutions you’ll need, things you should cautiously handle, and others.
Things To Do When Cleaning Your Stratocaster’s Pickup
To give you a little background, the small boxes found on the body of your electric guitars are called pickups. They are positioned beneath the strings between the neck and the bridge. Pickups are highly essential because it determines how well your electric guitar generates sounds.
Pickups are composed of small magnetic poles that are housed inside a plastic bobbin and are wounded by conductive wires. These wires enable them to convert string vibrations into electrical currents. The sound you hear is then produced by the amplifier, which receives the current. This is why it is essential always to keep your pickups clean and rust-free. A little amount of rust won’t stop the magnet from working. However, too much rust would inflict serious problems.
Keep Liquids And Fluids Away
You may have probably anticipated this, but keeping liquids or fluids at a distance is always a must when dealing with electronics. This is the same when cleaning your electric guitar components, which can sustain irreparable damage when water goes inside them.
In addition, despite some people or websites recommending soap and water, or salt and lemon juice to clean your electric guitar, it’s best not to do it. Remember that water and electronics don’t work well together and are likely dangerous for your electric guitar and yourself.
Extra caution should always be observed when handling your electric guitar’s components. You must be cautious enough to avoid disconnecting any wirings or touching live wires.
As a rule, always unplug your electric guitar before cleaning it to prevent electric shocks. One factor that may cause electric shocks when checking your electric guitar is the improper connection of your amplifier’s ground, so you better check that out.
Avoid Using Steel Wool
Some people recommend using steel wool when removing rust from your pickups, but this needs to be corrected because this method will only leave your pickup’s poles covered with tiny steel shavings from the steel wool. But it’s even worse if these steel shavings end up in your electric guitar’s body and damage its finish.
More importantly, you might unintentionally change their polarity by rubbing your magnetic pickup poles with steel wool. A change in polarity could impact your pickups’ functionality, and they might even become useless.
Keep Magnets At A Distance
You should avoid having magnets around when cleaning your electric guitar pickups. Although it relates to the steel wool problem mentioned above, this point still deserves special attention. The primary issue with steel wool is the shavings it leaves behind on your pickup’s poles. Due to this issue, some suggest the utilization of a magnet to get rid of these shavings. However, doing so can negatively impact your electric guitar’s pickup.
As mentioned above, your pickup poles are magnetized to capture your guitar strings’ vibration. The conversion of your playing to audible sounds is processed here. However, a magnet’s presence can alter these poles’ polarity. Even a simple and quick magnet passing over them can cause permanent damage and affect the tones it generates. This makes it crucial always to keep magnetic objects at a distance when dealing with your pickups.
Cleaning Your Stratocaster’s Pickups
Before performing any cleaning process, the first mode of action is to remove your Stratocaster’s string. It is highly recommended to clean your pickups every time you plan to replace your electric guitar’s string. By doing so, you are accomplishing two tasks rather than one, especially since removing and reinstalling your strings can be a hassle to do.
By removing your strings, you will be able to remove your pickguard and electric guitar pickups entirely. Luthiers highly advise cleaning your pickups when they are wholly detached from the guitar rather than having them still installed on your guitar. This method will allow you to thoroughly clean your pickups for optimum results. In addition, it helps reduce any risks of tarnishing your electric guitar’s finish or damaging its electronics.
Detach The Pickguard And Pickups From Your Stratocaster
To detach your Stratocaster’s pickguard and pickup, you must prepare a handheld precision screwdriver. Do not attempt and follow some articles that suggest the use of a drill bit because the slightest slip can cause permanent damage to either your guitar’s guard or finish.
Using a handheld precision screwdriver will require you to pay close attention to how much you tighten the screws. A screw excessively tightened can result in a cracked pickguard.
In addition, it is essential to note that your Stratocaster’s jack comes equipped with a live cable and grounding wire, and the claw is earthing the bridge. This makes it highly essential to remove the pickguard with caution. To prevent yanking these wires, it’s best to slowly and gently tilt the pickguard up on one side.
Once you have safely detached your pickguard along with its intact wires, the next thing you should do is remove your pickups by unscrewing them. Some pickups have their magnets covered and should be removed by unscrewing their screws. Additionally, if your pickup has some plastic bobbin tops, these can be unclipped and taken off to fully reveal all magnetic poles for cleaning.
If your electric guitar features a row of pole screws, you must carefully untighten these screws and remove them with your precision handheld screwdriver. It is essential to be cautious so as not to strip the screws and to secure them in a small container so you wouldn’t lose them. Depending on the screws used on your guitar’s pole screws, you can use Allen or Hex wrench.
Note that not all Stratocasters are manufactured similarly. Some Stratocaster models come equipped with a pickguard, while some don’t. Also, not all Stratocasters feature the same pickups; some have single coils, and some have humbuckers. Therefore, it is highly suggested to have a personal evaluation of the kind of Stratocaster you have and modify this process accordingly.
Dust Removal and Prevention
- Compressed air in an aerosol can with an extended nozzle.
- New, dry, and soft-bristled paintbrush
- Clean and dry microfiber towel
- Brush off all visible dust on your pickup using your dry and soft-bristled paintbrush. Getting your paintbrush bristles between each gap, groove, and opening present are advisable to ensure all dust is removed.
- Prepare the compressed aerosol can, point its extended nozzle along every crack and crevice, and squirt a sufficient amount of compressed air. This way, you can blow out all the dust stuck between them.
- To ensure all dust is removed or blown away, brush your pickup again using your paintbrush.
- Use a clean and dry microfiber towel and wipe your pickup as a finishing touch.
- This method effectively removes almost every dust present in your pickups. After dusting your pickups, continue brushing them after every practice session, and if possible, store your electric guitar in a bag or case to prevent any dust build-up.
Cleaning Your Stratocaster’s Faceplate
Consider cleaning your electric guitar’s faceplate when planning to clean your pickups. Fender Stratocasters feature a faceplate, which is positioned over your pickups. It is also used as your pickup’s cover, so it will develop grime and loses its shine over time, especially with excessive use. Both single coils and humbucker pickups typically utilize faceplates.
Materials Needed For Cleaning Your pickups faceplate and restore their shine:
- Guitar polish
- Two pieces of clean and dry microfiber towel
Note: It is important to remember that not all guitar polish and cleaning agents are applicable cleaners for gold faceplates. Some compounds and cleaning agents can cause your gold faceplate to fade. Therefore, if your faceplate is gold, look for a specific guitar polish applicable to gold finishes.
- Prepare your guitar polish and one microfiber towel. Apply a sufficient amount of guitar polish onto the microfiber towel and gently rub the polish onto your Stratocaster’s faceplate in a circular motion.
- Wait at least five (5) minutes to let the polish sit. This process will allow the guitar polish to do its job.
- Using your second microfiber towel, gently wipe off the excess guitar polish and buff your faceplate until shiny.
- You may also apply an ample amount of guitar polish to your pickups. However, this is only applicable once you are done dusting them off.
- The process of polishing your pickups is the same as polishing your faceplates. This is highly beneficial since the polish will be a thin protective layer for your pickup’s poles and screws to prevent rust build-up.
Rust Prevention and Removal
Penetrating Oil For Rust On Your Poles
Although it may be alarming to see rust on your pickups, it is normal and effortless to solve.
- Penetrating Oil (Example: WD-40)
- Masking Tape
- Cotton Swabs or Q-tips
- Paper Towel
- Clean and Dry Used Toothbrush
- Small Container (to pour your penetrating oil)
Note: You should be careful when dealing with penetrating oil since it can damage your Stratocaster’s finish and interfere with its electronics. It is crucial to ensure that no oil droplets come in contact with your guitar components.
- You should apply masking tape on the plastic bobbin’s surface around the magnetic poles. To ensure that only the poles are visible and exposed for cleaning, cut the tape into strips and adhere them to the bobbin. This may require you to exert more effort, but it guarantees that your bobbin is safe from damage.
- Once done, apply some penetrating oil on your pickup poles. Pour or spray a sufficient amount of penetrating oil onto your small container and dip either a cotton swab or Q-tip into the oil. In a circular motion, rub the penetrating oil onto the poles. It is advisable to exert sufficient and extra force when rubbing. Continue until you observe the rust lifting or the oil getting stained.
- Prepare the paper towel and wipe off all the rust flakes and penetrating oil left on your pickups.
- If there is still rust on your magnetic poles, use your used clean and dry toothbrush to scrub the remaining rust off your poles.
- After applying all the steps above and you still notice rust on your poles, it is advisable to repeat the process until all rust is eliminated.
- Once there is no more rust visible, or if you are satisfied with the amount of rust, use a clean and dry paper towel, and wipe dry the poles.
- When the poles are dry, remove the masking tape we adhered to at the start.
Pole Screw Rust Removal Using Vinegar
- White Vinegar
- Container (1/2 to 1 inch in depth)
- Paper Towel
- The first step is to detach your pole screws from your pickups fully.
- Once done, pour 1/4 or 1/2 inch of white vinegar into your container and submerge your rusted pole screws.
- Depending on how rusted your pole screws are, keeping them submerged for at least a day is safe before checking back on them.
- After waiting, if there is still rust visible on them, you may redo the process by replacing the used vinegar with a fresh one and resubmerge your pole screws for an additional day. It is preferable to throw the used and stained white vinegar outside and not on your kitchen’s drain, especially since it has a powerful and foul scent.
- All rust is expected to be eliminated after two days. At this point, dry your screws using a paper towel.
- The same vinegar process may be incorporated for other rusted screws, such as those found in your bridge and pickguard.
After removing dust and rust from your Stratocasters pickup poles and screws, it is highly recommended to polish them for additional protection against corrosion.
- Guitar polish
- Two pieces of clean and dry microfiber towels
Note: Before polishing your pickup poles and screws, it is crucial to ensure that they are clean and dry. This enables the guitar polish to be evenly applied and to stick securely on your pickup components.
- Add an ample amount of guitar polish to one of your microfiber towels.
- Rub the solution onto each pole and screw.
- Wait for the polish to sit and do its job.
- Once the polish has settled, using your other microfiber towel, wipe the excess polish off the poles and screws. Gently buff and shine the polished surface using the same towel.
- After polishing, you may reassemble and reattach your pickup and pickguard onto your Stratocaster.
Reassemble Your Pickup Back Onto Your Stratocaster
After dusting or removing rust from your pickup’s pole or screws and being satisfied with the results, you may now reassemble everything back together.
- Pickup Components you’ve Disassembled (Pole and Screws)
- Handheld Precision Screwdriver. (Stratocasters usually feature Phillips oval head screws that are 5/8″ long, but some may need a hex screw).
- Prepare all pickup components and tools needed.
- Start by reassembling your pickup using the required handheld precision screwdriver. Be cautious in tightening your screws to avoid stripping or wearing them out.
- Reattach the plastic bobbin covers you removed by clipping them back in position.
- Next would be to screw back in place your pickups onto the pickguard as it was before when you disassembled it. It is essential to work carefully to avoid damaging any electronic connections beneath your pickguard.
- Position and securely screw in place the pickguard. It is vital to tighten the screw sufficiently and not overdo them to prevent permanent damage to your pickguard, screws, and body’s pilot holes.
- Once done, restring your Stratocaster, retune it, and test out your clean and polished pickups.
Overall, cleaning your pickup is a task that anyone can accomplish. Although, if you don’t have spare time to do it yourself, you may always ask a guitar luthier to do the cleaning. However, doing so will require you to spend additional expenses.
For your Stratocaster’s pickups maintenance, it is always a golden rule only to use proper tools and cleaning supplies. The worst thing you can do when cleaning your pickups is to permanently damage them, and this is something you would want to avoid because it will affect your electric guitar’s tone.
Another helpful advice is to inspect the polish or solution you intend to apply on your pickups. Note that not all polish is applicable for all finishes. As mentioned previously, gold-finished pickups require a specific kind of polish because of their susceptibility to scratches and shiny appearance. Gold-finished materials need lighter solutions (such as Naptha) to retain their luster.
To maintain and extend your pickup’s lifespan, it is an excellent habit to dust them off using a clean and dry paintbrush after every use. Additionally, you should inspect them regularly and have them thoroughly cleaned every week, especially since they often come in contact with our sweat during playing sessions. Sweat can lead to grime build-up, which is the primary cause of rust in your electric guitars.
Lastly, to minimize your effort, make it a routine to clean your pickups every time you replace your strings to ensure that your Stratocaster always performs at its best.