Hi (and merry christmas to everybody):

Talking with one of my friends he told me that I have to sand my guitar pickup, that is... to take off the first coat of the pickup in order to restaurate its sound... what does it mean?! I've never read something about that... about sanding pickups...

Do you have any idea of what my friend was talking about?


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When I first read your initial posting my first thought was rust. Like they said before I don't think it will change your pickups sound. It personally would drive me nuts having rust on my pickups. I would try other methods other then sanding.Please don't leave it out in the rain anymore:)

Hi Stefano.

Whatever kind of pickup it is, use the eraser on a standard wooden lead pencil to abrade away the rust.  When clean, a half-a-drop of clear nail polish will seal the surface.

Also try to drive home the fact that it's normal and expected that the magnet pole pieces will oxidize and pit.  It's the nature of metals. The only good preventative is for the customer to wipe down each pole piece after EVERY playing session. Also keep WD40 (MD40?) away from the guitar.  There are more appropriate penetration fluids out there. Personally, I don't think a penentrant will make this job any easier or have better results.

If that doesn't satisfy your customer, tell him he needs to replace the pickup.

I've seen more harm done than good when folks try to "pretty-up" their pickups.

Your customer is creating a tempest in a teapot (:  (I love that expression).

Best of luck,

Paul (-:

Thank you Paul! Your answers are always very useful. I've just told my customer that rust is something natural on metal but he hasn't changed idea: he wants the rust away.

I hope the eraser will abrade away the rust but I dude... the pup is in a very bad condition... What about the clear nail polish on the pole-pieces? I've never heard about that...! 

Hi Stefano.

You have my 'frustration sympathy" my friend.

Let's assume this is a Strat or Tele style pup. IF there are enough of the pole-piece slugs protruding from the top of the pup (as in a staggered design), you'll need to very carefully remove the rust.  Since rust creates pits on the metal, it may be deeper than you think.  If the eraser trick doesn't work, I'd use a spark plug file or a wire wheel on a motor-tool to do the initial rust removal. Depending on the magnet's casting quality, it may have tiny naturally occurring pits (voids) throughout.

If it's the slug side of an exposed humbucker, or a non staggered single coil, your only option is to very carefully expose about an 1/8" (3mm) section above the bobbin, using a pin punch from behind the bobbin, and use the same abrading step of your choice. When done, reverse your process and return the pickup to its stock appearance. In both models, appropriate masking & surface protection are of paramount importance.

Once you get the rust taken care of, you can doll-up the slug to your customer's satisfaction, even going so far as to making it jewel-like.

The clear nail polish is a nod to brass instrument makers.  The nail polish, or water clear lacquer, or  clear poly, will prevent the newly polished surface of the pole-pieces from oxidizing once you get them cleaned & polished. This coating will eventually wear away if contacted by the strings and/or the player's hand.

And, I completely understand & applaud your "going above & beyond" for a good friend.  A happy 'regular customer' is a joy. A happy friend, is priceless. You're a good guy Stefano (-:

Take care buddy & the very best of luck,


Sorry Paul but that could ruin a pickup. Do not move the pole pieces on any single coil the wire is often wrapped around the pole pieces and can easily create a dead short.  

"If it's the slug side of an exposed humbucker, or a non staggered single coil, your only option is to very carefully expose about an 1/8" (3mm) section above the bobbin, using a pin punch from behind the bobbin, and use the same abrading step of your choice. When done, reverse your process and return the pickup to its stock appearance".

Disregard this advice^^^^^^^^

Thanks John.  I completely forgot about that.(:   

Personally, I don't repair or mess with problem pups.  I either send them off for a rewind or (and here's the ONLY cost effective fix) install a new/used replacement pup.  The cost of a new premium pup costs way less than a couple hours of bench time.  Plus, nowadays, a GREAT sounding pup is not difficult to find.

You're on your own Stefano.

Good luck (:

There was a time when guys would sand the lacquer off the tops of the pole pieces.  Specifically (dqmot) lacquer potted 70's era Fender pickups. It was supposed to make them sound better. 

A silver "sharpie" can make them look better, at least not "rusty". it wont look bare metal bright, but it wont look like rust. I don't think it can hurt anything either.


anal retentive pup mgmt!!!!!! HappyNewYear...time for "Rusty"to expound on this one.. 

Thanks Tim,

The customer has a legitimate right to ask for corrosion and stuff to be cleaned - and lots of people keep a really clean house and polish their guitar cases etc - it's maybe not what we all do but it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Maybe a touch up to remove the surface corrosion with a micro mesh stick or a non ferrous brass brush chucked in a Dremmel (I've done it, it works,  but read on).   After that a dab of lacquer or just a smidge of preservative/anti corrosion stuff (not letting it wick down among the windings).  This doesn't do much but it makes the customer happy for a while - but rust never sleeps unfortunately.  

Note to the EMP Nazi's:   Do not tell me that a dremmels motor electro magnetic field will affect the pickup magnetism - Eddie Van Halen used a pick chucked in an arbor of a large power drill for some of his more outlandish performances and I've been using Dremmels around electrics for quite the while with no discernable after effects....ditto holding the little suckers very close to huge palpitating speaker coils/magnets in the throes of feedback and also face to face with the output and power trannies in active amp heads - they do not seem to mind this sort of thing.

However, I find that the closer and longer I work with pickups on the bench just increases the chance of these delicate little darlings failing due to mis-handling and idle curiosity.  It's a real case of "if it's working - do not mess with it".   Removing covers (both plastic and metal) seems to be the number one cause of potential and actual damage.  

But. all things said enjoy yr new year  - I certainly will!

Fond regards to to all the comrades out there for 2013 and beyond.

While on the subjects of 'rusty' pickups.....I reference to my '55 Les Paul Jr in a previous post. The screw poles are raised over the plastic cover of its original P-90. They are radiused okay and have a bit of rust/corrosion on the heads(that doesn't bother me). I have not tryed screwing them down. What 'could' be the pitfalls of doing so?

I think I could lower the bridge/tail slightly but wonder if the poles would be too close to the strings when fretting on the upper neck, so I have not touched it.

I would hate to kill a vintage P-90. It was mentioned in a post previous about shorting the coil wire. What are good precautions?

Thanks, Rod

Hi Rod.

That cautionary tale only applies to the slug coil on a humbucker or the magnetic slugs on a single coil pup.

The Fillister screws on a P-90 thread through a metal plate.  They're like any other screw in a metal threaded hole.  If they're frozen, the only risk is having them break (shatter) if too much force is applied.

I've reconditioned dozens of these and if you give the job your complete & undivided attention and work smart & slow, you should run into no problems.  Most pups are user destroyed by "oooops" mistakes made due to impatience. You should have no problem.

I've attached Stew-Mac's view of a P-90 for your convenience.

If you need more info, it would probably be best to start a fresh thread.

But, while we're on this thread, I'll reveal a little known (around my area anyway) fact:  Many vintage P-90's seem to develop a 'static' sound over the years.  It's usually intermittent and inconsistent but always aggravating. If you take the plastic cover off the pup, you may notice iron filings (from steel wool or ???) clinging to the pup.  Blow these away using compressed air and a soft brush, reassemble the pup, and the 'noise' is magically gone & the pup will sound better.

Best of luck,



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