You Ask: How to stop my electric guitar pickups from turning green?

Green-tinted corrosion – sometimes known as verdigris – is a common problem on many vintage guitars.

electric guitar pickups green corrosion

In this new Q&A series, we address some of the questions sent in by our readers. To kick things off, we have a query from Kaiser Matt, who wants to know how to halt pickup discolouration.

Kaiser asks: “I’m lucky to own a 1959 [Gretsch] Single Anniversary that I’ve had for over 25 years, but to my horror, the pickup is turning green. What can I do?! The surround and pickguard are also starting to show marks, it’s not damp in my house. Please advise!”

You are indeed lucky. With a Filter’Tron pickup and trestle bracing, those guitars were one pickup short of 6120 spec, and some people think the single-pickup Gretsches sound better.

However, it does seem like you have an issue with corrosion of some sort. It’s quite common to see verdigris on gold plate, but your pickup cover should be nickel or chrome plated. It seems odd that the pickguard and surround are also greening. Corrosion of this sort sometimes occurs when a guitar with celluloid nitrate parts is kept in a case. As the celluloid nitrate degrades, it apparently releases corrosive gas that can eat into metal plating and plastic parts.

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So if your guitar usually lives inside its case, try keeping it outside the case and see if the deterioration slows down. Also check if there are any celluloid nitrate bits and pieces inside the case – which may not be original to your guitar. If so, remove them. You may be able to clean up the pickup cover with chrome polish or 3M machine polish. If the metal is too far gone, any decent pickup maker should be able to remove the cover and arrange to have it replated.

Don’t try to restore gold plating because it will rub off with any abrasive compound. There will be metallic paint on the underside of the pickup surround and, if your Anniversary is a sunburst example, the pickguard too.

You could try wiping away any green areas with a damp cloth, but once the greening process has started, it may not be possible to stop it. If you do manage to revive the look of your guitar with a careful clean-up, clean it every time it is played. If you can’t abide the greened-up look, you could fit a new pickup surround and pickguard, but be sure to keep the original parts safe because they are part of the guitar’s history and value.

Send in all your burning guitar questions via Facebook or to editors@guitar.com, and we’ll try to answer as best as we can!

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