How To Test A Guitar Pickup

The pickup is one of the most essential components of an electric guitar, as it is what makes the sound come out of the amplifier. That being said, if your pickup isn’t working correctly, your guitar won’t sound right, or won’t make any noise at all. 

So, how do you test a guitar pickup to make sure it’s working properly? Well, you’ll need a little time and a tool called a multimeter. It might seem difficult at first, but it’s really not so bad.  Testing your guitar’s pickups is a great habit to ensure your guitar is in proper working order. 

How To Test A Guitar Pickup

How Do You Check If A Guitar Pickup Is Working?

There are a number of different ways you can see if a guitar pickup is working or not. Try all of the methods below in order to make sure your pickups are in proper working order. Without working pickups, your electric guitar is nothing more than a bunch of wood and wires. 

Play the guitar!

The easiest way to check if there’s anything wrong with your pickups is to try to play your guitar first. Use a quarter inch wire to plug your guitar into any amplifier. If the signal comes through and is loud and clear, this is a very good sign that your pickups are working as intended. 

However, if there is anything wrong with the signal, such as it being distorted (when you don’t want it to be), it has a buzz, it’s breaking up, it’s too quiet, or it isn’t there at all, this can be cause for concern. A broken or malfunctioning pickup can be one of the causes of all of the listed issues. 

Playing the guitar should be the first thing you do in order to test your pickups. After all, it costs you nothing, and it’s not only easy to do, but an easy way to tell upfront if there’s anything wrong with your guitar’s hardware. 

Use a multimeter

If playing your guitar isn’t giving you a clear picture, or you want to be sure it’s something other than your pickup causing an issue with your guitar’s sound, you can use a tool called a multimeter. 

You might be wondering: what is a multimeter? Well a digital multimeter is a device that measures current, voltage, and/or resistance. It’s not only a tool for guitar players, but it can be a fantastic device for making sure your axe is ready to shred. 

So how do you test whether or not your pickup works with a multimeter? First, set the multimeter to the “ohms” setting. Ohms measure resistance. Touch the multimeter’s red test lead to the pickup’s hot wire. Then, touch the black test lead on the multimeter to the pickup’s ground wire. 

Now, every pickup is different, so you’ll be looking for a different number each time. Check with the manual, look up online, or get into contact with the manufacturer to find the proper resistance your pickup should be at. If this number doesn’t match what the multimeter is reading, you have a defective pickup on your hands. 

How Do You Troubleshoot Pickups?

There are a number of ways you can troubleshoot your guitar’s pickups and see if they’re actually the problem.

Play without pedals

First, if you suspect that your pickup could be causing you issues, you should be playing with as little between your pickup and your amp as possible. This means to take out any pedals or boxes, whether they’re on or not, as well as disabling any effects on your amp. Play a clean, dry signal through your amp and see if it sounds how it’s supposed to or not. 

This will help you identify the root of any sound issues you may be having. If the issues stop, you can be sure it’s a pedals issue rather than a pickup issue. 

Change out your cables

If you are still having trouble with your signal breaking up, being too quiet, or not coming through at all, try changing out your quarter-inch cables with a new one, or one you are entirely certain is working. The more you test with, the more accuracy you can have in your assumptions. 

Broken cables are far more common than broken pickups, so this is often the case! 

Make sure your electronics are clean

Your pickup might not be broken, it could just be dirty. You can write a ton about cleaning guitar hardware, so I’ll save that for another article. However, open your guitar up and take a look at the dials, pickups, and oher electronics inside. If they look grimy or old, it could be time for them to be cleaned up or switched out! 

Use a digital multimeter

As mentioned above, using a digital multimeter is the easiest way to know if your pickups are working properly or not. If your pickups’ resistances are reading at a level on your multimeter that is not what the manufacturer intends, it means they are faulty.

This is why the multimeter is the most reliable method, though it costs a bit up front. Still, it lets you know if your pickup is working without any other troubleshooting required. 

Check Your Jacks

Finally, make sure the input jacks on your guitar and amp aren’t loose. This is often a cause of faulty signal and is a very easy fix! 


Testing your pickups is not only an extremely important step in making sure your electric guitar is in proper working order, it’s actually not as difficult as it might seem on the surface. First, take the troubleshooting steps listed above to narrow down that it is in fact your pickups that are the issue with your sound. 

After this, you can use a digital multimeter to confirm your suspicions. If you have a faulty pickup, you should get it fixed or replaced as soon as possible to make sure your guitar is sounding the best it can!


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