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So, do electric guitars need batteries? It depends on the type of pickups your guitar have. There are three most used types of pickups. Active, passive and piezo pickups. Active pickups and piezo-electric pickups will require batteries, while passive will have no need for additional voltage source. In most cases, for regular and low-end guitars, there will be no need for batteries.
Originally, electric guitars had no need for additional voltage source of any kind. Through the years of guitar playing and different needs and music styles, people developed a variation of existing pickups and all kinds of different modifications. This gave birth to a need for additional voltage source for the pickups.
Electric Guitar Active Vs Passive Pickups
But what are the active pickups? What’s the difference between active and passive ones? Let me clear it out for you.
While the passive pickups will create its own electric potential and have no need for external energy source, the active pickups are built differently. The main difference is that the active ones are built around an electronic circuit. The active pickups will have an active circuit that will be able to boost and modify the signal. The active pickups will, normally, have a higher output. Because of this specific electronic circuit that is in an active pickup, you will need an external voltage source. This is where the battery comes in. If your guitar has already built-in active pickups, you will have an additional cavity on the guitar’s body that will allow you to easily replace the battery. If you are thinking about going from passive to active pickups, you may want to think about that extra slot for 9V battery where it will be easily accessible.
The main drawback of the active pickups is that if your battery runs out, your guitar will be unplayable. Although the 9V battery can last for a few years and can be easily attained. Energizer E522 is an amazing choice to go, one battery will last you for years.
When they were first introduced on an electric guitar, almost a hundred years ago, there was only one pickup (https://docsbay.net/passive-pickup-inputs) on a guitar. When we talk about electric guitar today, we still have the pickups only modernized and in different numbers. The passive pickup is a transducer. A transducer is a device that can convert one form of energy into another. In this particular case, the pickup will “sense” the vibrations in the magnetic field, caused by the strings, and convert it into an electric signal that will further be amplified and played through a speaker or an amplifier. The construction of pickups is rather simple. We have a permanent magnet, which is usually alnico (an iron alloy) or ferrite. Around that permanent magnet is several thousand turns of extremely thin copper wire. The magnet itself will create a magnetic field which is focused by the magnetic pole pieces. These pieces can be seen on a standard Fender Stratocaster pickups. This permanent magnet in the pickups will magnetize the strings that we use to play the guitar. So when the string is plucked, it’s own magnetic field will move creating the current in the coils of our pickup. Via the cable, the small current or a signal will be sent to an amp or a speaker where it will be amplified allowing us to hear the sound from an electric guitar.
Both single-coil and humbucker pickups will work this way, the only difference is that the humbuckers will usually have two coils which are wound in the opposite direction to avoid that famous single’s hum.
The main disadvantage of passive pickups is lower output. That means that the sound that comes out of the amplifier will be lower and less powerful. The second thing is concerning single-coil pickups and that is the hum or noise. Because of the way that they are wound, there will always be a hum at a higher volume or if more drive is used. Of course, there are noiseless pickups, but some people don’t think that they have the true single-coil sound.
The third type worth mentioning is piezo-electric pickups. These pickups are a bit different from both active and passive ones. Piezoelectricity is the type of electricity that occurs in solid-state materials like crystals and ceramics. It is the electric charge that accumulates in response to mechanical stress. These piezo pickups also have a preamp built-in as the active ones. And same the active pickups will require a battery. The reason we will only mention these pickups is that they are as not as usual in electric guitars. They are mostly used for acoustic ones and for other instruments and while you might find an electric guitar with an extra piezo pickup, they are not as used as first two types.