Batteries and electric guitars have a weird relationship. If you're talking about guitar pedals, you always need a battery or some kind of power source. But what about the actual electric guitar?
Doesn't it need a power source?
In most cases, the answer is - surprisingly - no.
But we'll elaborate on the details in this article.
First, let's look at the simple answer to our question.
Do electric guitars need batteries? The Simple Answer
In most cases, electric guitars do not need batteries. That is because most electric guitars have what's called a passive pickup, which uses magnets to output a signal. Active pickups are the only type that require a 9V battery, though most electric guitars don't use these, by default.
When you have passive pickups
Let's start with the most likely scenario for most electric guitar owners.
Passive pickups do not need their own power source to create and send a signal. These pickups work solely through a magnetic pull that picks up the vibrations of the strings and runs through the internal wiring, coming out of the guitar as amplified sound.
While the amplifier certainly plays a major role in this process, the guitar does not need its own power source, as long as it is hooked up to an amplifier via an instrument cable.
In this scenario, there is no need for batteries of any kind.
When you have active pickups
Active pickups are different.
These pickups require their own power source, which is almost always a 9V battery hooked up to the pickups inside the electric guitar. The wiring usually looks something like this:
This means that active pickups have more power and can provide a more aggressive or "hotter" output, when compared to passive pickups. They're often considered smoother and better for distorted tones, especially high-gain levels and modern sounds.
However, active pickups are used by a wide range of artists across a diverse pallet of musical styles.
As far as it concerns this article, active pickups are the only scenario where an electric guitar will need a battery.
How often does the battery need changed?
Most active pickups can last a long time off of a single 9V battery, though it depends on how much you play.
Even those who play a lot or who play professionally are probably only looking at changing the battery for their active pickups two to three times a year. For casual players or those who play sparingly, once a year is not unusual.
How to tell the difference
But how can you tell the difference between active and passive pickups?
The best way to tell is just to check for a battery or a battery compartment on the back of the guitar's body. Otherwise, if you're buying a new guitar, you'll know up front - either from the product description or the specs sheet - whether the guitar ships with active pickups, thereby requiring a battery
Active pickups also tend to be smooth with a flat cover, while passive pickups typically have exposed poles.
Take the Active Fishman Fluence Modern humbuckers, for example:
Compare that with the passive Seymour Duncan Mayhem set:
Again, most guitars and most pickups will not require a battery. Active pickups in an electric guitar are the exception and not the rule.
Outside of active pickups being present, there's no scenario in which your electric guitar will have or need a battery. With most electric guitars that run active pickups, you'll have an actual battery compartment on the back that will give it away.
Otherwise, your electric guitar should be good to go without any source of external power, unless you're talking about your guitar amp.
Do you have questions about batteries in electric guitars or active pickups?
If so, feel free to drop those in the comments section below.
I'll jump in and help out as much as possible.
We'll see you there.
Steve abbott says
Thanks once more for the fantastic article on Active pick-ups which helped me understand what i was dealing with..the guitar is now complete and ready to hand back! the best way to understand why!!? is to hear them in action!..wow! insane like nothing i’ve heard from passive pick ups ! and loud! very loud! you can feel the power!!!
Thanks, Steve. Active pickups are no joke.
Hi I am restoring a Jay Dee ‘Alien’ Custom flying v from the 70’s. to my suprise i came across the burst 9v battery in the vol cavity..I’ve never seen one of these before! it’s probably been in there 40 odd year as the guitars been hanging on a man cave wall for all that time! as a result the connector was rotton and the wires to a circuit board all corroded and were not connected. your wiring diagram is the closest i’ve found except my guitar has only 1 humbucker, 1 vol switch and a 2way toggle switch. do you have a wiring diagram for this!? fantastic article you may save my life!
Hey Steve – just to recap:
– 1 humbucker
– 1 vol knob
– Two way toggle? (strange for one pickup)
– Active humbucker with battery
Is that correct? Let me know and I can try to track down a diagram.