With their beautiful look and versatile sound, electric guitars are some of the most popular musical instruments of our time. But as with any piece of electronic equipment, problems can arise. Whether you didn’t set up your electric guitar correctly, or it’s been a while since you last played it, there may come a time when your trusty guitar won’t make a sound when plugged in.
Electric guitars fail to work when plugged in due to electrical issues, worn-out batteries, faulty pickups, and damaged external equipment (amp, PA system, speakers, mixers, etc.) Easy fixes include replacing the batteries and pickups, swapping damaged cables, and troubleshooting electrical issues.
There are ways to fix an electric guitar that won’t work when plugged in – you just have to know where to look! In this article, I’ll give you some troubleshooting tips that will help you find the problem faster and fix your electric guitar if it isn’t working when plugged in.
5 Fixes for an Electric Guitar That Won’t Work When Plugged In
Fixing an electric guitar that doesn’t work when plugged in is easy, but finding the exact cause of the issue is the tricky part. If your guitar doesn’t work when you plug it in, then you have some extensive troubleshooting to do.
There are numerous reasons why an electric guitar might not work when plugged in, from the cable, the jack, the input on your amp, or the output on your guitar.
1. Check Your Guitar Cable
There’s nothing flashy about a broken electric guitar cable. Electric guitar cables transmit the audio signals from your guitar to the amplifier, PA system, DAW, or whatever you have connected to the other end of the cable. But just like any other piece of equipment, electric guitar cables can break and malfunction.
These cables are constantly being plugged into the guitar and out of it, which reduces their durability over time. Additionally, the storage conditions may have an impact on the health and life span of the cable.
You should always check the condition of your electric guitar cord before playing. Feel the length of the cable.
If you spot any tugging or see fraying on the cords or plugs, do not risk playing your instrument and instead take time to replace the cable with a new one that’s in excellent condition.
I like to hold the cable at the connector and jiggle the cable gently while plugged in. If you hear weakening sounds or crackling sounds, it’s probably because of a faulty cord.
To improve the durability of your cords, store them in a humid-free environment. Check out more ways to store guitar cables.
2. Check for Dust and Gunk
Dust can be a serious problem for your electric guitar. The dust and dirt caught in the strings and fretboard can affect how your guitar sounds. The plastic parts of the guitar, especially around the bridge and pickup area, are prone to collecting dust because they’re not covered like other areas.
But that’s not all. Tiny dust particles may also settle on the electronics inside the guitar. If yours has a preamp, the dust may weigh down its performance or cause it to fail completely which in turn would produce very little to no sound.
For this reason, you need to be equipped with the following tips to clean your guitar:
- Get a soft cloth and wipe the body and fretboard of the guitar
- Remove the guitar strings and wipe them clean. Doing this will also make it easier to access the fretboard
- Use fine steel wool to remove stubborn patches
- Apply non-abrasive polish for a polished body guitar
But most importantly, keep your (clean) guitar in its case when not in use. This will significantly reduce the amount of dust that accumulates with time.
3. Replace the Pickup
The pickup is a crucial part of an electric guitar. It’s the part that “picks up” the inaudible sound produced by the strings. You’ll have trouble getting a good sound if it’s not working properly. If you notice that the pickup has broken wires, you’ll need to get a new one.
You can usually find these parts online or at a local music shop. If the pickup is connected to a patch cable, you might want to get a new one too.
Here’s how to replace your electric guitar pickup if you have a little bit of experience with a soldering iron:
- Buy new pickups. I recommend buying the same type of pickup you had on your guitar. This will ensure that it fits in perfectly and that the wiring doesn’t get complicated.
- Set up your workstation. You should have a sharp blade, a clean cloth, a soldering iron and wire, and a screwdriver on your work desk.
- Remove the guitar wires from the tuning keys and the tailpiece.
- Open the backplate by unscrewing the screws holding it in place.
- Snap a picture of the current wiring. It would help if you downloaded the wiring diagram from the pickup manufacturer’s website. Also, some pickups come with wiring diagrams.
- Using your soldering iron, touch the contacts holding the pickup wire to the potentiometer and remove the wires.
- Install the new pickup and refer to your wiring diagram to solder its wires in place.
- Test your guitar and adjust the height of the pickup
Installing new pickups is something you may be forced to do every now and then. The process is straightforward.
However, if you need more help, the video below highlights how to replace your pickups:
4. Troubleshoot Your Amplifier
An electric guitar needs an amp to perform for a large audience. But just like other electrical instruments, the electric guitar amp is susceptible to dust, moisture, dirt, loose contacts, and other issues that cripple its performance.
Here’s how to troubleshoot your amplifier:
- Rule out external issues by trying a different amp. If it helps, borrow an amplifier and test its performance in your old setup. If the new amp works and your guitar sounds fine, the problem is with the old amp.
- Check for loose contacts. After years of plugging and unplugging, your amplifier’s input and output jacks may get damaged. Test your guitar cable by connecting it to a different amp and touching its bare end. It should make a humming noise. This rules out the possibility of a defective cable.
- Check the LED lighting. If your amp lights up when it’s turned on, the LED lights should light up as well. If they don’t, you could be dealing with a power issue.
- Try a different power cable for your amp.
Depending on what issue you find, you may try to fix it yourself or ask an expert for help. You may also purchase a new amplifier, although this should be your last option if nothing else works.
5. Troubleshoot the PA System (Speakers & Mixer Included)
Public address systems or PA systems are sound amplification devices designed to make sound audible to an audience in a public space. They can be used for a variety of purposes, from alerting people to emergencies to gigging.
If your guitar doesn’t make a sound after plugging it in, you could be facing a PA failure. Speakers, mixers, and other electronic components are easily damaged over time due to movement, drops, and several other causes. To troubleshoot yours,
- Check for damaged wires. Signal-carrying wires are easily damaged due to lots of movement. Check each wire and ensure that they’re all in perfect working order.
- Scan for power issues. Is the power input functioning well? Are the power cables in good health? Does the system power up when it’s on? If you answered yes to all these questions, you probably have nothing to worry about.
- Control issues. Sometimes, your equipment could be muted or reset in such a way that it produces inaudible sounds, which can be readjusted by tweaking the volume, gain, and tone control buttons.
- Last but not least, check for irreparable damage such as burnt PCB and other irreversible damage.
Depending on the extent of the damage, you may choose to have your equipment repaired by a professional or buy new equipment altogether.
Common Electric Guitar Issues
Electric guitars are complicated instruments. They’re full of different components that all need to work harmoniously to produce a pleasant sound. If your electric guitar isn’t making the kind of sound you want, there could be a few problems, from wiring issues and amp problems.
But, if no sound comes out at all, you might need a better understanding of the common issues, to give you a clearer idea of what to look for.
An electric guitar has a pickup, a volume knob, a tone knob, a preamplifier, and switches on its body. All these electrical components serve two main functions: they capture the string’s vibrations, turn it into sound, and control its features before sending the signal to the main speakers.
All of these little components pave the way for a myriad of electrical problems such as:
- Damaged pickups. Electric guitar pickups are the little magnets that capture and amplify the vibration of your strings. When they’re working properly, they produce a bright and clear sound. But after years of being whacked on things, dropped, sweated on, and generally mistreated, they may malfunction and fail to capture sound like they used to when they were new.
- Loose control knobs. Electric guitar knobs can be loose for several reasons. You may have dropped your guitar a couple of times, or maybe you’ve just played so much that the knob has become loose with time. Unless you’re willing to put up with crackling distortion and awkward volume changes, you need to do everything in your power to keep them in good working order.
- Loose input jacks. If you plug your electric guitar into an amp and hear a crackling noise, static, or no sound at all, you probably have one of the guitar’s loose input jacks. Too much physical stress on the jack over time can cause these parts to loosen and, in some cases, completely fall out.
- Dusty electronics. Dust is a natural enemy to electronic devices, including the tiny transistors and diodes inside your electric guitar. Years of dust build-up on your trusty guitar bring up a lot of problems, including random signal cut-offs, crackling, or no sound at all in extreme cases.
Most electric guitars don’t need a battery to run their pickups. These guitars use inactive pickups, which essentially means that they don’t need a current flowing through the pickup to capture the string vibrations.
For those that need batteries, like the Traveler Guitar EG-1 (available on Amazon.com), you’ll have to replace the batteries every two months (or longer, depending on your model). Otherwise, you may not get any sound from the instrument. Fortunately, electric guitar batteries are standard 9-volt alkaline batteries that you can buy at any electronics store or supermarket.
Playing your guitar puts the strings under stress. They have to be able to withstand constant movement while being struck at different intensities. If your strings break often or are difficult to tune, it might not be your fault. You just need new ones.
You may not realize it yet, but the steel strings on your guitar are easier to break than you think. Even with careful maintenance, they can break or become dull over time. If this happens, stop playing your guitar and take the broken string out.
You can replace the string at home with relative ease. Just make sure you buy the same type and gauge.
Your Amp Is Causing Problems
A guitar amplifier is an essential piece of equipment for any electric guitarist. It will boost the volume of your guitar so you can hear it while playing. It will also come in handy when adding distortion and various other effects to give your guitar a unique sound. The output jacks send the audio signal to the main speakers, where you and your audience can enjoy the music.
If you’re playing through an amplifier, there’s a chance that it’s the source of the problem. If you notice that your guitar doesn’t sound right when you increase or decrease the amp’s volume, it’s a clear indication that the amp might be the problem.
The Body, Bridge, or Nut Is Bent or Out of Position
If your bridge or nut is bent or crooked, you might notice that the sound is coming out of tune. You might also hear a clicking noise. If that’s the case, you’ll need to get it fixed by a professional.
The same goes if the body of your guitar is bent. It might be hard to play. Such problems are best handled by a professional.
Essential Tips for Taking Good Care of Your Electric Guitar
Electric guitars can be delicate instruments that require special care to keep them in peak playing condition. Taking good care of the instrument can prevent future issues. I’ve outlined these few tips to help you take good care of your guitar:
Store Your Guitar Properly
The best way to protect your guitar is to store it properly. To do this, find a suitable storage place. A good guitar case offers the perfect environment free from humidity, direct sunlight, dust, and objects that could scratch its surface.
If you don’t have a case, the bedroom closet is a decent place to store your guitar, as long as it’s not too humid inside.
Check the Condition of Your Strings Regularly
Regularly check the condition of your strings. If you see any rust, chipping, or other signs of wear and tear, it’s time to change them.
The average lifespan of an electric guitar string is between three and six months. When the time comes, change them all at once to avoid having to restring the guitar more often than you should.
Be Gentle With Your Pickups and Other Sensitive Parts
The knobs and switches on your guitar are extremely delicate. Never try to twist it with a lot of force. Always grab the knob by the side. If a knob is broken or loose, get it fixed as soon as possible.
Protect Your Guitar With a Solid Case
If you don’t already have a guitar case, it’s time to get one for your guitar. The best guitar cases are sturdy and secure. You don’t want a flimsy case that will let your guitar get damaged while you’re transporting it. Always put the guitar in the case before transporting it. You may also want to invest in a humidifier.
A humidifier can help prevent the wood in your guitar from drying out and cracking. You’ll want to use a humidifier regularly if you have a guitar with a maple or spruce top. Put the humidifier in the case with your guitar.
Regular Cleaning and Polishing
Keeping your guitar clean and polished can help it stay healthy for longer. You should clean your guitar at least once a week and polish it once a month.
You can use a gentle cleaning solution made especially for guitars. Simply wipe the guitar down with a sponge or soft cloth. Make sure you clean the fretboard and frets as well.
Go Easy on the Volume and Gain
Playing with too much volume and gain can cause damage to your speakers. It can also cause clipping and too much distortion. If you’re experiencing any of these problems, turn down the volume and gain.
The life of an electric guitar depends on how well you look after it. Neglecting your guitar may result in irreparable damage, which may even render your guitar unplayable.
Taking care of your electric guitar doesn’t have to be a difficult process. You just have to remember to keep it clean and dry, regularly change your strings, protect it from extreme temperatures, and don’t play it too loudly. If any issues arise even after taking good care of your guitar, the tips highlighted in this article can point you in the right direction.