The type of pickups your guitar has will determine how you connect the battery. Active and piezo-electric pickups need batteries, while passive ones require no additional voltage supply. There will usually be no requirement for batteries in most cases for average and low-end guitars.
In this article, I’ll go over the different types of pickups that are found in electric guitars, and their battery requirements.
Non-active pickups are what you will commonly find on the majority of instruments.
Passive pickups are essentially magnets wrapped in a wire which are glued or affixed to the guitar’s body under the strings so as to pick up sound vibrations from the body and send it to the pickup selector.
By string vibrations, I mean the musician’s finger on a string at any fret position will cause the electric current in that wire to change which in turn changes its electromagnetic field.
These changes will make corresponding changes in volume; therefore, creating sound for each note played.
Contrary to popular belief though, if there is no change in the strength of its signal, then this may result in very low volume and tone due to the low impedance of an unplugged guitar.
These pickups don’t need batteries because they already get their electricity from the initial signal generated by using your guitar cable.
Some might also say these types do not require batteries since they are passive devices with little or no electronic components in them.
On the other hand, they do indeed have electronics in them just they are “passive” ones.
Passive pickups may require a battery when you use an active preamp with it since it will increase output signal strength and therefore change the tone.
Active pickups differ from passive types by having their own preamp which permits them to have “active” electronics.
It supplies the pickup with an extra boost of signal strength via a battery.
The purpose is for more control over tone since it has its own volume, treble, and bass controls, plus it also enables you to get rid of any annoying noise or hum that may be present because of long cable runs or lots of effects pedal usage.
Keep in mind though, even if your guitar does not come equipped with active pickups, you can still use one provided your amplifier has an effects loop.
After installing the battery, plug your guitar into the amp’s effects loop return using a Y-cable.
Insert the preamp into the loop return jack and then insert your effects pedal into the preamp’s input.
Since this type does require at least one battery, it may prove useful to have a guitar with them especially if you are planning to use lots of pedals in your music.
Unlike passive pickups which can be used without batteries, piezo-electric types do need power supplied through an included 9V battery or even better; by phantom power instead.
The reason why is because its signal strength is very weak (which makes them less susceptible to noise) and its output impedance is too high for conventional pickups that can’t work well with electronic equipment.
Phantom Power Note: Phantom power is +48V DC which is supplied to the microphone’s audio input.
It can be derived from a mixing board, an external power supply, or other types of phantom-powered equipment.
The reason why it should be used for piezoelectric pickups is that it has double the benefits.
It will both amplify its signal while also acting as a noise filter that gets rid of hums and hisses caused by long cable runs or lots of pedals being hooked up in your system.
Which one is best?
As a rule of thumb, it is best to have an active guitar with batteries.
Active pickups will deliver a louder sound output plus you can also get rid of noise and hums caused by lots of pedals being connected to your system which pass their signal through the guitar cables.
In this way, you can save money from buying additional power supplies for phantom-powered equipment as well as an extra battery just to power your piezo pickups.
However, there are some cases where passive guitars may be better suited depending on your needs.
If you only intend to use effects pedals with your instrument then go for passive ones since they do not require batteries as their active counterparts do.
Also, if you do not plan on using lots of effects pedals, a passive guitar will work just fine so you don’t need to buy an active type.
All in all, it is up to you which one works best for your playing style and purpose but as always, do your research first before buying something that you think might be useful only to find out after that it was not what you intended.
What about Preamps?
Another alternative for your electric guitar that does not involve batteries is a guitar pre-amp.
For me, this was always an intriguing combination and something cutting-edge and useful.
With a pre-amp, you will be able to control the tone of your guitar before the signal is even sent to any effects pedals or amplifier.
It seems like a big advantage but it may have its shortcomings too.
First thing’s first, I just want to clear up that not all guitars can have built-in preamps.
Only certain types are capable of having this feature including most solid body guitars, semi-acoustic electrics, and some acoustic guitars.
So what decides whether or not your guitar can pick up on this feature? The answer would be pickups!
Preamps are only intended for guitars with passive pickups which means they do not need batteries, unlike active types.
Piezo pickups aside from these two, cannot have built-in preamps.
The second thing to consider is that not all pre-amps are capable of running on batteries.
A lot of them will need phantom power or an external power source just like piezoelectric pickups do which defeats the purpose of its ability to cut down on additional equipment you would be needing to use it with.
Is it necessary to use batteries with an electric guitar? The answer is both yes and no.
A guitar that does not have any active components or passive pickups will never require batteries. However, if you add a pre-amp of any kind, such as mid boost, or if you use active pickups, your guitar will require battery power.
It is perfectly fine to use batteries for both active and passive types of guitars as long as you know its limitations especially if it’s something that cannot be powered just by phantom power or external adapters.
In my opinion, a guitar can never be called a “complete” electric guitar without the preamp feature since it is an integral part of the signal process.
With this feature, a musician can do a lot with their performance including allowing them to shape their sound in any way they want.
The most important thing about having batteries or any kind of pre-amp installed into your instrument is knowing if those components are compatible with each other and that they will work effectively as intended which means there would be no additional noise from pedal interference or other electronic components.
As long as you have this knowledge, it will be much easier to decide whether or not you need a battery for your electric guitar.
FAQ – Electric Guitars and Batteries
Q: Do I need batteries to play my electric guitar?
A: It depends on different factors such as the type of pickups and preamps or effects pedals that you will be using.
Q: What happens if I use batteries for an active pickup?
A: If you do this, it could damage your signal tone since batteries are not capable of delivering a wide range of frequencies like phantom power can.
Q: How long does a single 9V battery last in an electric guitar before dying out?
A: This totally varies from one to another depending on how much gain is being used at any given time. A common consensus would say that a battery should last around two hours in a lead guitar with lots of distortion and gain.
Q: Can I use a rechargeable battery in my electric guitar?
A: Most likely not. Rechargeable batteries are not recommended for any device that has active components or piezoelectric pickups because these types of batteries cannot provide the voltage power needed to run them.