When we talk about pickups, we usually think of single coils and humbucker as the most popular ones.
It is usually thought that single coils provide a brighter sound while humbuckers produce more output plus thicker tones.
On the Internet, you can explore a lot of websites and forums where people generate a lot of debate regarding this issue but what if I tell you that you can get almost both tonalities in one pickup?
Is not false, you can get a similar single-coil tone by splitting the humbuckers in your guitar but, how is that possible? Are all humbuckers splittable?
As a general rule, humbuckers with four conductors are splittable due to they present four lead wires which you can use to do the split. Nevertheless, old-school humbucker with just two conductors would splittable as well only after some modifications.
I know that it is a lot of confusing information and you may feel a bit overwhelmed but don’t worry, we are here to help you.
Through this article, I will try to clarify each doubt that may come up, I will explain every aspect as regards coil-splitting humbuckers, in the end, you will know everything required about this fascinating topic.
How do humbucker pickups work?
Humbuckers are guitar pickups, those copper wrapped components found near the string to get the vibrations and transfer them into the amp, but you may wonder how this particular gear works.
To explain how humbuckers function I would like to clarify what hum is.
Hum is an electromagnetic interference generated by the current, any device could emit a hum even household devices.
This interference could be internal or external, the latter means that the electromagnetic signals come from outside your guitar, but the pickups are picking them up resulting in those unwanted noises.
Up to this point is when the humbuckers do their job, they are a type of guitar pickup composed of two wire coils, they are also called double coils.
The wire coils and magnets are of opposite polarity, which cancels out the noisy interference collected by the pickups, what they do is absorb the electromagnetic hum, by doing that their name takes relevance, they “buck the hum”.
How do you split the coils on a humbucker pickup?
As a general rule, if you intend to coil split on a humbucker you will need a four-conductors pickup.
Those buckers possess start and finish wires for each individual pickup thus they can be combined or separated by adding a switch or a pot.
The interesting thing about coil splitting is that it provides a single coil sound because the output sent comes from one coil (the other is turned off).
You will also be able to connect the pickups in parallel which will be similar to having two single coils very close together.
Having said that, you could do the splitting in two different ways if you have four conductors wiring.
The first way to do it is by shutting down the slug side or north coil from the bucker, leaving the other one active as a single-coil pickup.
That practice is more common on the neck pickup rather than on the bridge one and it is known as splitting to the south coil.
The other way to split humbucker would be exactly the opposite, splitting to the north coil.
You can split-coil a humbucker by leaving the slug side active as a single-coil whereas the south side would be shut down.
Contrarily to the previous splitting method, this is way better and usual on bridge pickups because it gives a fuller sound compared to the screw side.
Although this may seem obvious, when your guitar is in the splitting mode, the humbucker option is no longer active, so the instrument will receive hum, noise, and interference like in every single coil.
Last but not least, bear in mind that sometimes you will need some modifications in the circuit, you will have to add some components to make these adjustments work.
For coil-split humbuckers, the most common way is to add a push-pull pot, a little tool you add to one of the knobs (volume or tone, no matter which one) to switch between the mods.
Can any humbucker pickup be coil split?
In the section above we broke up the features regarding four-conductor wiring so you may think those pickups are the only ones capable of being split but let me tell you that is not always the case.
Oppositely as you might think, even old-school two conductors humbuckers could be coil split.
To do this you should be aware that the pickups will require some adjustments.
What you will need to do is a new wiring system, you will have to modify the humbuckers themselves to make the coil-splitting work.
What is the difference between 2 and 4 conductor humbuckers?
In the first place, a humbucker is composed of two single coils wired up in series, with one placed opposed to the other in wiring sequence, that’s what cancels the hums.
Therefore, each of both single coils has two wires, a start, and a finish.
In the standard configuration for these pickups, the two finish wires are connected and the two starts work as the two main wires leading from the pickup while the ground is usually attached to the metal base of the pickups.
This is important to understand the main difference between two and four conductors humbuckers which lies in the two finish leads.
In a two conductors pickup, the finish wires are connected and concealed within the humbucker itself.
However, in a four-conductor humbucker, the two finish leads exit the pickup and go to the switching or control area.
Can you coil-split 2 conductor humbuckers?
After everything discussed, we still have to answer this question and you should know that even in a two-conductor humbucker you will be able to do coil splitting.
However, this is not just a simple task, it is possible but you will need to transform the pickup into a four-conductor humbucker.
To convert a two-conductor pickup to a four you have to disassemble the pickup, cut the wire to connect the two coils, and finally attach longer wires onto both of them.
In the end, you will have to re-assemble the buckers, in that way, you will have four wires, plus one more which will be connected to the ground.
Is the coil-split mod reversible for 2 conductor pickups?
Even if you are looking for a new sound on your guitar you may regret doing the modifications already made to achieve that mod so, you may wonder if you can come back to the previous setup or if the coil-split mod is reversible.
In those particular situations, you can get your old setup back, which is a matter of undoing the wiring previously made.
If the pickups had two conductors before the mod it could be reverted but it will take you a lot of work.
Remember that to coil-split these kinds of humbuckers you will need to convert them to four-conductor pickups, so the extra modifications before made must be reverted plus it will be truly hard to get the previous feature back, in some cases, you could damage the pickups.
Is coil-splitting the same as coil tapping?
It is believed that coil-splitting and coil-tapping are just two ways to refer to the same thing but there’s a big difference in how they work and the resulting sound.
The outcome you get from them is not only a change in tone but also in pickup output, however, both electronics can get the job done in different ways.
What coil-tapping does is cancel out the full length of the pickup magnet by taking it from a shorter point in the wire, that section is typically in the middle.
By reducing the amount of wire signal you get a lower output signal, which provides a “vintage” tone.
Nevertheless, coil tapped buckers won’t necessarily have the sound of real single coils plus won’t be as versatile as coil-split humbuckers.
Although they present variations, we cannot say that one is better than the other, check both circuits and decide which one works better for you.
Do coil-split humbuckers sound like real single coils?
Coil split humbuckers come close to single coils tone but in fact, they don’t sound like the real deal.
Although it could achieve a similar tone, trying to simulate a pure single-coil sound like a Stratocaster would be difficult due to many reasons.
First of all, the number of turns in single coils is different from humbuckers, the shape of the coil is not the same and the type of magnets also varies.
What is more, when you coil-split buckers you reduce the total amount of turns, resulting in less output which generates a thinner and brighter sound.
Can you coil-split mini-humbuckers?
Mini humbuckers are a smaller version of regular-sized humbucker pickups, their tonality approaches a mixture between single coils and humbuckers, very similar to P90 pickups.
However, mini buckers present the ability to cancel noise, just like regular-sized humbuckers.
Even though coil-splitting mini-humbuckers may not be good if you intend to use them alone, it is possible.
They are not the best option to split but they are quite functional in combination with another pickup.
If you are curious about how mini humbuckers work or you want further information, we have an article that covers the main aspects of this sort of pickup.
I will share with you the link to it below.
Can you coil-split single coil sized humbuckers?
Single coil sized humbuckers consist of two stacked single coils to the size of just one single-coil pickup.
The interesting thing about these components is that they provide the hum-canceling feature presented in humbuckers.
If you install these pickups on your guitar you will be able to split them, they generally come with four-conductor lead wires which makes them easier to wire for auto-splitting.
Nevertheless, just like the mini buckers, they are not the best pickups to split.
We have an article on this topic if you feel that you need more information about how single-coil-sized buckers work or sound. Here you have the link to it.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.