A lot of players love the power and full tone of humbucker pickups, plus the titular lack of hum.
Even Stratocaster-style guitars that traditionally had three single-coil pickups are often fitted with a humbucker in the bridge position to make them Superstrats.
But why should you have to choose between the two styles when you can have both with the help of a push-pull pot?
Most humbucker pickups have four lead wires, allowing you to use only one of the two coils if the guitar is wired to split the pickup. Some vintage and vintage-reissue pickups have only two wires and an additional two wires must be added where the coils connect if you want to split the coils.
Now just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.
Before you get your hands dirty or pay to have your pickup modded, consider how useful having a coil-split option is going to be.
What does it take to split a humbucker pickup?
Since humbuckers have two coils, splitting the pickup involves having access to the midpoint connection between the two coils.
Note that this is possible because the humbucker coils are wired in series; if the pickup is wired in parallel you are not able to split it.
But if your humbucker pickup coils are in series and you have at least one conductor at the joint you can connect one of the coils to the ground with a switch or push-pull pot, leaving you with a makeshift single-coil pickup.
How many wires do humbucker pickups usually have?
Humbucker pickups usually have four conductors in case you want to coil-split them.
There are some pickups that have three wires but this is less common (you can also coil-split the 3-conductor design).
But this wasn’t always the case so if you have an old guitar or loose pickup you may have only two-conductor wires coming out of the casing.
Can you coil split a 2-wire humbucker?
In short, you cannot split a 2-conductor humbucking pickup without modding it.
The pickup will have to be disassembled to add the missing conductors.
And if you are dealing with a pickup that is already installed in a guitar that wasn’t designed for coil splitting then you will have to add some way of controlling the split function.
Is the final result the same as splitting a 4-conductor humbucker?
As long as the pickup is not damaged and everything is done correctly in the process of modding it then there is no difference between one that comes from the manufacturer with four conductors and one that is modded to have four wires.
I think the real question is whether a split humbucker is going to sound as good as a single-coil.
Some people think that a split pickup is a passable gimmick but that it just doesn’t compare to the real thing.
After all, even if the pickup is split there is still a second coil of metal next to your magnet which could have some effect on the magnetic field of the magnet as it reacts to your strings’ vibration.
So I think there could be some truth to the naysayers’ complaints.
Can you do this mod by yourself?
Even though there are online tutorials on how to add conductors to older humbuckers, I don’t think this is a mod that is suitable for beginners.
You need the proper tools, soldering skills, and probably prior experience at least replacing pickups.
You will also need to find the proper wiring diagram for how you plan on wiring your split control.
The pickup that you plan on modding will probably be the deciding factor; if the pickup is simply wrapped in tape as insulation it will be much easier than one that is sealed in a metal cover.
Finally, if you are set on doing it yourself and the pickup is valuable then maybe it’s best to get a really cheap pickup and practice disassembling and reassembling it first.
Is this mod reversible?
If you should do this mod and find yourself regretting it you are in luck…unless you drilled a new hole in your guitar or pickguard.
As for the wiring, you can just disconnect the new conductors and then use tape to insulate them.
You could even remove them completely but that really isn’t necessary.
How much would it cost to have a guitar tech do it?
If you aren’t comfortable working on your own gear then what kind of bill are you looking at?
Looking at guitar tech rates, it is about $50 to install a pickup and $55 to install a push-pull pot so that is already over $100.
Since changing a 2-wire pickup to four wires isn’t a very common mod it will probably be billed by the shop’s hourly rate. So I estimate that $150 – $200 is a safe guess.
Of course, you may be able to get a better deal or send the pickup to a company that does coil rewinds and repairs and then wire it into your guitar yourself.
Is it worth it?
Modding can be fun and a lot of people obviously enjoy it.
So if you have your heart set on a certain 2-conductor humbucker pickup and you just have to have the coil-split option too, you can do it as long as the pickup is wired in series.
But the cost or pain of taking your pickup apart might be better spent on a newer pickup or a guitar that already has a “splittable” humbucker.
Personally, I would rather have a guitar with true single-coil pickups since they are considered to sound better than a split humbucker.
And if you only want to take one guitar to a gig and you usually use humbuckers then an equalizer pedal might help you get the sound you’re looking for too.
So I guess if you are into modding and you are doing it for fun, going from two conductors to four is certainly doable, but you probably shouldn’t expect the greatest single-coil sound in the world.
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.