It is popularly believed that coil split and coil tap are the same things that have two different names, but there is a pretty big difference between the two of them.
Both will affect your tone and pickup output but each one of them will go about it the two different ways. Coil split will essentially split your humbuckers pickups into single coils which will give you a Strat-like tone. On the other hand, the coil tap will cancel the full length of the pickup reducing the level of output.
The range of the guitar tones had come a long way since recognizable Strat and Les Paul tones. Nowadays, relying just on single pickups or humbuckers will not give you huge tone diversity especially if you play different genres. Let’s see how the coil split and coil tap can help.
What is Split Coil?
Coil splitting refers to humbucker pickups. Humbucker pickups are essentially two single pickups wired together and are opposite polarity. This is done to cancel the unwanted noise and hum that single coils tend to produce.
What coil-splitting means is that it splits the connections of two coils of one magnet. It disables one of the single pickups within humbucker pickup and leaves the other one to function as a single pickup.
Split-coil can be done by companies during the manufacturing process of the guitar or implemented directly by guitarists themselves. While it is not recommended for people who have little experience and knowledge of guitar wiring to do this by themselves, many people have done it using nothing other than online tutorials and wiring diagrams.
This feature is great for people who would like to have more diverse tones with one guitar.
Does Coil-Splitting Affect Tone?
Coil splitting indeed affects your tone. That is the main purpose of it. It is a simple way to add more diversity to your guitar tone. Having a guitar with a split coil will let you beef up or clean up your tone with one pull of a switch.
Humbucker pickups produce a much different sound to the single-coil pickups. The sound they produce is significantly warmer, smoother while packing a thicker punch. You can find them used by metal and hard-rock guitar players.
Single coil pickups on the other hand have much more rich character and a brighter tone than humbuckers. They are ideal for guitarists who like to play less aggressive style music. You can find them used by blues, funk, country, and in some cases even jazz musicians.
This feature can be great if you are a traveling guitarist who plays more than one genre of music. It will save you the hassle of carrying another guitar with you on your shows.
How Do You Use a Split-Coil?
Most of the time split coil is controlled with a push-pull knob, mini toggle-switch or it can be built into a 5-way pickup selector. This varies on the guitar and wiring of the pickups. It is important to note that not all guitar pickups have to be split. It is not unusual for HSS guitars to have split-coil on the humbucker pickup.
There are many ways you can wire your guitar so it can split a humbucker. It all depends on the type of humbucker your guitar is equipped with and what kind of tone you prefer. The type of music genre you play is also a big part of which way will you wire your guitar. It all comes down to the person.
The normal humbucker is wired in such a way that outside leads, in other words north and south coils are connected while sending the Slug inside Lead to ground and Screw Inside Lead to switch. While you will find online that you have to have 3 or 4 conductor wiring to split a humbucker, it is possible to split humbucker with only 2 wires.
When Should You Split a Coil?
It’s important when should you install coil-split to your guitar. This option may not be for everyone. For instance, if you are a metal player or even a hard rock guitar player coil-split may not be necessary for you.
On the other hand, if you play more than one genre of music which are described differently in regards to the tone they require, coil-split may be the jackpot for you.
Another thing to note is to make sure you have good quality pickups. Usually, the best humbucker when split will sound like an average single-coil. To be fair, you cannot expect the Strat sound from a humbucker. Most of the time you will end up with P-90 sound and difference in volume. Taking the time and doing the research might just save you time and money in the long run.
In the end, deciding whether to split your pickups or not comes down from person to person and what kind of music they play.
Can All Pickups Coil-split?
The pickups that cannot be split are single-coil pickups. This is due to the fact that essentially there is nothing to be split. Humbuckers on the other hand can be split and it is done regularly by guitarists who want to expand the diversity of their guitar tone.
Having a humbucker on your guitar is not the only requirement for a coil-split. That humbucker needs to be able to split. An example of an unsplittable humbucker is Hum Cancelling P90s or Twangmaster. On the other hand, the most popular ones that can split are the Pure P.A.F and High Output humbucker.
But having the humbucker that can split is not the end of the line. It is also important to make sure you have the correct lead. You will not be able to split humbucker with Gibson Braided Lead or 2-conductor with shield lead. Only splittable humbucker lead is 3-conductor or 4-conductor lead. This is essential to split your humbucker pickup.
How Do You Wire a Coil Split?
There are many ways you wire a coil-split and for each one, you can find online tutorials on how to do it. Although it is not recommended for beginners to do this by themselves it is better to take it to the nearest guitar shop to have it done by professionals for you.
One of the most famous splitting methods is a simple coil split with a Push-Pull pot. The normal humbucker is wired by connecting the outside leads of each coil together while sending the slug inside lead to ground and the screw inside lead to the switch.
While the screw coil and slug coil are connected to each other in standard wiring, in coil-split both of them are independent of each other. Slug coil leads to the ground and the screw coil is independent and it will go directly to the Push-Pull pot which serves as an on-off switch for the connection between them. This is one of the most basic ways to add split-coil to your guitar. But how do you wire a 2-conductor pickup?
The humbucker is essentially two single coils wired in series with one flipped in sequence from the other. The reason, why it is done like this, is to cancel the hum single pickups have. Every single coil has two wires, a start, and a finish. The only difference between 2-conductor and 4-conductor pickup is in finish leads.
In 2-conductors they are connected and concealed within the humbucker itself. In 4-conductor the two finish wires are connected to the switches which are needed for control of the tone. To convert 2-conductor to 4-conductor, first, you will need to disassemble the pickup. The next step is to cut the wire connecting two coils and attach longer wires to each of them. Assemble the pickup back together and now you will have 4 wires with 5th being ground.
There are many other ways you can do it and each one of them will result in a different type of tone.
What Is a Coil Tap?
Coil tap is a great way to get the most out of your guitar pickups. This procedure considers taking the signal from the different point of wire of the pickup than at the end of it. This will result in a different tone coming from your guitar. While the coil-split is more popular with guitarists, coil tap is also a great way to expand the tone diversity of your guitar.
As we all know by now, pickups are winded usually with copper wire. Coil tapping means taking the signal from within those windings which will result in lower voltage output. This way you will get a much crispier and brighter sound from your guitar.
This method will also affect the overall volume of your guitar. Since you are “tapping” the midpoint of wiring of the pickup you will not get as much volume as at the end of the wiring. Some people may find this useful in their style of playing. There are many ways you can set up the coil tap on your guitar and each one of them will result in a different tone.
What Pickups Can Be Tapped?
Essentially it does not matter if you own humbucker or single-coil pickups, you can set up coil tap on both of them. Most of the times people will tap single pickup since it will give them a more crisp tone in the higher frequencies.
The more windings pickup has the higher the output will be. Coil tap is there to reduce the number of windings giving you a more vintage tone. While this gives you a tone closer to the single-coil pickup tone, it will not get as close as the coil-split does.
This feature is not implemented to the guitar by guitarists too often. In most cases, companies will introduce this by themselves to their products. It is also important to note that popular companies don’t usually add this feature to their guitar but you may come across Les Paul with this feature. Gibson is the one who will most ofter coil tap their guitars.
The reason for this is for them to be able to equip their guitar with modern pickups while still leaving an option of standard PAF sound if that is what you as a customer want.
Can you coil tap a Humbucker?
While you will not come across too many tapped humbuckers, it is possible to tap a humbucker. Since they have a much fatter sound, coil-tapping them will take out a lot of that low end. Many people will go with the option of coil-splitting the humbucker since it comes out better and it is easier to set up.
The same goes for the companies that manufacture pickups. It is easier to wire coil-split than coil tap just because it will take an additional step in the process of making the pickup to break the signal at a certain point of coil wire winding.
Can you coil tap any Single-coil Pickup?
You can tap any single-coil pickup keeping in mind that it has a good enough quality of winding. Most of the time, you will find tapped single-coil pickup. When it comes to single-coil guitar pickups, tapping them can be a great way to implement a volume switch for them.
Since you are taking the signal from somewhere within the mid-point of the guitar pickup, you will end up with less voltage in the end. This means that you will lose volume depending on where you tap your guitar pickup. There are many ways you can wire your guitar’s coil tap and every way will result in a different tone and volume.
You can order High-powered single coils such as the Quarter Pound SSL-4 or the Quarter Pound for Tele set with extra wire which will turn them into tapped versions. Medium-output pickups such as SSL-5 or Hot for Tele set can be ordered with extra wire also.
How Do You Wire a Coil Tap?
The standard single-coil pickup is essentially a spool of wire winded around a set of magnets. This wire has a beginning and an end of it usually referred to as “hot” and “ground”. In most cases, the “hot” end of the wire is usually the end of it.
Tapped pickups are wired differently. They have two “hot” wires where one will be connected to the end of the winding like in any other single-coil pickup and the other is connected somewhere in the middle of the pickup or the end part of the winding essentially “tapping” the coil to get to the different voltage, in other words, tone. This is where coil-tapping get its name from.
This way you will get two tones out of the same pickup. The way you can control whether you want the full pickup sound or the tapped sound can be done with a simple switch. Instead of a switch, it is also possible to introduce a push-pull knob like it is with a coil-split.
You may also come across with guitar that comes with knob controlled coil tap. This will enable you to blend between full pickup and tapped pickup giving you more tone diversity with the same pickup. Keep in mind that you would need a high independence blend knob for this to work properly.
Whether you choose to go for coil-split or coil-tap it is up to you to decide. Most people are confused with the difference between these two but essentially they go about doing the same thing the other way. The results may not be the same, but they come close to being. Coil tapping means taking the signal from the midpoint of the wire winding while the split coil means splitting the humbucker into two single coils.
An easy way to clear out the difference between these two terms is to know that humbuckers are split and single-coil pickups are tapped.
Both of them are great features for guitar and can save you from carrying two or more guitars with you to get that wide range of tones you need. All of this is done just by the press of a switch.
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