Humbuckers – split coil and coil tap
Way back when… and I mean way back when, I was working in a guitar shop and it was right about the time that the concept of the Superstrat REALLY took off. It was the early 90’s and affordable guitars that allegedly bridged the gap between a Strat and a Les Paul were just about everywhere.
Every month I opened up Guitarist magazine be treated to the latest advert from companies like Washburn, Jackson, Ibanez, Charvel and countless others stating that the perfect gigging guitar was available to you. People wanted the power and the balls of a Les Paul (remember, this was before high gain amps were readily available, so you had to push a tube amp to get it to clip in that perfect way) and they also wanted the option to get that bitey, cutting through tone of a Strat/Tele.
Every advert contained the words of either “Coil Tap” or “Split Coil” Humbuckers to give you the best of both worlds. The trouble is, none of them were ever convincing, they always did the HB sounds well, but the SC tones were always kinda meh.
One of the things that became evident to me is that those two features became a solid marketing point for guitars, and guitarists appeared to buy into it without ever really knowing what makes a Humbucker sound the way it does, or why a single coil sounds the way it does, and why it’s virtually impossible for any player to get the sound of both convincingly from their guitars. In fact, there are SO many issues involved in this that I think I can safely say it’s not virtually impossible, it is impossible.
Let’s look at what makes these things react the way they do.
This is not a one size fits all description and all the names associated with them are used interchangeably. I won’t go into that, but instead we shall concentrate on the pickup developed by Seth Lover, for Gibson, called the PAF. PAF means “patent applied for” and now appears to be one of the generic names for a HB pickup, the irony of that is delicious! Now, a PAF style pickup has two magnets (sitting with opposite polarity) that are wound individually. As the coils were of opposite polarity it cancelled out the hum, it bucked it completely, therefor giving the name we enjoy today. The generic Humbucker.
This is probably the most common of all the switching types, using a four wire system from the pickup, the switch completely turns off one of the coils therefor giving you a ‘single coil’. This, in theory, appears to be a ‘pick yourself up and dust yourself down Son, job done” moment but as we all know, the first thing that happens is that you get a drastic drop in level (as well as the return of the hum) and it always sounds kinda disappointing.
This does not just apply to HB style pickups, it can apply to single coil as well. Basically, what this does is offer an alternate ‘out’ point from the winding, cutting out some of the coil therefor reducing the power coming out of the pickup – because the more winds a pickup has, the higher the output it has. This, in practice, and rather obviously, only serves to reduce the output of the pickup and doesn’t offer any effective change tonally.
The best way to distinguish these two is like this.
Coil Split – Removing ‘one half’ of a double pickup.
Coil Tap – Reducing the output of a pickup.
The real issue when thinking about these, for me, is that I was completely hooked by the concept of “Yay, I can have a strat and a Les Paul, all I have to do is flick a switch” and all I was left with each time was a feeling of disappointment. Even today, my main gig guitar is a PRS Brent Mason signature that has the ability to tap each HB independently. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a really convincing SC sound out of a HB sized pickup, amazingly, there is no level drop between the two either, the SC is just a ‘loud’ as the HB. I don’t know how they did this, but I like it. However, when I pick up a Strat or a tele that little bit of spank you get from a great SC guitar is just that little bit more prominent, that extra little something that is worth it’s weight in gold.
The most important thing to remember is that tele and Strat pickups are NOT the same. A tele pickup is generally bigger, allow for more winds around a wider coil that a Strat. This increases the output and because the pickup is general mounted on a plate (often brass), giving the whole thing more output, or as I like to call it, balls. This will come from all of the above also gives it a little more high and a little more low end (partly because the pick up is at a slightly more severe angle), so when running into a decent tube amp, it’ll clip quicker giving it the reputation of being a more powerful system. So, any guitar advert that tries to tell you it can do humbucker, and sound like a Strat and a tele is really making an outrageous statement that it probably can’t live up to. Because not only are the pickups are constructed differently enough to cause tonal differences, you then have to take into consider that the neck pickup on a tele is completely different again from the bridge which is then completely different from a neck pickup on a Strat… then you go into the wood within the guitars, the amount of wood, the bridge style and you get more and more distinctions.
Can a guitar ever truly sound like a Les Paul, a Strat and a Telecaster just by flicking a switch?
Coil Tapping vs. Coil Splitting: The Tone Option Hidden in Your Pickups
In coil splitting, the connection between the two coils of a humbucking pickup is broken, disabling one coil and allowing the other to continue to function, essentially turning it into a single-coil pickup.
Coil tapping refers in particular to single-coil pickups. Tapping a coil means taking the signal from somewhere within the coil of wire rather than from the end of it, thus reducing pickup output (more windings means higher output).
Some high-output, single-coil pickups use coil taps to produce lower output that more closely resembles that of, say, a vintage Fender single-coil pickup.
Of the two features, coil splitting is more prevalent than coil tapping. As such, Fender offers a handful of guitars that feature coil splitting, but none with coil tapping. Models that feature coil-splitting circuitry include the Meteora HH, Player Series Telecaster HH, the Classic Player Jaguar Special HH and the Deluxe Stratocaster HSS.
Coil splitting is the practice of shutting off (or otherwise fading out) one coil of a humbucker, leaving behind a single coil for a brighter tone. Coil splitting is often confused with a single coil option known as coil tapping, in much the same way that the terms ‘vibrato bar’ and ‘tremolo bar’ are considered interchangeable even though only one is technically correct. So what is coil tapping, and how is it different to coil splitting?
Coil tapping is when a wire runs off of the pickup windings at a certain point, somewhere short of the full amount. This means you can install a switch to select between a single coil pickup’s full output or a lower output, giving you two distinct levels of power from one pickup.
The tapped output level will give you a more vintage-like sound, while a hotter, more modern voice is available from the full-powered setting. This can give you more precise heat-of-the-moment control over the output compared to simply using the guitar’s volume knob to reduce the output level. And if you’re using a particularly sensitive tube amp you can even use the tapped level as your default rhythm setting, then hit the amp with higher output for solos by flipping to the full power level. You can also have some real fun by using a coil tap switch in combination with an input-dependent effect device such as an envelope filter pedal.
High-powered single coils such as the Quarter Pound SSL-4 or the Quarter Pound for Tele set can be ordered with the extra wire that turns them into tapped versions, as can medium-output pickups such as the SSL-5 and the Hot for Tele set. And there are many ways to wire a coil tap, including a push-pull pot for each pickup; a mini switch for each pickup (see the diagram here); and ‘Tapped Tele’ style with a five-way pickup selector switch in place of the traditional three-way switch.
Often times folks request a coil tap in their guitar, but what they really want is a coil split. So... what's the difference? Or, are they the same thing?
In short, no, they are not the same thing.
I'm going to excerpt from an article written by Jeff Owens (Fender Musical Instrument Corporation) because he makes it easy to understand. Click here to read the full article at the Fender website.
Both terms refer to electric guitar pickups, and while the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, coil splitting and coil tapping are definitely not the same thing.
Coil splitting refers in particular to humbucking pickups, in which two coils of wire and two magnets are used together. These coils and magnets are of opposite polarity, which cancels (“bucks”) unwanted noise and hum and produces higher output and a thicker, heavier sound. In coil splitting, the connection between the two coils of a humbucking pickup is broken, disabling one coil and allowing the other to continue to function.
In effect, coil splitting turns a humbucking pickup into a single-coil pickup - a useful feature for guitarists who like both options at their fingertips without having to switch guitars. On instruments that feature it, coil splitting is usually accomplished by means of various onboard switching types.
Coil tapping, on the other hand, refers in particular to single-coil pickups. Tapping a coil means taking the signal from somewhere within the coil of wire rather than from the end of it, thus reducing pickup output (more windings means higher output); it too is accomplished by onboard switching. Some high-output single-coil pickups use coil taps to produce lower output that more closely resembles that of, say, a vintage Fender single-coil pickup.
Of the two features, coil splitting is more prevalent than coil tapping.
Coil tap pickup
Coil Split vs Coil Tap – What’s The Difference?
Contrary to popular belief, coil split and coil tap are not just two ways of saying the same thing. There’s quite a big difference in the way they function and the resulting sound. The main effect you get from both is a change is tone and pickup output, but the two sets of electronics go about accomplishing the task in different ways.
A lot of players like to have the option of reducing the output from their guitar pickups. It broadens the available palette of sounds, which is crucial in modern music’s extensive tonal crossovers. This feature is most often found in guitars equipped with hot humbuckers or high-output single coils, as it adds another dimension to the styles you can play with just one guitar.
Nowadays, it’s not as simple as owning a single coil-equipped guitar for “softer” music genres and a humbucker guitar for “heavier” music. The technology is there to expand on guitar tones, so players should naturally expect more diversity across all guitar prices.
What is Coil Split?
Coil splitting only applies to humbucker pickups. Humbuckers consist of two coils and magnets of opposite polarity in order to cancel hum and produce a guitar signal. To split a humbucker is to cut out one coil from the circuit, leaving a single coil to work its magic – just like you’d hear from your standard Strat or Tele.
Why would you want to split the coils of your pickup? Humbuckers produce a very different tone to single coils. They sound thicker, smoother and warmer, with single coils pretty much sounding the polar opposite. It’s good to have the choice of both pickups styles. Single coils are arguably richer in character and dynamism, sitting in a more prominent position on the frequency spectrum. They’re ideal for more nuanced playing or soulful leads – and who wouldn’t want that given the chance?
What is Coil Tap?
Similar to how coil splitting essentially halves a humbucker, coil tapping cancels out the full length of the pickup magnet by taking the signal from a shorter point in the wire (usually around the midpoint). It can be utilised in both humbucker and single coil pickups.
The more windings a pickup has, the more output it produces. And by reducing the amount of wire the signal runs through, you get a lower output that’s more attributed to “vintage” music genres such as classic rock and blues. This is great for recreating an old school tone with a full range frequency and less onus on the midrange.
It’s worth noting that a coil tapped humbucker won’t necessarily sound identical to a single coil pickup unlike coil splitting. There’s a good chance it’ll have more akin to the effect of removing a boost pedal than anything else, reducing a bit of the heat and high-end. Coil tap is generally more of a niche feature and not quite as versatile as coil split. It’s also less frequently used by major companies, but you’ll find it on the occasional Les Paul.
What’s Better: Coil Split or Coil Tap?
Gibson tend to use coil tap the most out of the big guitar manufacturers. This is so they can equip their guitars with modern pickups, while also offering the option of classic PAF sounds if you’re into that too.
Coil splitting circuits are usually found on guitars with two humbuckers. It provides you with alternate tones you’d find useful in mixing up your sound, as well as a quick way to change things up in a live situation. Check out Charvel and Schecter to get a good idea.
In reality, there isn’t one circuit better than the other. Find out for yourself if you prefer coil tap’s vintage tone or coil split’s single coil and humbucker versatility.
If you enjoyed this read, check out our other Labs articles!
This article is missing information about a coil tap gives a vintage-like sound. Please expand the article to include this information. Further details may exist on the talk page.(December 2019)
A coil tap is a wiring feature found on some electrical transformers, inductors and coil pickups, all of which are sets of wire coils. The coil tap(s) are points in a wire coil where a conductive patch has been exposed (usually on a loop of wire that extends out of the main coil body).
When the coil taps are disconnected, the coil operates as normal (see transformer). When a coil tap is connected to one end of the coil (or the end disconnected and reconnected to the tap), the section of coil between the tap and its connected end is bypassed - effectively reducing the number of turns in the coil.
Single coil magnetic pickups found in electric guitars can be coil tapped to reduce the number of windings around the magnet. A tapped single coil pickup typically contains three wires: a ground, an output, and a tapped output - with the two outputs generally wired to a switch on the guitar. The guitarist can then choose between the loud, punchy, midrange-heavy sound of the entire coil, or 'tap' into the inner coil for a quieter, yet bright vintage tone with a more clear and detailed high end.
Many guitarists mistakenly refer to humbucker coil splits as a coil taps, however, this is incorrect: a coil split is a humbucker with one coil removed from the wiring, leaving a single coil. Because of the ubiquity of this error, and the rareness of coil taps in general, it is difficult to find tappable single coil pickups. However, pickup manufacturer Seymour Duncan offers tapped versions of many of their Telecaster and Stratocaster pickups on their website at a slightly greater cost than a standard version.
A Few Tapped Coil Pickup Manufacturers:
- Seymour Duncan - Coil tapped models denoted by T following name, for example, the SSL-7 "Quarter Pound" pickup with a coil tap option would be listed as SSL-7T "Quarter Pound" pickup.
- Häussel Pickups - Häussel makes a pickup based on Schecter's F500T pickup.
- Zhangbucker Pickups - Offers tapped versions of their pickups.
- DS Pickups (Argentina) Offers tapped versions of some of their pickups.
In a transformer, coil taps are often used on both the input and output coils.
- On the input coils, the taps are usually connected by switches to compensate for differing supply potential - for example, between 110 V and 230 V for American and European mains electricity.
- On the output coils, taps are used to provide a range of output potentials. Prototyping transformers are often supplied in cases which have spring-loaded contact taps - one common and several taps (for example, Common; 3 V; 5 V; 10 V.)
Coil taps on inductors are quite rare, but are sometimes used for band switching in tuning circuits.
Coil pickups used with measuring instruments often feature coil taps to compensate for band rejection or equipment input impedance.
Coil taps can be used as a rudimentary method for recording telephone conversations. See Telephone tapping.
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Pure for discharge. Then pour another brandy, Igor. I returned to the office after meeting with a client.