Coil Split vs Coil Tap: What You Need To Know

In the realm of electric guitar tone customization, the terms “coil split” and “coil tap” are often mentioned, and sometimes confused. The debate of coil split vs coil tap is a common one among guitar enthusiasts and players looking to personalize their instrument’s sound.

While they may sound similar and are both used to modify the output of guitar pickups, the techniques are distinct in their operation and the tonal results they produce. The purpose of this article is to demystify these terms, clear up any misconceptions, and help you understand the unique benefits and characteristics of each method.

Understanding the differences between coil splitting and coil tapping is essential for any guitarist who wants to explore the full potential of their instrument. Both techniques offer a way to expand the sonic palette of a guitar, but they achieve this in different ways.

Coil splitting is a method used with humbucking pickups to create a thinner, single-coil-like sound, whereas coil tapping involves accessing a secondary “tapped” point within a single-coil pickup to produce a variation in output and tone. This article aims to provide clarity on these modifications, allowing players to make informed decisions about tailoring their guitar’s voice to their desired specifications.

Coil Split vs Coil Tap, Gibson Les Paul

Defining Coil Splitting and Coil Tapping

In electric guitars, the character of your sound is greatly influenced by whether your pickups are coil-split or coil-tapped. These are two distinct techniques that modify the pickup output and tone in different ways.

Anatomy of a Pickup

The core component of an electric guitar that transforms string vibrations into electrical signals is the pickup. Constructed primarily from tightly wound copper wire around magnetic poles, pickups capture the minute changes in the magnetic field as guitar strings vibrate. You’ll encounter two main types: single-coil pickups and humbucker pickups. Single-coils are known for their bright and crisp sound but can introduce unwanted hum. Humbuckers, featuring two coils of wire, combat this problem by “bucking” the hum, producing a warmer, richer sound.

Exploring Coil Split

Coil splitting is a technique applied to humbucker pickups. By effectively turning off one of the two coils, your humbucker mimics the characteristics of a single-coil pickup. This results in a sharper tone and reduced output compared to the full humbucker sound. The split coil offers a versatile option, giving you sounds akin to those produced by a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster, which are famous for their single-coil configurations.

Understanding Coil Tap

Conversely, coil tapping entails accessing a secondary winding point within a pickup’s copper wire. Unlike coil splitting, coil tap doesn’t deactivate any parts of a pickup. Instead, it changes where the signal is drawn from the wire, allowing a choice between a full, high-output signal and a lower-output signal that resembles a vintage pickup. This modification gives you the flexibility to shift from a robust, modern tone to a classic sound without the need for additional pickups.

Differences Between Coil Splitting and Coil Tapping

Coil splitting and coil tapping are both methods used to alter the output and tone of your guitar pickups but achieve their effects through distinct wiring configurations. Understanding these differences can help you tailor your guitar’s sound to your exact specifications.

Related: What Are Pickup Configurations

Signal and Output Variation

Coil Splitting: This process involves a humbucker pickup, which typically uses two coils. When you opt for coil splitting, you effectively disable one of the humbucker’s coils by interrupting the connection between them. This reduces the output, resulting in a thinner, brighter tone akin to a single-coil pickup. The immediate impact is a decrease in volume and a shift towards a vintage tone characteristic of early electric guitars.

Coil Tapping: Conversely, coil tapping doesn’t silence any part of the pickup. Instead, it accesses a secondary tapping point within the wiring of a pickup. This tapping point is found partway through the pickup’s winding, providing a variation in output by utilizing fewer coil windings. The tapped signal offers a lower output, but without completely altering the fundamental character of the pickup as coil splitting does.

Tonality and Sound Differences

Coil Splitting: When you split the coil of a humbucker, the sound usually becomes significantly brighter and more transparent, mirroring the sparser winding of a single-coil. This can be ideal for genres that demand crisp, articulate lead tones like country or funk.

Coil Tapping: Tapping the pickup, on the other hand, yields a subtler tonal shift. Volume dips modestly compared to splitting, and while the tone may become thinner, it retains more warmth and complexity of the original humbucker. This is beneficial when looking for nuanced tonal variations without straying too far from a pickup’s inherent sound signature.

Wiring Configurations

Coil Splitting: Requires a humbucker that is specifically designed to be split, with a dedicated switch or push-pull pot to activate the splitting. Wiring diagrams for coil-split configurations can show you how to introduce the relevant switch into your guitar’s circuit.

Coil Tapping: This requires its own specialized wiring setup, but it can apply to both humbucker and single-coil pickups, provided the pickup is wound with a tap point. The advance planning in the winding process allows for a versatile range of outputs from the same pickup. As with splitting, wiring diagrams may be consulted to ensure proper integration into the guitar’s existing circuitry.

Practical Applications in Music

When considering the modification options for electric guitars, coil splitting and coil tapping both serve to diversify your guitar tone and playability. These techniques allow you to adapt the guitar’s output to match a range of music genres, from rock and blues to jazz and metal.

Influence on Guitar Tone

Coil splitting essentially turns a humbucking pickup into a single coil by disabling one of the coils, which changes the tone to a brighter, thinner sound, often associated with vintage single-coil pickups. This modification equips you with the versatility to achieve both the beefy humbucker sound and the crisp single-coil tone, depending on your musical needs. In rock or blues, where clarity and twang can be essential, this flexible tonal option allows for a broader expression within songs.

Coil tapping, on the other hand, taps into a different part of the pickup winding, usually creating a lower-output, more subdued sound that can add a smooth, mellow feel to your playing—ideal for genres like jazz, where warm yet articulate tones are often preferred. For guitar players looking to enrich their sound palette, knowing how to exploit these tonal variations can be crucial for adding depth to their performances across various music styles.

Affect on Playing Styles

Your playing style may need to adapt when you leverage these modifications. With coil splitting, you may find that the decrease in output when switching to the single-coil sound necessitates a lighter touch or increased amplification to maintain presence, especially when playing heavy riffs or solos characteristic of metal music.

While engaging a coil tap can require you to adjust your dynamics and potentially modify your guitar’s EQ settings to compensate for lower output levels, this can also lead to new stylistic explorations and expressions within your playing. For example, blues guitarists may find the reduced output conducive to a more nuanced and expressive performance, as it often prompts more deliberate note choice and phrasing.

Technical Aspects of Installation and Usage

When considering the implementation of coil split and coil tap modifications to your guitar, you must carefully examine the technicalities of wiring and schematics as well as how they integrate with various guitar configurations. This involves ensuring compatibility with your guitar’s existing hardware and the possible inclusion of additional components such as a push-pull pot.

Coil Splitting What It Is & How To Do It Yourself

Wiring and Schematics

To accurately install a coil tap or coil split, you’ll need to follow specific wiring diagrams. These diagrams detail how to route the pickup wires to the push-pull pot, allowing you to alternate between standard and modified pickup sounds.

For a coil split, typically one coil of a humbucker is grounded, thus ‘turning off’ and leaving a single coil active for a brighter tone. Diagram Here.

In a coil tap setup, a portion of the coil windings is bypassed by connecting a switch to a point along the pickup wire. Diagrams Here. This results in a lower output and a more vintage sound. Your guitar’s configuration, whether it’s a Les Paul, Stratocaster, or Telecaster, might affect the complexity of this task due to space constraints and existing circuitry.

Wiring both modifications requires a solid understanding of electrical connections and may involve soldering wires to the push-pull pot, which often replaces one of the existing tone or volume knobs.

Integration with Guitar Configurations

Integrating a coil split or coil tap into your guitar’s existing configuration can change the instrument’s sonic characteristics. For instance, Stratocasters and Telecasters, traditionally equipped with single coils, might not always be coil split candidates, but they can be modified with coil tapped single coils to achieve a wider sonic palette.

On the other hand, a Les Paul, known for its dual humbucker configuration, can be readily adapted for both coil splitting and coil tapping. This could require a push-pull pot to be wired in series with the pickup to allow seamless switching between the full humbucker and the split or tapped signal. This approach respects the original circuit of your guitar while enabling new tonal options. Always ensure that proper grounding is achieved to maintain noiseless operation post-modification.

Pros and Cons of Coil Splitting vs Coil Tapping

When making a choice between coil splitting and coil tapping, you must weigh their impacts on sound versatility, tone quality, and the potential for unwanted noise. Each has unique advantages and drawbacks that cater to different stylistic preferences and technical requirements.

Advantages of Coil Splitting

Versatility: Coil splitting offers you the ability to obtain a single-coil sound from a humbucker pickup, providing a brighter tone along with the warmth associated with single-coil pickups. This converts the humbucker into a single coil, adding a new dimension to your sound without having to switch guitars.

Noise Reduction: Single coils are notorious for the 60-cycle hum, an interference that can be quite bothersome. With coil splitting, you still benefit from the hum-cancelling properties of a humbucker when the pickup is not split, which makes it versatile for both live and studio settings.

Advantages of Coil Tapping

Tailored Output: Coil tapping allows you to access a lower output from a pickup, simulating the vintage characteristics of a less wound pickup. It’s as if you have a built-in option to switch between a modern, high-output tone and a classic, mellower sound at your fingertips.

Compatibility: Since coil tapping can be implemented on both humbuckers and single-coil pickups, you often have more guitars to work with this feature. You can also find this benefit in certain types of pickups, like hum-cancelling P90s, which are known for versatility.

Drawbacks and Considerations

Potential Noise: Coil-splitting a humbucker can introduce unwanted noise and a susceptibility to interference, given that you’re exposing the pickup to single-coil vulnerabilities. This may not be ideal in environments with a lot of electronic interference or for players who require a very clean signal.

Tonal Difference: While coil tapping adds tonal flexibility, it may not convincingly replicate the sound of a true vintage pickup, due to differences in polarity and winding compared to an actual low-output vintage pickup. It’s also important to note that coil tapping a high-output pickup may result in a significantly weaker signal, which might not be suitable in all musical contexts.

Guitar Models and Pickup Types Featuring Coil Split/Tap

When exploring the variety of sounds a guitar can produce, understanding the options available with coil split and coil tap pickups is essential. Certain guitar models are equipped with these features, allowing you to maximize tonal flexibility and cater to a wide array of musical genres.

The legendary Patent Applied For pickups are the original humbuckers produced by Gibson

Guitar Models with Coil Splitting

Stratocaster: Fender’s iconic Stratocaster often comes with high output humbuckers that offer coil splitting. This allows the player to switch between a thick humbucker tone and the crisp, bell-like tone synonymous with a Strat’s single-coil pickups.

  • Fender Stratocaster HSS (Humbucker, Single, Single): This model provides a bridge-position humbucker that can be coil-split for single-coil sounds, adding versatility to the classic Strat tone.

Les Paul: Gibson Les Pauls that feature coil splitting tend to have either the Pure P.A.F. or high output humbucker pickups.

  • Gibson Les Paul Standard: The Standard allows for coil splitting on its Burstbucker Pro pickups, offering the sweet vintage tones of a P-90 or the bold presence of the original humbucker.

Telecaster: While traditionally associated with vintage Fender single-coil pickups, some modern Telecasters include a humbucker in the neck position that can be split for single-coil spank.

  • Fender Telecaster Deluxe: Fitted with a pair of humbuckers, the Deluxe offers coil splitting for a range of tones from the classic Tele twang to a more robust humbucking sound.

Realted: What Are Guitar Pickup Positions

Guitar Models with Coil Tapping

While coil tapping is less common than coil splitting, some models feature this capability, which tweaks the Fender’s vintage single-coil pickups for variable output levels.

David Gilmour's Black Strat, Instruments that have sold for millions
  • Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster: Equipped with noiseless pickups, this model often incorporates coil tapping to engage a different part of the pickup’s windings, providing a more subdued, vintage output.

The Twangmaster models, sought after for their single-coil tones in a humbucker form factor, often feature coil tapping to allow you to dial in a lower-output sound while still retaining that desired twang.

For guitarists seeking a balance between the nuanced vintage tones and the full-bodied warmth of a humbucker, these features in guitars like the Stratocaster, Telecaster, and Les Paul offer considerable versatility. Whether you are coil splitting a high-output humbucker to achieve the crystalline tones akin to a P-90 or leveraging coil tapping to find that lower-output sparkle in a vintage Fender single-coil, these techniques expand your sonic landscape.

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