Posted November 20, 2013 by James in Blog

Coil Split vs Coil Tap. What’s the difference?


his topic pops up from time to time, mostly when musicians go nuts correcting someone who has misused the terms. So what is the difference? It’s pretty simple, so let’s get this settled.

Coil Split

A humbucker is made by placing two single coil pickups side by side. A clever gentleman by the name of Seth Lover discovered in 1955 that if you did this, and turned one of the single coil pickups around, then all of a sudden, the “hum” that occurs on guitars with single coil pickups was all but gone…hence, “humbucker”.

What’s the history of humbuckers got to do with coil splitting you ask? A lot. Some equally clever chap found that if you ran a wire out of one of the single coils in a humbucker and routed it to a switch, then you could effectively disengage one side of the humbuckers, “splitting” it.  The added bonus was that the split humbucker didn’t hum like a regular single coil.

Theoretically, this gives you a single coil pickup and humbucker in one. It is becoming quite a common feature as manufacturers search for new ways to lure buyers by offering more flexibility in tones. Most manufacturers use a push/pull pot for either the tone or volume control, so by pulling up, it splits the humbucker.

I should add that I don’t think a coil split humbucker has the same clarity and quality of a single coil pickup, but it’s pretty good!

Coil Tap

The output of a pickup is partly determined by the amount of wire that it wrapped around it. Machines are programmed to spin a pickup and wrap it with hair-thin copper wire…500, 1000, 1500 times, according to the builder’s desire. More wire = more output. When you see a pickup described as “hot”, it usually means it has a high output.

A Coil Tap is achieved when the pickup builder runs a wire out of the pickup at a point somewhere in the middle of all this spinning. For example, if a pickup was being wrapped 1250 times, then this coil tap wire might be added at 750 spins. This is then run to a switch and gives the player the ability to reduce the output of the pickup. So you can have a single pickup capable of operating at two different outputs, giving very different tone options.

So as you can see, these terms are quite different, however they share one common goal, they both aim to get more out of the humble pickup.


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