What is the Difference Between Coil Splitting and Coil Tapping?

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Have you heard of coil splitting and coil tapping a pickup? Have you wondered what these terms mean? Are you worried only nerds are interested in this?

Well, I am interested in this, so it’s not just for nerds! Splitting and tapping both affect pickup output, but the underlying processes are quite different. 

The goal of these modifications is to add more tonal options to your repertoire and alter the traditional functioning of single coils and humbuckers.

What is Coil Splitting?

Coil splitting is splitting a humbucker in half, so to speak, so you’re only playing one of the coils. A humbucker contains magnets and two copper wire coils of opposite polarity. The opposite polarity is what kills the hum experienced with single coils.

This is done to achieve a fresh tonal library. A single coil obviously sounds different than a humbucker, and having the option of brighter, twangier sounds available is appealing. This is an especially attractive feature on dual-humbucker guitars.

You can therefore get more sounds from one guitar and use your extra guitar money for some pickups. Call Van Halen, because this is the best of both worlds.

Coil splitting is far more popular than coil tapping. An increasing number of guitars, even budget models, are produced with coil split humbuckers. You normally just need to pull-up on the tone or volume knob to activate the split.

To be coil split, a humbucker must have four leads (wires). One coil functions normally, and the path to the other coil is grounded, cutting the signal. A push-pull pot is truly the most useful mechanism to switch between signals.

My MIM Jazzmaster came with a coil split. I hate to brag, but I wired a coil split into my first crazy mod project. They’re everywhere!

These are nice benefits of coil splitting, but don’t expect too much. You’re not going to suddenly combine the tones of an amazing Les Paul and an amazing Strat into your Jackson. The coil split is really meant to provide some more great tones to play with after you get bored with your insane pedal board.

What is Coil Tapping?

A coil tap can be used on a humbucker but it’s usually a single coil mod. A lead is taken from a shorter part of the wire coil, usually around the middle of the total wraps.

Fewer coils means lower output, so taking the signal from this part of the pickup provides more vintage tones from a simpler time before everyone needed ultra-hot pickups.

Coil tapping a humbucker introduces different sounds, but it won’t sound like a single coil. Only a coil split gives you near-single coil tones. The tap will strip away some output leaving you with mellower (but not yacht rock) tones.

It’s rare to find a guitar shipped with a coil tap in place. This is a pretty specialized mod that isn’t clamored for by most guitarists.

What is the difference between coil splitting and coil tapping?

We’re actually discussing a different coil tap


What’s the difference between coil splitting and coil tapping? 

Coil splitting and coil tapping are fun modifications, but not incredibly useful. You will get some more sounds to play with, which can spark creativity, but you will also get more confusing wiring requirements that result in you soldering your pickup to the low E string!

One issue is that both of these modifications use pickups in ways contrary to their design. When only utilizing one humbucker coil, the other coil is still there with the remaining half of the wiring.

This is going to affect tone. In what way will vary based on many factors. Same with a coil tap. You’re dealing with a pickup wound to create certain sounds. By using only half of the wraps, you’re not guaranteed to produce enjoyable output. 

Different output, yes, but it may sound like your mother-in-law’s shrieking when her box of wine is empty.

This is just something to think about if you’re planning to perform these mods yourself. It’s a roll of the dice in terms of quality tone.

If you are curious about coil splitting, there are, as I said, pre-wired options available at any price point (the Yamaha Pacifica PAC112V comes with a coil split and costs ~$300).

If you want a coil tap, you can check with pickup manufacturers. Seymour Duncan, for example, will provide coil tapped versions of many of their single coils.