Contrary to popular belief, coil split and coil tap are not just two ways of saying the same thing. There’s quite a large difference in the way they function and the resulting sound.
A lot of guitarists like to have the option of reducing the output from their guitar pickups in order to broaden the available sound palette. This is most prevalent when your guitar is equipped with hot humbuckers or high-output single coils and you’d like to reign them in on occasion.
Modern music has more tonal crossover than ever before. It’s not as linear or simple as using single coils for ‘softer’ music genres and humbuckers for ‘heavier’ music. You could easily incorporate single coil or vintage pickups into metal and jazz or humbuckers into pop and folk with the number of effects you have on hand. So why not dabble in a bit of both?
Unless you’re dead set on a particular type of sound, it’s worth having the choice of pickup tone. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
What is Coil Split?
Coil splitting only applies to humbucker pickups. Humbuckers use two coils and magnets of opposite polarity to cancel hum and produce higher output. To split a humbucker is to cut out one coil from the circuit, leaving the single coil to work its magic. Just like you’d hear from your run-of-the-mill Strat or Tele.
Why would you want to split the coils of your pickup? Sometimes it’s just a bit of tonal relief from the thick, low-end nature of humbucker pickups. Single coils arguably have a richer character and dynamism in their tone, sitting in a more prominent position in the frequency spectrum than other types of pickups. They’re ideal for more nuanced playing or soulful leads.