Coil Split vs Coil Tap – What’s The Difference?

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

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.

A lot of players like to have the option of reducing the output from guitar pickups in order to broaden their 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 as using single coils for ‘softer’ music genres and humbuckers for ‘heavier’ music. You could easily incorporate single coil or vintage pickups into metal or jazz and humbuckers into pop and folk – especially with the number of effects 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 extra tonal options. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

coil split

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 a high output. To split a humbucker is to cut out one coil from the circuit, leaving only a 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 humbuckers. 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 – whatever adjective takes your fancy.

Coil Split guitars

coil tap

What is Coil Tap?

Similar to how coil splitting essentially ‘halves’ a pickup, coil tapping cancels out the full length of the 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 as a result. This is great for recreating a vintage sound with a full range frequency and less midrange onus.

It’s worth noting that a coil tapped humbucker won’t necessarily sound identical to a single coil pickup, unlike the effect of the coil splitting process. There’s a good chance it’ll have more in common to removing a boost pedal than anything else.

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.

What’s Better, Coil Split or Coil Tap?

Gibson tend to use coil tap the most out of the big brands. This is so they can equip their guitars with modern pickups, while also offering the option of classic sounds if you’re into that too.

Coil splitting circuits are usually found on guitars with two humbuckers. This is simply to provide you with other sounds you’d find useful to mix up your tone. 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 the ability to create vintage tone, or switch between single coil and humbucker sounds with a flick of a switch.

If you enjoyed this read, check out our other Labs articles!

Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a writer for the Andertons web team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big prog/modern metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and pointy guitars.

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