Coil Splitting vs Coil Tapping: Understanding the Differences

Guitar with coil tapping

Guitar players who want to expand their tonal options know that coil splitting and coil tapping are two popular methods of modifying the sound of their instrument. Although these two techniques are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing and have different effects on the sound of the guitar. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between coil splitting and coil tapping and help you determine which one is right for you.

What is Coil Splitting?

Coil splitting is a technique that only applies to humbucker pickups. Humbuckers consist of two coils and magnets with opposite polarities, which work together to cancel hum and produce a guitar signal. When a humbucker is split, one coil is cut out of the circuit, leaving a single coil to produce a sound similar to that of a Strat or Tele.

Why would you want to split the coils of your pickup? Humbuckers produce a thicker, smoother, and warmer tone compared to single coils, which are typically richer in character and dynamism. By splitting the coils of your pickup, you can switch between the two tones and play a wider range of musical styles with just one guitar.

What is Coil Tapping?

Coil tapping is a technique that can be used in both humbucker and single coil pickups. It cancels out the full length of the pickup magnet by taking the signal from a shorter point in the wire, usually around the midpoint. By reducing the amount of wire the signal runs through, you get a lower output tone that is ideal for recreating classic rock and blues sounds.

It’s worth noting that a coil-tapped humbucker won’t sound identical to a single coil pickup, unlike coil splitting. Instead, it will have a similar effect to removing a boost pedal, reducing some of the heat and high-end. Coil tapping is generally a less frequently used feature, but it can be found on some Les Paul models.

Which is Better: Coil Splitting or Coil Tapping?

The choice between coil splitting and coil tapping will depend on personal preference. If you prefer versatility, coil splitting is the way to go. This technique is usually found on guitars with two humbuckers and provides a quick way to switch between single coil and humbucker tones. Brands like Charvel and Schecter offer great examples of coil splitting circuits.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a vintage tone, coil tapping might be right for you. Gibson, one of the big guitar manufacturers, tends to use coil tapping to offer their guitars modern pickups while also offering the option of classic PAF sounds.

In conclusion, both coil splitting and coil tapping are great options for guitar players who want to expand their tonal options. By understanding the differences between the two, you can make an informed decision and get the sound you want from your guitar.