Simply Split Humbuckers
Split Humbucker Pickups: What They Are and How to Use Them
If you are looking for a way to expand your tonal options with your humbucker fitted guitar, you might want to consider splitting your humbuckers. Splitting a humbucker means turning off one of its two coils, making it sound more like a single-coil pickup. This can give you a clearer and brighter tone, especially on the wound strings, and also reduce the output and hum-cancellation of the humbucker.
But how do you split a humbucker? And what are the benefits and drawbacks of doing so? In this article, we will try to answer questions in the simplest of terms.
What You Need to Split a Humbucker
Not all humbuckers can be split. To be able to split a humbucker, you need these three requirements:
- You need a splittable humbucker. This means that the humbucker has four wires plus one bare shield (ground) wire coming out of it. Sometimes a pickup will have two of the wires already connected / joined, which makes the process of spliting easier. Each wire corresponds to one end of each coil, and the shield wire is connected to the metal casing of the pickup. Some older or rare humbuckers may only have two wires, which means they cannot be split. Some other types of pickups that look like humbuckers, such as P-90s or mini-humbuckers, may also not be splittable.
- You need a switch that can turn off one coil of the humbucker. The most common and convenient way to do this is to use a push-pull potentiometer (pot), which is a pot that also acts as a switch when you pull or push it. You can use any volume or tone pot on your guitar as a push-pull pot, as long as it has the same value as the original pot (usually 500K for humbuckers). You can also use other types of switches, such as toggle switches or mini switches, but they may require more drilling or wiring on your guitar.
- You need to choose which coil to split. When you split a humbucker, you have to decide which coil you want to keep active and which one you want to send to ground (turn off). This will affect the tone and output of the split pickup, as well as how it interacts with other pickups on your guitar. Generally speaking, the easiest way to choose which coil to split is by wire colour.
Choosing by Colour
The easiest way to choose which coil to split is by looking at the colour of the wires coming out of the pickup. Different manufacturers may have different colour schemes, but usually there is one pair of wires that have the same colour (red and red, for example), and another pair that have different colours (black and white, for example). The pair that have the same colour are connected to the same coil, and the pair that have different colours are connected to the other coil.
To split a humbucker by colour, you need to connect one wire from each pair together (red and black, for example), and solder them to the switch. Then you need to connect the other wire from each pair (red and white, for example) to where they normally go on your guitar’s wiring (usually the volume pot or selector switch). The shield wire should also be connected to ground.
When you pull up the switch, it will send one coil of the humbucker (the one with the same colour wires) to ground, leaving the other coil (the one with different colour wires) active.
Use a Multimeter or an Ohmmeter
The earsiest and most accurate way to identify which wires are connected to which coil is by using a multimeter or an ohmmeter. You can do this by touching one probe of the meter to one wire and another probe to another wire, and seeing if there is any resistance reading. If there is no reading, it means that those two wires are not connected to the same coil. If there is a reading, it means that those two wires are connected to the same coil.
Once you identify which wires are connected to which coil, you can follow the same steps as choosing by colour: connect one wire from each coil together and solder them to the switch, connect the other wire from each coil to where they normally go on your guitar’s wiring, and connect the shield wire to ground.
When you pull up the switch, it will send one coil of the humbucker (the one with slugs or screws) to ground, leaving the other coil (the one with screws or slugs) active.
Always test the setup and don't be afraid to experiment with the wiring - switch which coloured wires are joined etc.
The Pros and Cons of Splitting a Humbucker
Splitting a humbucker can give you some advantages and disadvantages over using a full humbucker. Here are some of them:
- You can get more tonal variety from your guitar by having both single-coil and humbucker sounds available.
- You can get closer to some classic single-coil tones, such as Stratocaster or Telecaster sounds.
- You can get more clarity and definition from your pickup, especially on high-gain settings or with complex chords.
- You can reduce some of the midrange and bass frequencies that may make your pickup sound muddy or dark.
- You will lose some output and volume when you split your pickup, which may make it harder to balance with other pickups on your guitar or with your amp settings.
- You will lose some of the hum-cancellation that a full humbucker provides, which may introduce some noise or interference into your signal.
- You may not like how some pickups sound when they are split, especially low-output or vintage-style humbuckers that may sound weak or thin when split.
- You may have some phase issues when combining a split humbucker with another pickup on your guitar, which may result in a loss of low-end or volume.
Splitting a humbucker is a great way to add more versatility and tonal options to your guitar. By turning off one coil of your pickup, you can get closer to some classic single-coil sounds while still having access to full humbucker sounds when needed.
However, splitting a humbucker also comes with some trade-offs in terms of output, noise cancellation, and compatibility with other pickups that might be fitted to your guitar.
Relic Stratocaster Style Guitar – Split Humbucker
Rat Bait Guitars - £135.00 UK Post Free
Relic (actually a survivor) Stratocaster with tapped vintage type humbucker. Loud and crunchy. The body is over 20 years old, solid wood (medium weight) and has been abused over its life time. Finished in dark brown and black, this Stratocaster type body has been fully serviced, with very little surgery needed to make it healthy and completely functional again.
It still has battle scars, dents, crackled paintwork (in places) and is not shiny and new. All I did was buff the paintwork with a mop. I love it!!!!! The neck is a replacement and the headstock has been painted to match the imperfect look of the body.
New machine heads have been fitted. The pickups are replacements and they sound very British (indie rock). The bridge pickup is tapped and can be switched via a micro switch near the 5 pole standard Stratocaster switch. The new scratchplate is a Fender type (screw hole positions are very nearly correct). A new complete tremolo bridge has been fitted. As a nod to its past, the rear screws fixing the new tremolo cover are the original rusty ones.
- 22-fret maple and rosewood neck
- 1 x split humbucker, both humbucker and single coil sounds
- 1 x micro switch
- 5 position pickup up switch
- 7 different pickup sounds
- New 10mm Machine Heads
- Nut Width: 1.656 In. (42 mm)
- Scale Length: 25.5″
- 43.25 mm thick (± 0.5 mm Deviation)
- 56.5 mm neck pocket (± 0.5 mm Deviation)
- Reliced Stratocaster body
- Strap buttons
- New tremolo unit
- New waterproof gig bag
- Allen Keys
This 'Rat Bait' guitar has been completely rebuilt with new humbucker pickups, replacement neck, machine heads and new tremolo unit. This guitar has 7 different pickup sounds.
Orders taken for similar guitar builds – Contact UsPlease remember – Non-UK clients must contact us before purchasing products. Shipping must be added for international shoppers. If you are from a non-UK country your order will not be dispatched unless you contact us before purchase. All UK shipping is free of charge. We carry a small amount of stock which changes constantly – contact us if you are looking for a part.
- All items are posted using Royal Mail.
- Orders dispatched within two working days.
- We accept reasonable return requests.
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Source: Conversation with Bing, 02/05/2023
(1) Humbucker Pickup Splitting — Which Switch to Use.
(2) How To Coil Split ANY Humbucker Pickup - Humbucker Soup. https://humbuckersoup.com/coil-split-humbucker-pickup/.
(3) 5 Powerful Ways To Coil Split Your Humbucker - Fralin Pickups. https://www.fralinpickups.com/2021/01/27/5-powerful-ways-to-coil-split-your-humbucker/.
(4) How Does Coil Splitting Work For Humbuckers? - Fralin Pickups. https://www.fralinpickups.com/2018/01/02/coil-splitting-work/.
(5) Can You Coil Split a 2-Wire Humbucker? - GearAficionado. https://gearaficionado.com/blog/can-you-coil-split-a-2-wire-humbucker/.