The term “coil-splitting” refers to disabling one coil in a dual-coil pickup, typically a humbucker.

Single-coil pickups have a clean, bright tone but often sound a bit brittle. Humbuckers, on the other hand, deliver loud, warm sounds, but they tend to get a bit muddy with all the gain involved.

Coil-splitting is the solution to bring the best of both worlds together. In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about this technique, so let’s start from the top.

Why Do Guitarists Use Coil Splitting?

If you’re wondering “Why not simply buy a single-coil pickup?”, the answers may vary depending on who you’re asking.

Some players have already spent hundreds of dollars on a quality dual-coil pickup and don’t want to downgrade. Guitarists who are in love with the natural tone and response of their dual coils often deploy coil-splitting to preserve these elements while reducing the output of the magnet.

The main reason why this technique is deployed is to harness the big, meaty tone of humbuckers but make it less forceful. This is done by taking one of the coils out of the picture.

How Does Coil Splitting Work?

All pickups have internal wires that connect the hardware to conductive elements (screws and slugs), thus allowing electricity to circulate and generate signals. The internal slug typically connects to “ground”, allowing players to turn pickups on and off by enabling or disabling the current.

In the case of dual-coil pickups, the wires form coils in the so-called “series”. A set of wires from one coil goes into the other, creating a much “hotter” output and response.

To split the coils means to reroute the leads of one coil to “ground”, making it permanently disabled (until rewired).

How to Coil-Split a Dual Coil Pickup

Pickups come in various wiring formats, but the typical scheme revolves around connecting external leads, routing the internal slug to the ground, and sending the internal screw to the pickup’s switch.

To split the chosen coil, both internal and external slugs should be routed to ground; the second (active) coil should have its internal screw connected to the switch.

This method needs to be modified if you intend to split the coils of 4-conductor pickups. Keep in mind that each type of wiring features coils with separate outputs. The main thing to keep an eye out for is to have the leads of the second coil routed to ground so that it doesn’t work at any pot position.

Why Avoid Coil Splitting

There are two reasons why beginners should either purchase a new single-coil pickup or have an expert perform the coil-splitting part.

Firstly, while the process isn’t exceedingly difficult, there is ample room for mistakes. Most accidents are fixable, but you may end up disabling the pickup (and your guitar’s electric capabilities) for a time.

Secondly, coil-splitting will completely transform your dual-coil into a single-coil pickup. Humbuckers were purposefully designed to tackle the annoying “hum” single-coil pickups are known for, and with the second coil out, you can expect this unwanted noise to appear in your signal.