Coil Tap Vs Coil Split: Differences and Tone Effects

Coil Tap Vs Coil Split: Differences and Tone Effects

When it comes to modern guitars, the coil-tap vs coil-split debate is a discussion you simply can't ignore.

Many people use the terms "coil-tap" and "coil-split" interchangeably, but they are actually two different things.

In this article, we will compare and explain the difference between them. You'll also know how each one affects guitar tone.

  • Guitar Pickups: Brief Overview

  • What Is Coil Splitting?

  • What Is Coil Tapping?

  • Coil Split Vs Coil Tap

In the end, this will help you understand what to expect when using these functions.

Guitar Pickups: Brief Overview

A guitar pickup is a device that converts string vibrations into electrical signals. Pickups are made up of magnets and a copper wire wound around a bobbin.

Guitar pickups send signals to the amplifiers which are projected as sound through the speakers.

There are a variety of guitar pickups and two of the most common are the single-coil pickups and humbucker pickups.

  • Single-Coil Pickups

    A standard single coil pickup uses one coil of copper wire to convert the vibrations into a signal. It produces a thinner, brighter tone and is great for playing clean tunes.

    However, single coils can act like antennas and pick up electromagnetic interference. Picking up interference from outside sources makes them more susceptible to hum.

  • Humbucker Pickups

    By using two coils with opposite polarity, a humbucker pickup is able to cancel the hum that is typically present in single-coil pickups. While producing a much cleaner guitar signal.

    Additionally, these pickups tend to produce a thicker and warmer tone. Making them a popular choice for genres such as rock and metal, where high gain and high output are often necessary.

What Is Coil Splitting?

Coil splitting refers to turning a humbucker into a single coil. Hence, they're only exclusive to humbuckers.

Coil Split Diagram

A humbucking pickup is like two single-coil pickups wired in opposing directions. What coil splitting does is split the humbucker pickup coils in two, turning your humbucker into a single-coil pickup, while the other single coil pickup is turned off.

Coil-splitting humbucker pickups enable your humbucker equipped guitar to emulate a single-coil Strat sound. This produces a bright single-coil sound, giving you additional tonal options. This functionality is achieved by adding pickup wires that allow you use just one of the humbucker coils.

Note: A coil split can give you a near-single-coil sound, but the difference from the real single-coil sound is still noticeable. This is due to other factors that affect tone.

Some manufacturers, like Ibanez, call this switching system Coil-Tap, and this is one of the reasons why this topic is confusing. But most guitarists will agree that this is coil splitting.

What Is Coil Tapping?

A coil-tapping function can be applied to both humbucking pickups and single-coil pickups.

Coil Tap

Instead of using the signal that comes from the end of a pickup's copper wire, it takes the signal from a certain point of the copper wire (usually midway).

As you know, more windings means higher output. So, by tapping or cutting the signal in between, the output a pickup produces becomes lower.

So coil taps are meant to produce lower output, which results in a cleaner tone, similar to vintage spec pickups.


In short, coil splitting physically separates the coils, and coil tapping accesses a portion of the coil, effectively reducing pickup output.

Note: Most coil-splitting and coil-tapping functions in a guitar can be engaged via its tone knob with a push-pull pot or toggle switch.

Coil Tap Vs Coil Split

Now that you know the differences between coil-splitting and coil-tapping, it's time to compare the two. Comparing split vs coil tap can give you a better idea of how each one affects your guitar.


A coil split provides more tonal options than a coil tap. With a split coil, you can transition from fat humbucker tones to bright single-coil-like sound. An option that would normally require a different guitar.


When it comes to range, coil taps win over coil splits. As mentioned, a coil tap acts like a reverse boost pedal. This means it can change the output of your guitar sound.

And this can be used to achieve vintage style lower output tones, while still having a quick option to revert to a full coil version.

This ability to suddenly raise or lower your guitar's output can also be used as a pseudo boost, if you don't have a dedicated boost pedal.


In a practical setting, a guitar with a coil-splitting function can traverse between genres like blues, rock, and metal. This makes the guitar a more versatile instrument that can be used for different occasions.

Coil Tapping also offers some tonal flexibility, but not as substantial as a split coil.


Coil splitting tends to be more prevalent in the world of guitar playing and manufacturing. Its added dimension to a guitar's tone as well as its versatility make it a great option over coil tapping.

But coil tapping has fans in higher places, including pros who are into vintage style tones.

Note: Some people can fit their guitars with a coil-splitting or coil-tapping function with the aid of wiring diagrams. But, unless you are familiar with working on guitar parts and wiring, I don't recommend you try this process yourself.

Push Pull Pot and Toggle Switch

Final Thoughts

The debate between coil tap vs coil split all comes down to what you want to achieve sonically.

If you want to play with a lot of gain one moment and then a single-coil-like sounding lead next, a guitar with a coil-split function is for you.

On the other hand, if you're into old-school low-output pickup tones, then coil tapping is for you. It's also good if you want to have a boost function built into your guitar.

With this article, you can now confidently determine whether a coil split or coil tap is the optimal option for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Coil Splitting Remove The Hum Canceling in a Humbucker?

Yes. A humbucker achieves its humbucking capability with its two pickups. So, since a coil split leaves your guitar with only one functioning pickup, it also loses its humbucking characteristic.

Does Coil Tapping Remove The Hum Canceling in a Humbucker?

Not entirely, coil tapped pickups mainly have lower pickup's output. But a coil tap will reduce the hum-canceling property of a humbucker.

This can introduce some noise to the pickups. However, since the coil-tap feature is engaged, the pickup output will be lower, so these noises won't be very much noticeable.

Are All Guitars Equipped with a Coil Split or Coil-Tap Function?

No. Not all guitars have these features. It depends on the guitar's model and the manufacturer.

Are There Coil-Split or Coil-Tap on Other Pickups?

Yes, other guitar pickups like the P90, mini humbucker, and other can also be split or tapped.


Jerome Arcon - Co-writer

Jerry Borillo - Illustrator