Splitting and tapping are not the same. We’re going to repeat this a lot: splitting and tapping are not the same.

Electronics mods are a great way to expand your tonal palette and get more out of your guitar pickups. They’re mostly easy to do on your own with a soldering iron and a little patience (if you don’t have any experience we’d strongly recommend using a qualified tech), and a wider variety of them are even being offered on easily attainable guitars today.

However, I see an absurd amount of misinformation about some of these modifications, including what phase means, how preamps work, and today’s topic: splitting and tapping. I’d argue that once you’re after some really specific tones and at the level of making aftermarket modifications (or hunting them down on production models) it’s important to understand the etymology so you can get what you’re looking for. What’s the difference between coil splitting and coil tapping?

Today we’re breaking the walls down. Splitting and tapping are not the same.

A Brief Primer: What is a Guitar Pickup?

It’s important to understand what is physically happening to your pickups when you split or tap them, so let’s recap what a guitar pickup is quickly. We’re going to keep this as simple as possible for the purposes of this article. Pickups are what (spoiler alert) “pick up” the sound from a guitar and allow it to be amplified. This makes it a transducer: it changes string vibration into an electrical signal. This is generally accomplished by wrapping wire around a magnet, creating a magnetic field that senses your strings. The type of magnet, the type of wires, how they’re wound, how many times they’re wound, and more, all affect the final tone.

Humbuckers are named as such because they “buck” hum. Traditional single coils are susceptible to hum because pickups happen to also make excellent antennae. They pick up interference easily. The two coils of a humbucker are wound out of phase (with their magnetic poles facing opposite directions) in order to cancel out the hum. Today, humbuckers and single coils are primarily viewed as tools with which you can achieve different tone, but when humbuckers were invented the original purpose was simply to eliminate noise!

So in summation, we have wires wrapped around magnets. You can pair two together in opposite directions to get a humbucker.


Splitting does exactly as its name describes: splits a humbucker in two. It deactivates one coil and leaves the other active. This gives a good approximation of classic single coil tone. I say “approximation” because that coil wasn’t wound specifically to be a single, so it’s going to be voiced differently, but this can lead to some cool tones all their own! Some pickups even have the coils designed specifically to sound good when split. The problem with this is that noise is reintroduced into your signal. However, if you’re combining it with another pickup, you can keep the 60 cycle hum canceled if the pickups are out of phase with each other and with oppositely oriented poles. Such as a split bridge humbucker and a middle Reverse Wound Reverse Polarity single coil.


Tapping is a bit more technical. Remember how I said wire is wrapped around the magnet to create the pickup? Well, the more wraps of wire around the magnet, the hotter the pickup is going to be. What tapping does is create a lead about halfway through that winding that can be accessed by a switch. Both coils are still active, the humbucker has not been split. This allows you to access that pickup at a lower output level. Speaking in broad strokes, this results in a clearer and more vintage tone. This is used on humbuckers to achieve a more PAF-style tone, and more frequently on hot single coils so they can be brought back down to vintage output levels and excel at cleans or pair better with lower output single coils. I do understand the confusion, because in many circumstances the tone will become thinner, and perform cleans better, which makes it easy to assume “oh, it’s a single coil now.” When done to single coils from the factory stock in a guitar, the feature often isn’t advertised or is just hidden behind some generic “advanced switching” moniker. The advantage of tapping is that no hum is reintroduced into the signal because both coils are still active when tapping a humbucker, and that you can get very balanced tones out of Stratocaster sets when tapping a hot single coil. Similar to coil splitting, due to how hotter pickups are designed, tapped tones are more of an approximation of traditional lower output tone, and vary wildly when tapping different kind of pickups.

So there you have it! The fog has been removed. This article is super basic, and it’s important to remember that there are even more options and specific instances of things being done differently. Check back periodically for more technical articles on electronics! Also have a look at some of our other content such as reviews uploaded daily!

Say it with me.

This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.


About The Author