Coil splitting is the practice of shutting off (or otherwise fading out) one coil of a humbucker, leaving behind a single coil for a brighter tone. Coil splitting is often confused with a single coil option known as coil tapping, in much the same way that the terms ‘vibrato bar’ and ‘tremolo bar’ are considered interchangeable even though only one is technically correct. So what is coil tapping, and how is it different to coil splitting?
Coil tapping is when a wire runs off of the pickup windings at a certain point, somewhere short of the full amount. This means you can install a switch to select between a single coil pickup’s full output or a lower output, giving you two distinct levels of power from one pickup.
The tapped output level will give you a more vintage-like sound, while a hotter, more modern voice is available from the full-powered setting. This can give you more precise heat-of-the-moment control over the output compared to simply using the guitar’s volume knob to reduce the output level. And if you’re using a particularly sensitive tube amp you can even use the tapped level as your default rhythm setting, then hit the amp with higher output for solos by flipping to the full power level. You can also have some real fun by using a coil tap switch in combination with an input-dependent effect device such as an envelope filter pedal.
High-powered single coils such as the Quarter Pound SSL-4 or the Quarter Pound for Tele set can be ordered with the extra wire that turns them into tapped versions, as can medium-output pickups such as the SSL-5 and the Hot for Tele set. And there are many ways to wire a coil tap, including a push-pull pot for each pickup; a mini switch for each pickup (see the diagram here); and ‘Tapped Tele’ style with a five-way pickup selector switch in place of the traditional three-way switch.