What Is Coil Tapping?

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.

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  • http://chainsawguitartuition.net/ Rob

    I’m glad someone else agrees with me about the difference between a “vibrato bar” and a “tremolo bar”! I feel like I’ve been on some sort of moral crusade :-p

    That annoys me because it confuses my guitar students when they come to learn about tremolo and vibrato (which are two, very different things).

    However, I wasn’t aware of the difference between coil “tapping” and coil “splitting” as I was told they were the same thing. I guess they both must reduce the output level, but coil splitting changes the tone to that of a singlecoil, and coil tapping doesn’t?

    Very informative post!

    • http://www.facebook.com/charliebat Charlie Mason

      Anytime you do a wiring adjustment or permanent switching installed, when you engage the, tap, the split, the phase reversal….. It will drop your power by half. And if you’ve got it tapped and phase reversal you’ve lost like 3/4ths of your power, you’re tone is thin & nasally.

      • Oscar Chonchin Hernandez Ville

        hat is not always the truth, it depends on the wiring you do an many other things

  • Kerry

    Thanks for the clarification. For me it stopped a little short with there being yet another option…..the difference between switching between parallel and series in a humbucker configuration. How do you know if your guitar is wired for series/parallel or coil split?

  • mikey64

    Wow. For decades I have just assumed tapped & split were the same thing. Thanks!!