How To Get More From Your Humbucker: Coil Split

Humbuckers have been immensely popular ever since they hit the market. Their fat, juicy tone allows for easier playing, their higher output makes amps crank out more dirt and with all the various humbuckers around you can easily season your guitar to taste. But some players feel the need to go a bit further. Using the P-Rails is a great idea to get a wide range of unique tones. But what if you already have a great humbucker in your guitar? Or you are looking for a humbucker with ‘conventional’ looks but with some of the added versatility of what the P-Rails offer? By adding a coil split you will be able to coax more sounds out of your guitar, often getting amazing sounds with a coil-split humbucker. I want to guide you through my favorite humbuckers that have a great tone when split.
SH-3 Stag-Mag
The SH-3 Stagmag is a unique single coil in that it was specifically designed with coil splitting in mind. It’s got two true single coils, side by side on a baseplate. Humbuckers usually have a bar magnet under the coils, but here the pole pieces are the magnets, Alnico II to be precise. When you put the pickup in its normal mode, the coils wired in series, you get a nice output with a lot of beef in the lower mids, singing highs and solid lows. But split it and the magic happens. It will chime and sparkle, drop in output and if you’re not careful even make you forget you have the humbucker-mode as well!

'59 Custom/Hybrid humbucker
’59 Custom/Hybrid humbucker

SH-16 59/Custom Hybrid
One of my favorite pickups of all time, the 59/Custom Hybrid is of course the love child of the users of the Seymour Duncan User Group Forum. In its normal mode you get a nice, sizzling hot humbucker tone with a sweet vintage vibe to it, because that’s exactly what it was designed to do! But split the coils and you get the coil of the Custom, and you can expect a ballsy, pushed sound with huge mids, a sparkly top-end and a nice bite.
JBandJazz-HotRoddedHumbuckersSH-4 JB
A tried and tested pickup. What else can be said about the JB that hasn’t been said before? Perhaps it’s new to you that the JB sounds amazing when split?! You might expect a hot single coil tone when you split a JB but that’s not really what you get. Instead it’s a more funky, chimey tone! Lots of highs, a very clean sound which is extremely useful in a plethora of situations. To me, the JB is the cornucopia of tone!
SH-12 Screamin’ Demon
The Screamin’ Demon is an amazing pickup. It was designed with George Lynch to give an organic and defined tone in the bridge position, but it works amazingly as a neck pickup too. When you split it you get a clean, slightly honky tone that begs to be used for funk. Never short on definition and dynamics, the woody character of the Screamin’ Demon persists even when just one coil is being used!
seymour_duncan_jazzSH-2 Jazz
Perhaps the most underrated pickup in the lineup of Seymour Duncan, but one of my favorites. The Jazz is the ‘natural’ companion of the JB but it stands its own just fine when put in the bridge position of a SG, Flying V or heavy Les Paul. The brightness cleans up the natural fat, thick tone of those guitars. When you coil split it, expect a very clean, sparkly tone. The output isn’t that strong but it doesn’t need to be. You may also like to use a push pull pot dedicated to this pickup to wire it in parallel or series instead of using it for a coil split. By putting it in a parallel mode, the mids get a bit more ‘beef’ than when split. The highs become a bit sweeter as well. Strangely enough, I like this pickup more in parallel than split!
SH-8 Invader
By the looks of it you might not expect this pickup to sound great or maybe even just good when split, but it does! Due to its unique magnet configuration, a split Invader has a vibe very similar to a P-90. It’s got a bit more transparency than a real P-90 due to the narrower coil, but it’s got all the dirt you may need. Just give it a go: you may be surprised!
Have you found any pickups that you think sound great split?

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  1. I recently purchased an SH-3 Stag-Mag for this guitar I’ve been working on. I wanted a little more tonal variety than a single pickup could provide, so rather than rout a second pickup spot I did some research on good pickups for splitting and found people had good things to say about the SH-3, so I gave it a shot. Finally finished the guitar the other day, and I couldn’t be happier with the sound. Mids are amazing in humbucker mode and the tone is clear and bright when split. Definitely a great pickup, think I may try and Invader and something else in my next project.

  2. The 57 PAF humbucker is a Gibson pickup, of course. That one doesn’t come as a 4 conductor wire that often, hence I haven’t tried it. But I guess it will be similar to a pearly gates split or a 59 with an alnico 2 magnet split. Kinda clean but not very sparkly, chimey or woody. Just a cleaner sound in general, would be my guess 🙂

  3. What about getting the Slash Alinco 2 pro with 4 conductor wiring? Any idea how those would sound split?

  4. I recently picked up a SH 4 JB bridge for a steal. My thoughts were to split it and add it to an Epi LPJ in the neck position (The Epi is a single pup). My concern would be two fold, is there a video available showing how to split it and also, how difficult would it be to router the hole for the pup, I don’t mind cutting the back for the wiring then slapping a cover over the hole . This was a $100 (new) guitar, perfect to experiment on. I’ve got a 59 Hybrid in the bridge now. Would they even go well together? Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. I’ll always love a JB in a medium weight body and even experimented with most of Seymour’s high output pups with great results but…. My latest acquisition a ’84 Kramer Pacer Special I wanted to run in the other direction with. Enter my first foray with the incomparable PATB-3 with the on/on/on switch wired for series/split/parallel. The PATB-3 plays really well with this popular body. Humbucker mode it growls with a high-mid squawk. In split mode the low-end rolls off nicely while still retaining a nice mid presence with the perfect amount of highs. I gotta check out more lower output pups for certain!!

  6. I did the stag mag, ’59’s, pearly gates, jb and the seymourized mini humbuckers. All are equally impressive but I still like the sh-3 stag mag the best. I’m still waiting for a tele/strat wired together(4 wire) so I can split them in a humbucker hole and get the tones from all 3….

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