The chime and twang of great Strat, Tele, and P-90 single-coils are unmistakable. And humbuckers continue to be the go-tos for pushing amps with warmth and power. But what if there was a split-coil pickup that offered all of those sounds in one drop-in replacement? There is. It’s called the Seymour Duncan P-Rails.
Pickup Splitting Explained
Can I coil-split any humbucker?
The quick answer is no. In simplest terms, standard humbuckers (2-conductor) are two single-coil pickups crammed together and working as one. We wind each of the pickup’s two bobbins with copper wire, creating two slugs. These slug and screw coils are then magnetized by alnico or ceramic magnets (though placed differently than a single-coil), which creates the signature humbucker tone. Though you can’t split their coils, they do sound amazing!
Which humbuckers can I coil-split?
Many modern humbuckers offer what is called 4-conductor wiring. This invention created the split-coil pickups of today.
Each coil of these humbuckers has its own pair of conductor wires. And by utilizing them with various wiring schemes, you can isolate or combine the individual coils for a variety of humbucking and single-coil-like tones. A few simple mods are all it takes.
Wiring Options for Split-coil Pickups
Series wiring is the standard’ humbucker sound.’ This method runs one coil of the pickup into the other, resulting in higher output and a full, punchy tone. All vintage-style (2-conductor) humbuckers share this design.
This scheme sends each coil’s output to your guitar’s electronics separately. By removing some midrange heft and lowering the pickup’s output, parallel wiring introduces an adjective, twangy, chiming tone. While parallel doesn’t make it a split-coil pickup, it does retain noise-canceling operation and is an excellent option for a single-coil-like tone without the buzz.
Coil Split vs. Coil Tap
While parallel wiring offers a single-coil-ish tone, coil splitting delivers true single-coil operation. This wiring splits the humbucker in two and bypasses one of the coils. The other coil then runs solo and delivers the performance, tone, and 60-cycle hum of an actual single-coil pickup.
Coil-tapping is very different. When you engage a coil tap, it removes a portion of both coils’ windings from the signal. This significantly lowers your output. So, while still fully humbucking, your pickup now interacts with your amplifier much differently, creating a brighter, spankier tone. Think of it as lowering your guitar’s volume while retaining clarity and dynamics.
*Note: Coil-tapping works with both single-coil and humbucking pickups.
P-Rails & Triple Shot Mounting Rings
Have you noticed a lot of references to “single-coil-like” and “single-coil-ish” tones? That’s because a humbucker in parallel still sounds like a humbucker in parallel. And a coil-tapped humbucker still sounds like a coil-tapped humbucker.
But there is another way.
P-Rail pickups are a 3-in-1 solution for achieving true single-coil and humbucker performance from the same pickup. From a single pickup, you’ll get a Strat’s bell-like clarity and the fat, noise-canceling sustain of a Les Paul. We also threw in the midrange bark of a great P-90 to seal the deal. Best of all, the Seymour Duncan P-Rails split-coil pickup easily drops into any standard humbucker rout.
Whether you choose a 4-conductor humbucker or the P-Rails, you still have to deal with installation. Installing additional toggle switches on your guitar or swapping your guitar’s potentiometers for push/pull or DPDT pots (double pull, double throw) are the most popular options. But they often require irreversible modifications and routing of your instrument.
That’s why we created the Triple-Shot pickup rings. Ideal for our P-Rails split-coil pickups, these rings are also perfect for use with 4-conductor humbuckers. The rings feature two low-profile switches that instantly take any split-coil pickup from full to split and everything in between. And thanks to the Triple-Shot pickup rings’ preinstalled wiring harness, installation is an easy process that requires no damaging modifications.
Time to Embrace the Split-coil Pickup
In a world of 4-conductor humbuckers, there is no reason to feel stuck by traditional tonal limitations. While some diehards may swear by vintage designs, 4-conductor humbuckers are plentiful and offer a ton of sonic flexibility. But if you want instant access to both true single-coil, P-90, and humbucking pickups without non-reversible modifications, P-Rails pickups and Triple-Shot pickup rings are the way to go.
Hopefully, this post inspires you to explore all of your guitar’s tonal options. If you have any questions along the way, check out our in-depth Tech Tips section at SeymourDuncan.com. Or go ahead and reach out directly! We’d love to help turn your guitar into the go-to for any occasion.