May 31st, 2012

JBE on Coil Tapping vs. Coil Splitting

I often get questions about how we get single coil tone from our HB Two/Tone and how it compares to the old trick of coil-splitting a humbucker pickup to coax single coil tones from them.    The answer to this question lies partially in the differences between  “coil-tapping” (as used in the HB Two/Tone) and “coil-splitting” as used with traditional humbucker pickups.

First, let’s define a few terms:

Coil-Splitting: the process of isolating and turning off one coil of a dual-coil pickup in the attempt to replicate  single coil tone.  The process requires a 4-wire arrangement on the pickup.   It also reintroduces noise and hum into the sound.

Coil-Tapping: a coil winding technique that creates a switch point in the coil from which accurate single coil tones can be achieved.   The whole or parts of both coils remain operational to retain the hum-canceling properties of the pickup.

PAF: Patent Applied For.   A term used by musicians to describe the original Seth Lover hum canceling pickup marketed by Gibson.  A PAF label was used on the pickup to announce that the patent process covered the design.

Humbucker: a marketing name for Gibson’s early Seth Lover design of a hum canceling pickup

Hum-Cancellation: a technical practice that reduces hum (in a guitar pickup) by using two coils of opposing polarity.

In practice, the terms PAF, humbucker and hum-canceling pickups are often used interchangeably and incorrectly.  This is not a big deal really since most of the time we understand the meanings well enough.   However, in this discussion we will use the term ‘humbucker’ as the model name that describes a PAF-styled pickup having powerful and full bodied tone and one that either eliminates or reduces hum. (Yes, not all humbuckers eliminate hum.)     We will use the term hum-cancellation as the technical way a humbucker eliminates hum.

Why the distinction?   All JBE pickup models are hum-canceling by design.   But, they are not all accurately humbuckers.  Those who attribute the tonal characteristics of humbuckers to one of JBE’s single coil sounding model pickups (e.g. our T-Styles) before having tried them will immediately miss the benefits a JBE pickup offers.    Our T-Style (Tele) and S-Deluxe (Strat) pickups for example, are dual coil pickups that produce the tonal character of  a single coil tone, i.e. open and ‘chimey’ sound but with improved tactile performance.   JBE players quickly appreciate and understand the differences that JBE pickups offer in TONE, POWER, PUNCH, and RESPONSE .

Commercial over….back to our discussion about coil tapping vs. coil splitting.    As the logic goes, by turning off one coil of a humbucker (coil-splitting) we are left with a single coil pickup.  Technically, this is absolutely true but the result is an approximation of a single coil tone.  This should not be surprising.  Consider that a typical humbucker pickups were designed to deliver more full-bodied tone and  power than their single coil brothers and sisters.  The humbucker was simply not designed to produce single coil tone. Coaxing a single-coil tone from one of its coils satisfies the technical definition of a single coil pickup, but misses the mark of producing accurate and pleasing single coil tone.

Plus, a nasty by-product of coil-splitting is that hum and nose are re-introduced.  After all, wasn’t the goal of the humbucker to reduce (if not eliminate, again not all do) this nasty artifact?  So, while coil-splitting is a practical way to coax two modes from a standard humbucker (not a bad idea really), it suffers nonetheless from two critical drawbacks; noise and what I will call a faux (fake) single coil tone.   To make matters worse, coil-splitting in the face of today’s high gain amps is a recipe for a noisy mix.

In contrast, coil-tapping (as employed in the HB Two/Tone) allows us to create a dual-mode pickup that is designed and optimized for both humbucker AND single coil tone.  Moreover, it can be noiselessly switched between modes on the fly while in the heat of battle (i.e. as you perform).   By ‘tapping’ into the coil at a pre-defined place in the winding, we create more accurate single coil tone.  With coil-tapping, both coils remain operational to keep things quiet.  A Double-Pole/Double-Throw (DPDT) switch (a push/pull pot or mini-toggle) can be used to switch between the part of the coil that is tapped (i.e. single coil mode) and the full coil winding (i.e. humbucker sound).  In this way we achieve the best of both a humbucker pickup and a single coil pickup, each without noise or hum.

So, the point here is that JBE believes coil-tapping is a better alternative to coil-splitting to achieve single coil nirvana.   For those of you interested in the actual wiring, see the wiring diagrams for the S-Deluxe. Or, navigate over to the Pickups section of our website and mouse over to Wiring Diagrams on the right side pane.  Then click on S-Deluxe wirings.   In this particular wiring diagram, you will find an insert showing how the HB Two/Tone is wired to a DPDT switch for mode switching.

We illustrate the wiring of  HB Two/Tone in the S-Deluxe section because it is most often used in Strat HSS pickup arrangements and has some distinct advantages for Strat players.  In actuality, the single coil mode of the the HB Two/Tone is electrically and tonally that of an S-Deluxe pickup.   This enables Strat players to have the fullness of a humbucker in the bridge (HSS) while retaining all the character and vibe of the Strat as a 3 single coil instrument (SSS) by preserving the desirable “in-between” (misnomer “out of phase”) sounds of the Strat.

Although great for HSS and HSH arrangement,  HB Two/Tone can also be used and wired similarly in any guitar.

But, do not expect that your HB Two/Tone (or even a coil-split humbucker) will sound in your Les Paul or SG as it does in your Strat.   The guitars are different and their body stylescontribute their own character to what JBE pickups, as hi-fidelity transducers, deliver to tone.

Frank T
JBE Pickups