You can use any kind of switch, but since the mini toggle takes up very little space once it's in place, you might agree that it's the best choice for this kind of project.
Why a Mini Toggle Switch?
A humbucker pickup contains two coils, and with a simple modification, we can use a switch to “shut off” one of the coils, causing it to sound and act like a single coil pickup. The choice to use a mini toggle switch is purely aesthetic; you can use absolutely any kind of switch that you want to but you will need to modify your guitar to hold it. A mini toggle requires drilling a hole that is less than 1/4 inch and takes up very little space once it is in place.
If you have the type of guitar that requires you to drill a hole through the wood, into the electronics compartment to add a toggle switch, then I recommend taking it to a pro, unless you really know what you are doing. If you’re lucky enough to have a Stratocaster or another type of guitar with those large pickguards that give you access to the electronics by removing them, then you can probably drill a small hole in the pickguard and add the toggle switch yourself if you are very careful and have the tools.
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For this demonstration, the guitar has one four-wire humbucker, one volume control, one toggle switch, and an output jack. This article will be very similar to our post on how to wire a humbucker pickup using a push/pull volume control. The wiring is exactly the same for this example but this time we’ll be using two separate components instead of the one push/pull pot to do the work of splitting the pickup. I prefer this method because if one of the components breaks we could just change it. With the push/pull pot, if the control gets dirty and starts creating static, or the push/pull part stops functioning, you have to change the whole push/pull pot. But the downside of using a toggle switch, of course, is that it almost always requires some type of modification to your guitar.
Wiring the Coil Split
We are going to wire the coil split using a Double Pole Double Throw (DPDT) mini toggle switch, but you can also use a Single Pole Single Throw (SPST) toggle switch to do this job if you prefer. We use a DPDT because the mini toggle switch is much more common and versatile.
Poles and Throws
Here, we’ll just take a second to explain poles and throws. A Single Pole Single Throw switch will have two lugs on it (Example 1). With this switch, Down is “no connection” or off, Up is the “Throw” and means connection, or On. In Example 1 the pickup is On in the Up position and Off in the Down position.
A Single Pole Double Throw switch will have three lugs on it (Example 2). It is said to have two throws because Up can complete a connection and Down can also complete a connection. In Example 2, if the switch is in the Up position, Pickup 1 will be On and Pickup 2 will be Off. In the Down position Pickup 1 will be Off and Pickup 2 will be On. If you leave the Top lug empty and only use the bottom two lugs, then this switch would act just like an SPST, and you can use an SPDT any time you need an SPST.
A Double Pole Double Throw switch is simply two Single Pole Double Throw switches side by side in the same unit (Example 3), and it can do anything the other switches can do. In Example 3, if the switch is in the Up position, Pickups 1 and 3 will be On and Pickups 2 and 4 will be Off. In the Down position, Pickups 1 and 3 will be Off and Pickups 2 and 4 will be On.
If your guitar is already wired up with a humbucker that you want to split and everything works fine, then once you add the toggle switch to the guitar you could skip ahead to Step 5 and do the simple wiring part.
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Step 1 – Get the wires for each coil
The first step is figuring out the wiring code for your humbucker pickup. It should have four colored wires and a bare one. You will need a voltmeter for this set for ohms.
Clip one of the leads from the voltmeter to one of the colored wires. Check each of the three remaining colored wires with the other lead of the voltmeter until you get a reading. Once you have a reading you know you have both wires for one of the coils; the other two wires will be for the other coil.
Step 2 – Get the Positive and Negative of each coil
Set the voltmeter to volts. Connect the two leads from the voltmeter to the two wires of one of the coils. Tap a coil with a screwdriver or other piece of metal and look at the reading on the voltmeter; if you don’t get any reading, tap the other coil. It will be very quick, so you have to keep tapping the pickup with your screwdriver. If you get a positive reading, then the wire going to the positive lead on your voltmeter is the positive wire of that coil. If you get a negative reading, then the wire attached to the negative lead on the voltmeter is your positive (?) wire for that coil. Write down which coil it is, and which wire is positive and which is negative. Do the same for the other coil.
Now you will take the Negative from the North Coil and solder it to the Positive of the South Coil. You’ll take the Negative from the South Coil and solder it to the Bare Ground wire. The North Coil’s positive wire is now your positive wire and the South Coil’s Negative wire is your negative wire. (Fig 1)
Solder your pickup’s Positive Wire to the first lug of the Volume Control and solder the pickup’s Ground wire to the back of the Volume pot. Now solder a wire from the third lug of the Volume Control to the back of the Volume Control pot.
Solder the wire from the Middle lug of the Volume Control to the Tip lug of the Output Jack. Now solder a wire from the Sleeve lug of the Output Jack to the back of the Volume pot. (Fig 2)
If you solder the main Ground wire from the bridge or tremolo of the guitar to the back of the Volume pot it would be ready to go under normal circumstances, but since we want to be able to split the humbucker we have to do one more thing.
If you hold a toggle switch upside down so that there are two rows of lugs, we could call the first row A and the second row B, and number the lugs one, two, and three, from top to bottom.
Take those two pickup wires that were soldered together, the Negative of the North Coil and the Positive of the South Coil, and solder them to Row B, Lug 2. Now solder a wire from Row B, Lug 3 to the back of the Volume pot. (Fig 3)
Now, when you flip the toggle switch, the wires from the South Coils will be shorted to Ground, leaving only the North Coil to produce sound.
So, there you have it: you’ve wired up your guitar so that you can split your humbucker pickup with a mini toggle switch!
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