Guitarists are always looking for ways to coax new and exciting tones from their guitars. One great approach is humbucker pickup splitting, which means using a switch to turn off one of the two coils in the pickup, causing it to sound and act more like a single-coil pickup. A split humbucker provides a crisper, more brilliant sound, but it also means more noise, with less gain. There are several different types of switches that you can use to create this modification. Deciding what kind of switch to use depends more on what type of guitar you have than your guitar tech skill level or the affordability of the parts.
Step 1: Look At Your Guitar’s Current Control Scheme
Take a look at your guitar’s controls. Most guitars have at least one volume control. Many have one or more volume controls, along with one or more tone controls. Most also have one or more switches for selecting pickups.
Are there any controls that you don’t use, particularly in the pickup selecting section? If so, you might be able to re-wire the switch that’s already in place and remove the need for a new one. You can also convert a volume or tone control into a toggle switch if you find that you don’t use it very often.
Step 2: How Many Humbuckers Do You Need To Split?
Your guitar will usually have more rotary pots than pickups you need to split. A rotary pot is a volume or tone control, and these can be converted into a push/pull pot.
A push/pull pot is identical to a standard pot and has the same resistance values, but it has the extra feature of having a toggle switch built into the shaft. When the shaft of the volume or tone control is pulled out or pushed back in, it flips the switch.
Push/pull pots are ideally suited to splitting a humbucker, and it is the recommended approach. The only reasons to do it another way might be that you don’t have enough controls or you already have push/pull switches switching other things (like series/parallel pickup wiring).
Step 3: Are You Good With Tools?
If you find that a push/pull pot is not going to work for you, then you might need to modify your guitar to add a toggle switch that will allow you to split your humbucker pickup. If you choose to do it this way, a high-quality mini-toggle switch will work great and will not take up too much space on the guitar.
You’ll want to carefully plan out any holes that you need to make and put them where the routing is for electronics. If your guitar uses a pickguard, you can attach the toggle switch to that, and it will also be great for hiding any mistakes you might make.
If you have decided on the push/pull switch (Fig 1), you’ll see that several manufacturers make high-quality pots in almost every resistance value. Try Amazon, Stewmac, and Guitar Center for starters. Also, check out pickup manufacturers such as Dimarzio, because many make their own brand of push/pull pots to match their pickups.
If you’ve decided on the mini-toggle switch (Fig 2), then your options are considerably greater. You can get mini-toggle switches at any home improvement or hardware store and also at online outlets such as Amazon and Stewmac. You won’t need an industrial strength or high voltage version of the toggle switch, either. A simple low-voltage, but high-quality, mini toggle switch should last many years under normal conditions.
Once you have decided on and purchased your switch, check out our articles describing how to use it to split your humbucker:
If you need more information, here are a few basics:
What Is A Push/Pull Pot?
A push/pull potentiometer looks and acts the same as any volume or tone control potentiometer, but it has a switch built into the shaft of the pot. You operate the switch by pulling out or pushing in the shaft.
How Do You Ground A Push/Pull Pot?
You can ground a push/pull pot the same way that you ground a standard volume or tone control pot, usually by soldering a ground wire to the back of the potentiometer.
Can Any Humbucker Be Split?
No, a humbucker needs to have four wires to be split. These four wires are the positive and negative of each coil, and you need all four to split the pickup. Many humbucker pickups, especially the older styles, only come with two wires and these cannot be split.
What Is A Split-Coil Pickup?
A split-coil pickup is a humbucker pickup wired to a toggle switch in such a way that one of its two coils can be turned off by flipping the switch. Splitting a humbucker will make it temporarily sound more like a single-coil pickup. The split humbucker will have much less gain, and it will lose its humbucking properties.
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