If you’ve ever been shopping for an electric guitar you have almost certainly come across two terms that might have been a tad bit confusing at first – coil splitting and coil tapping. You might even ask yourself, what do those two mean? Are those features necessary? Do all guitars come with them? Are they the same thing?
Essentially, both of these terms refer to electric guitar pickups, and while the two terms seem to be regularly used interchangeably, coil splitting and coil tapping are definitely not the same thing.
Coil splitting refers in particular to humbucking pickups, in which two coils of wire and two magnets are used together. These coils and magnets are of opposite polarity, which cancels (“bucks”) unwanted noise and hum and produces higher output and a thicker, heavier sound. In coil splitting, the connection between the two coils of a humbucking pickup is broken, disabling one coil and allowing the other to continue to function.
In effect, coil splitting turns a humbucking pickup into a single-coil pickup—a useful feature for guitarists who like both options at their fingertips without having to switch guitars. On instruments that feature it, coil splitting is usually accomplished by means of various onboard switching types.
Coil tapping, on the other hand, refers in particular to single-coil pickups. Tapping a coil means taking the signal from somewhere within the coil of wire rather than from the end of it, thus reducing pickup output (more windings means higher output); it too is accomplished by onboard switching. Some high-output single-coil pickups use coil taps to produce lower output that more closely resembles that of, say, a vintage Fender single-coil pickup.
Of the two features, coil splitting is more prevalent than coil tapping.
Fender offers a handful of guitars that feature coil splitting, and none with coil tapping. Models that feature coil-splitting circuitry include the American Deluxe Strat HSS, the Pawn Shop Fender ’51 (push-pull coil split), the Pawn Shop Mustang Special (coil selector switch for each of the two humbucking pickups), and the Classic Player Jaguar Special HH, which features unusual variable coil splitting.