Updated: May 23, 2021
Ackworth Guitar Setups luthier Damian Hughes delves in to the murky world of making your humbuckers sound like single-coil. The jury is out.
Have you ever wished that you could make your humbucker loaded guitar sound single coily at the push of a button? Imagine you're playing a gig with your hi gain rock band. You're playing your Les Paul which is the obvious tool for the job, the time comes for the ballad.
You play the song but your tone is way too dark and just all wrong for the song, and you wish upon a star that your Les Paul could sound more like a Stratocaster for just one song. Fortunately, there are things that can be done...
While there is no real way to make a humbucker sound exactly like an honest to god single coil there are a few ways to go about achieving close approximations of that sound.
Coil splitting is when you use a switch to disengage one of of the coils of a humbucker, effectively turning it onto a single coil at the flick of a switch. This can be done either with a push/pull pot or the addition of a 2-way switch to the guitar. Your humbuckers need to be 4-conductor to be able to do this. The sound of a split humbucker is bit thinner than the single coil sounds you might be used to, but has all the twang and attack you could need. Bare in mind that since only one coil is engaged this negates the pickup's humbucking feature and makes the pickup susceptible to RF interference like a normal single coil.
Series/parallel wiring for a humbucker means using a switch to toggle between having the humbuckers two coils wired in series and parallel. When a humbucker's two coils are wired in series this provides the normal humbucker tone that we are all familiar with. When the two coils are wired in parallel we get something more chimy, more mid-scooped and bell like, more similar to positions 2 and 4 on a Stratocaster. Like the coil split, this can be achieved with a 2-way switch or push/pull pot and requires your pickups to be 4-conductor. However, unlike the coil split, this method retains the pickups humbucking feature.
This is a method employed by a some guitar companies like G&L and Reverend. It consists of a sort of "opposite tone knob" that rolls of bass rather than rolling off treble like a normal tone knob. A normal tone knob works by taking treble frequencies out of the circuit with a capacitor and sending them to ground, whereas a Bass Roll-off knob works by only allowing higher frequencies to pass though the circuit via a capacitor. While this method admittedly sounds much less faithful to a true single coil sound than the last 2 methods, the fact that it is controlled by a pot rather than a switch means that you have a much broader range of tonal colour to choose from making this mod way more versatile.
Another way to get something closer to a single coil sound is simply to hammer the sound into shape with an EQ pedal. While to some this method might seem a bit brutish and crass, it might be preferable for those whose instruments to them are sacrosanct and mustn't be modified. It's also probably the most convenient since you only have to buy the one EQ pedal and can then apply this method to any guitar thereafter.
To set your EQ pedal to sound more single coily the first moves would be to cut the lows and boost the highs, then we need to experiment with making some careful cuts around some of the mid frequencies until we start to hear the right kind of chime and jangle.
Modding your guitars is a lot of fun, but we always highly recommend that you take your guitars to be modded by an experienced professional. Simple mistakes made by inexperienced hands can end up costing a lot of money to put right. If you are inexperienced but want to try these things out then we recommend getting a cheap knock around guitar that you don't care if you break.
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