Tech Tip: The No-Solder Humbucker to Single-Coil Transformation

You like the beefy sound of humbuckers, but also the clarity of single-coils.
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You like the beefy sound of humbuckers, but also the clarity of single-coils. You can create a split—whip out a soldering iron, find the connection between the two humbucker coils, ground it to take one of the coils out of the circuit, and end up with a single-coil sound.

Or, you can fake it.

Seriously? Well, the main difference between single-coil and humbucker pickups is the frequency response. So you can just analyze a humbucker’s response and the same pickup converted to single-coil. Then, apply EQ to the humbucker that produces the same kind of response as the single-coil sound. (And you don’t lose the humbucking properties—cool!)

Fig. 2—Bridge humbucker to single-coil conversion EQ curve.

Different humbuckers sound different when split, but the general principle is the same. The blue line in Fig. 1 shows a humbucker’s spectral response, and the yellow line shows the same humbucker split for single-coil operation. The single-coil doesn’t have as much output as the humbucker, and its response is fairly flat from 150Hz to about 3kHz. The humbucker, however, has a bump in the 500Hz to 2kHz range, which provides much of a humbucker’s meat. At 3kHz, the humbucker response drops off rapidly, while the single-coil has a considerable high-frequency boost that gives a glassier, crisper sound. The humbucker also has a bit more low end.

Fig. 3—Neck humbucker to single-coil conversion EQ curve.

Fig. 2 shows an equalizer curve that converts a bridge humbucker’s response to a single-coil. Band 1 rolls off the lows a bit, while Band 2 is equal and opposite to the humbucker’s midrange boost. Band 6 adds a shelf-response boost to give more highs overall, while Bands 4 and 5 produce the peak that creates a high-frequency emphasis around 4kHz-5kHz. The difference between a neck humbucker and single-coil response isn’t as dramatic (see Fig. 3’s equalizer curve, which converts a neck humbucker response to a single-coil sound.)

So, the next time you want a single-coil sound from your humbucker, don’t reach for a soldering iron—reach for the EQ. And I guarantee that you won’t void your guitar’s warranty!


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“I think guitarists worry too much about getting the right tone. I think your tone is something you develop naturally over the years. Yes, it takes time to get it down, and it takes time to get it right, but then you’ve got it. It’s your sound, and you’re able to dial it in no matter what amps or effects you use.”
Lita Ford