Mixing Single Coils and Humbuckers - Fralin Pickups

How To Mix Single Coils and Humbuckers

Last Updated: January 30th, 2019

Mixing Single Coil pickups and Humbuckers present a wide array of challenges to the average guitarist. HSS Strats, Telecasters, and other mixed-pickup guitars all have this problem, and most of the time, it goes overlooked by the guitarist. We get a lot of calls and spend a lot of time talking through this issue – there’s no one real solution – but many solutions that might fit your needs. Let’s talk some basics first:

The Problem:

Think of Single Coil Pickups (Vintage Hot or Stock Telecaster) and Humbuckers (Pure P.A.F. or Standard) as two different animals when it comes to tone and output. A single coil is usually 8-9,000 turns of wire on a single bobbin, whereas humbuckers are two single coils wired in series – a lot more output and a completely different and darker tone. Check out this reference:

Single Coils:

  • Are usually brighter than humbuckers in tone
  • Usually need 250K Volume Pots due to their brightness
  • Are a lot less output than humbuckers

Humbuckers:

  • A lot darker than single coil pickups
  • Usually need 500K Pots
  • More powerful than single coils

Confused on Pot Values? Check out our Volume and Tone Pots 101 Post.

Mixing these two in a guitar with a single master volume pot usually means you need to sacrifice something. Do you use a 500K volume pot for your bridge humbucker and have brighter-sounding single coils, or vice versa?

Know Yourself:

Ask yourself: what position do I play the most? Do I love the sound of the Strat neck Pickup and only occasionally use the bridge? Or, do I rock out with the bridge humbucker a lot and rarely play the single coils? Knowing the answer to this question will help you choose the right wind of pickups, and solution that might work best for you. Let’s walk through a few different scenarios and solutions to see which one might fit!


Solution #1: Choose the correct Pickup Wind & Tone.

This is our most recommended solution. Choose the most compatible pickup outputs and tone. 

If you have a guitar with mixed pickups, spending time choosing pickups that work well together in the first place is our most recommended solution. This may involve using a brighter-sounding or lower-output humbucker to match with your single coils, or getting darker and more powerful single coils to keep up with your humbucker.

A few examples of this might include using Blues Specials or High Output Single Coils with a Pure P.A.F. bridge. Or, get darker-sounding single-coils (Steel Pole 42 / Steel Pole 43, High Output) to compensate, and use a 500K pot on the whole guitar.

You can also use pickups that are voiced similar, but with different designs. For instance, check out our Sunbucker, Big Single (42 Gauge) and Twangmaster – all are humbucker sized pickups that are bright and snappy, and use 250K pots.

Split Blades Give you a lot of options here. For instance, Blues and Super High Output Split Blades sound best with 500K pots, making them perfect for HSS guitars and Telecasters. You can use a 500K Pot on the whole guitar, and your pickups won’t be too overly bright.

Solution #2: Use a 300K Volume Pot.

When a 250K and 500K won’t cut it, a 300K pot might do the trick. It’s brighter-sounding than a 250K, and darker-sounding than a 500K pot. You could replace your volume pot with a 300K pot, and you might find that your pickups meet in the middle. If you have a 300K pot and a humbucker in the Bridge, you’ll notice your humbucker won’t be as dark, but your single coils will get brighter as a result.

Solution #3: Use our “Bright Switch” Push Pull Mod.

Imagine you had a Telecaster with a Neck humbucker and a Bridge Telecaster bridge pickup. The neck position is already dark as it us, and with a humbucker in there, it’s extra dark. Your guitar has a 250K volume pot, and your bridge pickup sounds awesome. Using our Bright Switch mod will help remove the 250K load on the neck, and brighten it up. Click the link to hear this in a Strat.

Fralin Pickups Bright Switch

Solution #4: Use a Resistor.

Using a resistor in parallel with your pickup can make a pickup “see” a different value pot than there actually is. Let’s imagine this scenario: You have a Telecaster with a P90 in the neck and a Single Coil bridge. You can use a 500K pot for a master volume, and run a ~470K resistor off the switch from your bridge position and running it to ground. The P90 in the neck will see the 500K volume pot as normal, and the bridge will see a 242K pot (close enough to 250K for us).

There are trade-offs to this solution. As soon as you click into position #2 (Neck and Bridge), the combined resistance will yield a very dark-sounding middle position.


There are other solutions as well, all with trade-offs. You might want to consider using a 250K / 500K Concentric Volume Pot, but you’ll be left with 2 knobs to turn – one for each value. You might also consider sacrificing a tone pot and use two volume pots. There are a lot of ways to get around this problem, and it’s worth taking the time to figure out which pickup combinations will work best with each other and take your guitar to the next level.

28 Comments

  1. Hi Tyler,

    I recently bought a Fender Shawn Mendes Foundation Musicmaster. It’s an inexpensive guitar if tremendous beauty and quality, and I absolutely loved it. The pickups sound good, but there is room for improvement. I do find them a little too bright and lacking some nuances. I’m hoping I’d find a good set of h/s pickups from Fralin. Would you please give some pointers on this subject?

    My ultimate aim is to find a combo that retains the single-coil-like clarity in all positions of this guitar while getting a bit more punch for the neck humbucker. This guitar has a coil split on the humbucker and sounds very good without significant volume loss. This is a feature that I’d very much like to retain.

    While I don’t use its bridge pickup much, mainly using it in middle position to blend in more flavors, I do wish to upgrade the bridge to a beefier sounding option similar to one in a vintage Tele, if possible. (This guitar has a Tex/Mex Strat single oil for bridge and a Player series humbucker for neck)

    Sincerely,

    Gary

  2. Will a neck single coil in parallel with a bridge humbucker be hum-cancelling if the polarities differ? I was under the impression they wouldnt because the bridge humbucker cancels the phase in itself, only to go in parallel with a single coil that still carries 60 cycle hum.

  3. Surprised I didn’t find one single comment asking about HSH pickup mix & match. I have a cheap custom HSH from a small company that uses Chinese parts. Planning on replacing the pickups very soon. It’s been a daunting task doing all of this research.

    I know I want the Fralin Pure P.A.F. in the Neck position. I was initially thinking of getting a mid output Bridge, something like 10-12k (thinking the Suhr SSV or SSV+) and a Classic Stack Plus Strat from SD in the Middle.

    My Goal is to be able to get nice bright lead tones with some twang and fullness from the single coil that I choose, and a hard biting rock & roll sound from my bridge pickup. Translating that to pickup variables, not sure if I should get a lower output single coil (~6k) or a bit higher output, and if I should bother getting modern Humbucker in the bridge or get another PAF.

    Also open to the idea of installing mods-ie 7 way switch, changing pots, etc.

    Any help would be BEYOND appreciated!!

  4. Hello Tyler. I have a Fender Strat Elite with 2 single coil pups and one Shawbucker. I got this guitar new about three years ago. Full disclosure … I have not played this guitar much live … opting for my #1 … an early 70s Les Paul. I’ve reached the point where I prefer not to use the LP for live gigs … and want to give the Strat a chance. This guitar came with their whisper(?) Single coils which are lacking power … and the Shawbucker is not working for me. I’m not opposed to changing out the pups. My cover band plays rock (nothing too heavy … Santana is about as heavy as we get), pop, Motown, country, and reggae. I do like the warmth of a Les Paul in clean mode– neck pickup. Before I decided to explore new pickups I recently discovered a Telecaster (70s) that has 2 humbuckers. To my ear this Tele sounds great! Any recommended approach via pickups to get the Strat in a similar place as that Tele? Related … not a techie here so I’ll have to have the new pups installed … assuming I go that way. Suggestions? Many thanks.

  5. Hello Tyler, I want to say your web page is great and very educational for us guitarrists.

    I have a Thinline 72′ Telecaster with 2 Wide Range Humbuckers Reissue (not Cunife), and changed the original 250K volumen and tone pots for 500K volume and tone, and also made the split coil with push/pull mod. The problem is when I split I have single coils with 500K volume pot (too trebley and harsh). So the question is: It is possible make your SOLUTION # 4 (470K resistor) on this topic to kick in for both Bridge and Neck just when split to single coils with the push/pull pot?

    This way when using widerange humbukers will see 500K volume pot, and when split the single coils will see 242K volume pot right? Making the 500k vol and tone pots clear up some of the muddiness of the reissue WRHB and making the single coils sound less shirll and ice-picky.

    1. Not sure about this one. Although, I’m thinking that the Partial Tap Resistor will do the trick. Instead of splitting the humbucker 50 / 50, it’s more like 70 / 30 and provides you with a warmer single-coil tone. Otherwise, use 300K pots instead of 500K. Our Wide Range Humbuckers sound great on 300K.

  6. I recently installed a CTS push pull pot for coil split into my HS charvel. the pot is 500 k and i have a seymour duncan pegasus wired for coil split and a seymour duncan ssl5 in the neck. i could t find any wiring on this exact setup and after wiring it to the best of my ability i managed to get the pickups and push pull working but there’s a strong hiss that gets louder under overdrive. any help?

  7. Will this work? I have a ’72 Thinline with 2 PAF HB’s and I want to add a Strat neck single coil as a 3rd pickup in the middle on a S-1 Switch to be able to add the 3rd pup to either of the 3 pickup switch positions. How do I wire the S-1 to do this – or can I ?

  8. So I have a 2012 American Standard Telecaster. I installed a Dimarzio Chopper T in the bridge position and a Dimarzio Area T hum free single coil in the neck. It has some good meaty low end but has lost it’s ability to cut through a mix a bit. I was considering installing a 500k tone pot to pair with the 250k Volume. I think this will give me a larger tonal range including a boost to the upper end? However, would this also cause volume bleed through? What suggestions would you have for this pickup configuration.

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