How To Mix Single Coils and Humbuckers

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.

 

20 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. Hello, this is also a question like Mike’s above. I have a mini humbucker for the neck position that I wanted to to put in my Tele. But I’m going to keep the standard wiring setup and was curious if I should try the 300K pot for the typical volume/tone/3-way or if I should leave the 250K or possibly even consider swapping for a 500K volume pot? Thanks for any feedback! This has been a very informative bit of info!

    1. Hey Brandon,

      It’s really hard to tell – you can definitely experiment. Luckily, the pots are cheap!

      Keep playing,
      Tyler

  3. Hi – on Telecaster – going to use a Mini humbucker neck, and standard fralin tele bridge single coil. Don’t usually use a tone control, so was thinking going with 2 volume controls.

    Should I use a 500 pot for mini hum and a 250 for the single, and in elect middle position – do I get the dark muddy tone as described above if adding a 500k resister…? Many thanks!!

    1. Hey Mike,

      I would actually experiment with a 300K volume pot, a slightly darker Tele Bridge, and a slightly brighter Mini Humbucker. For instance, you could get away with a Stock Neck with Alnico 5 and a Blues Special Tele Bridge. You’d get a pretty even tone out of both pickups and be able to forego the customization.

      Tyler

  4. Gday guys brad from Australia I have a squire 72 vintage modified custom Tele with the 2 wide ranging humbuckers and would like to replace the neck humbucker with a strat single coil and I m after one which would give me something close to a david gilmour type sound .Can you give me some recommendations on the right single coil to use and the best way to wire it cheers Brad.

  5. so i have a strat body and i want to install a humbucker for the neck, a humbucker for the bridge and a middle single coil lipstick pickup inbetween the two. what would be the best way to go about that exactly

    1. Christian,

      Really, the only way you can make this happen is to go with the 500K pot on your guitar and have a nice and chimey middle position. You can also use a 500K resistor from the Middle Pickup Lug on your 5-Way Switch to Ground, and your Lipstick Tube will see a 250K Volume!

      Tyler

  6. For HSS. Use 250k vol and tone. Don’t use any tonepot connected to the humbucker. Normally a humbucker sees 250k in the end anyway having 2x 500k for volume and tone. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    1. i have a standard squier strat sss & i’ve bought a Belcat bhs-94a hotrail pickup 12.5k in order to replace the single coil at bridge position. All my pot are 250k.
      * Can i keep the 250k pots & install the hotrail
      * Or should i use a 500k volume pot with 470k resistor.

      Please, can you advise

      1. You can without any problem.
        I think you should try it first as is. If you find the humbucker too dull/damp then try this:

        A humbucker sounds best having 250k (vol 500k + tone 500k = 250k)
        When u have 250k pots you could cutoff the tonepot (1x250k = also 250k)
        You should see how the 5 way switch is connected. My suggestion is to cut the tonepot off the lug for the humbucker.

        Its still a tradeoff since a tonepot still smooths out a little even if its on 10.

        1. Thank for your help,

          My idea was to change the 250k volume pot into 500k and keep the tone pots as is. Then i insert a 510k resistor between the 2 single pickup inputs at the switch and the ground in order for the single pickups to see the 500k pot as 250k. After that i can insert a treble bleed between the 2 lugs of the volume pot to retain the volume when it’s turned down. All this is to be done taking into consideration that am choosing an hss auto-split mode.

          If this can be done, could you send me a wiring diagram for such solution.
          if not please advise.

          Note that i’ve read reviews about the hot rail I’ve mentioned earlier saying that it certainly needs a 500k volume pot to get its full sound.

          1. Good idea, i think that will work!

            Not too sure about the combination with the autosplit since then all pots and pickups are connected on 1 side of the 5way switch.

            I have a similar problem and i think ill just add a little toggle switch instead.

  7. I have a G&L Bluesboy. Loved how it played and felt, but the neck HB did not sound good on its own. It was too muddy due to the guitar having 250 k pots that only matched well with the bridge single coil. I spoke to Lindy and he told me to research his 3 Humbuckers that are designed to work with 250 pots. Well, I ended up researching just about all of his pickups. I ended up deciding to keep my neck HB with hopes that 500k pots would fix the issue. I swapped the bridge out with a Fralin split steel pole Tele. What a marvelous combo- the neck HB now sounds great, the bridge is phenomenal, the middle is perfect. Bonus- all positions are dead quiet and work with 500 k pots. I think I was able to preserve the essence of the guitar’s design without any compromises. It’s hard to put this guitar down now. Thanks for providing so many options to handle any pickup situation.

  8. I did it using underwound pickups and 1Meg pots, like Fender did in late 60s and 70s. In that period Fender changed specs to save moneys and sold pickups with underwound pickups.
    I bought a Fralin Pure P.A.F. neck humbucker with 7.6k DC Resistance and a Fralin Broadcaster bridge pickup with 6.0k.
    Starting from those pickups I wired a circuit with 1Meg Aud pots as volume and tone. In more, like Fender did in that period, I put a ceramic cap, in order to cut frequency (PIO caps would be a mess in this situation). This did the trick. The guitar sounds awesome and I’m really really happy. The base (the pickups) is great, but in this way they can shine!

  9. One other idea: I’ve wired a similar guitar with a 1M volume pot and a second 1M bleeder potentiometer wired in parallel that acts like the “resistor to ground” approach but allows you to vary the resistance. By using two 1M pots I believe it looks like a single 500k pot when the bleeder all the way up (if my math’s correct). I’ve found this works great, though it is an extra thing to manage, and I’ve thought about moving it to a 5-way switch that had 5 different resistance settings to make it easier to manage.

  10. 500k volume, 250k tone with the single coil, 500k tone with the humbucker… different caps for each. Did this with five way switching in a Tele with a neck HB. Killed it. Parallel instead if splitting coils so it’s still noise cancelling and single coil tone and output. I get it all. Burned my brain to get it working….LOL

    1. Joey Quiggins,

      Interested in how you did this wiring; do you have a pic or illustration of the circuit that worked for you? Trying to set up something similar…

      Thanks,
      Steve

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