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