All guitarists want tone—and tonal versatility is even better. One way to change tone is changing pickups, but that’s messy, a hassle to reverse, and voids warranties. A better solution is to modify an existing pickup’s wiring with switching. Rather than add separate switches, to maintain the guitar’s clean lines and retain an uncluttered look, Gibson uses push-pull volume controls to do the switching.

Pulling up on the Les Paul Standard’s volume controls changes the respective pickup’s wiring to Tuned Coil Tap mode.

Pickup Split

The two most common pickup types are single-coil and humbucker. Single-coil pickups have a bright sound, but pick up interference like hum. Humbuckers use a pair of coils wired to reduce interference like hum, and have a bigger, beefier sound.

Splitting a humbucker isolates one of the coils. This gives the brighter single-coil sound, but loses the humbucker’s hum-reducing qualities. (Note: although you can convert a humbucker into a single-coil pickup, you can’t convert a single-coil pickup into a humbucker.) The Flying V Traditional and High-Performance versions use separate push-pull controls for the bridge and rhythm pickups to change the humbucker mode to Split mode.

Pickup Tap

This is an option for single-coil pickups. Some manufacturers have increased the number of windings in newer single-coil pickups compared to earlier single-coil pickups to generate a “fatter” sound with more output. However, this produces a darker sound than a conventional single-coil pickup. A tap is an additional lead that “taps” the coil at a lesser number of windings. This produces a bright, thin sound with less output that’s more like a conventional single-coil sound. Gibson guitars do not use conventional pickup taps not just because they’re not that popular, but because the Tuned Coil Tap is much more versatile.

The top pickup shows traditional humbucker wiring.
The middle pickup has converted the humbucker to a single-coil pickup by grounding out the lower coil, which effectively takes it out of the circuit.
The lower Tuned Coil Tap pickup connects the junction of the two coils to ground through a capacitor. This capacitor “tunes” the sound by filtering out certain frequencies but not others.

Tuned Coil Tap

Gibson’s Tuned Coil Tap provides a sound that combines elements of both single-coil and humbucking pickups. It creates a gentle midrange scoop that adds a touch of brightness, but also retains the humbucker’s beefy low frequencies. What’s more, the Tuned Coil Tap rejects hum almost as well as a humbucker. The 2016 Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Studio Traditional versions use separate push-pull controls for the bridge and rhythm pickups to change the humbucker mode to Tuned Coil Tap.

Split and Tuned Coil Tap

In addition to the push-pull knobs in the Les Paul Studio and Les Paul Standard Traditional versions, the 2016 high-performance Les Paul Studio and Les Paul Standard guitars have miniature switches in the control cavity. These let you choose whether lifting up on the bridge or rhythm pickup volume control gives a split or tuned coil tap configuration. You can even have different configurations for the two pickups. Therefore when playing live, even with only two pickups you have eight distinct sounds:

  • Neck only
  • Bridge only
  • Neck + Bridge
  • Neck with Tuned Coil Tap
  • Bridge with Tuned Coil Tap
  • Neck and Bridge both with Tuned Coil Tap
  • Neck with Tuned Coil Tape Bridge
  • Bridge with Tuned Coil Tap Neck

There are even more options because the Les Standard also offers a phase reverse switch.

Bonus Hum Reduction

When both pickups are set for Tuned Coil Tap or Split, hum rejection is virtually the same as a humbucker. This is because the bridge pickup is wired so that the combination of the bridge and rhythm pickups acts like the two coils in a conventional humbucker.

Sure, the guitar pickup is ancient technology—but the tune coil tap updates it with a lot more sonic potential.