ProGuitarShop

Pickups Demystified Part One: Series/Parallel Wiring

April 23, 2013

Recently, PGS has been getting in some guitars that come with the new Fender Custom Shop Lineage pickups. This brought about a lot of discussion at the shop and it dawned on me that there’s a huge chunk of guitarists out there that have no idea what terms like Series, Parallel, Phase reversal and Coil Tap/Cut/Split mean. I’ll even admit to not quite grasping a few of these concepts until I did some research.  So, Andy’s Corner will occasionally tackle these terms and provide some sound clips to help us all with this 50+ year old technology that few people still have a handle on!

parallel wiring

Parallel wiring diagram credit treblebooster.com

 

Understanding the concept of series and parallel circuits will not only expand your library of tones but will aid in other departments like; rewiring your speaker cab to different Ohms ratings or better grasp how your amp’s FX loop is mixing your effects together. It’s not a real complicated subject but sometimes straight answers are hard to find on the internet. Let’s start with the most common wiring technique you’ll see on 2 or 3 pickup guitar, parallel.

Think of parallel circuits as railroad tracks. Each rail is independent of each other like the positive and negative of a circuit.  You can then think of the hot and ground leads as the wooden ties, with the output lead going to the selector switch and the ground lead to a single point (usually the back of a volume pot). To help make better sense of this, let’s look at a guitar not wired this way, like Brian May’s.

wiring series

Series wiring diagram credit treblebooster.com

He has three single coil pickups but wired in series, part of why it sounds different from a Strat. Notice how the current, even with on/off and phase switches along the way, is still end to end with the output of one pickup right into the input of the other. If I’m not mistaken this is the same way you’ve been connecting your pedals all along! These two methods of wiring produce very distinct yet useable tones. There is no right or wrong way and some even choose to have both options for maximum versatility.  Now with the analogies out of the way, let’s get to the interesting stuff, their difference in sound.

 

Brian May wiring

Brian May's wiring credit treblebooster.com

Think of the tone of position 2 (neck/mid) or 4 (mid/bridge) of a Strat. You hear a spanky, low output, hum free, classic Strat sound (are you singing Sultans of Swing too?) You’re hearing two pickups with a low impedance load on each other, acting as a filter of sorts. This is the essence of parallel wiring and what gives your clean tone all its sparkle and tightness. It furthermore explains why Brian May’s tone doesn’t sound anything close to a Fender, his series wired pickups have more in common tone wise with humbuckers when you think about it. Take a break and listen to these 2 examples of Series vs. Parallel. The first clip is a Telecaster with a 4 way switch and the second a Strat with S-1 switching.

The Humbucker is a dual coil pickup with coils of reversed polarity, reverse wound, connected in series. Like the darker tones you heard in the sound clips, they have a hotter output too. However, humbuckers with a four wire conductor can be taken from their stock series state to parallel for a brighter, spankier single coil tone. Seymour Duncan’s site says that “a humbucker wired in parallel has about 30% less output of the same pickup wired in series.”

Although the pickup will still be hum canceling on account of its reverse polarity and wind, you will basically get the sizzling tone of two closely spaced single coils. Although I don’t have a clip of that for you, you can just type “series parallel humbucker” into YT and find some brave modders out there.

We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of these things called pickups but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Hopefully this at least gives you a better idea on why humbuckers and single coils sound so different. Besides their build materials, wiring series vs. parallel will give completely opposite tones. I’ll tell you, I at least have to put a 4 way switch in my Tele after hearing what a simple wiring mod can do.

See you next time in the corner,
Andy

Comments

  1. John says:

    MP3 links don’t work.

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 4:21 am
  2. Steve says:

    Hey Andy, thanx for the tips, I’m thinking of installing a fernandez pick-up or pick-up’s on my Strat,  any thoughts?

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 4:24 am
  3. Lucas says:

    Hi Andy, very interesting information. I still don’t understand very well about what type of sound we can get with parallel circuit, and after reading this, I just want to go home, take the pickguard off, and take a look to my Fender American Special. What would I find? A parallel connection for those three pickups?

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 4:38 am
  4. David Gennaro says:

    Well Now I’m totally mystified…..no short answer I think.

    https://soundcloud.com/spoonwood-1/im-mystified

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 4:54 am
  5. jim says:

    I have a set of Seymour humbuckers in my Epi running through Jonesyblues 21 tone wiring with 4 push pull pots just for the reasons stated above and love the versatility ,and tones i get from splitting,running in phase, parallel , out of phase barrel full of monkeys my friend

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 4:56 am
  6. Jeff says:

    MP3 links don’t work

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 4:57 am
  7. alex Montalvo says:

    So basically what you are saying is that if I wire my pickups in parallel the output resistance of my pickups will drop about 30% compared to series?

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 4:59 am
  8. Daniel Salinas says:

    I installed a 4 way switch in my Tele, love the sound of the 2 pups in series, but the problem is the hum. it is increased as well. Fender has the custom shop texas special that are reverse wound so it solves the problem. It’s a pity that the S. Duncan quarter pounders that I bought are not wounded that way, since they have higher output than the standard tele pups (and a killer tone specially the bridge one).

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 5:02 am
  9. SlopeRocker says:

    Hey you guys/girls…don’t expect answers from Andy - I’m sure he can’t be bothered (nor should he be) with being your personal consultant. It’s 2013 and guess what… you can go to the web or other forums and easily do research. The Seymour Duncan site is particularly good…See this ENTIRE series http://www.seymourduncan.com/blog/the-tone-garage/guitar-wiring-diploma-course/ And of course Google it.

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 5:03 am
  10. Funk E says:

    First, your sound sample link seems to be broken. ( at the moment anyway ) Second, you’re still making it more confusing than it needs to be.
    Series = 2 pickup coils or more wired together so you get the FULL output of each pickup all combined, full and loud, not as bright as if you heard each coil by itself. This can be the 2 coils in a single humbucker paf or stacked coil pickup, OR, the separate single coils in a strat or tele type guitar . When using 2 single coil pickups combined in series, it’s louder and fuller sounding than using one pickup by itself. Bryan May often uses his bridge and middle pickups combined in series. This is no different than what a dual coil paf humbucker does, except the 2 coils are simply further apart. The resulting sound has a wider range because of the coil spacing, but electronically it’s doing what a paf does.
    Parallel = 2 coils or more are wired so you’re get the Partial output of each pickup, independently from each other, so the brightness and volume doesn’t change much when you switch from 1 pickup alone to 2 or more pickups. This works the same for single coils and humbuckers alike. ( no, the is no coil splitting or electricon phasing involved, it’s pretty simple )
      So, if your volume and brightness stay about the same when you switch on 2 pickups, like on a tele or Les Paul, it’s wired in parallel. If there’s a volume jump and darker sound when you switch on 2 pickups, like a typical Danelectro or Fender Duosonic, it’s wires in series.
      I think knowing what each does soundwise is more important than the teccnical explanations. I hope the next coil splt ( what most people mean when they say coil tap, which is a different thing altogether ) gets explained correctly, I know you can do it, we’re pulling for you !!

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 5:37 am
  11. Jorge says:

    The links are broken!

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 5:56 am
  12. Abbacus says:

    We are in the golden age of gear and guitar-tech. You can now easily find just about and wiring diagram for guitar, effect or amp online in seconds. I easily found Peter Framptons’ 3 PU LP and Alvin Lees’ ES335 with a strat PU added in the middle wiring diagrams online recently with very little search effort required. The only down side: Google knows what kind of musical gear ads to pummel me with!

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 8:15 am
  13. Igor Vihnanek says:

    Here’s a nice demo of all the combinations, except phase and stuff.. series/parallel/coil split etc. - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxbaBWPTT2k

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 8:24 am
  14. Igor Vihnanek says:

    And another one - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUw1W-BZvns

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 8:35 am
  15. dba says:

    Though i appreciate guitar wiring diagrams about as much as my cable modem router setup, I’d really prefer it just works.  I am not a fan of a ton of switches and push pull pots.  I hate the weak singal that comes from coil splitting or throwing pickups out of phase - let alone throwing in some additional caps.  I don’t need to know how my guitar works and the last thing I want is a circuit board inside my axe.  Please just a great guitar and solid amp and for a different sound let my grab another guitar. I dislike the idea tweaking something that’s not borken. Besides you can easily burn yourself with a soldering iron.

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 11:05 am
  16. RICK Johnson says:

    Pretty cool thrown the Brian may switching system in there,that guy was ahead of the times… NOw, i realize we`re talkn single coil here..But As Dimarzio says in the instructions provided with ea. every pkup(I switched to Seymour this year)Referring to Humbuckers , wired in parallel is a cleaner tone from GTR…I let my pedals and amp do the distortion…as least that way I`ll always have a good clean right off the Bat..Followed by a Full tone FB3

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 4:24 pm
  17. suddhachitta says:

    I’d really like if someone could clear this up for me,
    I’m getting a Seymour-Duncan humbucker pickup with a 4 conductor wire set and I want to have a coil-tap option.
    So, do I need to wire the pickup in parallel if I want to achieve the coil tap?
    Or can it be done even with series connection, because from what I read here it seems obvious that a humbucker wired in series and one in parallel would sound completely different.
    Any help is appreciated

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 6:40 pm
  18. matthew says:

    awesome

    posted on April 23, 2013 at 11:16 pm
  19. airproofer says:

    A really easy, high quality, flexible, solderless way of moding your teles and strats with series options:  www.toneshapers.com.  I’ve built both strats and teles with these devices; very impressed.

    posted on April 24, 2013 at 4:27 am
  20. Ken Cohagen says:

    I always liked Brian May’s tone, and now that Guitar Fetish has their Brighton Rock pickups I’ve been thinking about putting a set in my Johnson Strat copy. Now I know how to wire them. Thx!
    Now on to split coils.  I think it’s a way to adjust the amount of windings in a coil by placing breaks partway through the winding process where you can choose to use say 5000 turns, or connect to the next couple thousand turns for a total of 7000, etc. to give you the tone of several different pickups in one. If that’s not it, and I just invented something new let me know!

    posted on April 24, 2013 at 10:21 am
  21. Ross says:

    How do we get the MP3 files?

    posted on April 24, 2013 at 11:09 am
  22. Funk E says:

    Suddhachitta, a 4 conductor pickup is wired in series with a push-pull pot or mini switch to select a single coil for a non-humbucking single coil sound. You can also wire a 4 conductor humbucker for series/parallel/ coil split ( 3 different sounds ) with an ” on-on-on ” dpdt mini switch. Both series and parallel remain humbucking, coil split isn’t humbucking just like a true single coil pickup.
      Ken, coil split and coil tap are 2 different things. Andy mentioned he’d explain this next, but briefly, what you mentioned above is coil tapping. The windings of a single coil pickup are tapped at a certain point so you can switch between a cleaner lower output sound and hotter higher output sound. Coil splitting is done on dual coil humbuckers where 1 coil is turned off and 1 is left on to produce a single coil sound. Most people use the terms tap and split as if they’re the same. They’re not at all.

    posted on April 24, 2013 at 11:17 am
  23. Ken Cohagen says:

    Thanks Funk E. I have split coils on my SG with Super Distortion pickups. You answered my next question in your response to Suddhachitta. I hope Andy will cover that with a diagram so I can wire it myself.
    Andy,
    Thanks for the articles. They really help a newb like me!

    posted on April 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm
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  25. Jeff Branco says:

    Awesome !!  Thanks: Andy

    posted on April 26, 2013 at 9:10 pm
  26. ron says:

    Can’t wait to see the segment on humbuckers, I am switching an off brand telecaster to two humbuckers, and the wiring is a bit of a puzzlement, I hope you can help me out there. Thanks!

    posted on April 29, 2013 at 3:49 am
  27. Bud says:

    Your links for the tone samples are broken. All are redirecting to Snake River Guitar Works and their pedals.

    posted on April 29, 2013 at 7:33 am
  28. guitardude57 says:

    If you go to Seymour Duncan’s website, there are many wiring diagrams showing different manufacturer’s wire schemes… and how to series/parallel wire using mini switches or puss/pull switched pots.

    posted on May 6, 2013 at 5:24 am
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