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


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

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

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,


  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… short answer I think.

    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 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. -

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

    And another one -

    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:


    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:  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.
    Thanks for the articles. They really help a newb like me!

    posted on April 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm
  24. best online casinos Australia says:

    Maybe you like <a >best online gambling</a>
    <a >online casino</a> is good casino online
    <a >best online casino</a> good casino!

    posted on April 25, 2013 at 10:07 pm
  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
  29. wzx says:

    While this means all the usual stuff: grace, forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal paradise, it also means happiness for the here and now in the mundane form of cash, cars, boats, vacation homes. In Michael Kors Purses  a word, mammon. Exhibit A is the Rev. Joel Osteen, one of the most vocal proponents of the prosperity gospel (though he doesn’t like the term) whose net worth is estimated at $40 million. Now that’s living right….Comedian Wayne Brady‘s animosity towards Bill Maher has not softened since he said last June he wanted to slap the shit out of the Real Time host for jokes he Michael Kors Outlets  had made about him. Speaking to Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live Monday, Brady reaffirmed his desire tobeat [Maher’s] ass in public for saying President Obama, like Wayne Brady, is not a real blackman.<br>ICE officials said they reviewed all of the level Michael Kors Outlet Store  one and two releases and decided to “re-detain” 58 people that had initially been released.In a statement to CBS 5 News, Virginia Kice, the Western regional communications director for ICE, said the department had to make a decision on how to best Michael Kors  manage resources provided by Congress.“As fiscal uncertainty remained (...) ICE officials identified and release detained individuals who posed no significant threat to public safety, were not subject to mandatory detention and who were appropriate candidates for supervised release,” she stated.I am from Michael Kors Outlet Online  Bosnia. You know, between 1992 and 1995, it was hell.<br>Maher first explained his desire for Obama to be a real black presidentwho lifts up his shirt so they can see the gun in his pantsduring a monologue in 2010. Subsequently, Maher referred Michael Kors Outlet  to Obama as your Wayne Brady,a characterization that put into question the African-American credentials of both Obama and Brady.I’ve respected him as a comedian, and what he does on HBO is great, Brady told Hill

    posted on May 18, 2013 at 4:04 pm
  30. bchaiayyhs says:

    Mo Ladi: Heart comparing? AC Milan is big popular
    Moladi of international Milan chairman is being accepted ” Milanese sports signs up for ” Ou Lian spoke of when interviewing the with Ke Lu day match on the cup, he says: The competition of the Lu Ri that be the same as a gram is very meaningful, we saw team change, the victory also reflects the ability that gave authority. Everybody is expecting the heart on the weekend is compared now, this brought nervous atmosphere undoubtedly.
    Look in Moladi, the AC Milan that no matter be,advances triumphantly in league matches or Europe coronal of late just is under photograph comparing what Bencimilandebi wins victory is big popular. Really, AC Milan is the one party that is valued. I am not to should give my assemble character, want to know they just beat Barcelona, I also am not in acid what, the fact is such really. Although nearly a few times Milanese heart is compared,be a country rice wins victory, but this Milan is big apparently popular. In addition, mo Ladi still pointed out the expectation to team, we should know the value of this match, the essence of life that takes out oneself enrages a god. The inferior position on physical ability can be felt by honor and be determined to make up for, new people also should go show put on a country of rice polo shirt proud, dedicated put on competition ground, because this match still is affecting the rank on integral a list of names posted up, as direct as the end that we play sports season to enter Ou Guan link up with.
    When speaking of Baluoteli, mo Ladi appears very hopeful, there never has been conflict between the fan of AC Milan and international Milan, everybody respects bilateral player people. Baluoteli? Look in me distinction of the it doesn’t matter when this and he puts on graceful city polo shirt. Maliao is destined is the youth that a meeting creates a success in different club, include AC Milan. Kasanuo? It is he can have very great power not just, believe everybody is met such.
    Back-to-back this oil tycoon still spoke of Sitelamaqiaoni, he says: I do not have doubt, hope in heart comparing we can grasp an opportunity, do not pay tremendous sacrifice again. He from what to the country rice experiences significantly can be bring in this, si Shuai is responsible feeling, meeting and team grow together.
    It is finally when the opinion on public affairs that is asked about to concern jordans cheap Beilusikeni, the response says Mo Ladi: Does he say Milan can carry off league matches and Europe coronal champion? This I did not hear of, nevertheless so say to have profit for certain, be about on the weekend vote cough up. (translator notes: Italy holds parliamentary election to 25 days on 24 days beforehand. Ex-premier Beilusikeni will go into action again enter into an election contest. )

    posted on May 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Leave a Comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.