Jim DeCola explains 4-conductor humbucker wiring
| April 18, 2024 |

Video: How to Install Humbucker Pickups on Electric Guitar

Essential pro tips for installing new humbucking pickups in electric guitars

Have you been tempted to try a new humbucker™ in your favorite guitar but are too nervous to take that leap? Help is at hand. Gibson’s Master Luthier Jim DeCola is here to help you experiment with your tone in this episode of “Gibson’s Guide to Guitar Setup and Maintenance.”

Follow along as Jim shows you step-by-step how to install the Gibson Pickup Shop’s quick-connect pickups, mount rings on your humbuckers, and install a pickup with 4-conductor wiring on your electric guitar.

What is 4-conductor wiring?

In the context of guitar electronics, 4-conductor wiring is a configuration that allows for more flexibility in how the pickups can be used and manipulated for different sounds. Humbucking pickups generally come standard with 2-conductor wiring. These standard wires are used to connect the pickup to the guitar’s relevant pot lug and to ground, with the pickup’s coils wired in series internally.

In a 4-conductor wiring setup, each of the two coils in a humbucker pickup has its dedicated pair of start and finish wires exposed. This means four wires are coming from the pickup, allowing each coil to be connected independently. Here’s how this can enhance the functionality of a guitar:

Coil splitting

This is one of the most common uses of 4-conductor wiring. It allows the player to turn a humbucker (which has two coils) into a single-coil pickup by shutting off one of the coils. This is typically done via a switch on the guitar. When one coil is disabled, the humbucker mimics the brighter, thinner sonic characteristics of a single-coil pickup. However, some output can be lost.

Series/parallel wiring

Another option provided by 4-conductor wiring is the ability to switch between series and parallel wiring of the coils. The output is warmer and louder when the coils are wired in series (the standard wiring for a humbucker). Wiring the coils in parallel results in a brighter tone and slightly lower output, similar to single coils but still maintaining some hum-canceling properties.

Overall, pickups with 4-conductor wiring allow players to modify their tone quickly directly from the guitar. This versatility makes them a popular choice for guitarists looking for a wide range of sounds from a single instrument.

What’s the deal with Greeny’s pickups?

The legendary 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard known as “Greeny” has an unparalleled (no pun intended) reputation among guitars in terms of both provenance and tone. Known as one of the most iconic original Les Paul™ Standards, it boasts a distinctive sound that is as instantly recognizable as the instrument itself.

It was once owned by electric blues icon Peter Green (whose famous tune “Oh Well” was recently covered by Slash on a new single with Chris Stapleton) and served as his primary guitar while with Fleetwood Mac. Later, Gary Moore acquired it and continued to use it for three decades, both with Thin Lizzy and as a solo performer.

Now owned by Kirk Hammett, Greeny passed through the hands of three legendary guitarists—hear it in action as Kirk and Metallica honor Elton John in a live context. Its distinctive sound is partly from the out-of-phase middle switch position due to the neck pickup’s reversed magnetic polarity. Check Greeny out and consider the Greenybucker the next time you find yourself holding a soldering iron under the tutelage of Jim DeCola.

Explore the Gibson Pickup Shop for a huge array of tone-shaping options and check out more pro tips from Jim DeCola on Gibson TV. For more detailed information on guitar setup and maintenance or more complicated DIY repairs, check out Gibson’s free Virtual Guitar Tech service.