The Les Paul Standard is known for setting a standard with respect to looks and playability. Now innovative electronics take the Burstbucker Pro pickups’ sonic options much further—without active electronics, batteries, or anything other than some clever pickup wiring.

The three Les Paul Standard models have the usual four knobs, but each one has a push-pull switch. These switches are the key to modifying your sonic options. In fact it’s possible to obtain 13 different, unique tones simply by choosing different switch combinations.

The Basics: All Knobs Pushed In

This gives the tried-and-true Les Paul wiring. The pickup selector chooses among neck, bridge, or both pickups. Two knobs control pickup volume, while the other two knobs control pickup tone (Fig. 1).

Les Paul Standard Controls
Fig. 1: The 2014 Les Paul Standard control configuration

The Sonic Seasonings of Tuned Coil Tapping

Both the neck and bridge humbucker pickups have a switchable coil tap, but the implementation is unique—hence the name Tuned Coil Tap. A conventional coil tap taps into a single coil pickup for a reduced number of windings, which more closely resembles some older pickup wiring techniques. This emphasizes the highs somewhat, at the expense of less “meat” and level. A conventional coil split turns a humbucker into a single coil pickup by switching one of the coils out of the circuit. This gives more high-end and tends to flatten out the midrange somewhat. Check out How to Use Coil Splits. As expected, coil splitting also negates the humbucker’s hum-canceling properties.

The Tuned Coil Tap can make a humbucker sound more like a single-coil, but does so by tapping through a frequency-selective network that provides a gentle midrange scoop. This makes the highs more present, but also preserves the low end so you don’t lose the fat warmth for which humbuckers are famous. (This is also why the Tuned Coil Tap is so effective with bass; in particular, the EB 4- and 5-string models benefit from Tuned Coil Tap techniques—see the article How to Get Eight Different Bass Sounds from the EB Bass.)

What’s more, because the humbucker remains electrically more of a humbucker than a single coil, hum is less than what you’d experience with a single-coil pickup. You also don’t have the same kind of level drop normally experienced with other tapping techniques.

The bottom line is by pulling up on one or both knobs to engage a tap, you now have eight possible pickup sounds in conjunction with the pickup selector switch (these all assume the neck tone control is pushed down):

  • Neck only
  • Neck tap
  • Bridge only
  • Bridge tap
  • Neck + bridge
  • Neck + bridge tap (bridge volume knob up)
  • Bridge + neck tap (neck volume knob up)
  • Bridge tap + neck tap (both volume control knobs up)

Of course, if you involve the tone controls, there are even more potential sounds. But we’re not done yet.

Phase Me, Bro!

Pulling up on the neck pickup’s tone control changes the neck pickup’s wiring to out of phase. This gives another four sonic possibilities with both pickups selected (i.e., pickup selector in the middle position).

  • Neck/phase + bridge (neck tone control up)
  • Neck/phase + bridge tap (neck tone control up, bridge volume control up)
  • Neck tap/phase + bridge (neck tone and volume controls up)
  • Neck tap/phase + bridge tap (neck tone and volume controls, and bridge volume control, up)

Although you’d expect a phase change to sound different only if both the neck and bridge pickups are selected, the Tuned Coil Tap allows for one more option. Engaging the neck Tuned Coil tap (neck volume control up) and switching the neck tone control in phase (down) chooses the neck Burstbucker’s inner slug coil, while out of phase (neck tone control up) chooses the outer screw coil.

In case you haven’t been keeping a scorecard, this all adds up to a total of thirteen distinct sounds just by switching the Tuned Coil Tap and Phase switches.

Pure Bypass—and How to Switch Between Two Presets

We’re still not done. Pulling up on the bridge tone control initiates Pure Bypass, which connects the bridge pickup directly to the output jack—no intervening volume or tone controls, so because there’s absolutely zero pickup loading from the controls, you’re getting the maximum bridge pickup level and tone possible at the output. This is ideal for leads, but also lets you have a particular “preset” control setup with your neck, bridge, volume and tone controls—perhaps something that’s optimized for rhythm guitar—then switch between this sound and the full-on bridge pickup sound with Pure Bypass.

So there you have it: the Standard’s sonic roster. This makes the Standard fantastic in the studio (especially the model with Min-ETune) when you want to get various iconic guitar sounds without having to use electronics or outboard gear, but for live performance, being able to do all your switching by simply pulling or pushing knobs keeps things simple on stage. Pretty cool.