Will Brad Paisley’s Secret Agent End the Telecaster Vs. Esquire Debate?

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We’re excited to introduce our latest collaboration with Brad Paisley, the Secret Agent: a neck position pickup that’s recessed and hidden under the pickguard of your Fender Esquire to provide the tonal options of a traditional Telecaster, while still reducing the magnetic pull on your guitar’s strings to achieve both the bridge pickup sustain and classic look of an Esquire. And, each one is handmade in the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop.

The ’50s brought on the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, jazz combos, and electrified country. Unfortunately, that meant guitarists’ feedback-prone hollow body electrics were now on the losing side of the volume wars. Seeing a need and taking a cue from the day’s popular solid body lap steel guitars, Leo Fender decided to apply those construction principals to a 6-string. What he arrived at was a plank of wood, a bolted-on neck, and lonely single-coil pickup – derived from the ones found on his lap steels. Add in a 3-way switch for added tonal control, and the Esquire, not the Telecaster, gave birth to the solidbody electric guitars we know today.

While the design did set the music world on its ear, it wasn’t long before guitarists were asking Leo for a guitar with warmer, less aggressive tones as well. Not one to ignore requests from great players, Fender added a uniquely designed neck pickup to the Esquire and changed the 3-ways switch into a pickup selector, creating the first Telecasters.

Well…sort of. The new model was initially called the Broadcaster, which gave way to the No-Caster, then finally settled on the Telecaster. But that’s a story for another time.

A glance through popular music in any era proves the immense popularity of the Tele. And it continues to be a go-to guitar for every style of guitar playing out there. But there was still something magical about the Esquire that a Tele could never quite replicate. Because of its lack of neck pickup, which subjects the strings to constant magnetic pull, the Esquire offered an aggressive attack, fullness, and sustain that many players simply can’t do without.

One of those players is country music superstar and undisputed titan of the Tele, Brad Paisley. Though primarily known for eliciting his signature twang from T-style guitars, whether onstage or in the studio, he has always kept his Esquires close by. Their openness, power, and added sustain are all part of his journey to the top of the guitar world.

However, as with the Esquire’s original critics, Paisley never jived with the guitar’s odd wiring and switching system.

  • Position 1: Bypasses the tone control for a louder, more cutting sound

  • Position 2: Adds the tone control for ‘standard’ wiring with added flexibility

  • Position 3: Adds a capacitor and bypasses the tone control for a jazzier (muddy?) tone*

*This circuit was originally intended to allow guitarists to replicate a bass.

It was the classic compromise between the Tele’s legendary neck pickup tones and the Esquire’s equally appealing snarl and sustain.

So Brad took action, approaching Seymour Duncan with the vision of a Tele neck-position pickup that could be hidden underneath an Esquire’s pickguard. The goal was to drastically reduce the pickup’s pull on the strings while achieving both the sustain of an Esquire and the bell-like tones of a Tele, complete with 3-way pickup switching.

Seymour and Brad went to work. When they emerged, they introduced the world to the Brad Paisley Signature Secret Agent Esquire “neck position” pickup, available directly from the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop. This revolutionary single-coil is based around a powerful ceramic bar magnet that delivers plenty of familiar top-end detail and pillowy low end. Its bar design maintains even string response. Because it is a neck position pickup that’s recessed below the pickguard, it allows your guitar’s bridge pickup to sing with that iconic Esquire-level of unrestrained sustain. And, it does it all while retaining the traditional look of an Esquire.

However, the Secret Agent is much more than a pickup for Brad. It offers Esquire lovers everywhere the chance to significantly enhance their tonal palette without losing what makes their favorite guitar so great. But the fact that it was designed with a tone connoisseur like Brad Paisley definitely doesn’t hurt. So if you have a Tele or Esquire-style electric guitar and want the sonic benefits of both, we highly recommend giving the Secret Agent a try.

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While many guitars won’t require much modification, we still recommend consulting a qualified guitar technician to assess your instrument and perform the Secret Agent installation. And as always, you can give us a call at (805) 964-9610 or email with any other questions you may have. We’d love to help you turn your guitar into the versatile tone machine it deserves to be.

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