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Seymour Duncan Secret Agent “review”.

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by Subro, Oct 3, 2020.

  1. Subro

    Subro TDPRI Member

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    The Secret Agent is in and I really liked it!

    I couldn’t find anything about it online so I’ll share my experience and I’ll try to be as detailed as possible.

    I recorded the video using my phone and it was quite loud in the room so the sound is not great. That was the first few minutes of playing after I installed it.


    So firstly, call me shallow but looks are important. I get more excited playing a guitar that I absolutely love the way it looks and I grew up loving Esquires after seeing photos of BB King, Jeff Beck, Paul McCartney, Steve Cropper and many others. What I think it’s fascinating is that no one judges you for wanting a blonde tele with a black pickguard because you’re a Keith Richards fan, no one judges you for changing a pickguard because you like the look of the other one better, no one judges you for wanting a red guitar instead of a blue one, but then you say you want your guitar to look like an Esquire and everyone go mental.

    Anyroad, I love the way Esquires look but I hate that “neck position” tone and I love the middle position on teles, so it’s been a while that I’ve been trying (with no success) to find a way to combine both, but the neck pickup under the pickguard always sounds muffled and quiet. A week ago watching a video of Fender’s stealth Esquire I saw a video for the Secret Agent and decided to give it a try. I installed it today, played for a few hours and here’s my opinion:


    Cost: $130 is not cheap, but again it’s a Custom Shop Seymour Duncan pickup. You’re paying for the name, you’re paying to have something so specific (since it’s not everyone’s cup of tea I reckon they won’t produce as many as their main line) and you’re paying for the attention to details and materials used. If you agree with paying over $100 on a pickup that’s a different story.


    Construction: Seymour Duncan doesn’t say much on their website so the only thing I know is that it’s a medium output ceramic bar magnet and it reads 10.7k.

    Since it was designed to be under a pickguard and away from the strings I reckon it’s a mix of a hotter wound, a stronger magnet and it’s probably voiced to compensate for the frequencies you’ll lose by having it under the pickguard.

    The pickup doesn’t have height adjustment screws and it was rather loose and lower than I’d like in the pickup cavity. SD puts foam in their packaging to keep the pickup in place so I got some of that, cut a piece shaped like the pickup, put it under it and it worked like a charm, now the pickup is pressed against the pickguard and it’s not moving at all.

    I emailed them asking for more info about the construction and this is what they said:


    “ Hi,


    I can tell you that its got a 11K DCR and uses a ceramic magnet.

    In construction it built on a similar bobbin that we use for our El Diablo and SLUG pickups.

    I can't go in to details about coil wire gauge or specifics of the wind that we did, we consider that proprietary.


    When we develop a pickup like this, collaborating with an artist, the artist gives us particular tonal attributes that they would like, then we build to achieve that tone.

    Brad wanted something to fit under an Esquire pickguard, but still have the clarity and articulation of the La Brea neck pickup that we made for him.

    Because of the distance from the string, we had to use a higher output pickup with a stronger magnet to react magnetically with the string. Though we are using the El Diablo/SLUG bobbin, it is a different wind than we do on the coils for those pickups.


    That's about all I can say about that without giving up too many secrets. lol.”


    I think it’s a fair answer.


    Sound and first impressions:

    I didn’t really know what to expect and when I first started playing I was a bit underwhelmed but the more I played it the more I liked it and now I love it, it’s definitely staying.

    Sound-wise it is sort of it’s own thing. It’s more towards your classic tele neck pickup (which everyone complains it’s too dark) so if you want something more open and snappier (like those twisted tele ones) you’ll definitely be disappointed.

    I had a Seymour Duncan Antiquity 55 in there before so that’s what I’ll be comparing with.

    As I said before I reckon it’s voiced to compensate for what you’ll lose by having it so far from the strings, so I find that the Antiquity has more detail, it sounds more complex and more “quacky”, making the Secret Agent sound a bit dull, I suppose. The Secret Agent seems to have more string definition, clarity and seems to sound brighter but in a non chimey way.

    The Secret Agent matched the Antiquity 55 in the bridge quite well and they go very well together. To be honest I rarely use the neck pickup by itself so the middle position is the important one for me and I really liked it. It’s a bit too strat-y for a tele and a bit too tele-y for a strat, it sounds bright but very smooth.

    With my setup if I play a bit harder it sounds very nice and jangly but not harsh at all, which is exactly what I want from the middle position. The kind of music I play is very 50s and 60s influenced and that middle position does that strumming/jangly almost Rickenbacker Gerry and the Pacemakers sort of thing very well. With some slap back it does the 50s rock thing really well and picking closer to the bridge with a lot of spring reverb it nails the spy tones. I think the brightness and the definition mixed with not a lot of complexity (compared to the Antiquity 55) makes it very interesting and it works specially well for what I do.

    I really liked the Secret Agent by itself with a lot of fuzz too, it reacts really well to the volume when using an Octafuzz.


    So final thoughts:

    I don’t think I’ve met anyone who likes that “neck pickup” position on an Esquire, so that already makes this a big win. Now, if you’re looking for a rich sounding neck pickup I wouldn’t recommend the Secret Agent (and most other classic tele neck pickups to be honest), but if you have the chance it’s definitely worth trying. It doesn’t sound and feel like any other tele pickup I had whilst still being what I’d expect from a tele pickup, it’s a hard one to describe.

    If you want to go for the Esquire look but still have a neck pickup I don’t think another pickup will do a better job than this one.

    I’m very satisfied and I found in this pickup something that I didn’t know I was looking for, my main guitar is an ES 355 and I think I’ll be taking the tele with me a lot more often than I used to now.


    So if you want to have your neck pickup showing that’s great. If you don’t understand why anyone would want to have a hidden pickup that’s great. If you want to have an Esquire and a tele that’s great. If you think that it’s too expensive and you would prefer getting something else that’s great. Opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one.

    Now if you’re looking for a stealth pickup, I think the Secret Agent is a great place to start.


     
  2. nojazzhere

    nojazzhere Doctor of Teleocity

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    That actually sounds pretty good......thanks for posting.
    I am a little amused that you object to the LOOKS of a little neck pickup showing.....and then you hang that "honkin'" boat anchor behind your bridge. ;)
    Enjoy!
     
  3. Subro

    Subro TDPRI Member

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    haha

    I don’t dislike the looks of a little neck pickup showing, I love the looks of a tele neck pickup as long as you keep the cover, I really dislike the uncovered ones. Haha

    But for me that’s the fun thing about teles... is to make them look like yours. Everyone knows Jeff Beck’s because of his “relic”, Jimi Page’s because of the mirrors and the dragon, Jack White’s Blue tele with the white hardware.

    I think the red stealth Esquire with a Bigsby is an interesting look and that makes me like it even more.
    Not that I did the Bigsby just for the looks, I’m a bit “shallow” but not that much, I just can’t have a guitar without one.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
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  4. Twang Guitars

    Twang Guitars Tele-Meister

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    Thanks for your post, not much info on this pickup yet... I just installed mine last night. Really like the sound, much better than other attempts that I have tried. I paired it with the Seymour Duncan La Brea Bridge pickup, great combo in my opinion. In the Fender Brad Paisley Esquire they’re pairing it with the 64’ tele bridge pickup.
    Enjoy! Jon image.jpg
     
  5. Cali Dude

    Cali Dude Tele-Afflicted

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    Nice playing. I really dig that middle position. It does sound somewhere between a Tele and Strat.
     
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  6. Subro

    Subro TDPRI Member

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    When I contacted Seymour Duncan they said that Brad Paisley wanted the Secret Agent to sound like the La Brea neck pickup so I’m sure they pair great!

    And that tele is absolutely beautiful! Is that an Autumn Blaze finish? Which model is that?
     
  7. rze99

    rze99 Poster Extraordinaire

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    I REALLY want to know what it’s like normally in the neck position. If it’s louder and brighter and can be set low it could have home in one of my builds
     
  8. Subro

    Subro TDPRI Member

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    I’m out of town until the 15th, but I can try it when I get home and let you know! But since there’s no height adjustment screws you’d have to get creative to keep the pickup in place.
     
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  9. A 5F10 and a Tele

    A 5F10 and a Tele NEW MEMBER!

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    I just got my Secret Agent pickup the other day. I have to take my guitar and have it routed. I’m really looking forward to it.
    I’ve also got a Bigsby on mine, and I’m thinking about buying a string bender that mounts on the Bigsby.
    I’m curious how well this Secret Agent pickup would work as a hidden middle pickup with a PAF style (probably a SD Seth Lover) humbucker in the neck. I’ve got the SD Broadcaster pickup in the bridge.
     
  10. ruger9

    ruger9 Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    I just got one of the Brand Paisley Esquires, which comes with this pickup in the neck position.

    Have any of you experienced it being a LARGE volume drop when switching to the neck pickup? Because on this guitar, the neck is so much quieter than the bridge, I have to use a boost pedal to balance out their volumes relative to each other. It's quite a large volume difference.

    I haven't removed the pickguard to see if the Secret Agent is right up against it or not, I'll check that out next string change, I was just wondering if others are having the large volume imbalance between the 2 pickups?

    Interestingly, this volume imbalance, I believe, is what is contributing largely to the middle position sounding "stratty" as opposed to like a tele... it sounds alot like the bridge/middle position on a Strat (and I own a Strat)...
     
  11. brookdalebill

    brookdalebill Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

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    Impressive!
     
  12. kboston

    kboston TDPRI Member

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    I installed a secret agent into an MIJ esquire. I loved the esquire before; I love it WAY more now.

    The first thing the pu does is, as advertised, it doesn't mess with your esquire bridge tone, while giving a whole other world of tones with the neck.

    The neck pu is itself extremely nice -- and distinct. It does not sound like a usual tele neck to my ears. At least in my installation, it sounds like a mid-rich stratocaster neck. More like a "tele-ish" strat neck, than a "strat-ish" tele neck. I love it. I find l like keeping a hotter and louder bridge than the neck -- and have learned not switch pickups not just for tone -- but for volume and attitude, too. Switching from a sweet neck tone to a louder and snarling tele bridge seems to me like a useful thing (i.e., rather than just changing the tone, the volume changes slightly, too.)

    I am very happy and I ended up selling two other telecasters after doing this.

    It has significantly reduced my GAS for Strats, too, as I find that whenever I think about Strats, I play a strat neck pu song on the tele and I find myself preferring the tone I hear (e.g. slow dancing in a burning room sounds great with this secret agent pu, at least on my esquire).

    Ok... rambling on... I'll stop now.

    PS: Thanks for the video, above. I enjoyed watching.
     
  13. ruger9

    ruger9 Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    I've heard people say this, and talk about "magnetic pull"... but what do you ACTUALLY mean? I have a Brad Paisley Esquire, and the neck pickup is so low volume it doesnt balance with the bridge pickup at all (altho it does make for a cool "stratty" sound in middle position). But I have 2 other teles, and the bridge in this Esquire doesn't sound any more "unleashed" or whatever from any other. Plus, if the neck pickup is close enough to pick up the strings, then it's in the magnetic field and IS doing something to the strings.... I'm not criticizing your comment or anything, I'm honestly curious.... because every time someone tries to explain what affect the Esquire "no neck pickup" thing has on the bridge pickup... they can't. It's just vague comments like "let the bridge do what it's supposed to do" LOL. The bridge pickups in my other teles DO what they are supposed to do, WITH a neck pickup lol
     
  14. tanplastic

    tanplastic Tele-Holic

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    Thanks for the review, photos and video.
     
  15. kboston

    kboston TDPRI Member

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    I have not performed a formal A/B test -- and it could simply be the case that my esquire has an especially ripping bridge and resonance (relative to my other teles) -- and it wouldn't have mattered whether I dropped in a regular neck pickup or not.

    I suppose it is an empirical fact that the secret agent pulls less on the strings than a regular neck pickup. I cannot scientifically calibrate the extent to which this yields different tones. Ultimately, I'm glad that I can do more things with my esquire and (to my ears anyway) is sounds the same in the bridge. I hope that helps.
     
  16. ruger9

    ruger9 Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    Well, I will say the "weak" (volume) of the neck pickup is what makes that middle position sound stratty... altho I think it sounds like the bridge/middle of a Strat, not bridge/neck.... which makes sense if the balance between then 2 pickups is around 60% bridge/40% neck. So having a stratty sound definitely makes the guitar unique.

    But, as unique as that may be, I will likely convert this Esquire into a regular tele by adding a normal tele nick pickup... I miss it too much when playing this guitar. But then I love tele neck pickup tone... I'm a big fan of Duke Levine and Jim Campilongo.

    I just can't abide the volume drop that happens with the Stealth, nor can I abide having to step on a boost pedal when switching to the Stealth pickup to overcome that volume loss. I don't understand the need for a neck pickup that is so quiet... if I want "quiet", I just turn the guitar down. But that's how Brad Paisley) wanted it, for whatever reason. I can't figure out what the reason is LOL (unless it's to get that stratty tone in the middle position).
     
  17. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    Fun stuff!

    Putting together an Esquire and will build a "Stealth Secret Agent" neck pup for under the Bakelite p'guard.
     
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  18. ruger9

    ruger9 Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    Let us know if you are able to make it loud enough to "compete" with the bridge, because the SD is not. It doesn't sound like strat neck pickup, it sounds like a WEAK strat neck pickup... IMO the only thing it's good for is getting a stratty sound out of the middle position (it sounds similar to the bridge/middle on a strat).

    But I'm going to be converting this esquire to a tele, as I am a heavy neck pickup player at home. I bought the Paisley Esquire specifically for by band, because it's so light, but I miss the neck pickup WAY too much.
     
  19. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    The BPSA guitar and its ilk would make no sense for anyone who essentially lives off any neck pickup.

    There is no way that any decent vintage build Tele/Esquire bridge pickup can both sound great and not over power an under pickguard passive neck pickup. There will always be an "imbalance". It is what it is and pure physics dictates. The hidden neck pickup just can't properly magnetize the strings, and whatever wimpy signal the strings produce will also have a difficult time being induced to the top of the hidden coil. But, this may be something that will work for me, for specific music scenarios. I'll see in a few weeks as the build of guitar and pickups commences.
     
  20. ruger9

    ruger9 Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    That's the same conclusion I came to with it. I bought the BPSA BECAUSE of it's stratty sound in middle position (and I think it's quite a good sound), thinking it would come in handy in my cover band for tunes that benefit from that tone (Sultans of Swing, SRV, etc)... and because I use the bridge pickup 95% of time time, I wouldn't miss the neck pickup... in the band. And I don't.

    However, unless I'm at rehearsal or a gig, that guitar NEVER gets played... seems a waste. Which is why I think I'm going to convert it to a tele. It's still good for the hours of standing at rehearsal/gigs, and no one but me is gonna know if I have a "stratty" sound or a tele middle position sound on a few songs.
     
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