Talk box  

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A talk box is an effects device that allows a musician to modify the sound of a musical instrument. The musician controls the modification by changing the shape of their mouth.

The effect can be used to shape the frequency content of the sound and to apply speech sounds (in the same way as singing) onto a musical instrument, typically a guitar (its non-guitar use is often confused with the vocoder) and keyboards.

A talk box is usually an effects pedal that sits on the floor and contains a speaker attached with an air tight connection to a plastic tube, however, it can come in other forms such as the 'Ghetto Talkbox': A homemade version which is usually crude, or higher quality custom made versions. The speaker is generally in the form of a horn driver, the sound generating part of a horn speaker with the horn replaced by the tube connection.

The box has connectors for the connection to the speaker output of an amplifier and a connection to a normal instrument speaker. A foot-operated switch on the bofx directs the sound either to the talkbox speaker or to the normal speaker. The switch is usually a push-on/push-off type. The other end of the tube is taped to the side of a microphone, extending enough to direct the reproduced sound in or near the performer's mouth.

When activated, the sound from the amplifier is reproduced by the speaker in the talkbox and directed through the tube into the performer's mouth. The shape of the mouth filters the sound, with the modified sound being picked up by the microphone. The shape of the mouth changes the harmonic content of the sound in the same way it affects the harmonic content generated by the vocal folds when speaking.

The performer can vary the shape of the mouth and position of the tongue, changing the sound of the instrument being reproduced by the talkbox speaker. The performer can mouth words, with the resulting effect sounding as though the instrument is speaking. This "shaped" sound exits the performer's mouth, and when it enters a microphone, an instrument/voice hybrid is heard.

The sound can be that of any musical instrument, but the effect is mostly commonly associated with the guitar. The rich harmonics of an electric guitar are shaped by the mouth producing a sound very similar to voice, effectively allowing the guitar to appear to "speak".



Singing Guitar

In 1939, Alvino Rey used a carbon throat microphone wired in such a way as to modulate his electric guitar sound. The mic, originally developed for military pilot communications, was placed on the throat of Rey's wife Luise King (one of The King Sisters), who stood behind a curtain and sang along with the guitar lines. The novel-sounding combination was called "Singing Guitar", but was not developed further.


Another early voice effect using the same principle of the throat as a filter was the Sonovox. Instead of a throat microphone modulating a guitar signal, it used small loudspeakers attached to the performer's throat. It was used in films such as A Letter to Three Wives (1949), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), the voice of Casey Junior the train in Dumbo (1941) and The Reluctant Dragon (1941), the instruments in Rusty in Orchestraville, the piano in Sparky's Magic Piano, and the airplane in Whizzer The Talking Airplane (1947). The Sonovox was also used in many radio station IDs produced by PAMS of Dallas and JAM Creative Productions. Lucille Ball made one of her earliest film appearances during the 1930s in a Pathé Newsreel demonstrating the Sonovox.

Talking steel guitar

Pete Drake, a Nashville mainstay on the pedal steel guitar, used talk box on his 1964 album Forever, in what came to be called his "talking steel guitar." The following year Gallant released three albums with the box, Pete Drake & His Talking Guitar, Talking Steel and Singing Strings, and Talking Steel Guitar. Drake's device consisted of an 8-inch paper cone speaker driver attached to a funnel from which a clear tube brought the sound to the performer's mouth. It was only loud enough to be useful in the recording studio.

Talk box controversy

There is controversy over who invented the talk box. Bob Heil has claimed he invented the talk box but there is clearly prior art in the form of the Kustom Electronics device, "The Bag", which is the same concept housed in a decorative bag slung over the shoulder like a wine bottle and sold in 1969, two years before Heil's Talk Box. The Bag is claimed to have been designed by Doug Forbes, who states that the exact same concept (horn driver attached to a plastic tube and inserted into the mouth) had previously been patented as an artificial larynx.

In 1973, Heil gave his talk box to Peter Frampton as a Christmas present. Frampton first heard the talk box when Stevie Wonder was using it for his upcoming album Music of My Mind. Then when he was playing guitar on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, he saw Pete Drake using it with a pedal steel guitar. Frampton used it on his album Frampton Comes Alive! Due to the success of the album, and particularly the hit singles "Do You Feel Like We Do" and "Show Me the Way", Frampton has become somewhat synonymous with the talk box.

Famous users

Other early adopters of the talk box were Jeff Beck and Joe Walsh. Joe Walsh used it on his album "Rocky Mountain Way" (1973) which features an extended talk box solo. Joe Walsh used a talk box in the popular Eagles song "Those Shoes." Jeff Beck used it on Beck, Bogart, and Apprice's live version of "Black Cat Moan", as well as on his 1974 album "Blow By Blow" on his cover of The Beatles song "She's a Woman".

In 1988, Heil sold the manufacturing rights to Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc. who currently builds the Heil Talk Box to the exact standards that Bob Heil designed in 1973. Peter Frampton also now sells his own line of custom designed "Framptone" products, including a talk box.

Richie Sambora, guitarist with rock band Bon Jovi, uses the talk box effect on several band songs including: Livin' On A Prayer, Bad Medicine, It's My Life, One Wild Night, Bounce, Everyday, I Want To Be Loved and We Got It Going On.

Aerosmith had also used the talk box in their hit single "Sweet Emotion". Joe Perry starts out using the talk box in the beginning in the song singing the chorus.

Many Funk bands utilized the effect as well, perhaps most notably Roger Troutman of Roger and Zapp, who then taught hip-hop producer DJ Quik to master the art. More groups who used it include Parliament/Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone and Lipps Inc on "Funkytown".

The talkbox is used in "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" from Pink Floyd's seminal album Animals. It was used again on Keep Talking from 1994's The Division Bell. The performance of this song on the live P•U•L•S•E (film) shows the effect in use in concert.

In concert, Manny Charlton of the Scottish hard rock band Nazareth uses a talk box disguised as a set of bagpipes.

Travis Stever uses a Heil Talk Box during concert solos for the band Coheed and Cambria. One of his most noticeable live performances using his Talk Box is during the fifteen to thirty minute improvised solos of The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut on the album Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness.

Van Halen used a Heil Talk Box on the single "Can't Get This Stuff No More", from their short-lived 1996 reunion with original lead singer David Lee Roth and the recording of their Best of Volume I greatest hits album. According to guitarist Edward Van Halen, the tube from the talk box used in the first part of the solo didn't work properly unless stuck into the back of his throat, triggering his gag reflex. As a result, Roth had to step in and use his own mouth for that portion of the recording.

Guitarist Slash has used a talk box many times. He first used it in "Anything Goes" from the Guns N' Roses album Appetite For Destruction. During the Use Your Illusion Tour, he used a talk box for his Rocket Queen and Move to the City solos. He also used one in "Dust N' Bones" and on the Guns N' Roses' cover of "Hair of the Dog" on their album "The Spaghetti Incident?". More recently, he used one in Velvet Revolver's song "Get Out the Door," from the band's 2007 album Libertad, and their cover of Pink Floyd's "Money".

Although not generally used for bass guitar, Larry Graham used it with his Fender jazz bass on the title track of the 1977 Graham Central Station album "Now Do U Wanna Dance?"

Scorpions guitarist Matthias Jabs uses a talk box in his solo for "The Zoo".

Dave Grohl uses a talk box for the song "Generator" on the Foo Fighters album There Is Nothing Left To Lose.

Zakk Wylde uses a talk box for the chorus of "Fire It Up" from the Black Label Society album Mafia.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Talk box" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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