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Talkbox. What is it?

Published: Fri January 23, 2009  News Feed

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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 Lip syncing, or 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 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.

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.

In a interview with Nuno Betencourt, Brian May was questioned about whether the song “Delilah” was recorded using a talk box on Queen´s “Innuendo” record. May answered: “Yes, i finally succumbed and used one … I suppose there´s no other way to make the meow sounds, meouw, meouw, meouw”.

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.

It can also be created rather well using a synth. a Microkorg for instance.

Watch

And of course ….

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