Talk Box

Talk box is an audio effect that takes advantage of the human voice. It’s a device that works by taking the unique qualities of the human mouth and vocal tract while lending them to a variety of instruments.

A Summary of Human Anatomy: How Do We Talk?

In order to understand the basic functions of the this device, it’s essential to comprehend the complexities of the human vocal tract. First, the lungs push air through the vocal cords in the larynx. The vocal cords create an air valve that allows the air to vibrate. When this happens, words become audible. So the larynx muscles control both pitch and tone, but it’s the mouth that can form different sounds to create words and complex language.

Human Anatomy and the Talk Box

Of course, instruments don’t have lungs to power their sound. Because of this, musicians pluck or strum their strings to cause vibrations. By doing this, they produce sound. A simple talk box includes a horn driver and a plastic tube. You can even make it at home using common materials found in hardware stores! In contrast, a commercial one is more sophisticated. Hence, it will provide a better sound.

The Anatomy of the Talk Box

This device has two connections. The first connects to the speaker output of an instrument amp. The second, to a standard instrument speaker. The device has a foot-operated switch that directs the sound either to the talk box speaker or to the standard speaker itself. Moreover, one end of the tube is taped to the side of a microphone. When you activate the mic, the speaker reproduces the sound from the amplifier in the talk box and directs it through the tube into the performer’s mouth. 

The mouth-shape filters the sound. It also alters its harmonic content in the same way it affects the harmonic content produced by the vocal cords when speaking. When the musician changes the shape of the mouth and the position of the tongue, the sounds reproduced by the talk box also change. When this shaped sound leaves the performer’s mouth and enters the microphone, the audience perceives an instrument/voice hybrid.

Some History to Conclude

The talk box emerged around 1939. Alvino Rey, a big band musician, was the first to use it to perform a rather strange version of “St. Louis Blues” with Stringy, the talking steel guitar puppet that appeared in a film clip in 1940. Peter Drake started using the talk box and introduced the device to Peter Frampton. Both musicians helped George Harrison with his first solo album just after The Beatles broke up.