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How the Talkbox Effect Can Spice Up Your Performance

Pedal board

Pedal board

Vocal effects guru Tom Lang explains how to make the most of a classic effect.

‘Talkbox’ is an effect that can be used to emulate a classic sound. It used to require putting a hose in your mouth and complex wiring to achieve.

Just listen to ‘Show Me The Way’ by Peter Frampton or ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ by Joe Walsh to see talkbox in action.

Frampton used an actual hose in the mouth, and while that technique still works great today, you have to carry a hose, it has to come up your mic stand, and you have to grab it with your mouth.

Then, when the sound comes into your mouth, you move your mouth around. That strange blend of instrument and vocal sounds sound is what comes out the PA.

Making talkbox simple

By making this more of a digital effect, we’ve sort of short-circuited that process by getting rid of the talkbox tube.

So, all you need to do is just use the microphone that you sing through, and an extra cable, and now you can get that familiar talking guitar sound – or synth sounds.

You do need a guitar or keyboard input because the effect needs something to determine the pitches.

In ‘talkbox mode’ you get a morphed human voice and in the ‘synth mode’ it is a little more like a vocoder effect – a robotic sound.

For the Talkbox side of things, the guitar is ‘talking’; on the synth side, it’s the synthesiser notes that are talking, controlled by the guitar.

Why use talkbox?

It’s a really cool sound that combines what is going on in your mouth with what is going on with your instrument.

You’ll find that it attracts attention! It will also allow you to do those classic songs more accurately.

But don’t limit this effect to classic songs; try incorporating it into your own songs, or your own versions of covers.

I find that it adds a ‘technological edge’ to my music; making my guitar ‘talk’ seems to add a layer to my presentation that fits well for some of my pieces.

But there’s something else I have noticed with this effect: when I am sitting, noodling around and just playing chords and I click the effect on, it moves me into a creative space.

Talkbox tricks

1. Enunciate clearly

If you’re not wrapping your mouth around those vowels, you won’t get as pronounced an effect. If you really stretch your mouth around those sounds, you’ll get way cooler sounds.

2. Clean and light

When you’re using specifically the synthesiser, it’s important not to play too hard, and to play cleanly. Playing cleanly and lightly on the strings will reward you with a more accurate representation of the pitches, because you’re triggering a complex sample with your guitar.

3. Dynamics

Make sure you try using dynamics when this effect is turned on; you will discover that this adds completely different ‘soncic layers’ compared to maintaining a consistent volume.

TC-Helicon has just introduced their TalkBox Synth – with classic and new songs for the guitarist’s arsenal.