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What is a Talk Box?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 March 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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With a history that stretches back to the middle of the 20th century, the talk box is a device that allows a musician to alter the sound produced by a musical instrument. Based on the same principle as the Sonovox, which utilized the throat of a singer as the medium for producing altered sounds through speakers, the talk box usually involved the use of a guitar. In some cases, a talk box functions by changing the shape of the mouth on the device. Sometimes confused with a vocoder, talk boxes have been used extensively in both live performances and in the recording studio.

The origins of the talk box are generally understood to begin in the 1940s, and were first used in conjunction with a guitar. Essentially, the talk box was a simple effects pedal that would rest on the floor near the performer. Plastic tubing would run from the speaker on the talk box to a horn speaker that would be placed near the mouth of the performer. Generally, the tube is attached to the side of the microphone that is used by the singer. Additional connections allow the device to attach to a standard amplifier. A simple off and on switch allows the performer to control the talk box, making it possible to alter the sound of both the voice and the musical instrument at will.

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As the use of electric guitars became more common, the talk box often became the means of shaping the sounds produced in a way that gave the tones a sense of reproducing words. This phenomenon of musical instruments speaking during the course of a performance added a new layer of creativity for musical artists, especially country and western performers in the 1960s and several notable rock and roll performers during the decade of the 1970s.

As the talk box became more of a staple in the recording studio, it was only a matter of time before the devices became a common part of the concert equipment employed by a wide range of performers. By the 1980s, the talk box was firmly established as a valuable creative tool for both the studio and on the stage. Such diverse genres as show tunes and rap began to pick up on the use of the talk box, further enhancing the reputation of the device.

While computer technology has greatly changed the way that music is recorded today, the talk box continues to be employed by many performers. The talk box is an excellent way of adding interesting riffs to musical compositions, enhancing the vocals produced by singers within a musical group, and in general adding one more element that helps to make a good song even better. In some performances, Sonovoxes and talk boxes are both used to produce additional musical layers, to the delight of audiences everywhere.

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