Building a Talkbox

Author:  JD Sleep

There are a few different ways to build your own talk box.


Heil Style


Heil Talk box diagram


The Heil Sound “The Talk Box” unit works as shown in the diagram above. The SPDT (single pull double throw) footswitch allows you to switch your amp’s speaker output between its normal speaker setup and the horn driver in the talk box.  I played my talkbox for years like this with an old Peavy Mace that I used to have.  The only difference being I used a DPDT footswitch to switch both speaker leads.  As far as I know it didn’t harm the amp or speakers, but I can’t verify that this is safe for every amp or in every situation.  You also limit your talkbox tone to be whatever tone you have your  regular guitar sound set to, unless you do an amp channel switch and switch the talkbox, do a little two switch dance step to go in and out of talkbox mode.  So, all in all this is really not the best way to setup a talkbox, but it will work if you want a bare bones setup.

Dedicated Practice Amp

 Talk Box Safe Amp

Above is a diagram of a better method to amplifiy your talk box.You do have the added expense of a small practice amp and an A/B foot switcher, but I think this method is an all around big step up from Heil Style. This is the implementation that I am currently using. I use a small Peavey Rage amp. It has built-in distortion that doesn’t sound that good through the 8 inch speaker in its cabinet, but sounds fantastic into the talk box! My “regular” guitar amp is left completely unmolested by this whole talk box set-up! Note: In the diagram I showed the speaker wires in the guitar amp for clarity, there is no mod what so ever to your normal guitar amp.

Talk Box Unit Containing Amp & Driver

The ultimate set-up is the all-in-one unit. This unit will plug in between your guitar and amp, just like any other effects pedal. I hope to have some information posted on this project in the future. If anyone would like to contribute designs, ideas or comments, let me know.


The Driver

I had some online discussions with John Spina while he was putting together his DIY talk box. He used a midrange driver from MCM Electronics Item# 54-255 (1-800-543-4330) cost is $29.95 plus shipping. He has A/B’ed this against a Heil and gets very comparable (good) sound from this driver. It’s been a lot of years since I bought the heavy duty driver that I use, so I don’t even know what kind it is. All I can say is it’s a good one, it’s lasted over three decades and still sounds better than a new Heil. I believe John told me that Heil uses an EV component for their driver. This component is available from Jim Dunlop USA Inc, but be prepared for “sticker shock”, they are considerably more than $30.

The Tube

I recommend 6 feet (or so) of clear non-toxic plastic tube size: five-eighths inch outside diameter, one-half inch inside diameter (one sixteenth inch wall thickness). I have done extensive experimentation with various size and thickness of tubing and I believe this is, all around, the best. It also happens to be what “Heil” thinks is best too, ’cause that’s exactly what they use. You might find this tubing at a plumbing supply or the aquarium section of a pet store. Most big hardware stores in USA carry clear plastic tubing. I even found a wide selection once in a store in Tucson that specializes in plexiglass.

Connecting Tube To The Driver

This is the trickiest part of the entire project. John called Jim Dunlop USA Inc (makers of the Heil Talk Box) and ordered the part they use to connect the tube to the driver. Using weather stripping, as described on the Talkbox FAQ Page sounds like a good idea. I fiddled around with some PVC connector parts from a plumbing supply store until I found something that worked. They do make PVC caps with a five-eighths inch hole in it! The bummer is the thread sizes probably won’t match the driver threads. So mine gets screwed on a ways and then secured with some attractive black duct tape. I mayl post more on this after some more experimentation (obviously I’m not yet totally happy with my set-up…but it works fine!).

Hooking It All Up

Here’s a diagram showing how to wire a simple talkbox. I usually use “zip cord” for speaker wire so that’s what I used to wire up my connections. Zip Cord is two wire electrical cord (usually brown) that can be unZIPped by just pulling the two wires apart. It’s what they make cheap extension cords out of. Use good quarter inch jacks (Switchcraft) and solder the zip cord, don’t use any screw-on or push-on type terminal connections. If your amp doesn’t already have an amp-out jack and speaker-in jack, you’ll need to figure out a way to add them. I had to modify my Peavy Rage with a little patch panel so I could get easy access to the amp’s speaker out. Here’s a couple of pictures to let you know what I’m talking about. One picture of the “patch panel” with no patch cable connected, ready for the quarter inch jack from the talk box driver to be plugged into the “amp” jack (top jack on the patch panel.) Another picturewith a very short zip cord patch wire plugged in to make the normal (non-talkbox) speaker connection, for practice amp use when not being used with the talk box. I used right angle Switchcraft jacks for the patch cable so there are no protrusions from the back of the amp.

Playing The Talking Guitar

It will take a while to get used to talking with a tube in your mouth. The guitar/amp rig needs to have good sustain to make it really work for you, I believe that’s why the distorted or fuzz sound is almost always used for the “talk box sound”, it’s the easiest way to get more sustain in your guitar sound. You need to exercise caution with the volume of the sound going into your mouth. There is a common story going around that if you play this thing too loud, eventually you’ll literally rattle the teeth right out of your head. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but I like to be on the safe side. Don’t be afraid to crank it up to normal voice level though, you’re going to need a good volume for the microphone to pick it up over the rest of your screaming loud band! Just think what you got to look forward to when you get old. Not only will you be deaf from playing guitar, you’ll be toothless too! Seriously though, stay in touch with what your head is telling you as you play. If the vibrations are in anyway painful or uncomfortable to your sinus, you’re too loud. If your teeth or head feels funny after you play, you’re too loud, etc. Stay in touch with your feelings. How do I know these things?…DON’T ASK!