Talkbox Fundimentals

Talkbox Fundimentals

Author: JD Sleep

Talking guitars have been around for decades and today’s high-tech world provides for a variety of ways to make you guitar sound like it’s talking. Here are a few ways I know of to make your guitar talk.

  • A Wah Wah Pedal This is a little crude, but with creativity and finesse, this can be quite effective. To my ear some steel guitar players can really make this “happen”. Listen to the background steel on the chorus section of Tangerine from Led Zepplin III. Steve Vai also provides some excellent examples on a regular six string electric.
  • A Vocoder This is an electronic device with two inputs, a electronic musical instrument that provides the basic sound and pitch, and a microphone input for your voice that provides the vocal intonations. In simple terms, it adds the speech patterns of your voice to the sound being played. The sound/pitch is usually driven by a synthesizer, but can be guitar. I believe DigiTech’s Guitar Talker uses this type of technology.
  • A Talk Box This is a guitar and amp driving a mid-range horn driver with a tube attached to the diaphragm instead of a horn shaped sound output fixture. The open end of the tube is placed in your mouth and the guitar sounds are shaped by your mouth as if you were talking. Some commercial examples of this kind of talk box are: the Heil Talk Box, Electro Harmonix Golden Throat, the Banshee & a blast from the past, Kustom Electronics “The Bag” (I saw Jeff Beck use one of these, live, back in 1977).

This project is based on the last item on the list above. The traditional guitar talk box as used by Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck, Joe Perry(Aerosmith), and many, many others. I’m not going to discuss who first invented this concept, this seems to be a much debated topic, but it’s been around since at least the 1940’s. Let’s look at an annotated diagram to explain the workings.

Talk Box Basic Diagram

  • A Your electric guitar is plugged into an amp as you normally do.
  • B Almost any amp can be used, as we shall see. The most popular sound is a distorted amp sound.
  • C Instead of your amp being hooked up to a speaker, as is usually the case, the speaker wires should be connected to a type of speaker called a horn driver, in the same manner as a speaker is hooked up.
  • D Horn Drivers are typically not used in guitar rig applications. If you don’t know what one is, it is the back end of a “horn” used typically in PA systems to project the higher frequencies for a sound system. Heavy duty speakers project the lower frequencies in a PA and “crossovers” are used to direct the higher frequencies to the horn drivers and the lower frequencies to the speakers.
  • E In PA applications,there is a “diffraction horn” attached to the horn driver. For this application we scrap the horn and connect a plastic tube to the diaphragm of the horn driver.
  • F The other end of the tube goes in your mouth. Believe it or not, when you play your guitar through this setup all the sound of your guitar will come out of the little itty-bitty open end of the tube marked “F” in the drawing. When you release that sound into your mouth and start shaping your mouth into word-like motions it will shape the sound of the guitar just like it shapes the sound from your vocal cords!
  • G Even though you are using an amp to drive this thing, the end result sound is no louder than a normal speaking voice and all the sound is coming straight out of your mouth. So if you’re playing along in a loud rock ‘n’ roll band, nobody’s going to hear you unless you mike it up and run it through the PA, just like the singer does.


As you can see this has the makings of a great Do-It-Yourself project, even for  someone who doesn’t want to mess with circuit boards.