Have you ever heard “Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi?
Or maybe, their other hit “It’s My Life”, or the solo of Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart”, or maybe “Show Me The Way” of Peter Frampton?
If you’re wondering why I’m making these questions, or what do they even have in common, the answer is only one: the Talk Box pedal.
Yes, these songs use that particular guitar effect, often forgotten in the lists of the “more popular” effects, but still used by lots of bands such as Metallica (“The House Jack Built), Alice Cooper (“Man In The Box”) and Aerosmith (“Sweet Emotion”).
But still, what it’s this thing?
HOW DOES IT WORK?
This is an effect pedal that has a tube or duct running from the instrument input to a speaker: the player sings or speaks into the tube, and this modifies the sound of the instrument (in fact, it can be used for vocals and bass as well, and is even used for synthesizers).
In fact, these are also called “vocal pedals” because they allow singers to sing while they play the guitar.
HOW TO USE A TALK BOX
The first step in using this is to plug it into an amplifier and then plug your guitar into the input jack on the side of the device. The next step is to put your mouth up to one of two plastic tubes on either side of the device, depending on which tube you want to use (You’ll usually have to use a microphone at the end of the plastic tube, but some pedals don’t actually need it).
WHEN WERE THEY INVENTED – A SHORT HISTORY
Who invented this particular guitar effect?
The man who first used it was the guitarist Alvino Rey and his talking electric guitar Stringy.
Alvino Rey was a legend of the Western Swing genre and the first to add a talking device to his pedal steel guitar: a 1940s documentary showed his experiment of doing this as recorded on a camera in 1944, while he was using a microphone placed on the singer’s throat, who then vocalized a steel guitar’s line.
The decade when this effect had his own rise in popularity, though, was the 70’s: Peter Frampton was a huge fan of this peculiar pedal effect, with songs like “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do”, as well as Aerosmith’s guitarist Joe Perry in the song “Sweet Emotion”.
Another rise in popularity of the talk box (as well as a lot of other things such as vocoders, synths and this stuff) was with Daft Punk, for example in songs like “Harder Better Faster Stronger”, that gave a comeback to this weird pedal and made it return and live again on a prayer (pun intended).
The latest advancement for this, though, is definitely the Electrospit, a new model that doesn’t even require the standard plastic tube but it works only with a kind of sensor placed on your throat.
CONCLUSION: ALWAYS REMEMBER TO LET YOUR GUITAR SING
Using a talk box may seem a bold decision, as it is definitely less popular than… well, almost any other electric guitar’s effect pedal, but it can give you huge creative ideas and also lots of satisfaction when you play with that quirky box-and-tube thing (even if some new models don’t even require the tube actually, thanks to the wonders of science).
If you want to listen to songs using this stompbox you can also read (or, better, listen) here, and you can also check the list of the best (and when possible even cheap) talk box on the market, updated to 2022.
And always remember to play Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger!