WHEN Tommy used to work on the docks, Richie got to work with the box. As well as providing the vocalised effect on Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, the talk box (not to be confused with a vocoder) was made famous by Peter Frampton, Foo Fighters, Aerosmith and many others.
The talk box itself doesn’t actually create the filtered effect: this is done by your mouth. It works by amplifying your guitar signal into a plastic tube, which is placed inside your mouth. When you change your mouth’s shape, the tone is filtered in the same way as your voice. The whole lot is then picked up by a microphone, and pumped out to your audience through a PA system.
You can grasp the idea behind it without your guitar or a talk box: try singing a continuous note, then shaping your mouth to create different vowel sounds. Notice how the sound you sing never changes, but the tone can go from ‘ahh’ to ‘ee’ to ‘ooh’, and so on. Heil Sound’s Talkbox is the most common unit for creating this sound, while the Danelectro Free Speech Talk Box lets you create the effect ‘in-line’ to your guitar amp, without the need for a PA system.