10 Terrific Talk Box Guitar Moments
Have you ever heard a guitar talk? No, not in a metaphorical sense, like, have you ever found yourself listening to a song that features a guitar sounding out vowels and mimicking a human voice? If you answered yes, then congratulations: you've experienced talk box guitar work.
The talk box is one of the neatest effects to ever grace modern electric guitar, and its basic functionality is actually relatively simple. The talk box takes an already produced guitar sound and sends it through an airtight tube. The guitarist lets the sound enter his/her mouth, and the resulting noise is captured with an amplified microphone. The sound is then modified with the facial movements of the guitarist, resulting in an uncanny "talking" effect. Anyone who has an electric toothbrush will understand how this works. While brushing with an electric toothbrush, have you ever noticed how the whirring sound goes "whoa whoa" every time you open and close your mouth? That is pretty much the same idea that drives the existence of the talk box, albeit not as cool.
Even though the the talk box is totally awesome, it isn't as widely used as other electric guitar effects. This is probably because it's such a dominating tonal element--almost every popular guitarist uses effects to color their sound, but few of them stick out quite the talk box, and honestly, how could they? The talk box gives electric guitar playing a literal voice, and when used in song-craft, it is going to be noticed above almost everything else. Regardless of its encompassing nature, several artists have used talk box guitar work to give their songs a unique edge, and as such a certain legacy must be upheld. Here are ten terrific examples of talk box guitar work in action. Keep in mind that, while this list is numerically ordered, numbers have simply been assigned as a form of organization. Music is subjective, and this author isn't about to shove his personal opinion down your eardrums.
10. Tool - "Jambi" (10,000 Days, 2007)
Adam Jones is a great musician, but his heavy riffs are designed to blend in with a crawling rhythm section and singer Maynard Keenan's unmistakable wailing drone, so he can seem a little subdued at times. When the guitarist does break away from Tool's sonic shell, though, it's almost impossible not to take notice, and the talk box guitar interlude on 10,000 Days' "Jambi" is one of Jones' best centerfold moments.
9. Bon Jovi - "Livin' on a Prayer" (Slippery When Wet, 1986)
Guitarist Richie Sambora uses his talk box throughout "Livin' on a Prayer" as both a rhythmic tool and as a filler-lead device. It's a great song within its own merits, but it's doubtful that "Livin' on a Prayer" would remain as popular now as it was back in 1986 without Sambora's awesome talk box guitar work. Sambora used the talk box in many of their later songs, most notably on their smash mid-life crisis hit "It's My Life."
8. Aerosmith - "Sweet Emotion" (Toys in the Attic, 1975)
Aerosmith have always been one of the funkier rock 'n roll acts to come out of 1970s, and lead guitarist Joe Perry uses his talk box to build an appropriate crescendo into "Sweet Emotion's" groovy riff. When all of that is said and done, Perry brings it back at the end of the song with an amazing outro guitar duel with his talk box and rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford's more straight ahead riffing approach.
7. Weezer - "Beverly Hills" (Make Believe, 2005)
Considering their excellent track record, "Beverly Hills" is an absolute waste of Weezer's talent--until singer/guitarist Rivers Cuomo busts out an awesome talk box guitar solo, that is. It isn't the most intricate talk box guitar moment, but it sure sounds cool, and the solo on "Beverly Hills" is a great example of how talk box utilization can sometimes literally save a song from impending mediocrity.
6. Nazareth - "Hair of the Dog" (Nazareth, 1975)
Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog" has an amazing chorus. You'd know it if you've heard it...how could anyone ever forget messing with a son of a [literal meaning: female dog]? Short answer: you can't, and you're less likely to forget when there's a killer talk box guitar interlude placed in the middle of the song. Nazareth's talk box guitar moment in "Hair of the Dog" isn't flashy or anything, but it's a great early example of the effect in all of it's woah-woah-ing glory.
5. Joe Walsh - "Rocky Mountain Way" (Rocky Mountain Way, 1985)
Talk box guitar moments are usually big events within a song, and on "Rocky Mountain Way" Joe Walsh gives the effect an entire section to itself. Walsh has always been the quirkier part of the Eagles, so the talk box is a suiting effect for the singer/guitarist's solo material. Walsh also uses his talk box on the Eagles' "Those Shoes" from The Long Run.
4. Motley Crue - "Kickstart My Heart" (Dr. Feelgood, 1989)
When a talk box is utilized within a song, guitar playing is usually slowed down a bit in order to really enunciate those robotic vowels. Such is not the case for Mick Mars, though, who burns through his pentatonics on "Kickstart My Heart" as he would with or without a talk box tube coming out of his mouth. It sounds pretty awesome, too.
3. Alice in Chains - "Man in the Box" (Facelift, 1991)
When he was still alive, singer Layne Staley had a voice of doom, so it seems fitting that guitarist Jerry Cantrell colored "Man in the Box" with an equally doom-y talk box rhythm guitar part. Cantrell is a great singer in his own right, but there's something just right about matching Staley's deep wail with a vocalized guitar. Talk box rhythm work doesn't get much better than this.
2. Stillwater - "Mindbender" (Stillwater, 1977)
Stillwater isn't as well known today as they were in the late 1970s (releasing two lonely albums will do that for a band over the years), but the talk box utilization on "Mindbender" will always remain one of the best examples of a "talking" guitar. It sounds gimmicky, but the whole thing really works for the song, and anyone who has a keen interest in talk box guitar that hasn't had an opportunity to listen to "Mindbender" really should do so.
1. Peter Frampton - "Show Me the Way" (Frampton Comes Alive, 1976)
If there ever was an artist that totally encompasses identification with the talk box effect, it would have to be Peter Frampton. Frampton was one of the first popular musicians to use the talk box to full effect, and to this day remains one the best talk box guitarists out there. Though he used the effect on numerous songs, "Show me the Way" has one of the most iconic talk box guitar lead lines ever.
...and there's more!
These are ten great examples of talk box guitar work in action, but there are many other songs that use the awesome effect. Do you have any favorites not listed here? Let's talk about them, folks! Comment section right down below.