Ongoing History of New Music

Ongoing History Daily: The Talk Box

Guitarists are always looking for ways to get new sounds out of their instruments. Over the years, they’ve experimented with new pickups, amps, pedals, and other effects.

For a while, a big thing was the Talk Box, a tube that connected to the guitar that you stick in your mouth and then use it to shape sounds coming off the pickup. When you do it right, you kinda sound like a robot. Who invented this thing?

His name was Bob Heil, a sound pioneer who began by creating a sound system for the Grateful Dead back in 1970. It was developed in the early 70s for Joe Walsh and then picked up by Aerosmith, Peter Frampton, Nazareth, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, and many others. Talk box sounds have largely fallen out of favour but they come back every once in a while.

Heil died earlier this year at the age of 83.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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2 thoughts on “Ongoing History Daily: The Talk Box

  • Being an Amateur (Ham) radio operator, and working in the business as well, I have met Bob a number of times. Always friendly and happy to chat, he was a very good person.
    He certainly left an impression on many, many people.

  • I recently came across a 1964 song by Pete Drake which used a talk box and a steel guitar. As I understand it, this is more or less the same concept. Wikipedia says that Alvino Rey invented the talk box for steel guitar back in 1939. However, the version by Bog Heil apparently used a different technology.


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