3 Best Talk Boxes for Guitar, Keyboard, Synthesizer, and More

Talk Box Jam Session

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Ah, the talk box.

You can’t blame Peter Frampton. Somebody had to be the first and make the talk box their signature sound. It’s just like T-Pain with the auto-tune sound, or Daft Punk with their modulated robot thing.

Any vocal effect is pretty much destined to fall in the hands of an artist searching for a way to make their sound immediately recognizable. You hear the talk box and your mind associates you straight to Mr. Frampton’s name. You can’t buy that kind of branding!

But don’t worry…the talk box is not played out!

I’d assume that for a while there, you couldn’t use it without being accused of imitating Mr. Frampton. But Bon Jovi used it in a different-enough context for “Livin’ on a Prayer” that the talk box was able to ascend this limitation. And by the time Weezer released “Beverly Hills” in 2005, it wasn’t a lame move to throw a talk box solo in. In my opinion at least, but my defense of Beverly Hills as a legitimately great song is a totally different topic…

As they go, the talk box is a really cool vocal effect. It’s actually sort of a vocal effect and instrument effect put together. I couldn’t really say that about anything else- perhaps with the exception of the fabulous vocoder.

So you’re ready to get in on the talk box action and create your own spin on this classic sound. Well, you’re in the right place. We’re going to break down everything you need to know about the talk box, how to find the one that’s right for you, and even how you can make your own if that’s your jam. But if you just want to skip ahead, you can see some of our recommendations here:

Best Overall
MXR M222 Talk Box
9.9
  • A built-in amplifier means it's super simple to setup
  • Easy on the budget with a wide range of sound options
  • 300+ five-star reviews on Amazon
Premium Pick
Banshee 2 Talk Box Pedal
9.7
  • Comes with built-in amplifier but also functions as a stompbox with the ability to insert it anywhere in your signal chain for extra flexibility
  • Includes premium features like switchable passthrough to amp, effects loop, and a direct speaker connection
  • Larger and more heavy-duty than the MXR which makes it great for gigs
Best Talk Box Alternative
TC Helicon Synth Guitar Processor
9.6
  • Get the talk box sound without putting a tube in your mouth
  • Easy on the budget compared to many talk boxes
  • Not a perfect match for a talk box but can give you a sound that's both unique and familiar

How Does A Talk Box Actually Work?

Personally, I didn’t fully understand the talk box (which is also called a voice box) until recently. I went over to my high school buddy’s father’s house, and he showed me one he had homebuilt. I knew that the talk box involved some kind of tube in your mouth and that the shape of your mouth defines the tone of the guitar (or whatever instrument you are warping.)

But there’s even more to it than that.

A talk box is actually such an ingenious invention, unlike any other I know of. It has an electronic sound, reminiscent of the wah pedal, but the technology involved totally predates that early analog circuitry.

Talk Box Live
Source

A small amp speaker in a closed container is the “box” and the pipe actually channels the sound out of the box, up to the performer’s mouth. Once the sound enters your mouth, it resonates and projects to your vocal mic. So essentially, the speaker acts like a diaphragm and the pipe like a throat. The instrument you play is effectively being sung through you! Opening and closing your mouth in different ways changes the sound, just as you would create different vowel sounds with different mouth shapes.

Incredibly creative and honestly quite weird! Not at all what I expected the first time I saw Frampton come alive with one of these (pun definitely intended).

And the wonderful thing about talk boxes is that, while you may associate them most strongly with guitar- they are really an open-ended format with loads of possibilities for expression. After all, anything that can be amplified or played through the speaker, can be talk-boxed. Read on for some of my recommendations!

What To Consider When Picking Out A Talk Box

Even though the design is pretty darn ingenious, there are a few things you’ll need to think about before you record your first track with your new talk box.

What Instrument Do You Want To Use With Your Talk Box?

When you’re choosing a talk box for guitar, your decision comes down to your approach. Do you value a more plug-and-play, low-maintenance experience? Or are you willing to endure a headache in the name of superior tone?

Like I said above, talk boxes have untapped potential. Anything that can be amplified, can be sent to a talk box. That means you can use a talk box or voice box with just about any instrument.

However, some instruments work better than other and the effect will be most satisfying and dramatic with overdriven or saturated sounds. Common instruments have fundamental frequencies in the 100-1000 Hz range, but talk boxes are most effective in the 1000-4000Hz range. After all, the talk box has a small speaker, and this is the frequency range is used in speech comprehension anyway.

So, if you are playing synth, use a saturated tone like a saw patch for the best result. If you’re playing keyboards, go for a harmonically rich tone like an organ, or run your keyboard tone through an overdrive pedal first to add overtones to your sound. It’s the overtones that you will be warping with the talk box and by focusing on instruments with more overdrive potential you can get a better sound out of your talk box.

Of the two talk boxes I covered below, the MXR M222 will be the far easier box to integrate with most instruments. Many keyboard or synth players plug directly into the PA or use a combo amp, so the idea of patching into an amp (as the Heil requires) gets much more challenging.

Do You Want To Use A Separate Amp For Your Talk Box?

While the talk box or voice box market is pretty small, there are a handful of options that require you to have your own amp.

If you’re playing with a Heil talk box, or a similar design that requires a separate amp, you might consider getting a dedicated amp for the talk box. This could simplify setup, and also avoids the risk of accidentally blowing out your amp or talk box! Many people echo the sentiment that amp choice is not fussy for talk boxes- just make sure the power rating is right, and that you can overdrive the talk box a bit.

But most subtleties of the talk box are lost by the time the sound has gone from the instrument to the amp, to the box, to your mouth, to the mic, to the PA- so it’s nothing something you should worry too much about.

I spoke with one avid talk boxer that had the opportunity to power their talk box with dozens of different house amps while touring. In their opinion, the ideal setup involves a high-quality amp rated about 3x the power rating of the talk box. Their favorite had been a Crown amp that was running about 1000W. But since this is such an open-ended task, you are also just as likely to have fun playing with something like the Orange Micro Terror.

However, that’s for the talk box perfectionist and even then it’s hard to make a strong case that you need something like that. So unless you love the set up just as much as you love actually playing music, you’re probably better off using a talk box that has an amp already. For that reason, we’ll focus on talk boxes that don’t need a separate external amp.

Best Talk Boxes For Just About Any Instrument

Now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s get into our favorite talk boxes starting with the best overall.

Best Overall: MXR M222 Talk Box

Best Overall
MXR M222 Talk Box
  • A built-in amplifier means it's super simple to setup
  • Easy on the budget with a wide range of sound options
  • 300+ five-star reviews on Amazon

For most people, the MXR M222 is the only talk box you’ll need. I’m always happy to recommend MXR pedals, as I’ve only personally had positive experiences with them, not to mention I see very little negative said about them by other musicians. This brand absolutely should not be mixed up with MXL, which I have only had bad experiences with. (Maybe that’s what MXL had in mind when choosing the name!)

MXR has been building high-quality and well-respected pedals for decades, and their recent foray into talk boxes is no exception.

The MXR M222 contains its own small amp and speaker. This means that relatively speaking, setup is a cinch. With more traditional talk box designs, you have to patch the box in between the amp and its own speaker. The self-contained amp means you actually don’t need a typical guitar amp at all. The compromise, though, is depth and control of tone. The M222 contains a 5W amp and small speaker- you can’t get the same level of tone out of it as you could by using your own amp. That said, it’s certainly got a pro-level sound, and will more than do the job, on stage or in the studio!

If you’re specifically looking for that Frampton, Troutman, or Bon Jovi sound, this talk box can do it. Heck, you can mimic just about any of the famous talk box songs with this.

You can read more reviews, take a closer look at the almost indestructible design and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Premium Pick: Banshee 2 Talk Box Pedal

Premium Pick
Banshee 2 Talk Box Pedal
  • Comes with built-in amplifier but also functions as a stompbox with the ability to insert it anywhere in your signal chain for extra flexibility
  • Includes premium features like switchable passthrough to amp, effects loop, and a direct speaker connection
  • Larger and more heavy-duty than the MXR which makes it great for gigs

Like the MXR M22, the Banshee 2 from Rocktron comes with its own amp which makes it much easier than old talk box setups. However, you also get a handful of extra features with the Banshee 2 that you’re not going to see in the MXR or in most talk boxes for that matter.

You have the three knobs (for volume, tone, and gain) but it’s the outputs and input options that are the real difference-maker. Thanks to the additional options, you can work your talk box into any part of your signal chain. That can make setup even easier and can also be great for gig work where you may have to adapt to what you have at the venue.

The larger build and heavy-duty construction are also well-suited to gig work if that’s your jam.

The direct speaker connection is also nice and the effect loop are another nice bonus. The only downside is that there’s no on and off switch which is the only things that’s hampering the overall ease of use.

If those features don’t do much for you, then stick with the MXR. But if you digging everything I just wrote, then the Banshee 2 is probably worth the premium price. You can take a closer look at the inputs and outputs along with today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Talk Box Alternative: TC Helicon TalkBox Synth Guitar Processor

Best Talk Box Alternative
TC Helicon TalkBox Synth Guitar Processor
  • Get the talk box sound without putting a tube in your mouth
  • Easy on the budget compared to many talk boxes
  • Not a perfect match for a talk box but can give you a sound that's both unique and familiar

What if want a talk box sound without sticking a tube in your mouth?

I mean, being afraid to put a tube in your mouth isn’t exactly punk rock…but our man Frampton ain’t punk rock either so that’s okay.

Don’t worry, the folks at TC have made something for you and their vocal effects pedal mimics the sound of a synthesizer and talk box without a tube. Obviously, you’re not going to get the exact sound that you would from a talk box but something like this can allow you to put your own spin on some of the classic talk box jams.

And yes, you can still use your mouth to create those classic talk box sounds. I know, it’s a little confusing but this video does a great job explaining exactly how this works:

Even better, it’s pretty darn easy on the budget too. You also get more sounds than you’d get from a traditional talk box. So why go with a traditional talk box at all?

Well, it’s the same reason vinyl deserves a tube amp, and guitars are meant to be played with your fingers…tradition!

But if you’re someone who is happy to break tradition and you’re not exactly pumped about putting a tube in your mouth, then this one to check out. You can take a closer look at the design and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Honorable Mention: Dunlop’s Heil Talk Box

There’s one more classic that we have to mention, even if it’s going to be difficult (i.e. almost impossible) to find and no list of the best talk boxes would be complete without the Heil Talk Box from Dunlop.

This is the current incarnation of one of the classic models, used on many talk box hits. Players speak highly of the Heil, as being durable and well-made as well as sounding great. Just prepare for a more complex and high-maintenance setup- it has to be patched between your amp and speaker, which could be very tricky if you play with a combo amp.

But as I mentioned before, this lends itself to a much deeper and more satisfying tone.

However, Dunlop stopped making the Heil Talk Box and you’re going to have to turn to garage sales, Facebook Marketplace, or E-bay to find one of these.

Can You Make Your Own Talk Box?

Absolutely! It’s going to take some DIY know-how and a little cash but it can definitely be done. This video does a great job explaining exactly how to pull it off:

Don’t Forget The Microphone

A lot of attention goes to the talk box (and for good reason) but you can’t overlook the microphone when it comes to getting that perfect talk box sound. After all, the microphone is the final point that actually captures the performance. Whether you are recording or playing live, you’re leaving a crucial part of the equation out if you don’t consider your mic choice!

In other words, you can’t perform live with a talk box without a microphone.

Now, you don’t need to pick up a new microphone just for your talk box (unless you don’t already have one) but I did want to run through some of your better options.

Shure SM58 and SM57

To start with, you can go with a Shure SM58 which is so legendary and ubiquitous, that there’s a better chance than not that it will be the venue or rehearsal studio’s default choice anyway. And it will do the job just fine, but it’s not the ultimate solution. Since it’s a dynamic mic, it’s not very detailed or precise when it comes to talking boxes.

Great for rock, but if you are hoping to capture more of the fine details of your mouth, there are better options.

The SM57 is similarly inexpensive and indestructible and reliable but it’s also designed for instruments, whereas the SM58 is designed for vocals. So you could use the SM58 if you are hoping for a more vocal sound to your talk box, or the SM57 if you want a more guitar/instrumental sound.

Sennheiser E906

At a higher price point, the Sennheiser e906 is worthy of consideration. This mic is very popular on guitar cabs as well and is also a dynamic mic. But it has a fuller, more aggressive, and more detailed sound than the SM57 or SM58. Considering the talk box is liable to thin out your tone, and can make it a bit harsh too, this mic is a great approach to perfecting your talk box sound.

Shure Beta 87aShure Beta 87a

Another approach is to use a condenser mic. The Shure Beta 87a is a premium mic, but it’s a (relatively) rare idea- a handheld vocal condenser mic. The sound is so much more detailed and crisp than any dynamic mic could hope to achieve, so if you want a really clear and precise sound for your talk box, check it out!

Do I Need A Specific Mic For My Talk Box?

Heck no! I’m definitely not trying to give you that impression and instead, I just wanted you to understand the basics behind why some mics will be a better (or worse) fit for your talk box. But with the flexibility that a talk box offers, you can make just about any microphone work.

Conclusion

The talk box has a unique sound, and playing with it is also a totally inimitable experience. So I don’t predict they are going anywhere. They will always pop up, an unexpected but welcome extra dimension to a song. And in my humble opinion, the talk box’s full potential is not even close to reached. So keep working and keep the joy of the music alive!