Rock guitar legend Peter Frampton looked back on how he first heard the talk box effect and how he began using it in his original music. Frampton, who’s easily the most famous user of the talk box, revealed these details about the matter in an interview on “The XS Noize Podcast.”
Asked about his first contact with the effect, he replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):
“When I was probably in my early teens, listening to Radio Luxembourg after I was supposed to go to bed,” said Frampton with a laugh.
Sometimes referred to as the articulator, the talk box is known as a device that implements speech sounds into the electric instrument signal. This is achieved with a plastic pipe that goes straight into a performer’s mouth. By changing the shape of their mouth, the performer changes the main sonic parameters. Sort of like an advanced wah pedal, if you will.
“Now, I would have been not even a teenager. This was probably when I was nine or ten,” he continued, “listening to Radio Luxembourg. They had this call sign, which was fabulous to await, and I always thought, ‘How do they do that? What is that?'”
What you need to bear in mind is that this was sometime around 1960. It’s not like young Frampton, hanging out back in England as a kid, could simply Google what the effect was and find the solution. And although the talk box as we know it today didn’t fully take its shape by then, there were some options available. Peter added that he kept “thinking about it” since this was the only obvious thing to do since — again — he wasn’t able to just Google it.
“And then we fast-forward to 1970, and I heard that sound again. Well, I heard it on American stations too, when I came over here, with the same sound.”
Recalling more details about it, Frampton then explained how his first actual contact with the effect unit happened:
“So in 1970, when Stevie Wonder brought out ‘Music of My Mind,’ he got this talk box made by Kustom, called ‘The Bag’, and you put it over your shoulder — it had a speaker, a driver in the bag, and then the tube would come around here, and he would use the synthesizer.”
“I said, ‘There it is! I’ve got to find one, they have to have them somewhere, there’s got to be one, whatever it is!’ So the next year — in fact, the same year — I was asked by George Harrison to play on the ‘All Things Must Pass’ sessions for his album.”
“And we had halfway through the sessions Pete Drake, the pedal steel player from Nashville. He flew in, and he’d played with Bob Dylan as well — he was one of the A-Team [as] they call them over here in Nashville; they still exist. It’s just all the best musicians on every track, and he was the pedal steel guy.”
“And so, in a slow moment in the studio at Abbey Road, I’m set up right opposite Pete Drake, and he said, ‘Hey, Peter, do you want to hear something?’ And I said, ‘What do you got?’ He said, ‘Okay.'”
“So he gets out this little black box, puts it on the end of his pedal steel and plugs things in and whatever, he’s doing all this, and then he gets this pipe. He puts this clear pipe in his mouth, and the pedal steel starts singing to me.”
And that was the moment when he finally found it:
“And guess what? It’s that sound! So, the circle has been completed for me. I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s it! Where did you get it? I want to get one. I’ve wanted one for so long, whatever this thing is.'”
But the answer was just a little shocking:
“And he said, ‘Oh, I made this one myself,'” recalled Frampton with a disappointed sigh.
To make a long story short, Frampton then explained:
“Joe Walsh borrowed that one to do his classic song ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ with the talk box — which was the first upright six-string player sound with the talk box — and his friend Bob Heil made him a louder one, [as] it was more efficient for stage.”
“And that’s the one Bob Heil — Joe’s friend and my PA guy. He made all the PAs that we used back then — sent me one for Christmas. Even if I ever had to pay for it, at that time, it was 150 dollars, so it was a cheap gimmick that I used. [Laughs] But the effect is instant on anybody that listens to it.”
To conclude, Frampton said:
“Right now, there’s been so much auto-tune, and that kind of sounds like it, but that’s digital. The talk box is still analog, and you can do things with it [that] you can’t do with the digitals, so I still use it.”