kelly dunn

code // music // blog // art


talkbox

I love the signature Roger Troutman talkbox sound. To me, it's a punchy dose of nostalgia and a such a silky lead sound that I want to be able to harness it for myself. After going on a youtube binge one day and listening to most of his discography, I felt inspired to make my very own talkbox. Making one appealed to me not only because I enjoy building musical instruments, but also because it was an oppertunity to understand more about how the device works in its entirety.

What is a Talkbox?

A talk box or talkbox is an effects unit that allows musicians to modify the sound of a musical instrument. The musician controls the modification by changing the shape of the mouth. The effect can be used to shape the frequency content of the sound and to apply speech sounds (in the same way as singing) onto a musical instrument, typically a guitar (its non-guitar use is often confused with the vocoder) and keyboards.

-Wikipedia-


Scope

Commercially manufactured talkboxes are typically too expensive for the quality of their output. Many dissatisfied customers claim these talkboxes have tinny output or weak drive coming out of the tube. This project aims to source parts that could be used to make a quality talkbox at a relatively affordable cost.


Research

To achieve the desired sound, I would need a speaker driver with a very wide response frequency range so that I could manipulate some inhumanly high and low ranges to create interesting, full, and funky vocal sounds.

According to various sources, the human audio spectrum encapsulates the 20hz - 20khz frequency domain. Most of the extreme ends of those frequencies are a little displeasing or hard to hear, so I was fine for settling on something that hit most of them.

Eventually I chose this speaker driver from MCM electronics. While this driver is relatively cheap for getting such a wide range (100hz - 8khz), it did prove to be a bit tough to source adapters for and use with my live setup. I'll address those concerns in the "Conclusions" section below.


Materials Used


Tools Needed


Procedure


Usage


Results

Satisfactory, but human component needs further iteration, practice, and polish.


Conclusion

Finding a suitable closure point for the speaker s throat was challenging; after going to many hardware locations in San Francisco and Seattle, I was unable to find anyone who could help me source a bushing, adapter, or reducer that would match the 1 3/8" inner diameter and 18 TPI dimensions of the speaker driver. If I was to do this again, I would first try to source a speaker driver that had more modern and standard throat sizes and threading so that I could readily find replacement parts should the unit break down or needed to be updated to fit in an enclosure. For more information, I suggest looking into National Pipe Thread (NPT).

Fortunately, my father had an adapter in his toolbox that ve ended up being the missing piece to the puzzle. For some immediate improvements, I could try my hand at enclosing the beast, which would make it less of a hassle to deal with. Perhaps a future addendum is in order.


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