Meeting the talkbox
I was made aware of the talking modulator for the first time in my early teenage years through records and live shows of Jeff Beck. And even though it was the first time hearing it, I knew exactly how the talking modulator worked: that it was a speaker. I had accidently discovered the wow effect myself when I was still small, listening to the radio through earphones and putting them in my mouth. This is why I wasn't surprised by the whole idea of the instrument. There also was an incident later on during my teenage years where I plugged an earphone to a 15W guitar amp, which instantly melted the earphones and burned my mouth.
I studied the classical piano from the age of 8 and guitar and a blues band when I was a teenager. The Stylistics was huge back then, and I really got into rhythm guitar. When I was about 20 year old, I heard ZAPP's first album when it just came out.
I knew about talking modulators, so I figured out Roger Troutman's music was made with it as well. Talking modulators with the guitar are used to achieve the wow effect, so when I heard him playing it, I wondered why I heard lyrics. I also listened quite a bit to Herbie Hancock and Weather Report so I knew it wasn't a vocoder either.
Back then, I wasn't interested in purchasing the talking modulator for its price. But after a live show in Shinjuku with Toshinobu Kubota, I ran into a Maxon/Ibanez VOC TM-505 at Musicland Key and bought it immediately. That is how I started playing with talking modulators on gigs and recordings.
When I play the talkbox on stage, fans ask why I drink through really thick straws. It is great that my fans think that my tube is a huge straw for stage drinks.
It didn't take much time for me to realize that talkbox sound is made through simple sawtooth and square waves. Rarely is it played with two oscillators, but Minimoogs in general aren't capable of producing complex sound.
Initially, I used the talking modulator with a polyphonic Korg POLY-6. Talking modulator is nice polyphonic if you could keep the volume down to a certain level. It wasn't suitable for live gigs for the harmony distorts as you turn the level up. For recordings, polyphonic is okay, but for gigs I decided to go with monophonic tones.
My sound is simple – almost always, I use sawtooth or square waves with slow attack and release for pretty much any kind of synths. Recently, I've been playing on Korg TIRTON and M3s for live shows. I use preset tones as well, so I have an output dedicated for the talking modulator. I also own microKORG, but didn't use it much until I saw it on this website. I was surprised with how well it worked at a recording when I tried it out, and I've been using it ever since. I just want to mention that even if I am using the same sawtooth waveforms, if you compare PCM synthesizers that samples Minimoog tones and Studio Electronics MIDIMINI, the gap in the depth of the sound is obvious. For lives, I could use any machine that suits the tune, but for recordings I stick with using the MIDIMINI.
The Talkbox System
I remember seeing ZAPP on their first Japan tour at a huge live house in Shibuya. Roger Troutman was using a Minimoog then. When I saw them at Club Quattro, he had a DX100 and a 1U power amp by Amcron. Which reminds me, I have used a Marshall amp at a live gig once, and blew up the driver within a few seconds of playing it.
Now, my system consists of Maxon VOC TM-505 that I purchased 30 years ago, Heil TALKBOX and my recent addition of the 1823M Complete Bundle by the supervision of GF WORKS. I use the Maxon a lot for recordings. Heil isn't very durable and I had to have it replaced so many times I am on my sixth one now.
I occasionally use Heil for recordings, but I prefer Maxon. When you compare the two, Maxon requires less volume from the amp. It also has a high end that carries out better. 1823M's power and characteristics are very similar to that of Maxon's, so I believe it was greatly influenced by the 1823M during its production process. Heil talkbox can be found anywhere, and thus can be replaced easily even during tours, so it naturally becomes one of my main equipments for tours. Maxon can't be found anymore, so I take great care of it and use it only for recordings.
For amps, I use several different kinds, but since I'm also a guitarist I own the Fender Deluxe. For live shows, I use bass amps from time to time. Anything really, except for Marshall amps, lol.
- Keyboard: MIDIMINI, microKORG
- Talkbox: Maxon/Ibanez VOC TM-505, HEIL TALKBOX, GF WORKS 1823M Complete Bundle
- Power Amp: Fender Deluxe