I remember when my love for the talkbox began. I was a young kid sitting in the back of the car listening on my portable CD player to “California Love (remix)” from Tupac’s masterpiece double-disc album All Eyes On Me (1996).
The chorus, which Roger Troutman sings on talkbox, is great, but what really turned me on was the solo he takes at the end of the track. The beat drops out and it’s just Roger wailing away about California and quoting some of his other hit songs. I listened to that over and over again. At the time, I didn’t know what a talkbox was. I had heard the word “vocoder” before amongst musicians and I thought that that was the sound it made. I imagined Roger speaking into a microphone and making those sounds on the keyboard. I was so wrong!
Only years later did I learn that “California Love” was not sung using a vocoder, but a “talkbox.” When I started learning about the talkbox, I had to get one. I bought a bunch of Zapp and Roger records and then went to Guitar Center and bought a Rocktron Banshee talkbox, coming home so excited to use it.
Finally, I’ll be able to sound like Roger! When I opened up the box and tried it out for the first time, I was utterly discouraged. Talkboxing is really hard! It looks like it would be so easy. I gave up rather quickly and the talkbox was relegated to the back of my gear closet.
Years later, I downloaded Zapp and Roger’s greatest hits to my iPhone. I remember the feeling of hearing “More Bounce To The Ounce” for the first time again, after many years. It turned me on even more than it had when I was a kid! I went digging in my closet and got the Banshee out and said to myself, I’ve got to figure out how to play this thing. For about six months I practiced everyday.
I remember thinking people won’t understand what I’m saying. Then, one day just for the hell of it, I used my iPhone to film myself practicing. When I listened back, I could understand the words! I was so excited. After doing some searching on the web, I landed on the GF WORKS website where I gathered a lot of information on how to take my talkbox game to the next level.
The talkbox system
Currently I’m using a Yamaha DX100 with a vintage Golden Throat II, a GF WORKS Tube Holder, and it’s powered by a Crate Power Block. I chose this configuration because it’s one of the classic systems. All the vocals on my album were recorded with this system through a Neumann TLM49. I just got a Prophet 6 and have been really enjoying playing it through the talkbox and I may try some different setups now that I finished the album. I wanted the record to have a uniform sound the whole way through. Now it might be time to experiment again!
The Talkbox System:
Compression Drivers: Golden Throat II
Power Amp: Crate Power Block
Tube holder: GF WORKS Tube holder
I use a simple saw tooth wave on the DX100, with a very quick attack and release on the envelope generator. I use the controls on the Crate Power Block to do some EQ-ing if the sound becomes too stiff. Programming the timbre on the DX100 can be a little bit difficult: there’s no filter and thus no cutoff to shape the sound! You have to do it all with FM synthesis, which is awesome, but rather difficult and time consuming.
With the Prophet or a Moog you can just grab the cutoff of the low pass filter and adjust to your liking (or even better easily change wave forms). However, there is something magical about the DX100’s algorithms and its digital to analog converter that gives it a very special sound that all of us talkboxers love. It’s the classic sound—as can be heard on the hook of Tupac’s “California Love,” sung by Roger.
What do you think of GF WORKS web site?
I remember reaching out to GF WORKS a few years ago about information on the talkbox. I’m very thankful that there is such a great source of information to be found on the internet with your website – there is not much information available on the web. I received the Tube Holder following our correspondence and immediately put it to good use! I’m excited about also making my own custom talkbox soon, and the GF WORKS Tube Holder will definitely be a part of that system. For anybody interested in the talkbox, I always send them to the GF WORKS website!
I just put out my album, The 90s EP. It is a collection of six pop tunes from the 90s including tracks like Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” and the Titanic theme song “My Heart Will Go On.” The point of the record was to take songs from my childhood that everyone thought were bubblegum crap pop - but nonetheless huge hits - and shed some new light on them in 2016, using the production of today and some complex jazz-ish harmony, since I grew up playing jazz piano.
In addition to my talkbox project, my main gig these days is being a producer. I absolutely love it - whether it’s EDM, hip-hop, bubble-gum pop, arranging strings, or producing a jazz record, I love being in the studio. I’m a true studio rat. My talkbox project tries to encompass all of the things in music and production that I love.
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