Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #16
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
Remember those talking pedals where you stick a tube in your mouth to get a funky vocal style sound from your guitar? Electro-Harmonix has come up with a far more hygienic solution - the Talking Pedal. Tim Slater goes all Peter Frampton on us.
So called 'talk boxes' allow a guitarist to produce vowel-like sounds by feeding their voice and guitar into a single pedal, with the vocal effects commonly being produced via a plastic tube manipulated by the guitarist's mouth. A mic, a PA and job done!
Highly effective though this system is (Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh and Richie Sambora can all lay claim to have recorded definitive examples of talk box work) it is rather unhygienic, not to mention that a plastic tube connected to your microphone stand can be inconvenient, besides which it looks very untidy (you also look like a complete idiot using one! Ed).
The new Electro-Harmonix Talking Pedal, however, offers a guitarist the opportunity to incorporate talking style effects into their sonic arsenal without coming into contact with stale bodily fluids! Rather than relying on a tube, the Talking Pedal uses two bandpass filters to create the vocal effects, with the effects being manipulated by the guitarist's foot instead of their mouth. A built-in fuzz circuit can also be blended in with a small thumb wheel mounted on the side of the pedal's chassis to add extra growl.
The Talking Pedal belongs to EHX's Next Step range that currently features five pedals. The range shares a common design that doesn't use standard potentiometers, switches or any other conventional mechanical, optical or moving parts commonly found on standard wah and volume pedals. Instead, the EHX rocker pedal features a flat foot plate which forms the top part of a fully integrated chassis, the bottom half is angled to enable the user to rock the pedal back and forth with their feet. Activating the effects simply requires stepping firmly down with your toe, repeating the process to turn the effects off.
In practice the design does work surprisingly well, although without the usual four rubber feet to help the base-plate stay firmly rooted to the floor there is a slight tendency for the Talking Pedal to 'creep'. However, one advantage it offers compared to a standard treadle style pedal is that the pedal will also move from side to side as well as up and down, which offers a much wider range of expression.
The sounds produced by the Talking Pedal are a throaty 'oooh' and 'arrgh!' that depend on how far forward or backward the pedal is tilted. Have a look at our video to see and hear for yourself. Swinging the pedal rapidly from side to side induces bizarre effects that sound like R2D2 gargling the alphabet whilst driving a shopping trolly across a sheet of corrugated iron! Besides adding extra bite and raunchiness to the vocal sounds, blending in the fuzz circuit also seems to bestow the faux vocal effects extra definition, highlighting the differences between the different vowel sounds.
Treating choppy chord sequences through the Talking Pedal injects a dose of instant funk as the pedal processes the input signal; literally chewing it up and spitting it back out in a gurgling ululation of processed verbalizations! Single notes come out sounding similarly strange, although lead lines can also be manipulated to sound more like some form of extreme wah, only with a series of grunts coughs and moans substituting for the traditional 'quack'.
There are some limitations. Whereas conventional mouth-operated talk boxes or vocoders can convey actual words spoken by the user, the EHX Talk Box only operates between the frequency limitations of its bandpass filters, and you cannot connect a microphone to it. Still, EHX already make a couple of very good dedicated vocal processors aimed at guitarists who want to go down that particular route.
As it stands, the EHX Talking Pedal throbs with the quirky, slightly left-of-center vibe that this particular pedal manufacturer is renowned for. The Talking Pedal is probably best approached as a kind of wah-but-not-as-we-know-it, but taken on its own merits it could help make a guitarist the talk of the town. It's a niche product, but if that's your niche, this is where to go.