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The Talkbox FAQ

X. Safety Considerations

We've all read posts on usenet new groups where someone has heard about someone else who rattled loose their fillings by using a talkbox that was played at excessive volume levels. The author hasn't personally experienced this, nor does he know of anyone who has. If the level of the amp is so high that tremendous sound pressure is being forced into the user's mouth, creating unwanted vibrations, then turn it down a notch or two.

A more realistic hazard is that the user will fry the amplifier by playing at excessive volume levels into the talkbox. The reason is that high frequency drivers are not designed to handle bass frequencies. They handle upper mid and treble frequencies, and reproduce those sounds very efficiently. As such, the drivers don't need to be rated at hundreds of watts. The average driver is rated at somewhere between 30 and 60 watts. JBL, Altec, and other companies manufacture drivers up to 200 watts each, but these are very expensive and are not found in any commercial talkbox product.

So pay attention to the wattage rating of the talkbox you are using. If it is identified as being able to handle 50 wats RMS and you use a 100 watt Marshall, then your talkbox won't sustain high volume playing for more than a few moments before it overheats, fries, then takes the amp along with it. An amp playing at full volume through a shorted speaker load is essentially playing through a short circuit. The output transformer and output tubes will attempt to soak up the power, they'll overheat quickly, and your amplifier will be history. Watch the volume levels through the talkbox!

Another caveat is the shock hazard that exists any time you use a PA system while playing guitar. Differences in ground voltages (ground potential) can produce nasty, though seldom lethal, shocks. Why does this happen? Your guitar is grounded to reduce hum that is picked up by the electronics in your instrument. A wire runs from the control cavity of your guitar to the bridge. your strings run across the bridge. The shield side of the jack on your guitar carries the ground signal along the guitar cable to your guitar amp. The ground signal is then dispersed via the amp chassis, through the amp power cable, to the ground circuit of the AC mains where the amp is plugged in. (Man! That explanation really puts the "electric" in electric guitar!)

The bottom line is that your hands are in constant contact electricity (hopefully a very minor amount).The author has been burned on the lips on more than one occasion when using a talkbox with a house PA system. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to minimize this threat:

  • Make sure that all of your equipment is grounded ("earthed" for our UK readers). The use an inexpensive line checker (Sears has one available for around $10) to make sure that the AC circuit you're plugged into does not have a reversed common, and that the ground is working.

  • Make sure that the ground lift or ground reverse switches on the PA mixer and your guitar amp are set so that you don't get shocked when touching your guitar strings and touching the mic at the same time. If you get a tingle when touching it with your hand, imagine the surprise you'll get when your moist lips come in contact with microphone!

  • Use a foam windscreen on the microphone. While this won't guarantee a shock-free performance, it will certainly minimize it. Foam windscreens keep the mic from getting full of gunk, plus they sell them in colors so each vocalist's mic can be color coded. Soundmen like to use windscreens for these reasons. Vocalists don't always agree, since the foam takes away a very slight amount of treble (it muffles the sound ever so slightly). You be the judge. It might save your bacon one day.

    Guitar wireless transmitter and receiver
    AKG GuitarBug wireless transmitter / receiver

  • Go wireless! Personal safety is the number one reason I use a wireless rig when I play live. There is no electrical path between your guitar and the house PA when you use a wireless guitar transmitter. Plug your effect or pedal board input into the output of the wirless receiver. The output from the last effect in the effect signal chain goes to the guitar amp. Now you can play, shock-free, and go out in the audience to jam or listen to the house mix as a bonus.

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