Busking Amp Review

Over the years we’ve been through around four different versions of our busking amp equipment. We’ve worked up to what we now think is a system that provides as good a sound as we could achieve on the street.  Having good equipment is vital for buskers. It can really make the difference in some cases, between making it a hobby you do on the weekend and a full time job.

As full time buskers for over three years. (Six if you include skipping university lectures to sing in the street). We rely entirely on our gear for our income. In this post, we’ll go through what we’ve used in the past, what we use now and the good and bad of each system.

Roland Street Cube Amp

The Roland Street Cube seems to be the go to first busking amplifier of most singer/guitarists who venture into the outdoors. We started with this a few years ago not least of all, due to price. Averaging around £249 on Amazon, it was at the time the only decent quality amp we could afford.

Pros

Cons

Low comparative cost Uses 6 AA Batteries at one time
Very portable Not the best guitar tone
EQ to shape a better sound
Surprisingly loud
Built in effects, including distortion

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After playing around with the EQ you can get a decent guitar and vocal tone from this amp. But if, like us, you are particularly picky about the clarity of sound, you should consider going to the next step up in amps. It feels like this amp was designed for a generic instrument and not specifically to guitar. This means that the warmth of the acoustic guitar tone is a little low on this amp.

Overall, it’s a perfect amp for beginners to amplified busking, good price but lacking a little on sound quality.

Roland AC-33 Amp

After deciding to up the quality of our amp, we went for the Roland AC33. A 30 watt (kind of) amplifier that runs off 8 AA batteries with a guitar and an XLR input, It seems to average around the Amazon for around the £380 mark online. This amp was designed specifically with acoustic guitars in mind. So the difference between this and the Street Cube is huge, in our opinion. The amp has a brilliant warm tone, with better built in effects.

At first we were very pleased with this amp. It is a little more portable than the street cube and seems to pack a much better amp into a noticeably smaller box. It also has a nice build in tilt stand allowing it to rest at an angle. This means the sound is projected upwards towards peoples ears, rather than at their ankles. Soon though, we noticed problems with this amp.

First off, it’s not actually a 30 watt busking amp.  It only runs at 30w when plugged into the mains and cuts to 20 watt when running off batteries. The result is that we noticed in large city centres, this amp is arguably just not loud enough. It also drinks batteries at high volumes. We would often go though 16 AAs in a 3 hour session! That gets annoying and is hardly great for the environment.

This amp is perfectly suited to smaller city centres and towns. But in large cities, it doesn’t pack enough of a punch. So it depends where you usually play I suppose. We took this Amp around Europe and busked in small towns for a couple of months.

Pros

Cons

Far better guitar sound Not quite loud enough for big, busy city centres
Smaller/more compact Eats batteries like theres no tomorrow
Built in looper (Footswitch not included)
Nice built in effects

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AER Compact 60 Mobile 2 Amp

This is the absolute king of busking amps, as far as we can see. We finally bought this amp after wanting to do so for years when we arrived in Adelaide in January 2015. Initially, the intention was to buy the amp when we got there so we could busk and gig around Australia. Then we were going to sell it when we left… Not a chance. We loved this amp so much we somehow convinced them to let us take it home on the plane. (Bearing in mind this is a 13kg, quite large electronic black box with a car battery in it, I’d say we did well).

The sound from this amp is incredible. It goes hand in hand with the guitar you use, but no other amp replicates the true sound of the acoustic guitar better than this. There is a rechargeable built in battery, that gives up to around four hours of play at high volumes… for a while (more on this in a sec). It has one jack input and one jack/XLR input meaning you can use a guitar and a mic or two guitars.

There two types of reverb; a delay and a chorus. Although, you have to chose between one of these at a time. That means that you cannot blend reverb with chorus, for example. You can change the tone and rate of these effects and pan them to attribute more effect to a certain channel if you wish.

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While this is without question the best busking amp you can get. But there are certainly draw backs. First of all, it costs around £1100 (2000 AUD for us). This is a lot of money, but as an investment, this has been totally worth it and we made the money back. You also no longer need to buy and replace countless AA batteries. However, it is pretty heavy. At roughly 13kg you really need a luggage trolley to carry it a reasonable distance, while carrying guitars and mic stands and such.

Also (and this is sort of a biggy) the built in deep cycle battery, like all batteries, starts to deteriorate over time. We used almost this amp every day for months on end. As a result, we now struggle to get two hours play out of it (an hour an a half on cold days). Fortunately, AER have thought of this and have included an input for a second battery.

I bought a pretty cheap 22AH wheelchair battery on eBay for around £30. Along with a trickle charger to power it and the right adaptor, we can get a total of around 6 whole hours busking if we want to, but it does mean dragging around more stuff.

Pros

Cons

Best sounding acoustic guitar amp there is Not as portable – HEAVY!
Rechargeable battery Battery weakens over extended use
Input for external battery for longer battery life Expensive
Easily loud enough to gig with
DI to send out to speakers in a large gig setting

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