Busking is a great way to build your skills as a performer while making money from your talent. A good, battery-powered Portable PA is an essential busker gear for many street performers.
Like most skills busking requires hard work coupled with the right set of tools. We are going to look at three amplifiers which will help you build a great busking rig.
Busking can take many forms from playing music, to dance routines and comedy. These amplifier suggestions are aimed to cater for a variety of users. We’re also going to stick to a £300 or less budget to keep things realistic for beginners.
Roland Cube Street | Price - £229
A long time favourite of buskers. The Roland Cube Street is lightweight, runs up to 15 hours on AA batteries and features 8 COSM guitar sounds, covering everything from acoustic to heavy metal tones. An AUX input allows for backing tracks to be played via phone or MP3 player but bluetooth isn’t present, which is a shame. The Cube Street also features built in effects such as delay and reverb on both the instrument and vocal channels. What’s really impressive is it’s weight, which comes in at a meager 5.2kg.
The Roland Cube Street delivers great tone for both electric and acoustic guitar with the Blackface preamp being a particular highlight to blues players using backing tracks. If you’ve ever wondered why so many buskers use this amp, now you know.
- Lightweight but loud combo amp means it can be used for practice and rehearsal
- Two separate channels for instruments and vocals plus aux for backing tracks
- Built in amp modelling is sure to please guitarists
- Ability to add reverb/delay to microphone or instrument channel simultaneously
Samson Expedition XP106 | Price - £265
Perhaps not an option you’ve considered yet, the Samson Expedition XP106 is a hidden gem. A clean amplifier with no frills just 4 audio channels, Bluetooth connectivity and a built in rechargeable battery with a whopping 20 hours of continuous use. The Samson XP106 lacks the range of features included with the Cube Street but makes a great platform for any performers, from street dancers to small band setups.
The higher price tag comes down to the fact that this is a clean, class D 100W amplifier with useful features. If partnered with a guitar multi FX unit, the amp will sound exactly how you want it to. It features 4 separate channels each with it’s own volume control, bluetooth connectivity or aux for playing backing tracks from your phone. For portability this amp weighs in at 9kg which although heavier than the Cube Street, is more than reasonable for a busking amp.
- Bluetooth connectivity, wirelessly stream music
- Rechargeable battery for up to 20 hours of continuous use
- Connect a microphone, instrument or both with an XLR and ¼” Jack
- Aux input lets you use backing tracks while performing
Mackie Freeplay | Price - £249
A new kid on the block and serious contender. The Mackie Freeplay might just be the ultimate buskers amp. It has 4 channels including XLR and AUX, each with its own volume and EQ parameters controlled on your smartphone via Bluetooth. Backing tracks can also be sent to the amp via any Bluetooth enabled device. With 16 digital effects on each channel, the Freeplay also boasts a top trumping 150 watts of power. It also only weighs 5kg which comes in lighter than both the Cube Street and XP106.
Although the Mackie Freeplay shares the same issue as the Cube in the sense that it does not come with a rechargeable battery, a lithium ion battery is available separately. On batteries, the Mackie Freeplay will outlast the Roland Cube Street, with its optional rechargeable pack fitted, the battery lasts a total of just 10 hours.
The onboard digital effects do a superb job with acoustic guitars and vocals, however if you’re looking to play electric to a backing track or solo, we would recommend packing a Multi FX unit. With that said, the Freeplay fills the gap nicely between the Cube Street and XP106, capable of sounding awesome in any environment.
- Built-in 4-channel digital mixer
- Stream backing tracks or music via bluetooth
- AC or battery power with optional lithium ion pack
- Option for complete wireless operation
- 16 great-sounding digital effects like vocal reverbs and delays
All three of these amps are bound to suit different purposes. If acoustic instruments are your forte then the Samson XP106 might just be the option for you. It delivers immaculate clean sounds for both vocals and instruments while its 20 hour battery life comes in handy for days out. With a simple multi effects pedal added, guitar geeks will be able to get their favourite tone easily. As mentioned above, this amp lends itself as a great foundation for building the ultimate busking rig which is why we feel necessary to include it within this list.
If playing electric guitar is your passion and you’re looking for an amp to busk with on weekends then the Roland Cube Street is the one for you. It’s simple to use, has some great sounding preamps, handles vocals and acoustic guitar, and can be used for any style straight out of the box. If this is your first busking amp you can’t go wrong with the Roland Cube Street.
The star of the show here has to be the Mackie Freeplay. While it’s more expensive than the Cube it packs some amazing features. Mackie’s control app allows for a huge deal of control right from your pocket including changing effects on individual channels, setting the EQ and streaming music. Acoustic players are catered for straight out of the box, and while you electric players out there require the aid of a pedal, trust us when we say it’s worth the investment. It looks great, sounds great and offers more features than its competitors. For these reasons the Mackie Freeplay is our first choice for the all-round best busking amp.
How To Start Busking - In 5 Easy Steps
If you’ve made it this far then you should have a better idea of what gear you’re going to need to get started. You should make sure by this point that you have a well-rehearsed set list but bear in mind that while busking your typical listener will only take a few moments out of their busy day to listen to you. This means that setlists can be repeated.
Use your own judgement to find a balance between well known songs and songs you can perform best. It’s also never a bad idea to have your setlist written down including song key and length. This will keep your performances structured and timings consistent. We would recommend switching up setlists every few weeks in order to keep your busking performances fresh.
Location is almost as important as the performance itself. You should find a spot with a heavy traffic of passers-by such as high streets or popular bar locations. If people are shopping or dining nearby whilst you busk, they may be more inclined to leave a tip. Just don’t play too loud! There’s always a balance to these things.
3. Dress to Impress
Ever heard of the peacock theory? (No, Peacocks aren’t trying to take over the world) "Peacocking" is simply dressing to stand out. It seems basic but if a frilled shirt or colourful trousers can turn heads, then why not? It also prompts passers by to give you a listen. If you come across as quirky or interesting then people are always more inclined to help you out.
With that said, this is the UK so the majority of the time you may end up looking like this:
Seriously, though: if you are going to busk in bad weather, be sure to keep your equipment dry!
4. A Guitar Case Is Great For Advertising and Gathering Tips
If you shop with PMT you’re already a smart person. This one is self explanatory. Having a guitar hardcase can be very helpful. Remember to put up some links to your social media (Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter etc).
5. Last But Not Least, Compromise
Busking is a lot of fun but to make life easier for yourself maybe try out a ¾ size guitar or even a ukulele. Try to find a balance between something you’re happy to use and something that is easy to lug about.
From everybody here at PMT, we hope you found this article useful, and that you have a safe and enjoyable time busking.
Essential Busking Gear
We have supplied a few links below to additional gear which you may find useful.