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 going to discuss a few different options here including a selection of battery powered busking amps and battery powered PA systems for busking.
Best battery powered busking amps & PA systems
If you don't want to read on, check out our best battery powered amps video below, where Dagan demonstrates some of the best portable, battery powered busking amps and PA systems.
1. Roland Cube Street
A long time favorite 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 mere 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
2. Vox Mini 5 Rhythm Guitar Amp Classic Finish
The Vox Mini 5 Rhythm Guitar Amp Classic Finish follows quite a few design principals of the Roland Street Cube, however manages to serve them up in a smaller, cheaper package. The Vox Mini 5 Rhythm Guitar Amp runs on a 9v adapter or 6 AA batteries with a maximum running time of approx 19.5 hours of playing. That should be more than enough for a busking session!
The Vox Mini 5 Rhythm Guitar Amp features 11 amp models and 8 effects from the popular Valvetronix series which can be used with either guitars or keyboards thanks to multiple line level inputs. It has also been designed to take microphones via a jack input. This is a really nice feature as each amp model is well realised and sounds great when used with its corresponding instrument. This makes the Vox Mini 5 Rhythm more versatile towards varying musician types. Much like the Roland Street Cube, the Vox Mini 5 Rhythm comes loaded with effects including Reverbs, a Compressor, Chorus, Flangers and delays. Unlike the Cube however, the Vox allows the user to dial in two effects at once which is a very nice feature.
The key feature of the Vox Mini 5 Rhythm Guitar Amp is the fact that you can dial in any 1 of 99 backing tracks covering a wide range of genres. All you have to do is select your genre and speed and you're free to play along using all the effects to your line level instrument as you go.
You also have 3 different wattage selections which allows you to go from 5 watt, 1.5 watt to 0.1 watts - ideal for practising late at night.
- Effects and amp models
- Huge amount of backing rhythm tracks to play with
- Cheapest Price
3. Samson Expedition
Perhaps not an option you’ve considered yet, the Samson Expedition 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 XP 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.
A very reasonable price tag for a clean, class D 100W amplifier with some very 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, wireless music streaming
- 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
4. Alto Transport 12 Portable PA System with Wireless Mic & USB
Ok we said three, but we had to include the new kid on the block and serious contender. The Alto Transport 12 Portable PA System with Wireless Mic & USB might just be the ultimate buskers amp. It has 400 watts of pure power, 4 channels with dedicated volume controls as well as a free wireless microphone. In addition, there's also a USB input so you can play your own backing tracks!
The 1st channel allows you to plug in an extra microphone or line level intsrument, channel 2 is for the wireless microphone, channel 3 is for your AUX inputs and channel 4 is for an line level instrument, meaning you can essentially have a full band busking with this single, battery powered PA.
The Alto Transport 12 Portable PA System with Wireless Mic & USB is rechargeable and provides up to 8 hours of power, and it also has wheels and a handle to wheel it around too, so its easy to take with you through the streets!
- Built-in 4-channel digital mixer
- Play backing tracks or music via USB
- AC or battery power with lithium ion pack
- Free wireless microphone included
All four 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 Alto Transport 12 Portable PA System with Wireless Mic & USB. While it’s more expensive than the Cube it packs some amazing features. The built-in control centre on the rear of the unit allows for a huge deal of control and even makes a fantastic option for DJ's as you can select, skip and edit the volume of songs you're playing from the USB stick. Acoustic players are catered for straight out of the box, and while you electric players out there will require the aid of a pedal for your effects, trust us when we say it’s worth the investment as it sounds great when you do hook up an electric guitar. It looks great, sounds great and offers more features than its competitors. For these reasons the Alto Transport 12 Portable PA System 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.