Make It Portable, Make It Loud
Busking is a right of passage for any performer worth their salt. Sure, you can play shows to cut your teeth, but if you really want to improve your presence, technique and ability to cope with setback then you really need to busk. See, when you busk, you’re playing to an audience who largely don’t care. There’s no point dressing it up. Most people will walk past you with withering indifference, while others won’t hold back offering you their opinions on your playing, gear or choice of tracks.
Occasionally though, a street performer will have that rare mix of talent, confidence and magnetism that will impress even the most hardened cynic. What’s more, the triumphant thud of cold, hard cash hitting your guitar case makes busking a potentially lucrative (well, relatively) occupation too.
It’s important to point out however that you might want to assess your gear if you’re planning on hitting the streets. That prized Strat you saved up for 6 years to buy might not be the most prudent choice to take out on the road. Busking gear needs to be strong, reliable and able to withstand the rigours of performance. Oh, and it also needs to sound pretty good too. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what we think is some of the best gear for buskers.
We’re going to assume that one of, if not the, first choices of instrument a busker would use is the guitar. While we’ve seen keyboarding buskers, and entire bands with brass sections, we’re going to keep it fairly simple. The general principles apply no matter what the instrument though. Strong, reliable and great sounding gear is the order of the day here.
A good acoustic guitar is a solid place to start. While you could realistically play unplugged, we’d definitely say it’s worth investing in an electro-acoustic model purely so you can increase the volume and clarity when the crowds begin to swell.
The exact type will depend on the type of music you play, but a good all rounder would be something like the Martin LX1E, which is a shrunken down dreadnought style guitar. Martin is one of the most respected producers of acoustic guitars, and the LX1E is more than worthy of carrying the famous name. This particular model is also famously associated with Ed Sheeran, who knows a thing or two about busking.
A slight variation on the Martin comes in the Taylor GS Mini, which is a smaller scale acoustic too but offers a slightly more pronounced sound on account of its slightly different body shape. The GS Mini shape is more akin to something like the Epiphone EJ2000CE – itself a superb choice – however the reduced scale of the Taylor perhaps makes it more suitable for busking, where portability is key.
If it’s electric you’re looking to base your sound on, then you might want to avoid more expensive models and look at the £200 – £500 bracket. There are plenty of high quality instruments in this range, including the classic Epiphone Les Paul Standard. These guitars offer amazing quality for the price, and will withstand years of abuse.
Alternatively, try something like the Squier Vintage Modified 70s Stratocaster. This will make for a more comfortable playing session on account of its lighter body. The fact it looks exactly like a Dave Gilmour Strat is a bonus, however its tonal versatility offers genuine value.
Whichever type of instrument you choose, you’ll definitely need a case though. Where else will people throw their coins?
Lugging a full amp stack from street corner to street corner can get tiring very quickly. Even a 15 watt valve combo will get cumbersome, plus you’re limited by what sounds it has on board.
For the busker, an amp that can provide a bit more versatility is worth its weight burden. There’s also the small matter of powering the thing. With that in mind, the options do become slightly more limited. Thankfully, there’s one stand out option here. Introducing the Roland Cube Street Amplifier. Yep, this amp was actually designed with street performance and busking in mind.
It is powered by regular batteries, and a full set can provide up to 15 hours of continuous operation. Not only that, it comes with built in amp models, effects and a tuner, along with inputs for your guitar and also for a line in so you can play backing tracks at the same time.
If you were of a mind to take things up a level, we can’t recommend loop pedals enough to buskers. Seriously, the ability to layer up your own sounds and perform over the top of them is genuinely interesting, even to people who’ve never played an instrument in their lives. The Boss RC-3 is a great choice, and can be battery powered too so taking it out on the streets is a viable option.
You may also be keen to incorporate a microphone. There’s a few options here, including the Shure SM58 which we’re recommending purely because it is literally bulletproof. Just make sure you factor in a mic stand too.
Gear That’s Versatile And Affordable
Hopefully you can see the theme running through the gear we’ve listed above. It’s all versatile, it’s all reasonably priced and it will all pack up nicely so you can travel around without too much hassle. All you need to do now is sit back and watch those pound coins come tumbling in.
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.