EastCoast Acoustic: Affordable Busking Rig
Published on 28 November 2019
If you haven’t tried it, the whole notion can seem intimidating.
Standing alone in the elements, with nothing between you and the Great British public except for an acoustic guitar, a large helping of talent, and a light dusting of determination.
Busing is not for the faint hearted!
But for singers with a stout heart, busking can be a rewarding experience. It can be a good way to test out your repertoire, including your own songs, to an audience who will, in no uncertain terms, let you know what they think. It’s a great way to test new songs and setlists, running orders and tunes with different vocal ranges. In short, it’s a trial by fire and all singers who play guitar should at least try it a few times in their lives.
In order to busk in the first place, you require a few pieces of equipment, but not too many, and they needn’t cost the earth. Certainly, these days, the quality-to-price ratio is better than it ever has been, so busk-quality gear can be had at fantastic value prices. Let’s check out what you need!
We’re going for the classic busking set up of solo performer who sings and plays an acoustic guitar. Since all buskers these days use amplification, we are including that, along with a microphone and a stand. We are going for extreme value here: we think there is scarcely any point in bringing out your prized heirloom acoustic guitar in order to batter out some Bob Dylan on a city High Street during a drizzly Saturday afternoon! Stick to cheap, reliable gear and leave the museum pieces at home!
So, we need a guitar, an amp, a mic, a stand and cables. We’ll also need a hard case, since that performs triple duties as a receptacle for lovely coins and a space to advertise your name and social media links as well as doing it’s ‘day job’ of transporting your guitar to and from the mean streets!
EastCoast are a great go-to brand for value instruments. We’ve opted for the cutaway D1SCE Dreadnought model with a built-in pickup and a solid top. We figure that you may as well pay a tiny bit extra (EastCoast do a similar model without the electronics or cutaway for £30 less) and have it all! We opted for the Dreadnought over the slightly smaller Grand Auditorium model for two main reasons: the bigger body gives a bigger sound, making it arguably a more appropriate choice for vocal accompaniment, plus it’s easier to find a case that fits it properly!
We are practical types, here at guitarguitar!
Talking of cases, we’re going for the hard case option over the padded gig bag here for the reasons mentioned earlier. A good value case that should last you years is the TOURTECH TTABS-WG Deluxe Dreadnought case. It’s sturdy and effective, and it’s reasonably priced.
Together, this set-up gives you a comfortable, good-sounding acoustic guitar with a solid Spruce top that will season & improve its sound as it ages, along with a solid, reliable case to carry it around. A good start!
Now, there are a view relatively obvious points to factor into our choice of amplification here. One is that we have no mains power available (not on any streets we know about, certainly), so the amp has to run off batteries. It obviously needs to be powerful enough to be heard properly on a busy street, and, significantly, it must be able to satisfactorily accept both a guitar AND a vocal mic.
Not an easy set of parameters to work with! Especially when we are trying to keep the costs down! Luckily, there is one amp that meets our criteria pretty well...
Roland Street Cube
It has been the one to beat for years, the amp we’ve all seen and heard as we’ve negotiated the brisk and grumpy British weekend public, and the amp that sounds FAR greater than its 2x2.5w power rating may suggest! Roland’s Street Cube is by far the easiest, more effective (and cost-effective) choice for mobile musicians. There is a larger Street Cube EX model, but we think the normal ‘wedge’ model will suit our needs just fine.
You get two separate channels, with a full complement of amp simulations and effects on the instrument channel (we are using it for guitar here, but you can plug most anything in here), plus EQ, reverb and delay on the mic channel, which has a proper XLR input. Impressive! This means the mic channel will be nice and clear, with very little background noise. In fact, the only background noise will be the shrieks and jeers of your audience!
We jest! The Roland Street Cube runs on 6x AA batteries and you should get around 15 hours use before they give up the ghost. We don’t think ANYBODY busks for that long but packs extra batteries anyway. It’s good practice!
You need a ‘dynamic mic’ for busking. Mics come in two main varieties and the other type, a condenser mic, requires a phenomenon known as phantom power, and that is a subject we shall not be crossing today. Alright, there are, in fact, far more than two types of mic, but the vast majority conform to these two overarching principles of operation, dynamic and condenser. Dynamic is what we want here.
A dynamic mic is passive and is most likely the type of thing you’ve used before at rehearsals or gigs. By far the most famous of these is the Shure SM58. It’s great but we want a super-affordable option: it doesn’t make huge sense to bring expensive mics out into the elements when a cheaper one with do a more than adequate job. So, with that in mind, we have chosen the TOURTECH VM50. It’s a sturdy thing and it’s a terrific price. We perhaps wouldn’t use it for recording, but for preaching to the masses on a crowded city street, it’s just the thing. Add it to the shopping basket!
We need a sturdy boom stand too. Always use a boom since their adjustable ‘elbow’ can help accommodate the extra space taken up by having an acoustic guitar hanging in front of you! Let’s keep it simple: a TOURTECH TTS-M10822 is good value, solid and foldable. Sorted.
Again, we are looking for value and function here, which is what the TOURTECH brand excel at. These are fine ‘all purpose’ cables that will do their job well when looked after. We’ll pick a 20ft (6m) TTIC-N6PLR jack to jack cable for the guitar, with an angled end for plugging into the guitar.
As for the mic cable, a simple 20ft TTMC-6 XLR-XLR cable will sort us out. 20ft sounds longer than it is, but we don’t want them too long. The VM50 mic actually comes with a cable, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that a spare XLR cable is always used eventually!
Other Things To Remember
That’s it for the important stuff. You will maybe need some sort of trolley and bungie ropes to cart your gear around in, but everything else is pretty much sorted out. Try to remember your lyrics off by heart, since carrying a music stand is a hassle, not to mention a sign of laziness. Leave the iPad at home, too, unless you use it to make music. If so, please realise that it will be catnip for thieves! Be warned!
Our choices here represent what we reckon to be a wise spend in terms of getting your busking equipment together. It’s fair to say that a Taylor 214CE will sound better than our EastCoast choice, as will an AER amp over the Roland. However, those choices oblige you to spend thousands of pounds, which is exactly against the whole exercise of this blog! We think buskers should be out there roughing it and having fun making some cash, not showing off their expensive gear and then worrying about getting robbed!
Go forth, play your songs, and have the time of your life! If we see you, and you’re playing something interesting, we’ll chuck in a quid or two.
Thanks for reading