After years of wading through a rising tide of pro guitar amps, a few winners have emerged. In this case, "best" means transparent and uncolored tone, plenty of clean power and maybe some effects The acoustic guitar amps listed below have an extra channel or two for vocals and other instruments. There are many practice amps for playing at home but this article will focus on live performance in small venues such as coffee shops, bars and clubs as well as home concerts. For those seeking audiophile performance for guitar and vocals, there are a few good choices. Most compact, 3-way acoustic amps feature at least one woofer and a tweeter. This handles the low end up to mids and the highs. Your sound will vary depending on whether your guitar strings are finger-picked or strummed and bringing out the true fidelity of your instrument may involve getting your sound right before it ever reaches the amp. Many players will use a small DI box to condition the signal and boost it. Adding the ambient effects of reverb and delay can help the sound of an acoustic guitar but you'll want to get your sound quality right first. Generally this means a sound that is naturally pleasing to the ear with no harshnes. Most amps are not very lightweight and packing premium features and rugged construction factors in on the scale. All amps require a power adaptor but some models have battery power, makign them more mobile and adaptable to different environments.
These amps can be put to work for a weekly open mic night or just annoying the neighbors. This is the ultimate test, due to the challenge of random instruments being plugged in and voices running through the amp. These amps pass with flying colors and are easy to dial in each performer quickly. The channels are usually a combination of XLR inputs and instrument inputs designed for piezo or magnetic pickups. A HI-Z impedance switch is helpful in bringing out the full tonal range of passive pickups. A GAIN control allows for finding the perfect volume. A +48V phantom power channel is for microphones, eliminating external power supplies required for condenser mics, active pickups or active direct boxes. Some have n AUX channel with a 1/4" or 1/8" jack as an input for your MP3 music source. This basically means it can handle anything and everything you throw at it.
Fishman is a trusted name in acoustic amplification and the Loudbox comes highly regarded by the live community. From the 60 watt Loudbox Mini to the 180 watt Performer, there is a model for everybody. Having low, mid and high controls lets you dial in an acceptable sound and the effects are just icing on the cake. Feeback is a common problem in live situations and the Loudbox has some feedback-busting controls to take control of this problem. The AUX channel has volume control which is a rare feature on amps. Overall, Fishman has managed to squeeze a ton of power and performance into a portable unit that stands out. This two channel amp has a big following of gigging guitarists that also do vocals. Add a drum machine or iPod for backing tracks and play small to mid sized venues. The DI outputs and effects loops come in handy for playing different places with their own house PA system.
Bose is another name well known for their quality products. Their foray into guitar amplification is here to stay. Hoards of musicians have expressed amazement over the S1 Pro. This unit delivers quite possibly the cleanest sound of all guitar amps on this page. With two main channels, one aux input and effects, the S1 Pro has everything a live musician needs for small venues. The integrated tone match processing lets you select what you are plugging in for a tighter sonic fit. This is a rugged and lightweight PA System that wont let you down!
Roland keeps improving on the CUBE series and the EX is proof that they've listened to the requests of gutiarists. This amp is the best for street use due to its weight, battery life and dual 8 inch woofers. The angled design makes it perfect for placing directly on the ground alhtough it also accepts a stand. The COSM tones include Clean, Crunch, and Lead. The preamp for acoustic guitar provides clean, natural sound. Keep in mind that this amp doesn't have phantom power for mics, so you'll have to get a seperate power unit for your mic.
The Mackie is similar to the CUBE EX but has more power and costs less. This is becoming a strong chocie for plugging in your acoustic guitar as well as a microphone and backing tracks from a mobile device. The small size is perfect for travel and quick small gigs. Mackie is known for their mixers which have been built into the Freeplay LIVE design along with some cool effects.
Last but not least is the most affordable unit on the list, the MPA40BTPRO from Behringer packs a nice punch. It's an all-in-one portable PA system with full Bluetooth connectivity and 40 Watts for crowds up to 250 people. The 8 inch woofer gives it a depth that smaller woofers cannot recreate. The high-resolution tweeter handles the high end and a built in 2-channel mixer brings the ultra-low noise, high-headroom mic preamps that Behringer is known for. The 2-band equalizer gives you a bit of adjustment in terms of removing harshness or to cut boom. The Bluetooth feature allows for streaming audio directly from your phone.
The amplifiers above are highly favored in the live gigging community currently. There are other higher priced amps on the market with more features and better sound, but the bang for the buck is best with the models above. Some have models below them and above them for various needs. If you are playing on the counch and just want to amplify your sound, there are plenty of practive amps out there for that purpose. Some are tiny and fit in your pocket, only requiring a pair of headphones. Again, check on the models above and see if they suit your needs. A good rule of thumb is 40 watts for 250 people max. Once you start adding drum loops and bass guitar, the requirement for power and size goes up. Lugging a heavy pa system to gig after gig takes its toll, so weight is a factor as well. Portability is a big concern for buskers playing in the streets. Google+