Best Acoustic Guitar Amps for Gigs
Amplify Your Acoustic Guitar
After you’ve been playing acoustic guitar for a little while it may occur to you that you’d like to perform in front of other people. Maybe you’ve written some songs and you have a chance to play at a coffee house or friend’s party. Awesome! Now you just have to figure out how people are going to hear you.
There are many ways to amplify an acoustic guitar, but the easiest by far is to use an acoustic-electric guitar and amp. Just like with an electric guitar amp, all you have to do is plug in your instrument and turn up the volume knob.
As an added bonus, most of the good-quality acoustic amps also feature a dedicated channel for a microphone. This means you can either add a mic’d guitar sound to your mix, or use the unit for vocals as well. It is the ideal setup for a singer/guitarist who plays small gigs.
Though I spent most of my career as a rock guitarist, I confess to a period of time in my life where I played in an acoustic duo. We chose mid-powered acoustic guitar amps to get our sound across, and they worked out just fine.
On the other hand, a friend of mine who performed solo utilized a small, portable PA system for both his guitar and vocals. This worked well enough, but to me the amp setup was much simpler and sounded better.
The choice is yours, but I’d go with the acoustic guitar amp, and in this article I’ve outlined my top choices.
What to Look For
The units in this review make great acoustic guitar amps for home use or jamming with friends, and if that is your intention there is nothing wrong with it. However, I chose these amps with the gigging guitarist in mind. I’m thinking of guitarists who sing and play small venues. If that’s you, these amps will serve you well.
If you play acoustic guitar in a rock band you need to have a different plan, such as going through your band’s PA system via a direct box. Most of the amps in this review aren’t going to be loud enough to compete with a rock band on their own.
So, if you are a performer who needs to get by in moderate-volume gigs, what should you be looking? Here is what I think is important:
- Features: Some of these units sure do have a lot of knobs, but that’s a good thing. You may or may not need built-in effects, but features that control noise and feedback are very useful. You’ll also appreciate some smart options when it comes to EQ shaping.
- Portability: You should be able to show up for a gig with your acoustic-electric guitar, an amp and a backpack full of gear. That’s the point here, right? Otherwise you may as well rent a PA.
- Power: We don’t need massive amounts of power, but we do want some decent headroom and the ability to be heard in small rooms. Fifty to a hundred watts is a nice sweet spot. Remember, you aren’t going to be competing with other instruments.
- Cost: I’m looking at amps that come in around the $500 mark, as of this writing. I know most gigging musicians need something affordable. However, many of these amps have bigger brothers, so I’ll point those out as well.
That was my criteria. Let’s look at some gear!
Fishman Loudbox Artist and Mini
The Fishman Loudbox Mini is a straight-forward, two-channel amp that pushes 60 watts of power through a single 6.5 –inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. You might be thinking the speaker isn’t big enough, and if so your mind is probably stuck on the ideal characteristics of an electric guitar amp. We’re working with a different set of frequencies here, and the Loudbox Mini is perfectly tuned to get a loud, clean sound for vocals and acoustic guitars.
The controls are pretty simple, but there are a couple of things worth pointing out here. One is the master volume control. Since you are working with two channels –voice and guitar - you need to be able to get a proper mix at any volume.
A master volume makes this a little easier, as once you get the mix dialed in right you only have one knob to mess with when you need more volume.There is also chorus and reverb, a pair of very useful effects. I think more importantly it has a phase switch for reducing feedback, the bane of acoustic guitar performers.
The big brother of the Mini is the Loudbox Artist, which will put a bit you over $500 but gives you 120 watts of power plus expanded effects and EQ shaping and an 8-inch speaker. Even with the bump in price I think this would be my choice between the two amps.
Both amps features an XLR out, which lets you run a line from your amp to the PA. This means you can use your amp as a monitor, and in fact the Loudbox angles up slightly to facilitate this. The XLR out and the master volume are two key features I’ll be looking for in each of the amps in this review.
The Fishman Loudbox Artist is packed with features and plenty powerful enough for small gigs.
More on the Fishman Loudbox Artist
Peavey Ecoustic Series
I have never kept my love for Peavey gear a secret and I refuse to do so now! I used a Peavey Ecoustic amp during my foray into the world of acoustic guitar performance, and it was a great amp. Today’s generation of amps continue to feature amazing tone shaping options and tons of useful power. Here we’re looking at 100 watts through a single 10-inch speaker and horn.
The Ecoustic E110 has the prerequisite master volume control and XLR line out I think are so important. It also has an awesome 9-band EQ section associated with channel one. Channel two has a simpler 2-band EQ, and you can assign reverb, chorus or delay to either channel. You’ve also got a footswitchable mute function that enables the line out to your tuner, and a footswitchable phase inverter to help control feedback.
The Ecoustic E110 is affordable, powerful, compact and portable. If you need even more portability but not quite so much power there are a couple of other Ecoustic models in Peavey’s lineup. The E208 is a 20-watt amp with a pair of 8-inch speakers, and the E20 features 20 watts and single 8-inch driver. Both amps have pared down features compared to the E110, but of course they also cost a bit less.
My choice: I’d go with the power and flexibility of the E110.
Portable and powerful, the Ecoustic E110 is all you need if you intend to perform in small venues.
Hear the Peavey Ecoustic E110
Marshall AS50D and Marshall AS100D
Marshall is a company well known by just about anyone who has ever picked up an electric guitar. They are among the top amp builders in the world, and their powerful tube models have shaped the sound of rock music for decades. And, lucky for us, they make a darned good acoustic guitar amp too.
The AS50D puts out 50 watts of Marshall power through a pair of 8-inch speakers. Again you’ve got two channels: one for your guitar and one for your vocal mic. There is the master volume control and the XLR out we’re looking for, plus some useful effects in separate reverb and chorus controls and an anti-feedback control.
The Marshall AS50D is a solid amp for small gigs, and it may be all you need to get out there playing small bars and coffee houses. If you think you need more firepower, take a look at the AS100D instead. Along with a more powerful 2x50-watt power section this big brother features a an expanded effects section and multiple input options
So, which Marshall do you choose? Both are great options, and both give you everything you need in an acoustic guitar amp. Your wallet may be your guide. The AS50D comes in well under the $500 mark, where the AS100D lands closer to $700. Personally, I'd go with the AS100D for more power and flexibility.
Check Out the Marshall AS100D
If I were looking for an acoustic guitar amp for gigs or home use I’d likely make my choice between the three I listed above. However, there are a few more I’d take a hard look at before I made my move. For one reason or another they didn’t make my final cut, but one of them may be the perfect fit for you. Here are three honorable mentions:
- Fender Acoustasonic 150: I love Fender gear and like Marshall their amps are some of the best in the world. The Acoustasonic 150 and the smaller Acoustasonic 90 are great sounding and affordable acoustic guitar amps. However, they lack the master volume control I think is somewhat important here, and each channel is controlled by an individual volume knob. Still, they are solid amps and perhaps perfect for your needs.
- Acoustic A1000: This is an awesome amp, at a really great price for what you get. Each channel is complete with its on EQ controls, advanced effects section and even XLR out. However, it is a bit complex, and if you are the kind of player who just wants to plug in and go you may feel a bit frustrated. On the other hand, if you like the flexibility of modern modeling amps you may dig it.
- Carvin AG Series: When it comes to features, power and speaker versatility the Carvin AG200 and AG300 are perhaps the finest amps in this review. They are also super affordable, and I’ll add that every piece of Carvin gear I’ve ever owned was extremely high quality. The main issue is Carvin amps are only available via mail order, though they do have a very generous return policy.
Carvin Acoustic Guitar Amps
Choose Your Amp
When I do these reviews I usually point out which amp I think is your best option. With this article, I had to take a step back. I think the choice you make is very much dependent on your goals, and what is most important to you in an acoustic guitar amp.
Back when I played in an acoustic duo I used a Peavey Ecoustic, and it was a great amp. My bandmate used a Marshall AS50, and while I liked that well enough I liked my Peavey a little bit more. Another friend used a Fender Acoustasonic before graduating to a mini-PA, and that was a fine amp as well.
If I had to make the choice today, I think I'd go with the Fishman Loudbox Artist. The power and features are tough to beat, especially for under $600. For my runner-up choice I’d have to go back to the Peavey, just because I had such good experiences with it and Peavey amps in general.
As for you, consider your options carefully and make the best choice you can based on your particular view of the world. Good luck, and have fun playing out!