Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Busking With a Vox Escort Guitar Amp

One fond memory I still carry from the mid 1980s is that of going busking with bandmates around the streets and subways of Birmingham, and in the centre of Coventry. Most often, we’d play acoustic guitars, but from time to time I’d use my Tokai TST-60, routed through a Vox Escort busking amp.

I bought the Escort secondhand, pretty much on impulse, based on the fact that it was so cheap. I can’t in all honesty remember how much it cost, but given the amount of spare money I had available at the time it would have to been in virtual giveaway territory. One of my bandmates used to refer to it as the AC-two-and-a-half. The Escort obviously wasn’t a valve amp, but in broad terms, it was a two and a half watt version of the AC30, so the humourous nickname was well chosen I thought.

The mini Escort was really a 1970s amp, although production did survive into the early ‘80s. By the time I bought mine in 1985, however, the amp was no longer available new. The product was very small, light in weight, and easy to carry around in, say, a sports bag, along with a raft of accessories, packed lunch, etc.


The big snag with using the Vox Escort for busking was battery life. I used to use a big blue Every Ready PP9, which wasn’t a cheap purchase for a teenager – not when it only supplied power for between 90 minutes and two hours, anyway. If I was busking on my own, typically I’d make more money using the Strat and the Vox Escort than with my Fender Redondo acoustic, but with the group it didn’t seem to make any difference. On balance, after battery costs had been budgeted in, I was worse off using the Strat than the acoustic. For this reason, the idea of a battery-powered busking amp was flawed.

However, in terms of sound, Vox did a very nice job indeed with the Escort busker. With the Strat set for a two-pickup ‘out of phase’ sound, the result was very pleasant. Sympathetic to the playing, just as was the case with big brother the AC30. And if you cranked the volume (of which there wasn’t a great deal even at full whack), you got quite a natural sounding soft overdrive. Frustratingly, however, as the battery progressively drained, the character of the sound changed, and the overdrive became heavier and less attractive, whilst the volume dropped. It was never a case of getting a constant standard of performance until the battery suddenly cut out. You could tell the battery was slowly dying, and it was usually pretty obvious from the tone alone, how much longer the battery was going to last.

Much of this would have been going through my mind when I decided to get rid of the Vox Escort for an insignificant sum, around the latter part of 1986. But I did miss the amp, and soon decided I still wanted the option of playing electric guitar in ‘impromptu situations’. So, with no ‘AC-two-and-a-halfs’ to be found, I bought a Pignose, which wasn’t remotely as good. The natural overdrive on the Pignose was very unsympathetic and I didn’t find the basic tone attractive at all. I paid a lot more for the (brand new) Pignose than for the Vox Escort too. The old saying about getting what you pay for does not always apply. I gave the Pignose away for free in the late ‘80s, and I’ve never had another busking amp since.

The Vox Escort busker might be a slightly more practical proposition for buskers today, now that rechargeable PP9s are an option for the user. However, you’d still have to be pretty committed to shell out £25+ a piece for a rota of batteries, and I dare say you’d still encounter the audible effects of slowly draining cells. And then, of course, you’d actually have to get hold of the amp in the first place. Realistically, my appreciation for the Vox Escort is probably driven in the main by nostalgia. If someone waved one under my nose and asked for twenty quid, would I buy it? Well, assuming I had the chance to ‘try it out’ for half an hour, I’m really not sure I would.

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Posted by: Bob Leggitt