Bass amps and guitar amps may look the same on the outside, but they are completely different from each other. While they may be able to be used interchangeably in some cases, it is important to understand the difference between these two types of amplifiers and what makes them ideal for their designated instruments.
Don’t worry if you are struggling to work out the difference between a bass amp and a guitar amp! In this article, I will break down the differences between bass amps and guitar amps and dive deep into some key features.
Bass amp vs guitar amp
|Guitar amp||Bass amp|
|Watts||5 to 100 Watts||50 to 1000 Watts|
|Speaker size||8 – 12 inches||10 – 15 inches|
|Frequency range||80Hz – 10kHz||20Hz – 20kHz|
|Common features||Tone -EQ- distortion – reverb||Tone – compressor – EQ|
When it comes to both bass and guitar amplifiers, watts are the measurement of the power output. While more watts does NOT automatically equal more volume, the wattage of an amp can have a significant impact on its sound and performance, particularly in terms of how loud it can get before it begins to distort.
Bass Amp Watts
Bass amps typically have more watts than guitar amps, as bass frequencies require more power than mid-range frequencies. The average wattage for a bass amp is between 100 and 300 watts for a practice amp or even up to 1000 watts or more for a professional-grade amplifier. This allows bassists to have enough headroom and power to produce a full and punchy low-end tone.
Guitar Amp Watts
Guitar amps typically have lower wattage than bass amps. Guitars produce mid-range and high frequencies, which need less power than bass notes. The average wattage for a guitar amp can range from 5 to 50 watts for a small practice amp and up to 100 watts or more for a high-powered amp for large gigs. Lower-wattage amps are preferred for their ability to produce natural overdrive and distortion at lower volumes, while higher-wattage amps are often used for their clean headroom and ability to handle pedals and effects.
Bass amps and guitar amps usually have different-sized speakers, with bass amps needing a speaker with a larger diameter than guitar amps. The material in the speaker and the construction of the speaker also differ between the 2 amps.
The material used to construct the guitar and bass amp speaker cones can also affect the tone of the amp. Speaker cones can be made out of ceramic, neodymium, alnico, paper pulp, carbon fiber, polypropylene, and other materials.
Bass Amp Speakers
Bass amps typically have larger speakers than guitar amps, ranging from 10 to 15 inches. This is because bass frequencies have a longer wavelength which requires more air movement. A larger speaker can move more air, which allows for a more accurate reproduction of the lower frequencies of a bass guitar.
The type of speaker in a bass amp can also affect the sound quality. Some bass amps use a single speaker, while others may have multiple speakers or a subwoofer. The material used to construct the speaker cone can also affect the tone of the amp.
Guitar Amp Speakers
Guitar amps typically have smaller speakers than bass amps, ranging from 8 to 12 inches. However, most guitar amp speakers are 10 inches. This is because electric guitars have a higher frequency range than bass guitars, and smaller speakers are better suited to these higher frequencies. That said, larger speakers can still be used for guitars, with some guitarists preferring the low-end boost you get when using 12 or 15-inch speakers.
The type of speaker in a guitar amp can also affect the sound quality. Some guitar amps have a single speaker, while others may have two speakers. Larger speaker cabinets will usually have four 10-inch speakers.
Frequency range is essentially the range of audible sounds a particular instrument makes. Obviously, bass and guitar have different frequency ranges as bass is an octave lower than guitar. For reference, the human ear can pick up sound between 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
Bass Amp Frequency
Bass amps have a frequency range that is designed to produce the low frequencies of a bass guitar. The frequency range of a typical bass amp can range from 30 Hz to 5 kHz, although the lowest frequency may be lower depending on the specific model.
In addition to the frequency range, the frequency response curve of a bass amp is also important to consider. The frequency response curve shows how well the amp reproduces different frequencies across the frequency range. A flat frequency response curve is desirable for bass amps, as it means that the amp will accurately reproduce all frequencies in the bass guitar’s range without emphasizing or de-emphasizing any particular frequency.
Guitar Amp Frequency
Guitar amps follow the guitar frequency range and produce mid to high frequencies. The frequency range of a typical guitar amp can range from 100 Hz to 5 kHz. However, it may be different depending on the specific amp model.
Like bass amps, the frequency response curve of a guitar amp is also important to consider. Guitar amps often have a frequency response curve that is shaped to emphasize certain frequencies, such as the mid-range frequencies that are important for cutting through the mix in a band setting.
The specific features and settings found on bass and guitar amps reflect the unique characteristics of each instrument and the preferences of bassists and guitarists. While there may be some overlap in the features and settings between the two types of amps, there are also distinct differences that cater to the specific needs and desires of bassists or guitarists. A few of these features are gain, EQ, and compression.
Gain and Overdrive
Gain and overdrive settings are common on guitar amps and are used to add distortion or saturation to the sound. These settings are not common on bass amps because bass frequencies are already naturally “thick,” and overdriving them can lead to a loss of clarity and definition in the low end. Bassists also serve a foundational function in music, so it is very important that the basslines are clear and punchy.
Both bass and guitar amps typically have tone knobs for adjusting the bass, mid, and treble frequencies
of the sound. However, the specific frequency range and amount of control over these frequencies can vary between the two types of amps. Bass amps often have a wider range of control over the low-end frequencies to help shape the fullness and punchiness of the bass tone. For example, a bass amp may have bass, low-mid, high-mid, and treble knobs.
Compression is a feature commonly found on bass amps that helps to even out the dynamics of the instrument. This is achieved by compressing the dynamic range of the sound, which makes the quieter notes louder and the louder notes quieter. Compression can achieve a more consistent and polished bass sound. Compression is less commonly found on guitar amps because guitarists often prefer the natural dynamics of the instrument, and compression can sometimes take away from the authentic “feel” of the guitar’s sound.
Many guitar amps come with a built-in reverb setting. This allows a guitarist to make their instrument sound like it is playing in a much bigger space creating a bigger and deeper sound. Reverb is not commonly featured on bass amps because reverb can quickly muddy up a bass guitar’s sound, and since bass is an important rhythmic instrument, it isn’t generally a good idea to put a time-based effect like reverb or delay on it.
Other effects/amp modeling
Modern solid-state guitar amps may have many different effects or channels built in, such as modulation, fuzz, delay, octave, tuners, and more! However, most bass amps won’t have any effects as bassists use fewer effects than guitarists.
Many digital guitar and bass amps can now emulate older amp models. These amps are called modeling amps and are a great way to experiment with different sounds without investing in several expensive amps. Check out my article that covers modeling amps in detail for more on this!
Can You Play Bass Through a Guitar Amp?
Playing bass out of a guitar amp is not recommended. As I mentioned above, bass amps have a much larger frequency range since bass guitars produce notes around an octave lower than a guitar. So, using a guitar amp for bass can damage the amp and possibly even destroy it.
There are some instances where it may be necessary. For example, if a bass player only has access to a guitar amp and needs to play a small gig or practice, using a guitar amp may be the only option.
To minimize the risk of damage, use a lower-volume setting, don’t use any effects (especially gain or overdrive), and avoid using a valve guitar amp for bass at all costs!
Can You Play Guitar Through a Bass Amp?
Yes, you can. This is because bass amps have a frequency range of up to 5 kHz, which is around the max range of a guitar, so they can handle a guitar. In fact, some guitarists prefer the sound of a bass amp over a guitar amp due to the deep full sound of bass amps.
Check out my article on playing guitar through a bass amp for more information!
Have more questions about amps, guitars, or other gear you need answers to? Feel free to reach out. I am always happy to help!