If you’re like me, you’ve probably had this question jog your mind: “Can’t I just use my electric guitar amp for my bass?” The question makes sense—after all, it is a lot less cumbersome and cost-effective to have one amplifier instead of two.
But unfortunately, going down this route will be met with some challenges. The last thing you want to do is destroy your guitar amp by plugging your bass guitar into your guitar amp without first doing some reading and researching on the topic.
In this article, I will dive into whether or not you can play bass through a guitar amp and answer some important related questions.
Can You Play Bass Through A Guitar Amp?
In short: No, I would not recommend using a guitar amp for bass, as you will risk destroying your amp. That said, there are ways around this. With a few cautionary steps, you can actually do this successfully!
How are bass amps different from guitar amps?
There are a few key differences between bass and guitar amps that you should be aware of before attempting to use an electric guitar amp for your bass.
2. Speaker Dimensions
4. Equalization (EQ)
To begin with, bass amps typically have more watts and power than electric guitar amplifiers. Compared to guitar amps, especially tube amps, which are typically in the range of 30–100 watts, bass amps typically generate 300 to 350 watts. This is because it takes a lot more power to project low-frequency bass notes than the mid-range guitar frequency.
This means that using a guitar amp for your bass will not provide the necessary power to produce a suitable sound from the instrument.
Bass amps also usually have larger speakers to produce the low-end frequencies produced by bass guitars. Unlike guitar amplifiers, which generally have 8-inch, 10-inch, or 12-inch speakers, bass amplifiers have 15-inch or even 18-inch speakers.
A 1 x 15′′ combo bass amp is perfect for smaller gigs and practice rigs, as the larger 15′′ speaker has a decent low-end rumble. I recommend using a 4 x 10′′ cabinet for especially low frequencies and louder gigs.
A bass amplifier’s frequency range is substantially lower and different than that of an electric guitar, allowing it to support the deeper tones the bass guitar produces. Bass amps have a frequency range of 30 Hz to 5 kHz, and guitar amps have a frequency range of 100 Hz to 5 kHz.
The low E string of a bass is around 42 Hz, which is well below the lowest frequency range of a guitar amp, so playing this note out of a bass note will not sound good and can damage the speaker.
Some modern bassists use 5-string basses with a low B-string, which produces frequencies even lower than a 42 Hz E-string, so a bassist would need a bass cabinet that has enough power to handle these low frequencies. A guitar amp can definitely not handle a low B bass string.
The EQ is the final significant distinction between bass and guitar amps. A bass amp’s EQ is intended to provide a tighter low end with a thicker and more powerful sound than a guitar amp’s. Bass amplifiers often offer a variety of dedicated EQ controls, such as “low mids” and “high mids,” which aren’t found in guitar amplifiers, to assist you in molding your bass sound to fit your band’s context.
What happens if you use a guitar amp for bass?
Here is what you can expect to happen if you play bass guitar through a guitar amp.
Inaccurate representation of your playing
Using a guitar amp can result in thinner, looser, and more open-sounding basslines that do not accurately represent the tones you want to generate. With such a thin-sounding bass tone, your bass parts will not have the musical effect you are going for.
As we’ve talked about, most guitar amps are made for higher frequencies and don’t have enough power when the bass drops. On the other hand, using a professional bass amp will allow you to catch the entire spectrum of notes without any glitches or lost sound.
Damage to the circuits, speaker cones, and tubes
Electric guitar amplifiers are not designed to magnify the low frequencies associated with bass guitars, so you risk damaging the guitar amp if you plug your bass into it.
Keeping this in mind, your guitar amp’s circuits and speaker cones are explicitly designed for the guitar. Therefore, exposing your guitar amp to extreme bass frequencies can easily destroy your amp’s circuits and speaker cones.
I cannot stress this enough, especially if your guitar amp is a tube amplifier. Maintaining the tubes with regular guitar playing is quite a task, let alone plugging a bass guitar through one. If you own a guitar tube amp, it’s best to keep your bass far away from it!
How to avoid breaking your guitar amp if you have no other choice
Let’s face it; there may come a time when you have no other choice. Maybe your bass amp disappeared off the face of the earth, or you have to play bass in a gig and cannot afford to purchase a new bass amp.
If you don’t have any other options, there are some workarounds to avoid destroying your guitar amp while playing bass through it:
Choose a small-sized solid-state amplifier
The best way to avoid busting up the guitar amp is to use a small, practice-sized, solid-state amp. These amps are much less sensitive than tube amps, and since they can’t get very loud in the first place, you run less of a risk of blowing the circuits.
In the end, small solid-state practice amps are also MUCH cheaper than large tube amps, so you likely won’t be as devastated if the amp breaks.
Keep the volume low
Playing your bass guitar at high volume via a guitar amp can place a lot of pressure on the speaker cones, making them move a lot. As guitar amp speakers are also smaller than their bass counterparts, they’ll work twice as hard to keep up with your loud, low-frequency playing.
This is a recipe for damage. So, knowing this, make sure to keep the master volume low when playing bass through a guitar amp.
Don’t use the amp’s overdrive/distortion
If your guitar amp has an in-built overdrive or distortion, avoid it at all costs. Using the in-built overdrive or distortion is bound to make the guitar speaker cones vibrate more. And when the amp is already being overworked by playing bass frequencies, the last thing you want is to add another layer of risk.
It’s better to keep the tone clean and the volume low, as this reduces the pressure on your amplifier. It also gives you more control over your already thin tone.
Why use a bass amp for bass?
This may seem obvious, but if you want to get the most out of your bass playing, you must use the right gear. Here are some of the benefits of using a bass amp when playing bass guitar:
- Increased power output and reduced speaker impedance enable you to achieve louder levels with greater clarity.
- Accurate control over the treble, mid, and low frequencies according the the bass guitar’s frequency response curve.
- The amp design is specifically engineered to deliver more strong bass and mid frequencies.
- Shape controls, for example, allow you to further sculpt your sound.
Can you use a bass amp for guitar?
Now you know that you can’t use a guitar amp for bass. But, does it work the other way? Can you use a bass amp for guitar?
As we explored earlier, bass amps can handle frequencies as low as 31 Hz but as high as 5kHz. So, you can definitely use a bass amp to play guitar! In fact, many guitarists choose to do so for the added bass frequencies, especially when playing a 7-string guitar.
In conclusion, the functions and tones of electric guitar and bass guitar amplifiers are distinct from one another. Using a guitar amp instead of a bass guitar amp could seem like a financially viable option at first, but it could end up costing you more in the long term.
However, if you don’t have an option, it would be a good idea to consider some of the precautions we mentioned in this article.
Looking for a new guitar amp? Check out my review of the 5 best beginner amps!