My dad is a bassist. He started playing about 10 years after I did!
His first bass guitar was an Ibanez, an entry-level but very decent instrument.
But when it came to getting an amp, we already had a bunch of guitar amps in the house.
So it was logical to ask, “Can I use a guitar amp for bass?”
For a while he used a normal guitar amp, but ended up getting his own bass amp anyway.
It’s difficult to share equipment when everyone in the house plays in different bands!
Well, since then I’ve done some research on the topic. This article should give you all you need to know about which amp is best for bass!
Can I Use a Guitar Amp for Bass?
The short answer is, you can use a guitar amp for bass. But the better question is, should you?
The debate of bass amp vs guitar amp has been around for ages.
Technically, an amp’s purpose is to make things louder. If you plug your bass into a guitar amp, it will definitely make it louder.
But, bass amps and guitar amps are built a bit differently. That’s because the sound that comes out of a bass and the sound that comes out of a guitar are quite different!
Although you could use a guitar amp for your bass, it won’t sound the same as using a bass amp.
So, what amp do I need for bass guitar? Well, your best choice would be a dedicated bass amp.
How To Tell a Bass Amp from a Guitar Amp
If you’re new to guitar (or bass), all amps may look the same at first glance! In reality, there’s quite a lot of difference between a bass amp and a guitar amp.
To figure out if the amp you’re looking at is a guitar amp or a bass amp, consider these 5 things:
- Wattage (power output)
Bass amps have larger speakers than guitar amps. Even though there’s a metal grill in front of the speaker, you can usually see how big the speakers are through it.
This is because bigger speakers produce low frequencies more easily. Smaller ones produce high frequencies better.
Of course, the biggest difference in sound between an electric guitar and a bass guitar is that bass is super low!
Generally, a bass amp will use speakers of 10 – 15 inches. Some even go up to 18 inches!
A guitar amp’s speakers are usually in the range of 8 to 12 inches.
A bass amp will be more powerful than a guitar amp in terms of how many watts of power it puts out.
For example, 100 watts is common for a guitar amp. In fact, it’s pretty loud!
On a bass amp, though, it’s not unusual to see 300 watts or more.
You do get smaller bass amps, though. 100 to 150 watts would be sufficient for practice and very small gigs (with few other instruments).
Guitar amps are often square or horizontally rectangular (like a laptop screen).
Bass amps are usually a bit taller than a guitar amp. The speakers are arranged in a special way inside the cabinet to move as much air as possible.
Have you ever stood in front of a loud bass amp and felt the vibrations in the air with every note?
Air moves around a lot with lower frequencies, so the speakers are positioned to allow for the most movement of air.
A guitar amp usually has a simpler speaker layout that allows for a smaller overall design.
Obviously, bass amps are designed to make the deep, low frequencies of a bass guitar sound good.
Guitar amps are designed to make the higher, sometimes pitchy frequencies of a guitar sound good.
You can’t expect a guitar amp to make a bass guitar sound great.
Sure, you’ll have volume, but the deep bass tone just won’t be there.
Of course, this is fine if you want a thinner, more trebly bass sound. It can work sometimes with jazz or light blues.
But if you want that punchy, brain-vibrating, rib cage-rattling bass tone, that’s exactly what a bass amp is designed to deliver.
Bass amps don’t come with effects. You’ll have dials for volume, treble, mid, and bass. You might have a gain knob, but you won’t find anything like chorus, delay, or reverb.
Guitar amps are more likely to have effects. Not all of them do, but they have the capability to add effects to the sound.
Hybrid Amps [For Bass AND Guitar]
A hybrid amp is kind of like the best of both worlds. It’s a bass and guitar amp combined. They’re not very common, but can be useful if you happen to play both guitar and bass on a regular basis.
These kinds of amps are designed to produce high-quality tones for both bass and guitar.
Your guitar won’t sound muddy, like it would if you were playing it through a bass amp. And your bass won’t sound thin, like it would through a guitar amp.
These hybrid amps are modeling amps. This means that they apply digitally processed “effects”, or models, to your sound.
You can choose models that are suited to both guitar and bass. That way, you can set different tones for each instrument, so the amp should deliver good quality sound whichever guitar you have plugged in.
You might be wondering why all guitarists don’t just have these kinds of amps! Well, they can be pricey, but they’re also not the best quality.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re great if you switch between the two regularly at band practice or at home. But they most likely wouldn’t be powerful enough or sound good enough for gigs.
Can I Damage a Guitar Amp by Playing Bass Through It?
The answer to this question depends quite a lot on how loud you play through the amp.
If you’re going to pump your bass up to top volume, then yes, you may damage the guitar amp’s speakers.
But if you play at a low to moderate volume, chances are the guitar amp will be fine.
Remember, guitar amp speakers aren’t designed to handle the low frequencies of the bass.
When playing at medium volume, you may notice distortion or the speakers rattling. It may start to sound a little unpleasant or painful to the ears!
That’s a good indication that your speaker has reached the maximum of what it can offer you for bass.
If you go louder, you run the risk of damaging the guitar amp.
Active vs Passive Basses
The one thing you will need to be careful of is if you’re using an active bass guitar.
If you aren’t sure, here’s a quick and easy check – if your bass guitar has a battery in it, it’s an active bass! If not, it’s a passive.
Basically, the battery boosts the signal on an active bass. This often leads to a louder output and a smoother sound. They also come with some EQ controls built into the actual guitar.
On these kinds of guitars, it’s a very good idea to turn the volume dial down on the guitar. This will help prevent the signal from spiking and damaging the speakers of the guitar amp.
Check out this video for a better explanation about active vs passive basses:
What If I Only Have a Guitar Amp?
Do I need a bass amp to play bass? No!
Of course, I highly recommend getting yourself a proper bass amp if you want the right tone and depth.
But if you already have a guitar amp and you need some time to save up for a bass amp, here are some tips to make your bass sound decent through your guitar amp (and do it safely).
Set It to a Clean Channel
Please, please, please! Don’t attempt to play bass through an overdrive or distorted channel.
Set your amp to a clean channel before you even plug the bass in. If you only have one channel on your amp, turn the gain down significantly.
Sometimes, distortion is used for effect on a bass guitar. But this is done using bass distortion pedals and not the amp. You still need to be in a clean channel!
Make Sure No Effects Are On
Bassists also use reverb or chorus every now and then for some dramatic effect.
But, like distortion, it’s best to use a pedal for effects. There’s a reason bass amps don’t come with effects!
When you’re using a guitar amp, make sure all effects are switched off. This will give you the purest tone, and the least chance of damaging the guitar amp!
Don’t assume that because the gain is down, the volume can stay up! The two are quite different things, so make sure they’re both low.
Start With a Low Volume
Rather start too low than too high. Playing at a high volume means the chance of damaging the amp’s speakers is higher.
Start with your volume very low and increase it slowly. When you start to hear the tone distorting, that’s when you’ve reached the max volume you can safely use.
Adjust the EQ
It makes sense that the most important EQ dial is the bass one. This will give your deep frequencies a real punch.
Lower the mid and treble dials. These focus on higher frequencies, and we want to emphasize the lower ones.
If your bass tone sounds too fuzzy or flat, up the mid a little. Every amp is different, so you may need to play around with this a bit until you find the sweet spot for you!
If You Plan to Gig… Invest In a Bass Amp
Although you can get by using a guitar amp for a while, there’s only so much you can do with it.
If your ambition is to play in a band and play gigs, then I’d advise biting the bullet and investing in a proper bass amp.
Your guitar amp will unfortunately never sound as good as a bass amp.
It also will never get as loud as a bass amp.
It’s a good idea to consider where you’re planning on playing, and to what size crowds!
Can You Play Bass Without an Amp?
If you don’t have any amp at the moment, you can still practice!
Going completely unplugged may not produce the kind of oomph you need to be motivated. But plugging into a computer, phone, or effects pedal will let you play through headphones.
Obviously, this won’t be extremely loud or powerful, but it’s great for bassists who find themselves without an amp and want to practice!
If you’re planning on gigging, though… You can’t do that without an amp!
This video walks you through practicing bass without an amp.
Summary: When Can I Use a Guitar Amp for Bass?
Here’s a quick snippet of when you can use a guitar amp for bass:
- Low volume.
- With a passive bass or an active bass with lowered output.
- For practice or little gigs to small crowds.
- If you prefer a thinner bass sound.
- On medium to high volume.
- With an active bass at regular output.
- With a tube amp (these are more fragile than others!).
- For gigs to large crowds.
- When the rest of your band is very loud.
- If you want a deep, vibrating bass sound.
So, can I use a guitar amp for bass? Well, yes, but if you want the best sound out of your bass (and the amp), you really should stick to a proper bass amp.
If you’re stuck with a guitar amp for now, you can use it for practice and low-volume playing.
But if you have the means to get a bass amp, I recommend you do!
If you end up playing both ways, you’ll definitely notice the difference. A real bass amp will give you the best sound possible.
And you won’t have to worry about blowing a speaker!
Thanks for reading. 🙂