If you’re a guitar player, then there’s a good chance that you’ve also considered dabbling in bass guitar at some point since they’re so similar.

Whether you’re recording a song and need to add some simple bass lines, or you’re just trying to learn a new instrument, you’ll probably end up purchasing a bass guitar at some point in your journey.

So, you buy a bass guitar on Amazon and are ready to plug it in and start playing.

That is until you realize that you only have amplifiers meant for guitar, not bass.

But is there really a difference? Do you really need to invest in a dedicated bass guitar amp, or is the current rig good enough?

In this article, we’ll break down the differences between an electric guitar amp and bass guitar amp. Then, we’ll answer the common question, “ Can you plug a bass guitar into a guitar amp?”

TLDR;

In Short, yes, you can use a guitar amp with both active and passive bass guitars at low volumes. However,  guitar amp speakers are thinner and not intended for the low frequencies a bass guitar can create. Caution needs to be used as excessive recoil caused by high volume, and the low frequencies can distort the sound and even damage the speakers.

How to Use Bass with a Guitar Amp

The fact of the matter is that you can safely plug in a bass guitar to any guitar amplifier. This is not going to break the amp, as amps are basically all the same construction-wise.

However, using a guitar with an amp that has been designed for a different type of a guitar means you will be making compromises with the sound quality.

You can safely use a guitar amp for practice and to hear how you sound. There is one caveat, though – it is advisable to stay at low volumes; otherwise, you can damage the speakers. At low volumes, you can still practice effectively and hear your mistakes.

There is an important distinction between active and passive bass guitars, that you need to be aware of before you try to use them with a guitar amp and I will get into that in a moment.

Are There Any Concerns When Using Bass with a Guitar Amp?

The main issue we are going to face is that the guitar amp is primarily designed and tuned for a different instrument. For example, a bass amp is made to work best with the bass frequency range, so it will do best with the lower bass ranges.

The guitar speaker is significantly thinner compared to the one on the bass amplifiers. In addition to that, the speakers’ recoil is shorter, which means they are likely to be blown at high volumes.

So at what volume can you play?

  • Generally speaking at low volume, there is no danger of damaging the guitar speakers as they can handle low volumes.
  • At mid volumes, you will begin to hear the distortions in the sound, a possible rattling, and the sound will become a bit unpleasant to the ears. You probably don’t want to force the speakers any more than that.
  • At high volumes, you are definitely risking damaging the speakers. The speakers will not be able to handle what you are giving them. Usually, especially if you practicing, you won’t need the sound to be that loud anyway.

Will There Be Any Difference in Sound?

In order to better visualize this, we need to make a quick distinction between the two amplifier types:

  • Bass amp – Bass amps are placing their emphasis on the low-end frequencies.
  • Guitar amp – Guitar amps are putting an emphasis on the upper mid-range frequencies.

While keeping that in mind we can safely come to the conclusion that using a bass with a guitar amp will give us a more of the mid-focused tones and less of the deep and thick low bass tones.

This doesn’t mean that you will not hear any bass while playing. You will; the only problem is that it will be not as impactful and a lot thinner.

At the same time, you will find that guitar amps come in a wide variety and some will definitely do bass better than others. For example, on paper, a high-powered solid state guitar amp should be able to perform very well with a bass, but it will not be as good as a bass amp.

If you are looking to do some practicing in your house or bedroom at low volumes, it will definitely work. You might want to spend some time tweaking the EQ of your amplifier in order to see what works best for you.

You can achieve better low bass sounds by, playing around with the EQ. Lower the treble and increase the bass. Also putting an EQ pedal in front of the amp that will filter all the lows can work too.

You want to avoid high volumes.

This will undoubtedly lead to sound distortions and rattling.

This is not only unpleasant to the ears but also very dangerous to the amplifier’s speakers. They are not designed to handle that kind of low frequencies at such high volume. Due to the excessive movements of the cone, creases will appear that eventually will tear. The amp will be fine, but you are risking blowing the speakers.

The Type of Bass Guitar Pickups

There are two types of bass guitar pickups: active and passive.

They have different pros and cons. However, when using a guitar amp, it is important to know a few things depending on which pickup you are using.

Passive Bass Guitar

Let’s start with that a passive bass guitar can be considered safer for a guitar amplifier.

They do not have much control over the sound; usually, you can play around with the bass and treble frequencies. They have a warmer and more dynamic and punchy tone.

Active Bass Guitar

An active bass should be used with a word of caution with a guitar amp.

Active bass guitars use a pre-amp that is usually powered by a 9-volt battery.

They have louder output. The sounds are usually crispier and brighter with less degradation.

An active bass comes with EQ controls. This gives you a lot more options when it comes to boosting and cutting frequencies. The different pre-amps can have a different amount of controls.

What all this means for us is that the signal is boosted. You need to make sure you either use the controls on the bass or use a pad. The pad that is used with active bass in order to control and reduce the input signal to the amp.

You have to use the volume controls on the bass. Otherwise, you are risking damaging the guitar speakers.

Difference Between a Guitar Amp and Bass Amp

Amps work the same way.

In terms of construction, they are very similar and function exactly the same. That’s why you will not damage or break the guitar amp by merely plugging a bass guitar into it.

The main differences between a guitar amp and a bass amp are the power output, the speaker’s size.

Difference in the Speaker Size

Bass amps usually have larger speakers. The reason for that is a larger speaker is more suitable for producing those deep low-end frequencies.

These frequencies require more movement, and you will see that the cone’s movement is significantly more prominent.

On the other hand, a guitar speaker is generally smaller in size. They are not designed for so much movement.

The guitar amps have thinner and smaller speakers that might not be able to handle the dynamic range a bass guitar can produce at medium to high volumes.

If you crank the volume too high, then it will result in unpleasant audio fidelity, rattling, and can potentially even blow out your speakers.

This is one of the main reasons why mid or high volumes should be avoided when using a guitar amp with a bass guitar.

Difference in Power Output

The next major difference is the power output or wattage.

Bass amplifiers usually have a higher power output. They can come anywhere from 100 to 500 watts and more (with some exceptions, of course).

Bass amps do have the regular controls like – volume, mids, highs, lows, some can have gain, and contour control. However, they usually don’t have distortion and reverb.

Guitar amps, on the other hand, have smaller and more vibrant speakers – they can better handle the higher range crisper sounds and are generally are less wattage which can be anywhere from 50 to 150 watts.

Does Type of Amp Matter?

Maybe you are wondering is there a difference between a guitar tube amp and a solid state amp?

Although theoretically a guitar tube amp and a solid-state guitar amp should produce the same sounds, in reality, you will be able to notice a difference. Things can get confusing as there are also the hybrid amps that are a mixture between the two.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of the three? Let’s take a look:

Solid State Amps

They use solid-state electronics as a way to amplify the input signal.

Solid-state amps are considered more sturdy, durable, and reliable.

They are also louder and with better response time due to the way they are built. Unfortunately, all these seem to come at a cost – a lot of people are finding them sounding cold compared to a tube amp.

Tube (valve) amps

Tube amps are usually more expensive than the solid state amps. Not just that but the maintenance and the eventual replacements of the tubes is going to cost you some money. So generally speaking you might want to avoid using a guitar tube amp with bass as you might just damage it.

Comparing the sound of the tube amps and the solid state amp you will find that tube amps produce a much warmer and musical tonality, and better sounding musical distortion.

Hybrid amps

They are an interesting mixture between the other two.

They are more expensive but are built with the idea of providing you with the fantastic and distinguishable tube sound and the reliability and of the digital (solid state) amp.

Should You Use Your Guitar Amp to Play Bass?

You are not going to destroy your guitar amp by using it with your bass. You have, however, to make sure that the amp is matched to the speaker and don’t push the speakers too much.

Some of the best bass sounds have been made with guitar amplifiers; of course, they were high wattage ones like the Marshal 100 W.

However, an important disclaimer needs to be placed here as you are limited in a way what you can do so that you do not permanently damage your amp’s speakers.

When you are safe to use a guitar amp with a bass:

  • On low volume.
  • With a passive bass guitar.
  • With an active guitar with reduced output.
  • For casual noodling and practicing and building up skills.
  • For casual and practice recording.

When you are NOT safe to use a guitar amp with a bass:

  • On mid to high volume.
  • With an active bass guitar.
  • With tube amps.
  • For your main gigs on stage volumes
  • With expensive amps.

Do You Need to Buy a Bass Amp for a Bass Guitar?

So, if you want to learn how to play bass, do you really need to buy a dedicated bass amp?

Well, if you already have access to regular guitar amps, then you do not need to buy a new bass amp.

It is perfectly acceptable to use the guitar amp that you already have to play bass.

Just keep in mind that the sound quality may not be optimal.

You’ll also need to keep the volume pretty low to avoid blowing out the speakers in your guitar amp.

If you’re primarily a guitar player and only want to play occasionally, then I would recommend just using your guitar amp rather than buying a new dedicated bass amp. It’s perfectly fine to use it as a practice amp.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to become a more serious bass player and need an amp for live performances, then you should definitely consider a dedicated bass amp.

Bass amps have larger speakers and are specifically meant to output the lower frequencies that the bass guitar produces.

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Guitar Amp for Bass