Sure, you’ll see a bunch of jokes about bass being an irrelevant instrument. However, there’s no real party without a good bassist and a proper bass tone. Of course, we all know about the amps that are designed especially for bass guitars. But at the same time, many beginner or intermediate musicians might wonder – can you use a guitar amp for a bass?
The discussion might not be that simple, so it’s important to clear things up. In this brief guide, we’ll be looking into the matter and explaining how these things work.
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Can You Use A Guitar Amp For A Bass?
Quick answer: Yes. You can play a bass through a guitar amp. But be careful with the volume, because playing really loud with bass can hurt your speakers. Also, I would not recommend playing bass through a tube amp.
Can You Plug A Bass Into a Guitar Amp?
If you want a simple answer – yes, you can plug a bass into a regular guitar amp. After all, they have the same inputs, right? All you need is an instrument cable! But there are things to consider here. First, let’s look into the differences between guitar and bass amps.
How to Tell A Bass Amp From A Guitar Amp?
One of the main distinctions comes down to how these amplifiers are “voiced.” Regular guitar amplifiers are designed to bring out the frequencies in the mid part of the audible spectrum.
Both their circuitry and their speakers are more focused on pronouncing certain areas between 1.5 kHz and 3 kHz. Depending on the amp, we can also notice a boost between 200 Hz and 1 kHz.
Other than that, the main focus is on the mids and the upper midrange.
Meanwhile, the sub-bass and bass parts – from 20 to 200 Hz – are almost non-existent. The higher end of the spectrum, anything above the 3 or 4 kHz mark, is also barely noticeable. Although this seems like a potentially dull sound, it works like a charm with electric guitar pickups and cuts through the mix more easily.
Meanwhile, bass guitar amps focus on the sub-bass and bass frequencies, usually from 40 Hz and up to 200 or 250 Hz. In some cases, they go as low as 20 Hz, which is the part of the spectrum that you may not hear but feel with your gut. Their overall response is usually a bit flatter compared to regular guitar amps.
Physical differences are also noticeable, with bass amps and cabinets being significantly larger. At the same time, their wattage is different, where bass amps need to “compensate” by adding more power. They usually have 150 watts or more, whereas guitar amps rarely go over 100 or 150-watt mark.
Will A Bass Ruin A Guitar Amp?
You can plug in your bass into a guitar amp without making any physical damages. Basses and guitars both have 1/4-inch cable jacks. However, their pickups and frequencies that they pronounce are completely different. For instance, the low E note in the standard bass tuning is at 41 Hz. Although bass pickups can pick up this note, the regular guitar amp cannot reproduce it so well.
But the main problem is that these low frequencies can be harmful to guitar amp speakers. You can get bass going through a guitar amp, but having those bass and sub-bass frequencies pushing through the speakers can potentially damage them.
If you keep the volume at a low level and don’t push the speakers, then it won’t be much of a deal. However, when you push the volume up, you’ll notice distortion in the tone. And not the good kind. This distortion does not occur in the circuitry but rather in the speaker itself.
Since it’s not 1964 anymore and you’re not Dave Davies trying to record The Kinks’ legendary hit “You Really Got Me” through a damaged amp, we’d advise you not to do this. Unless you are eager to ruin your amp.
Is it Safe to Play a Bass Through A Guitar Amp?
As far as safety goes, you don’t need to worry. Your amp won’t blow up if you play a bass through it. Guitar amp’s speaker might suffer if you play too loud. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll probably blow a fuse. Other than that, you’ll be fine.
How Does it Sound?
But if you’re interested in how it sounds, we can describe the tone without you ruining any guitar amps. Since guitar amplifiers are focused on the mid-range, this will impact the tone of your bass guitar. In some way, your bass will sound like a downtuned guitar, although it will lack some definition. You won’t get the deep-end “oomph” that bass guitars usually have, and the high ends will be cut as well.
From the point of bass guitars and their conventional function in bands and orchestras, this kind of tone wouldn’t do so well. It’s not bad, it certainly gets an interesting flavor and kind of turns a bass into a lead instrument. However, it will lack both the power in the bass and sub-bass frequencies, as well as some brightness and clarity in the high end.
For a lead instrument, that can be a good thing. But for the standard bass purposes, it won’t work well. To be fair, it’s a better option to go directly through a PA system rather than a guitar amp if you have no other options.
Hear how a bass guitar sounds when it’s played through a guitar amp:
Using Active vs Passive Pickup Bass With A Guitar Amp
Active pickups also come with a preamp within the bass. As a result, the tone gets “hotter” and players can even boost or cut certain frequencies. The best way to describe the tone of bass with active pickups is that it’s more “aggressive,” “sharp,” and “snappy.” It can even add more distortion.
This presents an issue if you plug it into a guitar amp. In short, active bass pickups can potentially harm your speakers more than passive ones. If you’re going with active pickups or active electronics, keep your instrument’s volume at a lower level and adjust your bass’ EQ so that you don’t push bottom-end frequencies too hard.
Can You Play Bass With A Solid-State Guitar Amp?
If you really don’t have any other option at the given moment, playing your bass with a solid-state guitar amp is a “safer” option. In fact, there are some “universal” solid-state amps that work with basses, guitars, acoustic-electric guitars, and even microphones. Such is the case with Yamaha’s THR10II or Line 6’s mind-blowingly powerful Firehawk 1500.
What’s more, these amps are not that sensitive, and there’s less chance that you’ll actually do serious harm to them. On the other hand, we’d rather advise you to use cheaper practice amps for this. For instance, an amp like Rolan Jazz Chorus JC-120 is more delicate and costs about $1,000. You don’t want to risk it with such an expensive piece. Instead, take a cheap Fender Frontman.
Can You Play Bass With A Tube-Amp?
Playing bass guitar with a regular tube-driven guitar amp is riskier. Aside from speakers, you can potentially damage the tubes and the amp itself. Yes, you can get that very tight and aggressive distorted tone, but pushing it anywhere above the minimum is pretty risky.
These amplifiers use vacuum tubes to process the signal. However, they’re pretty and can easily get ruined with a bass guitar signal going through them. After all, these are complex components that should be handled with care, even in normal settings. And when a tube goes bad, your amp can suffer. The consequences can be pretty expensive.
Of course, there are tube-driven bass amplifiers, but their circuitry is designed to work with those lower frequencies. They’re not as common as tube-driven amps for regular guitars, but they bring out some of the similar qualities in the tone, including warmth and slightly more pronounced low mids and mids.
Do You Need A Bass Amp For Bass Guitar?
Again, if you want a simple answer, then yes – you need a bass amp for any bass guitar.
As we already pointed out, bass amps have a frequency response that works well with bass pickups and thick bass strings. They pronounce these parts of the spectrum that are necessary for the conventional band settings.
Using a guitar amplifier for a bass guitar is experimental. Technically, everything is allowed in music if you’re getting your message across. But it still doesn’t make your bass sound like it was intended to sound.
However, what’s interesting about bass guitars is that they can also go directly into a PA system or even Hi-Fi devices like home stereos, and still pronounce some of their main tonal characteristics.
This is especially the case with basses that have active electronics since they feature an onboard preamp, an EQ, and other tone-shaping options. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works much better than plugging into a guitar amplifier.
Other alternatives also include bass preamps (pedals or any other format) and multi-effect digital modeling amp units. These can go directly into PA systems or Hi-Fi devices and still manage to make your tone sound as if it was going through an actual bass guitar amp.
Can You Play Guitar Through A Bass Amp
But let’s turn things around and see whether we can do the opposite. Can regular electric guitars go into bass amps?
Well, guitars and basses work on the same principles. You have magnetic or piezo pickups converting string vibration into an electrical signal. The signal is then processed by an amplifier and reproduced through its speaker or multiple speakers.
Plugging a regular 6-string guitar into a bass amplifier will produce the tone. The same goes for PA systems, studio setups, and even home stereos.
However, the tone itself won’t sound the way it was originally intended. Guitar amplifiers pronounce midrange of the audible spectrum, which is exactly what we love about them. If you were to plug it into a bass amp, they’d just sound too muffled or “scooped,” with the mid-range not cutting enough through the speakers.
But contrary to basses going into guitar amps, there’s significantly less chance to do any harm to a bass amplifier if you’re playing a regular guitar through it. In fact, one of the most famous guitar amplifier series, Fender’s Bassman, was originally intended for bass guitars. But as it turned out, it gave a very smooth yet powerful tone when paired with guitars, and both the musicians and the audience loved it.
Acoustic-electric guitars can be plugged into PA systems or specialized amplifiers. However, they actually work pretty well when plugged into bass guitar amps. In fact, this is a better option than to use them with electric guitar amps that would just make acoustic-electric guitars sound dull.
Bass amps can come in handy for some electronic instruments, including keyboards if there’s no available keyboard amp or a PA system to plug them into.
Hear how a guitar sounds when it’s plugged into a bass amp:
At the end of the day, you’re free to experiment and try things that suit your visions of music. However, there’s more to it than just artistic expression, as you also need to be careful of keeping your (or anyone else’s) equipment safe.
Yes, you can plug a bass into a guitar amplifier, but that comes with risks. If you really love how basses sound through guitar amps, then at least try using solid-state amplifiers at a lower volume level.
Also, make sure to dial in the right tone and to cut off some of the excessive low-end with the EQ parameters. Tube-driven guitars amps are a much riskier game and I would not recommend it.
Again, this is for those who love experimenting with their music. Also, you need to bear in mind that you’ll be doing this at your own risk.
I hope that this post was helpful. If you have any questions, leave a comment down below and feel free to share this post too.
Keep yourself safe and rocking!