Can You Play Bass With a Guitar Amp?

A guitar amp is not designed for the low frequencies that are produced by a bass guitar. The result will be a compromised sound overall that might not even sound like you’re playing bass. You can also damage your guitar speaker if you’re not careful.

This is a really common question in the world of music but it has some mixed signals regarding the answer. Some would say that it’s fine to use a guitar amp to play your bass, while others will advise you to be cautious and hold back.

To understand this from a factual point of view, we’ll need to go over some of the key differences between a guitar amp and a bass amp first.

Differences Between a Guitar Amp and a Bass Amp

Frequency Range

The first difference between a bass amp and a guitar amp is the frequency range. A bass guitar amp is specifically designed to withstand the low frequencies that are produced by the bass as well as their execution. A guitar amp simply falls short in this department because it’s not meant to be used for a bass guitar.

To explain this more simply, when you play bass on a bass amp, you can simply feel the power of those low frequencies as they emanate from the amp. It’s almost like they’re shifting the air as they break through from the amp. On the other hand, the same cannot be said for the guitar amp, as those low frequencies will not pack the same punch as they would on a bass amplifier.

Speaker Size

The second and obvious difference is the speaker size. Guitar amps usually come with a much smaller speaker that is considered within normal range, whereas a bass guitar amplifier has a much larger speaker when it’s within the normal range.

The difference here is that guitar amp speakers usually have their own EQ settings which are set within the range of sounds that complement a normal electric guitar. The regular size for a guitar amp speaker is somewhere from 8 to 12 inches, whereas a bass amplifier would normally have 10 to 15-inch speakers.

This is because the bass produces lower frequencies than the guitar and the speaker provides it with the low-end power output that it requires. The lowest frequency that is picked up by a guitar amp is somewhere around 80 Hz but a bass amp can pick up frequencies around 20 Hz.

Power Output

The key difference to keep in mind is the power output between the two amps. Bass amplifiers are designed to withstand more power being produced than the regular guitar amp.

The reason why this is so important to keep in mind is that there is a potential risk of damaging the guitar amp’s speaker when playing bass on it.

If you plug in a bass guitar and turn up the volume, it’s possible that the low frequencies will harm the speaker of your guitar amplifier, which was not designed to bear the weight of such a low-end sound.

How Does a Bass Sound on a Guitar Amp?

As you can tell by now, the sound of the bass when plugged in through a guitar amp will not be as you would expect. The result will be a more shallow-sounding bass because of the missing low frequencies on the guitar amplifier or even something that doesn’t even sound like a bass guitar.

The sound will have a lot less clarity and will nowhere near be the quality produced from a bass amplifier. As mentioned previously, the guitar amp is simply not designed to accommodate the sound of a bass guitar, resulting in a muddy and unclear sound.

There is a way to modify this so that you can get at least a decent sound as a way of tweaking the EQ on the guitar amp, to get to some kind of middle ground where the bass doesn’t sound totally awful.

My advice would simply be to use a guitar amp only for practicing purposes if you don’t already have a bass amp. That way you can play with a more conservative volume level without the risk of damaging the speaker while having a reasonable sound coming out of the amp.

Safety Concerns While Using a Bass on a Guitar Amp

The main safety concern in this situation is potential speaker damage. As mentioned before, the guitar amp is not specifically designed to withstand the sounds produced by a bass guitar.

Because the guitar amp is not designed for this purpose, the result will be potential distortion occurring which is caused by the low frequencies passing a certain point where the guitar amp can no longer handle it.

In addition to a compromised sound, there is a potential risk for damaging the components which are within the guitar amp. Think of it like this, you’re putting more pressure and more stress on the amp that is necessary which is why the normal reaction of the amp would be to break down over time.

How to Minimize Safety Risks

The way to avoid certain risks coming up is to simply take it easy on the volume. You can play it at a reasonable volume so as to not put extra stress on the amplifier.

Another thing would be to lower the treble equalizer on the amp as well as increase the bass equalizer so I can somewhat hold the pressure and not be overwhelmed.

One more thing would be not to use any pedals or effects while playing on a guitar amp as a way to minimize safety risks even more, for which the guitar amp will thank you if it could.

You just have to be mindful in this situation and play bass on a guitar amp strictly for practicing purposes with a reasonable volume, that way you avoid anything critical happening to the amp.

How Pickups Affect a Guitar Amp?

The pickups on the bass guitar can actually make a difference in a situation as a way of being safer and not putting too much weight on the guitar amp. Whether you’re using a passive or an active bass guitar, it’s really important that you know the effect that it would have on the guitar amp.

The safer way to go would definitely be with a passive bass guitar. In terms of safety, the passive guitar does not overwhelm the amp as much as the active bass guitar. As long as you modify the bass frequencies as well as the treble frequencies you should be in the clear and not have the potential risk of damaging your guitar amp.

An active bass guitar, on the other hand, uses a pre-amp which means that it packs a lot more power. This results in a boosted signal that can overwhelm the guitar amp quite a lot. So, you should be mindful as to not go overboard and crank up the volume. You should keep it at a reasonable range because otherwise, you’re writing checks that the amp can’t cash.

Guitar Amps That Support a Bass Guitar

Putting aside all the things that are mentioned before, there are options that you can consider. If you want to play bass on a guitar, there are amps out there that actually support the bass guitar and produce a solid decent-sounding bass sound.

They’re called combined amps or a more modern term would be – hybrid amps. They are designed to support the input of both the bass and the guitar as well as provide a good quality sound overall.

A good example for a decent hybrid amp would be the Roland CUBE Street EX 4-Channel 50-Watt.

Roland Cube Street EX
A very decent and popular hybrid amp
It's a 4-channel amp with a 50-Watt power that supports an electric guitar and the bass guitar, as well as connecting a microphone or other audio devices. It's considered a reasonably affordable amp considering it supports both a bass guitar and an electric guitar.
View Price at SweetwaterView Price at Amazon

Summary

The overall answer to the question is YES. You can use a guitar amp for your bass, you just have to be careful not to put a lot of stress on the amp to prevent certain safety risks.

The significant factors that affect the sound of a bass guitar when played through a guitar amp are frequency, speaker size, and power output.

Playing the bass on a regular guitar amp results in a muddy and unclear sound due to the low frequencies not being produced properly. With a little tweaking of the EQ, it is possible to get a decent sound out of the guitar amp for practicing purposes.

If you want the best sound, you should always use a bass guitar amplifier.

Milan Trajkovikj is a touring and recording bass guitarist who loves to share his passion for all things music.

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