If you’re a guitarist, chances are you’ve wanted to learn how to play the bass as well; the instruments lend to each other and are very similar indeed.
Or maybe you’re a bassist stuck without a bass amp to plug into at a jam pad. In either case, you may wonder whether your average run-of-the-mill electric guitar amp would work for your bass, and we’re here to answer just that question!
In this article, we’ll answer whether you can plug your bass into a guitar amp and, if you do, how you should go about it. Read on to find out more.
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How Are Bass Amps Different From Normal Amps?
To start with, basses and electric guitars produce sound at different frequencies. Their amps are differently structured to deal with this difference; to be more specific, the engineering of the speakers in the two amps is distinct.
The speakers in bass amps are usually oversized and vibrate at a higher amplitude to deal with the lower frequencies that bass guitars produce. This is probably why you see bass amps are much larger than standard amps.
The power output in the two amps is also very different. Whereas typical amplifiers range from 50 to 150 watts, the standard bass guitar amplifier has an output of 300-450 watts. This is also to produce a louder and clearer sound at the low frequencies that the bass will produce.
Despite the playing of the two guitars being quite similar, their amplifiers, as you see now, are very different indeed. It’s why bass amplifiers exist in the first place and why this is a frequently asked question.
Even though small practice bass amps use smaller speakers of about 8 inches in diameter, their speakers are wired to drive the sound differently from those in guitar amps. Their speakers have to move a vast distance to cover low frequencies, which is not built into the design of guitar amps.
How To Identify A Bass Amp From A Guitar Amp?
One technical detail separating bass amps from guitar amps is that most bass amps will have the letter “B” somewhere in the model’s name. The case of the amp will also include the word “bass” somewhere.
Bass amps usually have fewer knobs than guitar amps and can only control EQ and volume. This is because most players playing bass at a gig will have an active pickup bass, which comes with pre-amp and EQ controls of its own. We talk more about active pickup basses below.
When comparing bass amps and guitar amps, the difference will likely be glaringly obvious. Bass amps often pack massive speakers, while guitar amps use a maximum of 12-inch speakers. This is why bass amps also look taller than guitar amps.
Even with a smaller size, guitar amps have a more comprehensive range of controls, including multiple channels with customizable sound options. This difference in the number of knobs is also an indicator of the difference between the two.
Why Would Anyone Try To Plug a Bass Into a Guitar Amp?
As mentioned in the introduction, there could be several reasons why you might want to use a regular amp instead of a bass amp. Maybe you just want to practice your bass and don’t intend to play it full time just yet. Or perhaps you’re a bassist in a pinch.
Bass amps are often a little more expensive than low-end electric guitar amps, and it’s reasonable not to have one around.
Before we tell you what to do when you plug your bass into a guitar amp, we have to tell you this – even a cheap bass amp will work much better than an expensive guitar amp when used with a bass.
Besides immediate destruction, plugging a bass into a guitar amp, no matter how low you may keep your volume and how you change your EQ values, can leave lasting damage to internal components. This may hit you in the long run and damage the amp entirely.
There’s a reason why bass amps and guitar amps are not structured the same, and the same logic will explain why your bass will sound so different when plugged into the ‘wrong’ amp.
Bass amps will give you a much better payoff in the long run and help you understand what tone to use best for your instrument and the particular track. They are bound to last you much longer when combined with your bass. Not to mention, they will produce the sound that you and your audience want to hear.
So, Can You Plug A Bass Guitar Into A Guitar Amp?
Long story short, yes. But you should think about it and use a guitar amp only when necessary.
As mentioned before, guitar amps and bass amps are inherently different and optimized for use by those particular instruments. If you’re expecting to plug your bass into a guitar amp and have it sound top-notch, that won’t happen.
Bass guitarists utilize techniques such as slapping, which cause persistent and instant changes in the instrument’s volume. Before you connect your bass to your guitar amp, keep this in mind: no matter how you may change or try to control your amp volume, you are likely going to use playing techniques that will switch up the gain instantaneously.
For starters, if you’re a beginner with your bass and don’t want to invest in a bass amp just yet, a guitar amp should work fine. You will have to ensure that you’re practicing at a low volume.
What Guitar Amp Size Should You Use?
Amp size also determines whether you’ll be able to play. A tiny amp simply won’t have the sort of speakers to support a bass output. Sure, you can try playing at a low volume, but you always run the risk of frying your amplifier circuit or harming your speakers.
A mid-size amp might have the same size of speakers that a small bass amp would have. It would work fine as a practice amp, but you have to remember that it will never be wired the same as a bass amp. You will have to keep your volume low and adjust the bass knob on your instrument to keep speaker vibration to a minimum.
Experiment with the equalizer on your amp. Keep the gain on your amp and the master volume on your bass low, and you should end up with a cleaner sound devoid of crackles and distortion. If your amp has EQ knobs for bass, mid-range, and treble, check those too.
You will want to keep your bass level high and your mid-range and treble output low for a sound that best emulates a bass amp. Otherwise, you risk having an unclean, muddy sound, as well as a damaged amp.
Remember, bass amps are created to help amplify the low-range frequencies of a bass guitar and the higher frequencies. A guitar amp will be unable to fulfill this job; increasing the output for higher frequencies on your bass on a guitar amp will only damage the speaker in your guitar amp.
Can You Use An Active Bass Pickup With A Guitar Amp?
Never use an active pickup bass with a guitar amp. Active pickup basses have EQ controls and come with a pre-amp installed to make their tone richer. This pre-amp is powered by a 9-volt battery, and active pickup basses, as a result, are louder.
Try restricting usage of your guitar amp to a passive pickup bass. If you must use an active pickup bass, reduce output on your amp and bass accordingly, and make changes to your bass EQ to minimize any damage done to the amp speaker.
To summarize – you will have to make sure that the output of your guitar amp is not too loud and that the mid-range and high-range frequencies of your amp output are low. Use a guitar amp for your bass only if you can fulfill these conditions.
Which Amps Can You Use For Your Bass?
The ideal amp to be used in a situation like this is a hybrid amp. Hybrid amps work with both bass and standard guitars and are therefore more expensive. They give you a fantastic tube sound with the reliability of the solid-state build. A good example is the Orange Micro Terror MT20 20W Hybrid Guitar Amp Head.
When you plug your guitar into a hybrid amp, you can select presets for your guitar. The same goes for your bass. This type of amp is ideal for at-home practice if you’re using both bass and an electric guitar, but it won’t suit stage gigs.
Stage gigs would require your bass to be plugged into either a dedicated bass amp or the direct input that’s already available.
Solid-State Or Tube Amp?
If you absolutely must use a standard amp, make sure your amp is a high-powered solid-state guitar amp and not a tube or valve amp. Valve amps are, by nature, more delicate. They provide incredible sound, but their build is not made to support a bass input.
Solid-state amps are more durable by the build. Finding a solid-state amp with the tone and sound of a valve amp will make playing more enjoyable, not just for your bass but also for your guitar.
Ensuring that your amp is high-powered is a step towards emulating bass amps. As mentioned before, bass amps use more power than standard amps, which go into helping the speaker play those really low-frequency notes.
A high-powered amp will ensure that you do not damage your speaker with your bass and produce a smoother, richer sound.
Plugging Your Bass Into A Computer
Another easy way to play bass without owning a bass amp is by plugging it into your computer. The easiest and most popular way to do this is through an audio interface, and these come in all budget ranges. Focusrite, Audient, and Universal Audio are all popular manufacturers.
To use your computer as an amp, you will need software that models a bass amp. You can use programs such as AmpliTube, Guitar Rig, Positive Grid’s BIAS FX 2, or Neural DSP, as these are perfect for the job. These programs do everything an amp does, only digitally.
These programs often have pedal plugins and work as efficiently as an amp, providing you the ease of using a hybrid amp at a fraction of the price. They also come in handy if you’re lost without an amp at a gig since you can connect your computer to the Direct Input at the venue.
To use your computer as an amp for your guitar, you have to ensure two things: your audio interface must use a high impedance or Hi-Z input, and your output and monitor speakers must be able to handle low frequencies with ease.
High impedance, often called 70V, is ideal for longer cable lines with more speakers per line. Since the output you require for bass is much higher than that for a standard guitar, using high impedance will ensure louder sound at the low range of your bass without needing more speakers or amplifiers in this case.
High impedance input for your interface will save your speakers from damage since it is built to handle more power through the output. This also emulates the input of a normal bass amp.
So, Do You Need a Bass Amp?
While this article might lead you to believe you don't, you actually do. Having a bass amp is vital to preserving the tone and sound of your bass and making sure that you don’t fry through your guitar amps every time you have a gig.
As we said before, even the cheapest bass amp will give you more mileage on your bass than the most expensive guitar amp. Having a hybrid amp around might suit you best if you’re both a bassist and a guitarist.
Even if you’re just practicing your bass on your guitar amp, the steady overload of the internal system builds up over time and damages your amp before you know it.
Only plug your bass into a guitar amp if it is your last resort. If you’re at a gig and have an audio interface and a computer available, that would be your best choice.
The combination provides commendable control over the sound you want, and your program of choice can add as many pedals as you need to give you the sound you want. This may sometimes be unavailable to you without a computer.
A guitar amp is simply not built to handle bass input. However, you might find that the higher notes on your bass ring clearer on a guitar amp since the guitar amp is made to play frequencies that correspond to the higher notes on a guitar. If you’re playing with a guitar amp, this should give you an incentive to take it easy with the lower notes on your bass.
Keep a bass amp handy if you’re a bassist. Only resort to guitar amps when you have absolutely nothing else available. If you must practice, it might even be better to practice unplugged than to risk your guitar amp.
How To Use A Guitar Amp For Bass, Final Thoughts
Using a guitar amp for bass is not unheard of, and people have definitely done it before. It is certainly not recommended, though.
Not only are you going to fry your amplifier, but you’re also going to compromise on the sound that the bass amp could deliver.
Keep a hybrid amp around, look for an audio interface and a computer, or maybe even connect your bass to the Direct Input for your stage if you must. Only use your guitar amp for your bass if you’re content with knowing it will be damaged or if you have no other choice.