Musicians have their favorite ways of doing things. With that in mind, a question like playing a bass through a guitar amp is going to yield a ton of different answers. There are some major concerns, of course.
Can you play bass through a guitar amp? It is not recommended. Sure, it’s possible, but there are a few things that go into the configuration of an amp that falter when used improperly.
We’ll go over the basic differences between guitar and bass amps, as well as the guitar and bass output systems, to really look into whether or not you can play bass through a guitar amp. First, let’s talk amps so we have a groundwork for what informs the answer to this question.
How Amps Work
Knowing how an amp works is an invaluable skill.
Made up of fairly simple electronic parts, the configuration of a guitar or bass amp is straightforward. Once you know the ways in which the parts work together, you can likely fix issues with amps you might come across, making it a fun, engaging hobby.
At their most basic level, a guitar or bass amp is going to use pickups on the instrument to convert magnetic energy from string vibrations into voltage. Voltage is electrical energy, which can be made louder, as well as distorted and toned thanks to various effects. In the early days, the pickups were making noise that was being produced slightly louder. Now, boxed amplifiers exist to heighten the voltage into louder, stronger audio.
Leo Fender (yes, that Fender) went onto create boxed amplifiers that could tone and reverberate the voltage to new heights. As the boxed amplifier model continued to expand, more features were added on including built in effects and other ways to change the sound output of the instrument.
For our purposes, the toning part of an amp is the most important feature that signifies what to use with a guitar or bass.
Tone is Everything
Amplifiers created by different brands are a little different from one another. Variations on the way in which the amp tones the instrument make it possible for various outputs to occur. The amp is largely going to dictate the sound.
Of course, better pickups and instrument configuration contribute to better sound as well. A $200 bass is going to sound much worse on the same amp as a $2000 bass. But, an amp has a lot to do with sound, so much so that each type of amp is designed to be focused on a specific quality and type of tone.
Tone comes from the tone stack, a basic circuit made up of controls on the front of the amplifier’s case. Many tone stacks are 2-3 knobs, affecting the amp’s EQ and output of specific values of voltage.
Bigger amps could easily make up 7+ knobs. These can include volume, treble, middle, bass, and other specific output levels that you might want to play with to get a specific sound. Amps also often have circuits for effects like reverb, delay, chorus, and overdrive. Specific brands have patented presets that output sounds like “Rockstar”, “Blues”, and other sounds that would be familiar to musicians.
Because tone and amp configuration are so closely tied together, it’s not ideal to use a bass on a guitar amp. Guitar amps are not built for the lows that come from a bass, and while they may make sound come out, they won’t be the right tones you’d want from a bass. In fact, the heavy output of low tones a bass produces can damage the speaker and membrane of a guitar amp.
Whether you’re playing a 4 string, or looking to learn 5 string bass, a bass specific amp is the best way to get the most tone and weight out of your instrument. A guitar amp just can’t offer those lower registers, and while they’ll be audible, they’ll distort the lower you go down the fretboard.
Furthermore, a lot of bass players love playing with pedals and effects, just like a guitarist. It’s difficult to reach the distorted, pitched tones of a bass with effects pedals when the sound is not coming from an amp made to do so.
There are a lot of great bass pedals, and more and more bassists are using them to stand out rather than just keep rhythm. There are a lot of great ways to keep a bass featured throughout a song, and tones are a big part of that. A chorus pedal, for example, can help a busy bass line stay under lyrics and guitar parts, but still stand out without having to search for it.
Likewise, there are a lot of bassists who look to really lay down a rhythm that solidifies the tempo and style of the song. Doing so through a guitar amp kills the tone necessary to guide the band.
Common Amp Configurations
When it comes to bass amps, there are two popular configurations that make up the inside of the amplifier.
Solid State Bass Amplifiers
Solid state amps are arguably the most common amps on the market. Solid state amplifiers are used for both guitars and basses.
The solid state name comes from their transistors for preamp and power sections. The configuration means that they rarely need a ton of repairs and make up a majority of amps that musicians use. They’re reliable and offer a great, sturdy way to amplify the bass for shows and practice. They also offer a great clean sound, although some do include distortion options.
Any amp that is on the cheaper end of the spectrum is likely going to be a solid state amp, as are most practice amps.
Tube Bass Amplifier
If you want to take your bass playing up a notch, a tube amp is a more expensive, yet higher quality experience. With a natural warmth to their tone, the fat and organic distortion that comes from a tube amp is hard to mimic on a solid state bass amplifier.
Tube amps are louder thanks to the tube configuration inside the cabinet and separate channels for clean and distorted tones. Tubes do wear out overtime, however, so they do need occasional work and maintenance.
Which Amp Type is Best?
Depending on the price you have to spend on an amp, a tube amp is seen largely as a more quality piece of audio equipment. However, the reliability of a solid state amp and its price tag make the option preferable.
If you are in a band, you do not necessarily need a tube amp for great quality. Start off with some higher end solid state amps and get the most out of the top brands like Fender, Orange Crush, and Ampeg that thrive on high quality solid state bass amps. When and if you decide it’s time to go to the next level, a tube amp is great.
On the distinctive sounds of a fretless bass, the combo is out of this world. If you’re still practicing or just playing minor shows, a solid state amp is going to be best. Likewise, parents who have a kid learning to play bass are going to want to go with a solid state amplifier until the new musician gets more serious about the practice.
Recommended Bass Amps
Because amplifiers specifically made for a bass are what we’re suggesting, we might as well give you some options to choose from! If you are a gigging bassist, make sure to check out our article on bass amps for gigging.
Fender Rumble 200 v3 Bass Combo Amplifier
For bassists everywhere at all levels, the Fender line of Rumble bass combos are re-engineered to be astoundingly compact, portable and lightweight, with seismic Fender bass tone and stage-worthy features.
As mentioned above, Fender revolutionized music with the original box amplifier. Get some history with this stylish Rumble 200 v3 combo. The amp pumps 200 watts of pure Fender bass tone, allowing for a good range of practice volume as well as small shows.
This amp includes many pro features such as XLR output, an effects loop, horn defeat, additional 8 ohm speaker output, an overdrive circuit, and a 15" speaker.
Orange Crush Bass 50W Bass Guitar Combo Amp
From warm modern cleans, through to vintage grind and all the way up to full-on distorted mayhem, the Crush Bass 50 combines the essentials of a practice rig with tone and features normally reserved for the pros.
The Crush Bass 50 draws inspiration flagship Orange Crush models from over the years.
Search Amazon, and you’ll find a lot of bass players love their amps for their bold and brass lows, as well as clean highs. The 50 Watt model delivers great sound range courtesy of its analogue circuitry and ported cabinetry. The extremely flexible active EQ section includes a sweepable parametric mid band, allowing players to shape their signature sound without limitations. For even more versatility, the interactive Gain and Blend controls are primed for creating enormous ‘bi-amped’-style tones with ease, adding extra harmonics and variable levels of grit to the core bass tone.
It’s a favorite of bass players for a reason, and a great option to choose from.
There are a lot of players who will say you can play a bass through a guitar amp, but should you is the important question.
While the configuration of a guitar amp can handle an output through a bass, that does not make it ideal. The crunch and pickups on the bass can actually damage the guitar amp. Likewise, you won’t get the same deep, crunchy tones you do with a bass amp.Long story short, make the effort to grab a bass-specific amp for your bass. The above Amazon options are choice selections for value and quality, so browse those, and keep reading up on bass guitar info, tips, and tricks on BassGuitarGuide for everything you need to know about the instrument.