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Are guitar and bass amps interchangeable?
What frequencies are guitar and bass amps made to amplify?
We look at the differences between guitar and bass amps
Picking the perfect amp for your setup can be a huge undertaking, but knowing the differences between types of amps is another matter entirely. Given the sheer number of different amplifiers, it can be overwhelming.
Fender's Bassman 410 4x10 Neo bass speaker cabinet delivers the full, tight and punchy bass sound you'd expect from a 4x10" enclosure, and does it with sparkling vintage Fender looks and a remarkably lightweight design.
But for most players, they stick to their respective territory. The last thing you want to do is blow your speaker or end up with a sub-par tone.
What Are The Differences Between Guitar & Bass Amps?
The main differences between guitar and bass amps are their output power and wattage, speaker size, and frequency response.
Even though guitar and bass seem similar enough, their frequencies are very different. They take up different spaces in the sonic realm, and their amps are built to amplify those frequencies. Let’s look at why these two amps are not interchangeable below.
Taking A Closer Look At The Differences
The differences between a guitar and bass amp can be subtle to new players because they both have the same standard instrument cable inputs.
Many players think that since they accept the same cable and seem close enough tonally that they must work the same way.
Remember: just because a cable fits into a ¼” jack doesn’t mean that it’s meant to go there.
Guitar and bass may use the same cables to send a signal to an amplifier, but that doesn’t mean the amplifier is going to boost the same frequencies. Simply put, it’s not designed to do that.
To better explain how this works, we’ll dig into the major differences and break down how they apply to your rig.
Wattage and Power
One of the crucial differences in guitar and bass amps is the wattage. In general, bass amps require much more wattage than a tube guitar amp, and in turn, it changes their speaker configuration.
Even though guitar amps have survived almost a century of upgrades and changes, their basic design remains the same.
Even their components feel like relics of a forgotten era. In contrast, bass amps have gone an entirely different route.
Most professional guitar players prefer tube amps, meaning that their signal is amplified using vacuum tubes. Surprisingly, this is the same as the first guitar amplifiers ever made.
For that reason, most guitar amps run at 15-100 watts, with 100 watts being basically as high as tube guitar amps can reasonably go.
Even though vacuum tubes are an innovation from the early 20th century, they’ve continued to stay in production, almost exclusively for guitar amps. However, bass amp manufacturers have embraced modern technology a bit more.
Although bass guitar amplifiers started similarly to guitar amps using vacuum tube technology, most bass amp manufacturers have switched to solid-state circuitry.
This provides more headroom for the bass signal, and is easier to run at high wattages.
Tube bass amps do still exist, especially tube preamps, but many bass players prefer solid-state amps. It’s a stark contrast to the majority of guitar players.
Bass amps typically require much more power wattage than guitar amps. Whereas guitar amps are almost always less than 100 watts, even for the loudest of rigs, pro bass amps can run anywhere from 100 to 400 watts. Some even exceed that.
In order to handle the wattage from their amps, guitar and bass speakers differ slightly in size and capabilities.
Overall, most bass amp speakers are bigger in size and can handle more wattage, while guitar amp speakers are smaller and handle less wattage.
Most bass guitar amp speakers are normally 15”, although some players prefer larger sets of 10” speakers. Some bass cabs have just one speaker, while others have upwards of 8 or 10 speakers. In a typical bass combo amp, the speaker is usually 15″.
However, most guitar amplifiers use 10” or 12” speakers, typically in groups of 1, 2, or 4. It’s not uncommon to find guitar amps at 50, 20, 10, or even 5 watts of power. If the output wattage from the amp head exceeds the wattage of the speakers, it could damage them or the amp.
This is more true of bass amps than guitar amps, because they require more wattage to operate.
It’s not surprising that guitar and bass amps are built to amplify different frequencies. They take up different sonic spaces, so it’s only fitting that their amps are built likewise.
Guitar amps typically won’t amplify frequencies below 80Hz, while bass amps will handle lower frequencies with no problems. This allows bass amps to produce… well, more bass. It also allows guitar amps to produce more mid-range and high frequencies to cut through a mix.
When it comes to frequencies and gear safety, we know what you’re all wondering, and so here’s the answer…
Yes, you can play the guitar through a bass amp! Although it may not always be the best option tonally, it is perfectly safe to play an electric guitar through a bass amp.
The frequencies that a guitar signal sends to a bass amp are not too low or high to damage the speakers. Most bass amps are designed to run with a lot of clean headroom, so plugging into a bass amp can be a great way to get a loud, clean guitar signal.
If anything, most bass amps have more than enough power for a guitar signal. The eq will be different, but you may end up liking it.
Some amps originally made for bass have ended up being amazing guitar amps. The Fender Bassman and the Marshall Super Bass are two amps that have proven to be secret weapons of guitar players throughout the years. They’re both tube amps and are capable of rich, chime-y tones.
Even though most bass amps don’t distort in an ear-pleasing manner, there very well could be a tone in there that’s perfect for your guitar sound.
Unlike playing the guitar through a bass amp, playing a bass through a guitar amp can be very dangerous for your gear.
Simply put, the low frequencies coming from a bass can overwhelm the speakers in a guitar amp and damage them.
Guitar speakers aren’t meant to handle the low frequencies of a bass guitar, and even if it could amplify it safely, it most likely wouldn’t sound good. Bass is called bass for a reason: it produces bass frequencies that go much lower than an electric guitar can.
While guitars cut through a mix in the mids and highs, bass saturates the lows and provides a solid bed for the rest of the mix. Even if you were to amplify a bass through a guitar amp without damaging it, it would still take away the frequencies that make a bass a bass.
However, if you only take away one lesson from this article, it should be this: do not attempt to play your bass through a guitar amp. You will most likely damage or completely break your gear.
Though solid-state amps are a bit of a taboo subject to tone purists, they manage to amplify guitar signals with more clean headroom than tube amps do.
They have a quicker attack response and typically require less maintenance. They also can have higher wattages than tube amps.
It’s not uncommon to see solid-state guitar amp heads that are 150 or 200 watts, which is getting more into bass amp territory.
Typically, tube amps of equal wattage are louder, so solid-state amps try to compensate by having more wattage on tap. These are viable options for guitar players, but most guitarists prefer the sonic quality and dynamic response of tube amplifiers.
Technology has evolved to the point where most guitar and bass amps can be simulated in plug-ins or modeling amps. In this case, these devices act as a preamp that captures the traditional tone of an amp without necessarily amplifying the signal.
The signal can then be sent to headphones, into an audio interface and DAW, or through a direct box into a PA system.
Since the outputs of these devices (headphones, PA systems, and audio interfaces) are all capable of safely amplifying both guitar and bass signals, you can plug either instrument into either simulated amp. However, your tone may suffer the consequences.
Another exception is the innovation of full-range amplifiers and speakers. This simply means that the amp is meant to amplify all signals, or almost all signals, safely.
Of course, you would need full-range speakers to pair with a full-range amplifier. Theoretically, if you use a full-range amp with full-range speakers you should be able to play a guitar or bass through it safely.
The rule of thumb is that you should never play a bass guitar through a guitar amp, but it’s safe to play the guitar through a bass amp. If you’re dead set on mixing and matching, please follow this rule. It may just save you hundreds of dollars in repair costs.
However, unless you have a really good reason for doing so, you should probably focus more on using an amp designed for the instrument you play. Amp manufacturers spend countless hours tweaking their designs to achieve a certain tone.
If they’re designing a guitar amp, they want it to sound good with a guitar. If they’re designing a bass amp, they want thick, powerful, room-shaking bass tones.
These are professional builders that know good tone when they hear it, so when you play their amps, you won’t be constantly messing with EQ settings to get the tone you’re looking for.
However, if you use an amp designed for another instrument, you’ll most likely be turning knobs for several hours trying to get a usable tone.
When in doubt, it’s best to use guitar amps for guitar and bass amps for bass, especially if you’re not an expert yet. It may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying.
Most of the time, using a bass amp for guitar won’t result in a more unique or head-turning tone. It will just make it sound flat and loud.
Are solid-state guitar amps bad?
While they may have a bit of a bad rep, solid-state amps aren’t better or worse than any other amp. Guitar tone is subjective, so it’s a matter of personal preference.
Many influential players like Dimebag Darrel of Pantera, Andy Summers of The Police, and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival used solid-state amps on iconic records and live performances.
Do companies make combo bass amps?
Yes! Many practice bass amps are combos, as well as some larger stage amps. The majority of professional bass amps are still made in separate head and cab orientations though.
What about hybrid guitar amps?
Yes, many guitar amps have a mixture of tubes and solid-state technology. This usually occurs when an amp has tubes in the preamplification stage and a solid-state power amp.
This gains some of the tonal characteristics of a tube amp, but with the clarity of a solid-state power section.
What are some good solid-state guitar amps?
If you’re looking to break into the world of solid-state amps, there are several amps we can recommend that are considered the best of the best. The most notable is probably the Roland JC-120 (and you can check out our full review here).
This amp has been on countless records spanning decades and comes with a gorgeous built-in chorus effect.
Two modern choices would be the Orange Super Crush series and the Quilter line of amps. These come in all different shapes and sizes, but provide lush tube-like tones for a fraction of the price.
The Orange Crush 12 guitar combo amplifier raises the bar for practice amps, giving you gut-punching tones with highly-responsive overdrive and levels of detailed saturation that will absolutely blow your mind.
Are there different instrument cables for bass and guitar?
Though there may be cables marketed to either bass or guitar, all instrument cables are more or less the same. Some may have different levels of capacitance, but the difference is negligible.
The majority of a cable’s tonal differences come from the quality of the cable, shielding, and connectors. Guitarists and bassists can all use standard instrument cables without worrying if it’s ‘right’ for their specific instrument.
Are there any amps designed for both guitar and bass?
Yes. These are rare, but some amps are made to safely accept inputs from guitar and bass. For example, the Peavey Vypyr VIP 3 is designed with inputs for electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and bass.
However, most players choose to use an amp for their specific instrument because the tone is usually better. Not many catch-all amps provide a great tone for all instruments.
What are some great guitar amplifier brands?
There are many brands of amp manufacturers with even more starting all the time, but some amp brands are so iconic they’ve become synonymous with quality.
Some of these brands for guitar amps are Fender, Marshall, Orange, Vox, and Mesa Boogie. For bass amps, brands like Fender, Ampeg, Aguilar, MarkBass, and Orange are well-known and loved.