It seems to be a common occurrence in the music world, needing to play bass through a guitar amp. Maybe you’re a guitarist who wants to try the bass but doesn’t want to buy a bass amp. Or maybe you’re in a situation when you have your bass but not your amp, and the only amps available to you are guitar amps. Can you plug a bass into a guitar amp and jam with no worries? Or is there a risk of damaging the equipment?
If it comes down to it, you can plug a bass into a guitar amp and play at low volumes with no risk of damaging the amplifier. But, amplifiers are specifically engineered for the frequencies and specifications of their instruments, and recklessness can cause damage to your amplifier.
So let’s jump in and break down the details of amplifiers, find out if bass will damage a guitar amp, what you can do to reduce the chances of hurting your guitar amp, and what bass amp to buy if you choose to.
What is the Difference Between a Guitar Amp and a Bass Amp?
All amps are not created equally. Guitar amplifiers are designed with thinner speakers and lower power output than bass amps because the sound frequencies that guitars produce are in a higher range, requiring less power for our ears to hear them.
Bass amps are the opposite; the bass guitar produces lower frequencies, which are naturally more difficult for the human ear to distinguish, so larger speakers and higher power output are needed to produce a loud, clean amplified bass guitar sound.
The power output of a guitar amp can be as low as 1 watt or as high as 400 watts. But generally speaking, your average guitar amplifier will fall in the 50-100 watt range.
Bass amps generally have higher wattage than guitar amps in order to effectively move the sound to our ears. The wattage of bass amps falls between 450-1000 watts.
Don’t Worry if These Apply to You
If any of these apply to you, then the likelihood of you blowing out a guitar amp with it is incredibly small.
- If you are playing at a low volume. Low and mid-range volume (below 5) is safe to play through a guitar amp because the power is not high enough to blow the amplifier. Crossing 4 into 5, you might notice some sound distortion that isn’t exactly pleasant to most ears, but you should be safe from damaging the amp.
- If you are playing a passive bass. A passive bass is a bass with no onboard power source and, compared to active bass, generates much less power.
If you need to turn your amp louder than 5, or are playing with an active bass, continue reading.
Dangers of Playing Bass through a Guitar Amp
Since guitar amplifiers are built to withstand less power, plugging your active bass guitar into one and playing at a high volume can cause two undesirable results.
- It can damage the amplifier. Sending too much power into a lower wattage guitar amp to be able to hear your bass can blow out your speakers. If you are practicing at home this shouldn’t be a problem, there is no reason you would be practicing loud enough to blow the speakers. But if you are trying to play bass at a gig through a guitar amp, you should be extremely careful. Or better yet, just buy a bass amp for peace of mind.
- It can create an unnerving sound quality. Since guitar amplifiers are designed with a certain threshold of power it can handle, sending power above that threshold can distort the sound. Distortion on guitar might be desired for some, but that’s not the case for bass guitar. The rattling that’s produced when you’re sending too much power and too low of frequencies through a guitar amp not only hurts to hear, it’s a sign that you are on your way to damaging the speaker.
Luckily for guitar players, you can play guitar through a bass amp, no problem at all. Even the loudest volume and highest power you can feed a bass amp with a guitar will not damage it, thanks to the bass amp’s high power threshold.
No Other Option? Here’s What You Can Do
Maybe you are in a pickle, getting ready to play a gig with your active bass in your hand and a guitar amp at your side (hopefully not!). But if so, there might be a couple of things you can do to lessen the chances of blowing out the amp.
- Use a compressor pedal for more control over how much signal you are sending into the guitar amp. The compressor pedal is also a great choice because it adds some of the tone and warmth you will be lacking by using a guitar amp in the first place.
- Utilize the volume controls on your bass, not the guitar amp. Adjusting volume through your bass guitar, as opposed to the amp, gives you more fine control over the power you are feeding the amp. Using the amp’s volume controls, there is a much blurrier line that’s easier to cross and overpower the speakers. With an active bass guitar, the EQ controls allow you to fine-tune the power and sound quality of your bass sound.
Bottom line, this is what will happen if you plug a bass into a guitar amp.
- Practicing any bass quietly at home – nothing.
- Playing passive bass loudly- nothing. The lower wattage the amp (under 100w), use caution.
- Playing active bass loudly with a compression pedal/fine control of volume – Not ideal sound, but no damage if you are careful.
- Playing active bass loudly with no pedal or caution – The lower wattage the amp, the more likely you will blow the speakers, and get unideal sound.
For guitar players with guitar amps who want to try the bass, you are in luck. There’s no need to purchase a separate amp for your practice sessions! Unless you like to practice extremely loud, and if that’s the case, expect your neighbors to come knocking.
For gigs that require loud amplification of bass, I would recommend buying a bass amp if you can. The peace of mind is well worth it, and an amplifier that’s designed for your instrument will always provide a better experience for you, your band, and your audience.
Some Top Bass Amps
If you elect to purchase a bass amp, here is a bass amp buyer’s guide for getting you started.
Cheapest Bass Amplifier for Home Practice
The Fat Boy 15W is the bass amp for absolute beginners whose goal is just to practice. 15 watts, one 6.5” speaker, and simple controls give you the basics that you need to practice at home. You could call it the “bare bones” of bass amplifiers and comes in at an affordable 60 bucks for getting you started (some digging on eBay may lead you to used ones for cheaper).
- 1×6.5” Speaker
- 15 Watts
- Easy-to-use volume, bass, and treble controls
- Headphone jack
- Aux input
- Small and conveniently sized at 10.63” x 6” x 12”
Highest Rated Bass Amplifier for Home Practice
This medium-sized (15.25″ x 15.25″ x 11″) Fender bass solid-state amplifier is perfect for at-home practice, and can be mic’d for studio play. With an aux input, it’s easy to plug in a device and jam along for practice sessions.
- 1.8” Speaker
- 25 Watts
- Controls include master volume, bass, treble, mid, overdrive, and contour.
- Headphone jack
- Aux input
- Simple and easy-to-use layout
Available with free shipping on both Guitar Center’s website and on Amazon Prime it’s a well-rounded amp for practicing and simple recording, and at under $100 it’s a choice cheap bass amp – and the reviews are, for the most part, glowing.
It’s not recommended to use the 25W for gigs, but Fender does offer the same amp in 40, 100, 200, 400 and 500-watt variations.
Highest Rated Bass Amplifier for Gigging (Small/Medium Venues)
The Peavey Max 300 is awesome for gigs and rehearsals. At 300W you don’t have to worry much about playing at louder volumes. It has 2 heavy-duty 10” subwoofers with Peavey’s patented DDT Speaker Protection, a built-in compression system that clips the frequency to both protect the speakers and reduce distortion. Pretty cool.
It has an aux input as well as a built-in chromatic tuner. It’s a pricier but well-worth-it option for large venues and provides peace of mind for when you’re playing loudly.
- 2 10” Speakers, tweeter
- 300 Watts
- Controls include 3-band EQ, volume, gain, punch, mid-shift, and bright.
- Headphone jack
- Aux input
So save your pennies, and until your piggy bank is full, be careful when playing bass guitar through a guitar amp if you’re playing a medium to large gig. If you’ve got a guitar amp on hand and you’re looking to practice bass at home, you’re in the clear! Get to practicing.