If you are a bass guitarist, ideally you want to play your bass guitar through a dedicated bass guitar amplifier. Of course, life is not always that simple and there may be certain occasions where you do not have access to the right amp.
Can You Play a Bass Through a Guitar Amp?
Perhaps your amp has recently broken and you are still waiting for a replacement to arrive.
Alternatively, you may usually be more of a guitar player, but you have gained access to a bass guitar and want to try it out. You may not necessarily want to commit to buying a bass amp just yet, as you are in an experimental phase.
In these situations, the common question is: can you plug a bass into a guitar amp?
In this article, we answer this question, explain some of the technical information around playing bass through your guitar amp, outline some of the risks involved, and provide tips for minimizing the likelihood of these risks causing any lasting damage.
Bass Amp vs Guitar Amp: All You Need to Know
Before answering the question of whether or not you can play your bass through your guitar amp, it is worth taking the time to explore the bass amp vs guitar amp issue in a little more detail.
After all, you may be wondering why there is a difference between guitar amps and bass guitar amps at all. So how do they actually differ, and why?
Both guitar and bass amps serve the same primary function, which is to output audio from an electric instrument. The key difference between the two is the speakers, with bass guitar amps typically having a larger speaker, capable of producing lower frequency sounds.
Most electric guitar amplifiers are designed to produce sounds down to around the 80 Hz mark, which is sufficient to play the lowest notes on a guitar. On the other end of this scale, they are typically able to produce sounds as high as 5 kHz too and some of the best amps can go beyond even this.
By contrast, a bass guitar amp will typically be able to produce 20 Hz sounds on the lower end of the scale and they are unlikely to be able to produce sounds much higher than around the 2,000 Hz mark. Some cannot even reach this level, so this represents a fundamental difference between the two types of amplifiers.
Can You Use a Guitar Amp for Bass Guitar?
With the differences between guitar and bass amps explained, it is important to next cover the question at the heart of this article: can you plug a bass into a guitar amp? The simple answer here is ‘yes’, you can do this. While a guitar amp is not really designed for this purpose, it will produce audio output for a bass guitar, if needed.
However, it is important to stress that this simple answer is only a small piece of the information you need. Prior to actually using a guitar amp for your bass guitar, it is worth understanding some of the risks involved too. This will then allow you to make a more informed decision about whether or not you want to proceed.
The single biggest issue to be concerned with here is the possibility of damaging the speakers.
The smaller speakers on a guitar amp, in comparison to a bass amp, mean using a bass guitar with one will push it significantly harder than what it is really designed for. This issue then becomes increasingly problematic at higher volumes too.
If your guitar amp is very small, it may be best to avoid using a bass guitar with it, as it will likely push the amp too hard, even at lower volumes. Nevertheless, for the most part, playing bass through a guitar amp is viable.
Minimizing Safety Issues and Optimizing Sound
While you can play bass guitar through a guitar amp, it does raise some possible safety issues and these need to be managed appropriately. In particular, if you do play your bass guitar at too high a volume, or use an amp that is too small, you risk causing physical damage to the amp.
In the worst cases, this physical damage could put you at risk, so it is essential that you take some basic precautions. Try to minimize the amount of time you spend using a guitar amp with your bass, and avoid higher volume settings.
When it comes to optimizing sound while playing a bass through a guitar amp, once again it is crucial to prioritize volume control, as this will reduce instances of sound clipping.
It may also be beneficial to limit or avoid certain techniques, such as slapping, as these are not likely to sound as good through a guitar amp and may cause damage.
Also, many bassists find that the lower notes on their bass guitar sound significantly worse through a guitar amp than higher notes do. Therefore, it can be a good idea to focus on higher notes, when possible.
Regardless of everything else, you should never play your bass through a guitar amp at a professional level.
Instead, keep the guitar amp option limited to practice sessions and casual or emergency situations. You should also understand that, to some degree, the entire time you play your bass through a guitar amp, you are risking your amp.
So can you use a guitar amp for your bass guitar? The quick and easy answer is ‘yes’, and chances are it will be a perfectly viable option in an emergency, or if you are playing casually.
However, there are certain caveats to keep in mind, with the most important being that you should avoid playing at a high volume, as this can damage the amp.
Even while taking some sensible precautions, you should try to manage your own expectations. A bass guitar is always going to sound better when played through a dedicated bass guitar amplifier, and using a guitar amp instead is only ever going to be a short-term compromise, rather than an ideal scenario!