Amps are pretty simple to understand. All you have to do is plug an instrument in, turn the amp on, and start jamming. Yet, you will have noticed that the amps at the local music store are either advertised as “guitar amps” or “bass amps.” Now you’re a little confused.
So, does a bass guitar need a special amp? Since bass guitars produce much lower frequency sounds than bass guitars, so you will need an amp that’s built specifically for a bass guitar. Bass amps support a high power output and low frequencies without distorting the sound. Playing your bass at a high volume on a regular guitar amp will probably blow the speaker.
To understand why you need a special amp for your bass guitar, you need to learn about the differences between an electric guitar and a bass guitar. So, we are going to be reviewing the key features of each and how they translate over to amp needs.
How Electric Guitars & Bass Guitars Are Different
Electric guitars typically have six strings (E A D G B E) and are used to produce rhythms, melodies, and solos in all genres of music. An electric guitar has a wide range of frequencies, depending on the fret and string that you’re playing. With a frequency range of about 80 Hz to 5,000 Hz, an electric guitar can play just about any frequency you desire.
Bass guitars usually have four strings (E A D G) that are essentially just the four lowest frequency strings of an electric guitar, just tuned down an entire octave. The low-frequency output of a bass guitar allows you to produce a deeper sound that’s usually played in the background. This is what makes the floor or car shake when you’re listening to loud music.
Guitar Amps vs. Bass Amps
Given what we now know about electric guitars and bass guitars, we are going to be touching on how the features of each type of guitar impact the qualities in their specific amps. After all, you cannot expect to play two completely different instruments on the same amp and have the same listening experience. Here are the major differences between the types of amps.
Guitar amps usually range between 15 and 100 watts, meaning they have a relatively low power output. This makes guitar amps ideal for mid to upper-range frequencies while also distorting lower frequency sounds. Regular guitar amps boast plenty of extra features, including adjustable effects, distortion, and channels. You can definitely do a lot more in terms of producing a specific sound or style with an electric guitar amp than a bass guitar amp.
Since bass guitars focus on lower frequencies, bass amps need to have a greater power output of over 100 watts (sometimes up to 500 watts and above). Bass speakers need to be more robust than those in a guitar cabinet to keep the amp speakers from blowing out. Bass amps also have pretty simple control settings and are usually much larger than regular electric guitar amps because generally they have bigger transformers inside.
Configuring a Regular Amp for Your Bass Guitar
To get the best playing and listening experience, it is best that you play your bass guitar through an actual bass amp. With that said, there are some ways that you can play your bass guitar through an electric guitar amp as well, though this isn’t the ideal situation. Now, let’s review how this works and what you need to keep in mind.
What You Need to Know
Electric guitar amps do not support low-frequency sounds like those produced by a bass guitar. That is because guitar amps usually have high-pass filters that filter out all lower frequencies. That means playing through an electric guitar amp with a bass guitar will cut out the low frequencies and make your bass sound much thinner.
Also, playing your bass at a high volume through this type of amp will blow or damage the speakers. Basically, you’re very limited when it comes to how you can use a guitar amp with a bass guitar.
So, when can you actually use an electric guitar amp with a bass guitar?
The only real reason it would make sense is if you do not have access to a regular bass amp. You can use a guitar amp if you must when you’re just practicing, but be sure that you are playing at a lower volume and ensure that you keep the bass tone low to avoid blowing out your amp. A guitar amp is not the type of amp you’ll be using to play on a gig.
The sound that’ll be coming out of the amp will be distorted and sound like more upper or mid-range frequencies, which is the exact opposite of what a bass guitar was meant for.
Choosing the Right Settings
One way to save your speakers if you are using a guitar amp to practice is to see if the amp has an audio jack / headphone socket. You can then plug in a pair of headphones and listen to your bass through headphones rather than the actual speaker of your amp. That means less stress on your speaker and less disturbance of your neighbors if you live in an apartment or a townhouse.
Choosing the Right Bass Amp
Now that you know a bass amp is definitely what you’ll need as a brand new bass player, it’s time to buy the amp that’s best for your needs. To do that, you’ll need to consider your playing style, experience level, and how you plan to use the bass amp.
Here’s what you need to think about:
When you’ll use it. If you’re just learning to play the bass, you don’t need to shell out a ton of money on a high-powered amp meant for big shows. A practice amp around 25 watts is more than enough for beginners, while a powerful 100-watt amp is better if you’re looking to play gigs in the future.
Adjustable settings. If you really want to advance your playing style and skill, you’ll want a bass amp that allows you the opportunity to configure the settings. So choose an amp that you like the sound of, as it will encourage you to practice more. The amp will not make you a better player in itself, That comes down to practice and experience! But a good amp it will inspire you to practice more and longer if it sounds good.
You want a bass amp that has a graphic equalizer if possible that you can adjust to your style or a specific song. For example, you can boost the low frequencies to give a deeper sound to your playing or even increase the high frequencies to hear your picking style a little more.
You should expect it to take a little time to get used to playing your brand new bass amp and finding the settings that work best for what you plan to play. A bass amp can definitely improve how your bass guitar sounds, but it won’t necessarily improve your playing.
Though you definitely can play the bass guitar through a regular guitar amp, it won’t sound the way a bass guitar is meant to sound. You’ll have to play your bass at a low volume, and even then, the sound will be distorted and a higher frequency than you might want. A guitar amp will do if you’re just practicing, but you’ll want to invest in an actual bass amp if you are planning to play shows/gigs and improve your playing style.