Bass Amp vs Guitar Amp: How Different Are They?

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Learning how to play a new musical instrument is one thing. Figuring out the gear that goes well with it is another.

For instance, we understand how confusing the differences between a bass amp vs guitar amp are to beginners.

Don’t worry because in this quick guide we’ll look into the factors that set them apart and whether you can use a guitar amp for your bass guitar.

Is There a Difference Between a Bass Amp and a Guitar Amp?

These two amps look closely similar to each other and there are times when they share a number of features.

That said, yes, there is a difference between guitar and bass amps, and these differences can be summarized into three points:

Speaker Size

The first difference between bass amp and guitar amp is the size of the speaker.

Bass amplifiers are as wide as 15 inches on average, while guitar amplifiers only range from eight to 12 inches.

The added size is needed to provide more space and power to deliver the low frequencies required by a bass guitar.

Power Output

A bass amplifier requires a significantly higher wattage ranging from 150 to 500 watts on average.

Some units can go even higher than that.

On the other hand, guitar amplifiers only need a lower wattage range of 15 to 100 to operate.

Frequency Range

All these contrasting factors can be attributed to one major point: the frequency required to deliver a bass sound.

Physics dictates that the lower the frequency is, the lower its waveforms would be.

Your speakers would then require more power to move the air and let it vibrate to produce the sound required.

It’s best just to observe how a subwoofer speaker vibrates when it’s playing a really low beat.

You should see how aggressive the center part moves.

On the flip side, guitar amplifiers were only designed to handle high frequencies.

They neither require much movement nor as much power.

Their shorter waveforms won’t have any issue transmitting from a speaker of a smaller size.

This means that cranking up the volume to play a bass through your guitar amp can result in sound distortion or worse, speaker damage.

How to Tell Guitar and Bass Amp Apart

Knowing the factors that set the difference between bass amp and guitar amp works great in theory.

However, chances are, you also want to learn how to tell them apart not to make a fool of yourself in the music store.

Hence, below are more practical factors you can look out for to identify which is which.

The Label

The most obvious giveaway is how they are labeled. Most brands already have the word “Bass” or “B” somewhere on their units.

At the very least, you can look a unit’s product name or model number to check if there’s a “B” or “BA” there.

Such is the case in Vox’s VX50 BA or the Ampeg BA-210.

That’s not to say that there aren’t brands out there that choose a more witty way of naming their amps. 

Case in point: the Rumble series by Fender.

They are not labeled with B or BA but the word rumble suggests that it’s a collection of bass amplifiers.

The Controls

Another practical way to determine which amp is which is to take a look at the unit’s features and controls.

Guitar amps usually have a wide array of knobs for various features and effects.

Meanwhile, bass amps only have a handful for volume and equalization.

Their Size and Layout

As mentioned above, bass amplifiers are bigger than guitar amps.

Their bass cabinets can be quite massive to accommodate the vibrations and movement needed when playing those low-frequency notes.

Bass amplifiers usually have more height as well. This structure is more conducive to move air as much as possible.

You will notice this vertical structure among combo and stack amps as well.

Guitar amps, though, are shorter and wider, which allows the higher notes to spread better.

It also accommodates the control panel to be lined up for easier access and user convenience.

Can I Use a Guitar Amp for Bass?

These differences probably have you wondering: “Can I use a guitar amp for bass?

Honestly, the answer is yes. Despite their differences, both amps use the same input size. 

As long as your instrument has a connector or jack that fits, then either amp will work for the other.

That said, don’t expect it to sound as good. There is even a potential risk of damaging your equipment.

How Will a Bass Guitar Sound Through a Guitar Amp?

The auditory difference between a bass guitar played through a bass amp compared to a guitar amp may not be easily apparent to a beginner’s ears, especially if you’re listening through both test tracks digitally.

The sound quality is more apparent when you’re playing live.

Using a bass amp for your bass guitar will produce a rich, deep, and clear sound.

Meanwhile, playing through a guitar amp will produce a slightly muddy and distorted sound.

There are steps to keep in mind as well before playing your instrument to minimize speaker damage and improve the sound quality as much as possible.

The Hybrid Amp

Also known as a combined app, a hybrid amp is an amplifier designed to work with multiple instruments.

For instance, most units can accept inputs coming from acoustic, bass, and electric guitars.

Hybrid amps usually have presets for added user convenience. This makes them plug-and-play and beginner-friendly.

Much like hybrid cars, though, this type of amplifier is a jack of all trades and master of none.

The sound quality that you’ll be able to get from them will be incomparable to what an actual bass amp will produce.

This amp is not suitable for playing in gigs as well.

difference between bass amp vs guitar amp

How to Use a Guitar Amp With a Bass Guitar

You can definitely risk playing bass guitar through a guitar amp.

That said, there are steps that you must take to minimize any risk of damaging your equipment and to improve the sound quality.

1. Set Your Guitar Amp

Set your amplifier to a clean channel if it is equipped with multiple channels.

If not, then at least make sure to set your gain to low.

You’d also want to remove any effects, such as chorus, delay, or reverb, before playing.

There are a lot of bass guitarists who use effects from time to time, but having them on right now can hinder you from hearing how your bass guitar actually sounds with the amp.

2. Set the Volume Low

This is a crucial step. Make sure that the master volume is on low before plugging in your instrument.

You can simply adjust it gradually to find the sweet spot where the sound is audible yet it’s not too much for your speaker to struggle with.

3. Play With Your Equalizers

You will most likely find three EQ knobs on your amp: the bass, the middle, and the treble.

You should increase the bass knob and see how far it can go to produce the cleanest possible sound.

The middle knob will define the shape of your tone, or how the sound is perceived.

It’s best to lower this, again, for better clarity. Increasing it may make a sound “boxy” or overwhelming.

The simplest way to describe it is having your sounds seem like they are being physically or spatially restricted.

Finally, you would want to keep your treble low. After all, treble affects higher frequencies and you’d want your speaker to focus on the lower ones instead.

Don’t be afraid to experiment as well. What’s important is for you to appreciate the sound that you’re making for a more pleasurable playing experience.

Investing in a Bass Amp

Lastly, the most ideal option is to still get an actual bass amp. We understand, though, that it can be quite pricey.

Hence, allow us to give you some tips on how to make the most out of your money:

  • Determine Your Skill Level

The first thing that you should consider before buying a bass amp or any kind of music equipment is where your skill level is at.

We don’t recommend any big investments for absolute beginners unless your budget more than permits such a purchase.

The reality is, music is a pursuit that entices a lot of people, but most will easily fall out of love with it after the initial high.

We’d hate to see premium equipment and instruments collecting dust somewhere.

  • Define Your Genre

The next factor to think of is the sound you want to create.

Each has a certain flavor that will work great with particular brands or models.

  • Look Into Rental Options

Want to experience playing with a bass amp, but don’t really want to spend a lot of money upfront?

There’s no need to buy your own bass amp. There are a lot of music stores that offer rental plans on premium equipment.

In this way, you’ll only spend money whenever needed and get to try a variety of brands and models first.

This will also spare you from the guilt of buying an expensive unit should you discover that playing bass guitar is not for you.

  • Do Your Research

Doing your homework will go a long way in getting the unit that best suits your needs and preferences.

It’s best to look into the different features being offered first, so you can select the ones that you think are most helpful in your current music journey.

The keyword here is current. Ignore the features that you think you will need in the future for now.

You can easily upgrade anyway if you improve a level or two.

Compare prices both online and offline. You can even ask around if someone among your musically inclined friends is thinking of upgrading or letting go of their amp.

Don’t be afraid to bargain.

Finally, it will help a lot to read the reviews of the stores that you want to visit.

Pay attention to how they assist their customers. Assisting a complete newbie takes patience and expertise.

Which Amp Is for You?

Now that we have finished going through the different amps bass guitar players can choose from, the question is, which one should you get?

A hybrid amp is a great choice for guitar players with multiple instruments.

Since this type of amp isn’t meant for live performances, it’s better to get one solely for the sake of practicing at home.

We only recommend using a guitar amp for bass players if they already have one lying around at home.

It’s also a more affordable option for bass players who are just starting.

Serious bassists looking for a reliable amp to use during both practices and performances will definitely get the best sound quality investing in a pro-level bass amp.

Bass Amp vs Guitar Amp: The Conclusion

There are different types of amplifiers in the market and a lot of them look alike, especially to a beginner’s eyes.

It is easily understandable to get confused between the bass amp vs guitar amp.

Unfortunately, using the right piece of equipment can significantly affect not just the sounds you produce but the quality of your playing experience as well.

So, is there a difference between a bass amp and a guitar amp?

The main difference between guitar and bass amp is the type of frequency that they are designed to produce.

Guitar amps specialize in higher frequencies, while bass amps are better at producing lower vibrations.

Those who are asking, “Can I use a guitar amp for bass?”, the answer is you totally can.

However, don’t expect your guitar and bass amp to sound alike. There is a significant leap in sound quality between the two.

In the end, it will all boil down to which unit you decide on getting. Each of us has our own musical priorities and inclinations.

Just remember to do your research before amp shopping and you’ll be fine. Good luck!