When answering the question of whether you can use a guitar amp to play a bass guitar, the basic answer is yes. However, that isn’t to say it’s advisable as it most certainly is not ideal. In general, standard guitar amps are not designed for the low frequencies of a bass guitar. This means that at best you might compromise the overall sound of your instrument, and at worst you can also damage the amp itself. Therefore, if you want to play a bass through a guitar amp, you should educate yourself on the matter beforehand and maybe even avoid it altogether.
Bass Amps vs. Guitar Amps: What’s the Difference?
A regular guitar amp is an amplifier designed—as you might imagine—to amplify the voice or resonance of higher frequencies. Bass amps are instead designed to be less responsive to highs and are designed to play and highlight the mids and lows. Generally, the speakers in bass amps are larger, giving the speaker the ability to push more air through, which is essential for sweet-sounding bass. The raspy tones of the bass guitar are simply not translated as well through smaller speakers like those found in standard guitar amps.
Dangers of Playing Bass with a Guitar Amp
If you do still want to try to play your bass through a guitar amp, it’s important to understand the dangers that could come into play. For example, the different frequencies can cause damage to speakers. It’s also important to note that there are power output differences between the two types of amps. Bass amplifiers are created to withstand more power being produced by the instrument, which means that a regular amp might be simply unable to handle the power of the bass sound without suffering damage.
Tips for Avoiding Amp Damage
With no other option but to use a standard guitar amp with your bass instrument, at least keep the following tips in mind for avoiding any damage that might result from such an endeavor:
- Play only at low volume. By keeping the volume on the lower end you will reduce speaker movement. This means the amp won’t have to work as hard to achieve the low-frequency output. The extra vibration from increased volume can cause components within the amp to become loose and rattle. The end result is a buzzing which is quite unpleasant.
- Do not add FX. Similar to high volume, FX-like distortion can cause excess vibration with the speaker which can cause damage. Therefore, when you must use a guitar amp for your bass, at least avoid adding FX.
- Avoid tube amps. Playing bass guitar through a tube-powered amp is considered abuse. Don’t do it. In fact, avoid tube amps at all costs when playing bass as even regular guitar frequencies can rattle tubes. The havoc that you can cause by plugging in bass would easily destroy this type of amp.
Playing a bass through a guitar amp is not ideal in most situations. Not only will the amp simply not allow your bass to sound as great as it could, with many people describing the way it sounds as a down-tuned guitar lacking definition and the deep-end oomph, but you might also damage the speaker or amp itself in the process. Therefore, except in certain situations, it is best to avoid it altogether. Instead, it is better to go directly through a PA system rather than use a guitar amp if you find yourself with no other options.