Many musicians will tell you that there are no real differences between amplifiers, and many bassists play through a guitar amp and vice versa (more on whether you should do this below).
This may lead you to question: what are the differences between bass and guitar amps and do these differences mean one must use a bass amp for bass guitar and a guitar amp for electric guitar?
Bass amps are more powerful and use larger, more robust speakers that are made for low-frequency output. Guitar amps are made to function well with mid-high range frequencies, which require less power and smaller speakers. These amps are designed to function well with their respective instruments.
Bass amps and guitar amps are very different, even though they can be used for instruments other than their names sake.
Every amplifier is built for a specific purpose with a specific instrument in mind, especially stringed instrument amplifiers. Let’s explore the differences between these amplifier types to identify why they are so different from one another.
Bass Vs. Guitar Amplifiers
Electric guitars and electric bass guitars both require an amplifier to be heard clearly.
Read More: Can you play electric guitar without an amp?
These amplifiers are used to increase the output signal of the instrument through a speaker, making the instrument significantly louder, and these amps are frequently used to alter the sound and tone of the instrument along the way.
Every bass and every electric guitar needs an amp, but they seem to be very similar, and many musicians use them interchangeably. So, what is the difference between these amplifier types? Do the differences even matter?
The truth is that there are several critical differences between bass amps and guitar amps, and they are not designed to be used interchangeably.
Bass amplifiers are designed and built to be used with bass guitars and therefore are optimized for this instrument. The same is true for guitar amplifiers, as they too are designed and built with electric guitars in mind.
The differences between these amplifier types are rooted in the differences between the instruments themselves.
Guitars and bass guitars are very different; they sound completely different, they are played completely differently, they output frequencies in very different ranges, and they serve different purposes in a musical context.
- That said, many players still ask about interchangeability: whether one can play bass on a guitar amp and whether one can play guitar on a bass amp.
With that in mind, there are key differences between bass amps and guitar amps that are universally true and worth exploring.
Apart from surface-level differences, the four most important differences between these amp types are the speakers used in the amps, the output of the amps, the frequency range of guitar and bass amps, and the overall physical size and construction of these amp types.
Let’s explore these characteristics in more detail to fully understand the differences between these amplifier types.
One of the major differences between guitar amps and bass amps are the speakers used within them. The amplifier itself is what takes in the signal from the instrument and modifies it, but the speaker is what outputs the sound.
Bass guitar amplifiers are equipped with speakers that are capable of vibrating at the frequencies produced by bass guitars.
Bass guitars operate at much lower frequencies than regular guitars, and if regular guitar speakers are used with a loud bass, the speaker is likely to be blown by the low frequencies of a bass.
Bass frequencies are slower and therefore require more energy to be transmitted. This means bass speakers must be more robust and capable of sustaining these lower, more powerful vibrations.
Guitar amps speakers must move faster and at higher frequencies than bass amp speakers are capable of because the guitar has a much higher range than the bass does.
This means that the speakers used for guitar amps must be built to vibrate quickly, produce high frequencies, output mid-range frequencies with clarity, and be powered by as little current as possible, as guitar frequencies do not output much energy at all.
With the energy output required for the output of each instrument in mind, it is important to compare the differences between the output of guitar amps and bass amps.
Guitar amplifiers are typically far less powerful than bass amplifiers. A powerful, extremely loud guitar amplifier capable of driving multiple high-output speakers in a very large speaker cabinet typically is around 200W or so. “W” means watts, in this case.
However, the same size of amp and speaker cab for bass require upwards of 1200W to drive it.
Combo amplifiers for guitars can be as small as 15W or 20W for practice amplifiers and 50W – 100W for larger amps. The same amplifier class for bass will be found in 80W – 100W for practice amps and 150W – 250W for larger combos.
This dramatic difference in power output is due to the frequencies that the respective instrument operates in.
Bass guitars output much lower frequencies which require significantly more amplification to reach high volumes, while guitar frequencies are much easier to amplify and require less energy overall to reach high volumes.
Along with the difference in output comes a difference in frequency range between guitar and bass amplifier.
The higher power output of bass guitars means that they are well-suited for amplifying and outputting low frequencies, but they may have trouble with very high notes because those frequencies do not output enough energy to move the speaker cones effectively.
Guitar amps are better suited for mid and high-range frequencies, as this is the frequency range where the guitar operates.
Very low frequencies can be troublesome for these amps as they may damage the speaker cones, but high-frequency ranges are no problem for these amps.
The most obvious difference between most guitar and bass amps is the physical size and build characteristics of the amplifiers.
Bass amps are typically significantly larger than guitar amps, simply because the amplifier needs to be more powerful and therefore are usually larger.
The speakers in bass amps are larger and more robust as well, due to their own more intensive power requirements.
Bass guitar amplifiers are also usually heavier as they are often more robust than guitar amps. This characteristic is necessary because bass amps that are not solidly built may vibrate themselves apart over time.
Guitar amps are lighter, typically smaller, and generally less robust than bass amplifiers simply because they do need to be as big.
They have small amplification units and smaller speakers, as guitar amplifiers do not have the intense amp and speaker specs of bass amps.
Guitar amps and bass amps are very different from one another, and these differences are a result of the practical requirements for making each instrument sound good and function well in performance, practice, or recording situations.
It is possible to run a guitar through a bass amp and vice versa, but these amps are built differently for a reason. It is always best to use a bass with a bass amp and a guitar with a guitar amp for the best possible sonic results.
As always, Happy Playing,