The main difference between the design of a bass amplifier and a guitar amplifier design is mainly in speaker size, frequency response, as well as the output power.
A bass guitar amplifier tends to have more power in watts, larger speakers, as well as EQ optimization for lower frequencies.
For this article, I actually reached out to a Fender representative and asked them what the difference was, and here is what he had to say:
Thanks for reaching out. The main differences are the following:
- Power rating, speaker configuration, EQ optimization.
Bass amps are pushing much lower frequencies and require more clean headroom. As a result, they need more power and need to push more air. It’s not unusual for bass amps to be 300, 400 or even 800 watts and run 15″ speakers or multiple 10″ speakers ( a 4x10 is very popular).
Guitar amps, on the other hand, are more mid/hi range and need to break up a little when turned up. They are usually 50 to 100 watts maximum and will typically use one or two 10″ or 12″ speakers.
You could use either for either, but it’s certainly not optimal.
Hope this helps.
Consumer Relations Manager|Fender Musical Instruments
Let’s explore what some of the information above means.
Guitar and bass amplifiers are constructed in a similar way and often share similar controls. Moreover, both types of amplifiers have the same goal: to add volume to an otherwise quiet sound.
For the most part, the bass guitar is an instrument with much lower frequencies, and thus, needs more power to move the air.
In other words, bass amplifiers have more power, mostly as a consequence of the larger speakers as well as the wattage, which is a necessary component of transmitting bass frequencies.
Bass amplifiers need larger speakers as well as more power to properly transmit the sound, although, there are some cases where bass amplifiers have small speakers and work just fine.
Larger speakers and more power are needed for the bass guitar because the notes are much lower, about an octave lower.
On the other side of the aisle, a guitar amplifier doesn’t need as big of speakers because the notes are a lot higher, so it’s mostly a function of size and cost.
There’s no need to have larger speakers in a guitar amplifier because the frequencies that are being moved are higher and not as thick.
Moreover, both types of amplifiers and speakers have their very own sound, for instance, a guitar amplifier’s idea of the “mid” tone control or the “low” tone control is different from that of bass due to the change in the EQ optimization.
A guitar’s amplifier might have its bass frequencies around 200Hz, whereas, on a bass amp, the amplifier might be lower than that, around the sub-frequency range of 80Hz.
The reason why these amplifiers are constructed in this way tends to be because of the fact a bass guitar is not a high-frequency instrument. Higher-frequency instruments tend to be for lead purposes, rather than rhythm.
The guitar isn’t a low-end instrument either, therefore, manufacturers create their products in such a way so that the respective instrument can perform their function well.
Bass amplifiers tend to look a bit different as well as a consequence of the larger speakers. In my personal experience, I would say that bass guitar amplifiers tend to be a bit taller on average to compensate for the larger speaker.
Can You Use A Guitar Amp For Bass?
With all that said, many people wonder whether or not a guitar amplifier has the ability to support a bass guitar, and vice versa, and nowadays, there shouldn’t be a problem, including tube amplifiers for guitars.
Speakers and amplifiers are typically constructed so as to prevent destruction or damage.
Moreover, it’s not uncommon for guitar amplifiers to come with a high-pass filter, which means that the lower frequencies are removed immediately, and the higher frequencies are allowed to pass through.
So, if you play the bass guitar through an amp such as this, it might sound a bit thin and treble-y.
But with that said, there shouldn’t be an issue playing the bass guitar through a guitar amplifier.
It’s just that the bass guitar is typically an octave lower than a regular guitar, although, it’s definitely a possibility to blow the speaker if you’re playing at high volumes.
The higher notes of a guitar aren’t capable of actually hurting a bass amplifier, even if it’s constructed in a way where it’s not specifically designed for higher notes.
There shouldn’t be an issue in this case, although, the other way around could be destructive. Very low bass tones could damage a speaker and amplifier that isn’t made for it.
It would probably have to be a much older bass/guitar amplifier for this to happen, especially if you’re playing at low volumes. If you were to play a show with a bass guitar through a guitar amplifier, there would likely be some problems.
As an important caveat, if your bass guitar is active, which means that the pick-ups are powered with a battery, things are a bit different. You can’t have your active pick-ups on your bass guitar cranked through a guitar amplifier.
While it probably won’t blow the speaker (unless you’re playing at really high volume), due to the things I mentioned above, it probably won’t sound good either.
Moreover, it’s worth mentioning that if you’re playing the bass guitar through a guitar amplifier, you don’t want the signal to be distorted at all.
A distorted signal on a bass guitar through an amplifier – barring any use of FX or distortion pedals – means that there is some damage being done to the speaker.
There really isn’t much of a reason to play the guitar through a bass amplifier, because usually, a bass guitar amplifier doesn’t have many effects or anything that makes it suitable.
However, if you really need to do it for a few days, it won’t be a problem, it’s just not that optimal.
Check out the YouTube video below to hear my explanation:
YouTube Video Tutorial
In conclusion, the main difference between a guitar and bass amplifier is that bass amps tend to have more power in watts, larger speakers, as well as different EQ optimization.
As our representative mentioned above, you can use either amplifier for either instrument, however, it wouldn’t be the best choice.
If you’re just messing around at home with your bass guitar through a guitar amplifier, you don’t have to worry about blowing your speakers or anything like that, but when it comes time to play a show where you’ll need a lot of volume, it’s best to have a proper bass amplifier to make sure everything is sounding good.