Guide – Bass Guitar and Electric Guitar: Why Different Amps?

So you’ve got a guitar amp, but you want to put a bass guitar through it… hmmm, well in some rare cases it’s ok, but the general rule is that you can’t use a standard electric guitar amplifier for a bass guitar.

Let me clarify what I mean though:

there’s 2 main parts to an amplifier. there’s the actual amplifier, which is an eceltronic device (solid state or tube) and can take a very quiet signal and turn it into a VERY LOUD signal. Then there’s the speaker(s) that actually sound out the signal so you can hear it.

So the actual amplifier part is usually ok, and although a guitar amp probably wont sound great if you’re amplifying a bass, it probably won’t harm the amplifier circuits. Although I still wouldn’t like to run a guitar amp at full power amplifying a bass guitar because the powerful signal of the bass guitar low strings may overload the amp. So take care.

The speakers are a different matter. a standard low E on a 6 string electric guitar vibrates at approx 82Hz (82 times a second). Most guitar speakers are able to output sound well at approx 75-5000Hz so that’s fine. THe speaker will have a watt rating, perhaps something like 50 watts, and will be able to output any sounds between 75 and 5000Hz at up to 50 watts.

You will also find that you could output sounds lower than 75Hz or higher than 5000Hz, but at a greatly reduced power (or watts), and that’s where the issue is. A bass guitar (a standard 4 strings) usually as its low string tunes to E at 40Hz, or for a 5 string, the low B is at 30Hz. So you could maybe use your guitar speaker at really low volume levels to output the bass, but it would sound rubbish, and still possibly damage the speaker.

So the name of the game: You can’t use your guitar amp with a bass guitar.

Extra reading:
Wikipedia – Electric Guitar Frequencies
Wikipedia – Bass Guitar Frequencies
Wikipedia – Stringed Instrument Tuning
Note Frequency Chart


5 thoughts on “Guide – Bass Guitar and Electric Guitar: Why Different Amps?

  1. Hey there, I’m a guitar player and I’m doing research on
    bass cause I think i’ll save for a bass, and an amplifier. I have
    tons of questions to ask about bass amps, so pls bear with me… 1-
    Why can bass amplifiers be up to 1200 watts, but guitar amplifiers
    usually peak at 150 watts? Is this because you need more power on a
    bass guitar amp to get the same volume on a 100 watt guitar amp? If
    that were the case, then how many watts should a bass amplifier
    have to sound almost as loud as a 100 watt guitar amplifier? 2- Are
    there tube and solid state bass amps? if so, then what is the
    difference? is the difference big like in a tube, and a solid state
    guitar amp? or is it barely noticeable? 3- What are some good bass
    guitar brands? what are some good tube bass amp brands? and what
    are some good solid state bass guitar brands? 4- In a 6 string
    electric guitar, most of the tone comes from the amplifier, then
    the pickups, and then the type of wood in the guitar. Is it the
    same way in a bass guitar? 5- I think I can easily get my hands on
    a Jackson bass guitar, and a 1×15 solid state Fender Bassman
    amplifier. So what are your opinions on a Jackson bass guitar? is
    it good for a certain genre of music or is it versatile? Or what I
    can do is save up more, and buy Marshall 1×15 bass amp. So what do
    you think is a better choice for someone who only plays bass guitar
    to add a bass track to his guitar covers? 6- What bass guitar + amp
    do you have, and what do you like in them? Sorry for asking too
    many questions, I’m just very curious 😛

    • Srry I just want to clarify something as well. In number 3,
      what I mean is a lot of people claim that 80% of the tone comes
      from an amp, 15% pickups, and 5% from the type of wood. What about
      the bass guitars? is the amplifier still dominant over the guitar
      in terms of tone?

      • Thanks for your comments and questions, but most of what you are asking are things I can’t answer with enough experience to advise you. I am a guitarist and not a bassist, so you would be best to ask on the talkbass forums.

        As far as your first question goes. The lower the note the more power it needs to amplify it. Often in a PA speaker the low frequency speaker outputs more power then the high freq tweeter. So as far as I know, it’s just the sheer power needed to get things rumbling so that people can hear the bass that means it needs to be more powerful. I gig with 50 or 100 watt tube amps and a 2×12, and my bassist has a 500 watt bass amp with two 1×15 cabs. Neither of us are pushing our amps and we can both be heard in a venue large enough for 200+ people. For example my master volume is on 2 out of 10.

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