How to Tell a Bass Amp from a Guitar Amp

If you know the differences between a bass amp vs guitar amp, it is easy to tell one from the other.

Here are some of the key differences between bass and guitar amp:

  1. Bass amp usually require more power while guitar amps have more distortion
  2. Bass amp also have bigger speakers
  3. Their tone controls have different voicing frequency
  4. Bass amp have closed cab designs while guitar amps have both closed and open options
  5. Guitar amp has more knobs and dials for creating effects that a bass amp will not

Differences between bass and guitar amps

1 Power levels

Bass amp need to move more air to be able to work with the lower tone. For a lower tone to sound bright and clear, a lot of wattage is needed.

As such, they need more power (and speaker) than a guitar amp.

2 Speaker difference

Besides power, bass amp usually have a larger speaker to handle the harsh treatment coming from handling the lower tone range. Their size is roughly in the 15″ to 18″ range. That being said, there might be some particular models with 12″ speaker.

Also, there is usually only one speaker.

In contrast, guitar amps usually have more than 1 speaker but each speaker is smaller in size.

3 Voicing frequency

Bass amp have a cleaner tone compared to a typical guitar amp

Editor’s note: A amp’s voicing refers to its tonal characteristics. It can be dark vs bright, British vs American etc.

4 Open vs closed cab design

Most good bass amp have a closed cab design to produce better sounding tone, at the lower range. That being said, there are some guitar amp which might also used a closed cab design.

5 Number of knobs and dials

A guitar amp has more dials and knobs for effects and control. They usually range in the 8 to 10 number as well as an assortment of input jacks and buttons. All these is to allow a guitarist to achieve sounds like overdrive, or distortion or any other tricks.

A guitar amp also will have reverb settings.

A bass amp is more straight forward with the controls. Most of the bass players just want a clean and warm tone so the detailed controls are not really necessary.

The images below can allow you to see clearly the differences in terms of number of knobs


Can Bass amp be used as guitar amps?

Bass amp can be used for guitar playing. They can handle the high tones for a guitar without causing damage to the speakers. The only downside is that the bass amp cannot handle distortion and overdrive as well as a guitar amp.

However, it is not advisable to use a guitar amp as a bass amp, especially if they are tube amps (See my warning below). They do not have the necessary power to work with the bass’s low tones. As a result, the speaker will take a lot of punishment if forced to produce sound at this tonal range.

In some cases, it might even fried the speakers. The speaker coils can then damage the amp’s electronics if amp continues to be used. So, to answer the question of ” Does playing bass on a guitar amp damage it? “, the answer is a yes.

Warning for guitar tube amps: Do not plug a bass guitar into a tube guitar amp. These things are fragile. The rattling from the amp might be sufficient to break the power tubes and fried the circuits.

Even if the guitar speaker can handle the output, the guitar amp will not produce the same quality of sound as a bass amp. It will not sound as thick or clear especially in the lower range. In fact, it will sound mid-focused, which is to be expected given that guitar amp are designed to emphasize the mid range.

If you really want to plug a bass guitar into a guitar amp, here are tips to follow to avoid blowing up your speakers

  • Keep the master volume low. As long as you don’t push the volume, there should not be any problem with power overloading the speaker circuits
  • Increase the amp bass EQ to capture more of the bass amp characteristic
  • Decrease the amp tremble EQ
  • No overdrives or boosters so that the tone is cleaner
  • Consider using a distortion pedal to reduce any potential distortion coming from the rattling of the speaker


It is pretty easy to tell a bass amp from a guitar amp once you know what to look for. Personally, the number of knobs and the size of the speaker are the clearer indicators.

1 Comment Posted

  1. Just read your post here. Could you please help me with something? What’s the best type of guitar tuner to get for a beginner player? I’ve seen clip on types and they seem pretty good. it’s for my acoustic guitar with a pickup. Thanks for you help 🙂

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