Guitar cabs play an essential role in amplifying the sound of the instrument. These devices receive a powered signal from the amplifier and project it through the speakers. Bass cabs work in the same way.
Can you use a guitar cab for bass?
Although it is possible to use a guitar cab for bass, it is certainly not advised. Guitar cab speakers are not designed to handle the low-frequency range of bass and therefore are at risk of being damaged. The speaker can handle the frequency range of a guitar, but not bass.
Nevertheless, many musicians like to push their equipment to the limits to produce unique, individual tones.
Even though playing bass through a guitar cab is likely to result in permanent damage to the speakers, some bass players have used this unorthodox method for recording or live performances. In this guide, we’ll discuss all of the relevant information on using a guitar cab for bass.
Guitar Cabs & Bass Frequencies
If you use a bass with a guitar cab, you run the risk of damaging the inbuilt speakers. Most guitar cabs either consist of a single passive speaker or multiple smaller speakers. They are designed to reproduce the frequency range of an electric guitar, which generally spans from 80Hz – 1200Hz in standard tuning.
A bass guitar, on the other hand, produces a frequency range between 40Hz – 1 kHz in standard E, A, D, G tuning. As you have probably noticed, the lowest note on a bass guitar which is usually tuned to 41.2 Hz to be precise, is almost 20Hz lower than the bottom note of an electric guitar.
While this difference may seem relatively small considering the vastness of the frequency spectrum that is audible to the human ear, it is significant when considering the design of guitar cabs. These devices are designed to facilitate the frequency range of an electric guitar, and therefore struggle to produce the lowest notes on a bass.
Indeed, the guitar cab will attempt to produce the low-end frequencies of a bass, and it might be capable of playing some of them. However, you’re likely to notice that the tone of the lower notes becomes a little distorted and unclear.
This is a sign that the speakers in the guitar cab are struggling to vibrate the bass frequencies.
The frequencies that a guitar cab or bass amp is capable of playing depend on their physical attributes. A bass amp, for example, contains a significantly larger speaker than the average guitar cab. Most bass amps use a speaker that is at least 15 inches in diameter.
Contrarily, guitar cabs generally use smaller speakers of around 8-12 inches in diameter.
The larger the speakers, the more power they require from the amplifier to produce the sound of a guitar or bass. Thus, guitar cabs are not equipped with the necessary power-producing abilities for bass.
Here is a breakdown of the differences between guitar cabs and bass amplifiers:
|Type||Frequency Response||Minimum Power Requirements||Average speaker size|
|Guitar Cab||70Hz – 6kHz||120 watts||8-12 inches|
|Bass Amp||20Hz – 5kHz||300 watts||13-17 inches|
The real issue that arises when hooking a bass guitar up to a guitar cab, is the lack of power that the speaker possesses that it needs to drive the larger speaker, to reproduce the lower bass tones. Although this may not cause damage to the cab instantly, it has the potential to overload the speakers at any time.
This video explains the results you can expect in further detail.
Despite this, there are countless examples of bassists taking the risk and attempting to use a guitar cab, with varying results.
I wouldn’t recommend it if you are worried about your guitar cab speakers being damaged, but if you’re still determined to try it out, keep reading the following sections of this guide.
How Does A Guitar Cab Affect Bass Tone?
Ideally, you’ll avoid using a guitar cab with bass and in the process protect your equipment from damage. With that being said, I’m well aware that musicians are experimental people who enjoy trying out unconventional methods to see what impact they have on tone and sound.
So, if you’re still considering running your bass through a guitar cab despite my words of warning, you probably want to know what effect this will have on the tone of your bass.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer because the bass tone is a result of various components working together simultaneously.
There’s the bass itself, the pickups that are installed on it, the amplifier and cab it is used with, and of course, the playing style of the individual. All of this considered, there are some results that you can expect to experience if you choose to take the risk and play your bass through a guitar cab.
Firstly, because of the higher frequency range of the guitar cab in comparison to a bass amplifier, the mid-range and treble frequencies of the bass are likely to sound pretty good. The guitar cab is equipped to handle these frequencies, as they are also produced by an electric guitar.
Consequently, you’ll probably be quite impressed by the clean, crisp tone of the mid and high frequencies of your bass. It is when you delve into the lower frequencies that things start to get risky, and more unpredictable.
To reiterate, bass amplifiers generally contain larger speakers than guitar cabs to facilitate the lower frequencies. So, in theory, the ability of a guitar cab to handle these low-end tones is largely dependent on the size of its speakers, and how much power it supplies them with.
For example, the powerful Rectifier Traditional Straight Speaker Cab by Mesa Boogie uses 4 x 12-inch speakers. It uses 240 watts of power and is amongst the most powerful guitar cabs on the market. If this was used with a bass, it would have a much better chance of reproducing the low frequencies, than a cab that only has a 1×12 inch speaker and a lower wattage.
Even if you use the most powerful guitar cab with the largest speakers possible, the low-end bass will still be compromised. This will be most noticeable around the bottom E note to the first A note on the bass. These deep notes are very difficult for a guitar cab to reproduce and therefore can cause damage to the speakers.
The tone of the bass is likely to become slightly distorted and muddy when you drop to the lower frequencies.
This is a sign that the guitar cab’s speaker is struggling to vibrate slowly enough to produce these frequencies. The speaker may be overloaded in its attempt, and therefore be permanently damaged, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Despite the consensus being that using a bass with a guitar cab should be avoided, there is one instance in which it is popularly used. This is the process of signal splitting, where effects with multiple outputs are used to separate the clean signal of the bass from the effects signal.
Signal splitting is commonly used by bassists and guitarists who need to beef up their tone on stage. Perhaps they are in a two or three-piece band that lacks a second guitarist, and therefore need to maintain the power of their instrument’s output when effects pedals are engaged.
So in theory, you could send the output of your bass effects into a guitar cab, and divert the clean signal into a bass amplifier. This means that whenever the effects pedals are in use, the processed signal will be played through the guitar cab, which is better equipped to handle the affected frequencies.
The dry bass signal is then sent from a separate output, into the bass amplifier. As a result, when you turn on your bass effects, the clean signal continues to play simultaneously, therefore thickening the overall sound.
One main reason that signal splitting is considered to be less risky than simply using a guitar cab for bass is that the signal is likely to be higher in frequency when it has been subjected to effects pedals. So, the guitar cab can handle the wet bass signal much more capably than it can handle the dry signal.
Can you use a bass amp for the guitar?
Yes, in theory, you can use a bass amp for guitar. This method has been used by many guitarists to produce a deeper tone. The frequency response of a bass amp covers the frequency range of an electric guitar, with more emphasis on the low-end.
Can you record bass using a guitar cab?
Recording bass through a guitar cab is not advised. The same risks are involved with using this combination in a live setting. The guitar amp will struggle to produce the low-end frequencies of the bass and potentially be damaged in the process.
What is the alternative to using a bass or guitar cab for live performances?
D.I boxes and preamps are great alternatives to using bass or guitar cabs for live performances. You simply send the output from either of these devices directly into a mixer, and out of the speakers, removing the need for amplifiers or cabs.