Bass Guitar Amplifier FAQ

The Bass Guitar Amplifier FAQ is a work-in-progress. If you have a question that isn't answered here, please contact me by filling out the form on the About Bass Guitar Rocks page or leave a comment below. Your input will make this FAQ even better!

  • How many watts do I need in a bass amp?
  • How loud does my bass amp need to be in a live band?
  • Are tube bass amps better than solid state bass amps?
  • What's a bass amp, bass amp head or combo bass amp?
  • What's a bass guitar rig or a bass guitar stack?
  • What's a bass guitar cabinet?
  • Who makes the best bass amp?
  • How do I buy the right speakers for my bass amp

How many watts do I need in a bass amp?

Bass amps in general require more power to get those bass frequencies loud enough to compete with drums or a distorted electric guitar! The amount of wattage required also depends to a certain extent on the following:

  • The size of club(s) that you play (the bigger the stage, the bigger the amp you need)
  • The style of music that you play; loud, distorted guitars will murder your bass presence in the mix.

A 100 - 150 watt bass amp is the bare minimum to use for rehearsals and small gigs; 300 watts is better since it allows the amp to push out the same or louder volume with less effort or strain. A louder amp doesn't have to work as hard, which means less chance of overheating, blowing a fuse or damaging a speaker.

How loud does my bass amp need to be in a live band?

[Bass amp wattage versus guitar amp wattage band formula]

This is a great formula that I picked up while hanging out on the Bass Player Magazine Lowdown Lowdown forum:

  • Take the total wattage of the guitar amp(s)
  • Multiply it by 2 to get your recommended bass amp wattage.

So, if you have two guitarists in a band and each has a 100 watt amp, the total guitar amp wattage is 200 watts. 200 watts x 2 = 400 watts, so your ideal bass amp wattage will be 400 watts or more.

Having more watts is better than having too few, as I've noted above - the less effort that it takes a bass amp to reach the required volume the less the chance of blowing fuses or overheating your amp. From my personal experience playing small to medium rehearsal halls and upto 1,200 seat clubs - 400 watts has served me well.

Are tube bass amps better than solid state bass amps?

Choosing the best amp comes down to three factors:

  • Cost
  • Maintenance
  • Preference

Tube or valve amps are noted for being warmer in tone and for distorting in a musical way when over-driven. They also require more maintenance, new tubes every so often and anti-biasing even less frequently.

Solid state amps are cheaper, lighter and often louder with a quicker response time. However, many of those that favour tube amps find solid state amps to sound cold in comparison. The technology has come a long way since solid state amps were first introduced, so if you haven't tried one in the last decade or so - do yourself a favour!

Hybrid amps are a combination of both solid state and tubes; tubes are often used in the preamp stage to help colour the tone, and the power stage is generally solid state to reduce weight, increase power and dependability. Hybrid bass amps are the answer to more power and less maintenance than tube amps while having more warmth than a solid state amp - but it will tend to cost more than a solid state amp.

Which type of amp is best for you? Try them all and choose the one that sounds best to you and fits your wallet!

What's a bass amp, a bass amp head or a combo bass amp?

The term bass amp is often used to describe either a combo amp, a bass stack or an amp head. However, the actual term bass amp means a standalone power amplifier with a built-in preamp to tweak the tone. This is also known as an bass amp head, since it sits at the top (or head) of a bass guitar stack.

A combo amp is generally a smaller or less powerful version of an amp head and a single cabinet in one unit. Combo bass amps are often sufficient for rehearsals, practicing at home and small to medium sized venues.

For other ways to hear your bass guitar without using a bass amplifier, check out my Bass Amp Alternatives post.

What's a bass guitar rig or a bass guitar stack?

Both of these terms refer to a bass amp head along with one or more bass guitar cabinets. The term stack is used to describe two cabinets stacked upon each other along with the amp head on top. Sometimes a half stack is used to refer to an amp head on top of only one cabinet. A bass combo amp with an extension bass guitar cabinet could also be referred to as a bass guitar rig or stack.

What is a bass guitar cabinet?

A bass cabinet is a dedicated enclosure containing one or more bass speakers. No sound will come from a bass amp head unless it is hooked up to a bass guitar cabinet with a speaker cable.

Bass cabinets are often named according to the size and quantity of bass speakers that they contain - a 4 x 10  bass cabinet refers to the fact that ther are four 10-inch speakers inside the bass enclosure. There are dozens of bass cabinet speaker configurations, running from 1 x 10 up to 8 x 10 and beyond!

Who makes the best bass amp?

There are many great bass amps available today, but Ampeg has always been a dedicated bass amplifier company and has since become the industry standard. The Ampeg bass amp complete with the 8x10 'fridge' bass cabinet are almost mandatory back line fixtures on rock concerts the world over.

Other terrific companies that specialize in bass guitar amplification include SWR, Trace Elliot, Eden, Markbass, Gallian Krueger and Aguilar.

How do I buy the right speakers for my bass amp?

The first thing you need to do is find out what the maximum lowest load that the amp will take, most bass amps today operate at a maximum of a 4 ohm load. Most bass amp manufacturers will state this with the maximum wattage output of the amp like: 400 watts @ 4 ohms.

To get the full 400 watts out of the amp, you need to hook up either a single 4 ohm bass guitar cabinet, or two 8 ohm cabinets (which equal 4 ohms total). Hooking up two Using a single 8 ohm cabinet will not hurt your bass amp, it just won't get as loud and there's the possibility that the amp could damage the speakers if 'cranked'. If you hook up two 4 ohm cabinets to the amp you'll be creating a 2 ohm load that can permanently damage your bass amp!

Always find out the ohms of the bass amp and bass cabinet(s) before you hook them up or play a single note! For information check out my post on how to buy a bass amplifier.

Thanks for reading the Bass Guitar Rocks Bass Guitar Amplifier FAQ!

  • Craig Phillips says:

    Hey Michael. Great FAQ, however I would argue one point. A majority of clubs (or bars that have offer live music) will mic your cabinet, or combo amp no matter the size. Also if you have that XLR out on your rig, it'll go right to the FOH anyway.

    Speaking of that XLR (Balanced Out), you could work in your FAQ. Explain what they are, and how it is used (though I already know :-)). Believe me, this is really good to know for those that are looking to upgrade their gear.

    On size of amp (solid state) I can tell you from experience, an unmiked 200 watt amp has no chance of competing with drums (unless electric), or 100 watt guitar amp at full volume without severe clipping and distorting. I got away with a 220 Watt Ampeg BA115 HP during rehearsals, and never clipped.

    Again noting that amps are a personal preference, but the more you do spend, the better your sound. I played on some really crappy gear in my early days of playing bass. When bought pro gear, my playing got 110% better, and it sounded 1000% better.

    My opinion for amps (starters to pro)

    Beginner Amps
    Acoustic B20
    Peavey Max 158
    Peavey TNT Series

    Intermediate Amps
    Ampeg BA 115HP
    Fender Bassman series
    Gallien Krueger Backline series

    Pro Amps
    Peavey Tour Series (450 and 700)
    Mesa Boogie M6 (tube)
    Carvin BX 600 and 1200 models
    Trace Elliot
    SWR GOLIATH SM 1500™ and SM 900™ series
    Ampeg SVT Pro 4
    Ampeg SVT Classic (tube, and this thing is a beast!)

    I didn't include cabinets for the Intermediate or Pro because there is something to be said about mixing and matching your amp to a cabinet.

    I was personally turned off to Markbass when I discovered that there is no active pickup jack on the amp, nor is there a pad down button. I also prefer to stay away from anything by Crate, due to the poor quality.

  • Michael Ippersiel says:

    Hey Craig,
    Like yourself I was writing from experience. I was able to get buy with a Hartke 1415 combo which was 150 watts and a single 15" speaker for all of my rehearsals and it did the job without distortion for my band. We played hard rock and metal music, and were a three piece with only a single distorted guitar and a hard-hitting (but not obnoxious) drummer. There was some built-in compression on that unit...maybe that helped? If memory serves, I could get by with using the amp a little past the half-way mark.
    However, we did play a gig without any P.A. system and I remember the amp was distorted beyond all belief - I probably had it around 3/4 or higher for volume. It was a hot summer night and I thought for sure the amp was going to melt!
    I moved up to a 400 watt Trace Elliot SMX bass amp with a 4x10 cabinet, so I'm sure I couldn't ever go back to a single 15 with only a 150 watts. But from my experience, I think you can get by with that amount of wattage if you're really hard up when you're first starting out.

  • Craig Phillips says:

    Impressive. I just had bad luck with smaller amps, but when money is tight you gotta get what you can.

  • Welder work  says:

    mosfet power amplifiers is the thing i prefer coz they sound like tube amps'".

  • Hey Paul I hope you read your Demo Patches My name is Doc and I want to know what Pedal you were using in the front end of the Golden Melody for that part of the Demo Paul, did you change any of the Amplifier's segtints from where they were in the beginning of the Demo when you started using the Pedal? I own a New Victoria Golden Melody as I do many other Victoria Amplifiers. Mark and Joann are exceptional people and are very good at their profession! Thanks!

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