The electric guitar is, by far, one of the most interesting instruments. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that it still remains as one of the most popular ones among beginners and music enthusiasts of all kinds. The main reason why this is the case is the instrument’s flexibility. You can do almost anything that you could ever imagine on it.
Speaking of which, guitar amps and effects are especially interesting when it comes to finding new sounds. For more experienced players, combining different amp heads and cabinets has been one of the most important ways to shape their tone. Sure, it might be a bit tiring to have it taken with you on every live show or a studio session, but this still remains a go-to method to many.
And the same thing can be said about bass guitar amp heads and cabinets. At the same time, many have wondered about the differences between guitar and bass cabinets and whether they are interchangeable.
Technically, you can use a bass cab with a guitar head and it can work just fine without any potentially serious harm to your equipment. It’s the other way around – when you’re using a guitar cabinet for a bass amp head – that things get problematic.
Nonetheless, there are a few things you should know first. The tone will be completely different compared to what you have with the standard guitar amps and cabinets.
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Guitar Amp Heads: What Are They?
Let’s first see what are amp heads and what’s the deal with them. Your average combo amplifier, the all-in-one version, comes with an integrated speaker cabinet that usually has one or two speakers. But amp heads are just like any of your standard amplifiers, only without speakers.
Essentially, an amp head features a preamp and a power amplifier, as well as an effects loop in between in most cases. They can also be solid-state or tube-driven. Of course, there are also hybrid versions, with one or more tubes in the preamp, along with a solid-state power amp. In some very rare instances, there are hybrid amp heads with solid-state preamps and tube-driven power amps.
Guitar amp heads also have outputs with different impedance, which allows you to plug them in different types of cabinets, or even use multiple cabinets with one amp head. It’s also important to know that amp heads should never be turned on if a cabinet is not connected to them.
Bass Cabinets: How Are They Different From Guitar Cabinets?
So we know that guitar and bass amps process different frequencies. Guitars need to pronounce those mids that easily cut through the mix, and guitar amps and guitar cabinet speakers focus mostly on frequencies from 1.5 to about 4.5 kHz (this may vary).
As far as bass amps and bass cabinet speakers go, they start to cut off anything above 1 kHz, although there are different settings where this upper limit can be as high as 5 kHz. The main focus here is on those bass and sub-bass frequencies.
Bass amp speakers usually start with frequencies at around 40 Hz with different “bumps” along the spectrum depending on different amp models. It’s usually the larger speakers, those that are 12 or 15 inches in diameter, that are focusing more on lower frequencies.
With this said, cabinets designed for bass guitar amps can also be larger. This is not only due to the speaker size, but also because these cabinets should support the vibrations of these speakers and make the best out of them. In some way, it’s similar to the difference between speakers and a subwoofer of your home entertainment system.
In some more advanced cases, bass cabinets come with so-called “tweeters.” These are small speakers that help you reproduce higher parts of the audible spectrum. These cabinets usually come with separate controls that allow you to adjust the amount of signal going through them. Although bass guitars don’t go into higher areas, there are always some overtones present, and having a tweeter in a cabinet can help you get a more “open” bass tone.
As far as guitar cabinets go, they never have these tweeters. This kind of configuration would just pronounce some unfavorable “ice-pick” frequencies, especially if you’re playing a guitar that’s equipped with single-coil pickups.
Can I Use a Bass Cab With a Guitar Head?
Technically, you can use a bass cabinet in combination with a regular guitar amp head. In most cases, there won’t be any harm done to it. Bass cabinets are designed to withstand bigger wattages, so you most likely won’t have any issues or risks of ruining the speakers. Just make sure that it can support the wattage of your amp head and that you follow the standard impedance rules.
But the question shouldn’t be whether can you combine them, but whether should you do it. Here are some reasons why you should and why you shouldn’t do it.
Reasons Why You Should Use Bass Cab With a Guitar Head
The main reason why you should consider such a setting is if you really like bottom-end-heavy guitar tones. By plugging your guitar amp in a bass cabinet, you’ll lose a huge portion of the mids and almost all of the high-ends in the mix.
But that’s something that certain guitar players like. Combining it with a distortion pedal that you like can give some pretty heavy tones, especially useful for doom or stoner metal. At the same time, it can work with anything where smoother-sounding guitar tones are favored. For instance, some blues guitar players prefer vintage-oriented tones that can be achieved with a bass cabinet.
Just remember that you’ll need to test different combinations to find what you’re looking for as this approach is completely experimental. Some “sharper”-sounding solid-state amps can be smoothened out with a proper bass cabinet. It can even replicate the warmth of tube amps to some extent.
So, in short, here are some of the reasons why you should consider using a bass cab:
- If you like bottom-end heavy tones with almost no high-ends
- If you’re looking for a dark-sounding doom metal or stoner metal tone
- If you’re looking for smoother vintage-oriented tones as a blues guitar player
- To some extent, it can replicate the warmth of tube amps
Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Bass Cabinet With a Guitar Head
There are some downsides to this approach. After all, bass cabinets aren’t designed for this particular approach and you might get some unwanted “surprises” with such a combination of equipment.
To simplify this discussion, here are some reasons why it’s not recommended that you use a bass cab:
- It’s impractical. Special combinations require special handling. You’ll be left with a really bulky cabinet that you’ll need to carry around just so you could have a very specific tone with a very narrow scope of use.
- Tweeters can make it sound awful. If a bass cab has a tweeter, you could get a really “scooped” tone with a big influx of annoying high-end overtones.
- There’s a high chance it will sound dull. While there certainly are guitar players who are aiming for bottom-end-heavy tones, there’s a high chance that the tone will just be too “dull” and lifeless. Guitars are designed to work with mid frequencies, and so are amplifiers and distortion devices. By including a bass cabinet into this equation, you’ll be losing all of that. It’s the mids that give guitars such a sweet and desirable tone.
- You’ll need to search for the perfect combination. As we already mentioned, this approach is experimental and there are no specific guidelines on how to get a better tone for your needs. Guitar cabinets are designed to work with particular types of amp heads and you know what to expect. With a bass cabinet and a guitar amp, you’ll have to find the solution on your own. And even when you find a good combination, you’ll need to do a lot of tweaking and combine it all with your pedals and effects.
Don’t Use Guitar Cabinets for Bass Amps
But, as we already mentioned, you shouldn’t go the other way around and choose a guitar cabinet for your bass amp. This way, you’re pretty much going to ruin it sooner or later. The only way how you could do it, however, if you completely cut down on all the bass in the mix and just let the mids and highs go through it.
But even with such a setting, your bass guitar loses its main function as a backing instrument that covers the bottom-ends.
Everything Is Allowed, As Long As Your Gear Is Safe
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal preferences. Even if you feel like blowing up an amp, it’s all allowed, as long as everyone’s safe and as long as you don’t care about spending on new equipment every day.
But all the jokes aside, using a bass cabinet with a guitar amp head is not unheard of. You can get some pretty doomy-sounding tones with such a setting. Just remember that what works for one musical style doesn’t mean that it would sound as great in some other genre.