It’s not uncommon for guitar players to play a little bass, and vice versa. In fact, some of the most famous bass players, such as Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, or KISS’ Demon Gene Simmons, owned and played several guitars, for practice, writing songs, or both.
Many modern players are looking to downsize their rigs and gear collections. For that reason, getting an amp that works for playing both guitar and bass - albeit not at the same time - is an increasing market.
In this article, I’ll look at the best amps for playing guitar and bass on the market today, and explain the ins and outs of doing so.
Can You Play Guitar on a Bass Amp (and Vice Versa?)
First things first: the best amp for guitar is a guitar amp. The best amp for bass is a bass amp. Amplifiers built for the electric guitar are specifically designed with the instrument’s frequency range in mind. The same is true of bass amplifiers.
For example, guitar amps typically sit in the range of 100 watts or less. Bass amps often get up to 300 watts or more. Guitar amp speakers are also typically smaller, although this is not universally true.
Generally, the best size speaker for a guitar amplifier is 10 to 12 inches, and most guitar speaker cabinets feature an array of speakers of this size in rows of two. The classic Marshall stack, for example, features two 4x12 cabinets: eight 12-inch speakers.
Bass amp speakers, on the other hand, tend to be larger, with many bass speakers featuring a sole fifteen-inch speaker.
You won’t get the best results for either instrument from using a single amplifier for both.
However, as a general rule, you’re better off using a bass amp for guitar than the reverse.
Guitar speakers are simply not equipped to handle the massive, booming low end of a bass guitar. This heightens the risk of damage to your guitar amp. The other feature to look out for is the natural breakup of many guitar amps.
Bass amps tend to prioritize a cleaner tone, and a distorted bass signal can really mess up your guitar amp’s speakers. Best to make sure you’re using a clean sound and supply any desired dirt from pedals.
With all that established, there is a rich history of bass amps being used for electric guitar. The trick is to use an amp optimized for bass guitar, as this can definitely handle the weaker, thinner sound of a guitar.
Guitar players have been using bass amps for their instrument for decades now. In fact, the original Fender Bassman was so widely adopted as a guitar amp that Jim Marshall, legendary designer of the Marshall amplifier brand, based his original amps on the Fender Bassman!
With this in mind, the list below considers the best amplifiers on the market today for playing both guitar and bass.
What to Look for in a Combo Amp for Guitar and Bass
The usual criteria for a quality amplifier applies here. First, look at what you need. Do you need an amp to practice with at home, or do you need something you can take to a gig where you’re switching between guitar and bass? Do you need a versatile studio rig for session work?
Smaller amps are better suited for practice and, in some cases, recording. Larger amps are better for gigs and rehearsal. At most of your gigs, the sound engineer will mic up your amp anyway, but you don’t want to work with anything smaller than a ten-inch speaker if you’re playing with a drummer.
Some of these combo amps are small, but feature a high-quality output jack that can plug into an external speaker (to make the amp louder) or straight into the PA. In that case, that amp is suitable for gigging, assuming your PA or external speaker can handle the additional load.
Generally, an amp for both guitar and bass should be well-suited to bass first, and guitar second. The exception to this is a modeling amp, which will automatically load guitar or bass “amp” software to play through high-definition audio, rather than instrument, speakers.
Best Amps for Both Guitar and Bass
1. Fender Rumble 25
It should be no surprise that Fender, the titan of American guitar manufacturing, has a solid entry to this list. The original Fender bass amp, the Bassman, was the original bass-and-guitar combo, with its enormous volume and excellent saturation.
The Rumble 25 is a 25-watt combo amp with a single eight-inch speaker. The smaller speaker offers a tight response for playing bass compared to a larger fifteen-inch speaker.
Its simple control layout is a welcome sight in an era of overly complicated controls. All you have is volume, an overdrive switch, and a three-band EQ. There’s a convenient aux input for plugging in your phone (or an iPod if you’re old like me) to play along to your favorite songs.
The Rumble 25 is very clearly designed to be a home practice amp. Its diminutive size means it won’t take up too much room in your home, and the even volume taper allows for relatively unobtrusive practice. If that’s too loud, you can always plug some headphones into the headphone jack.
Plugging an electric guitar into this amp yields, as expected, sparkling cleans and a flat, even tonal response. The built-in overdrive offers some classic Fender grunt, but I’d recommend that players who depend more heavily on driving their tone use a distortion or overdrive pedal.
This amp’s pleasantly neutral tonal palette takes pedals very well, made much easier by its simple control layout and lightweight size.
2. Ampeg Rocket Bass RB-108
Ampeg have long been a major player in pro-level bass gear, and this amplifier is testament to the brand’s durability and excellent build quality.
This 30-watt Rocket Bass combo amp features a single eight-inch speaker that handles bass and guitar signals with equal aplomb. I personally prefer the wider, more authoritative grunt of a ten-inch speaker for guitar, but for a guitar and bass combo amp this will do very well.
Ampeg amps offer more crunch and growl than many more cleanly flavored bass amps. This is what Ampeg’s loyal customers want from their amps, so if you’re looking for an ultra-clean pedal platform amp this may not be for you.
However, if you’re willing to lean into the Ampeg grunt, this amp offers plenty of great tone at a volume that won’t rattle the walls and annoy your neighbors.
Another excellent feature of this amp is its headphone output. This is not only useful for home practice with headphones, but acts as a direct out into an audio interface. Bedroom and recording musicians will get the most out of this feature.
You could plug this amp straight into Ableton or Pro Tools if that’s how you like to make music.
The most useful feature for those looking to play either guitar or bass is the amp’s adaptive 0dB and -15dB instrument inputs. These allow you to adjust between high-powered humbuckers or thinner single coils, or switch between guitar and bass with ease.
3. Positive Grid Spark
The Positive Grid Spark has been turning heads all over the world in recent years. It became particularly popular during COVID, when players were staying home, practicing to their heart’s content.
The Spark, unlike many other entries on this list, is designed to be a guitar amp. It works best with an electric guitar. However, this is a modeling amp. Its twin four-inch speakers aren’t powered by tubes. It’s powered by over 10,000 presets, so you can change the amp, speaker, and cab configuration to suit your needs.
This means you can, in theory, switch the Spark from being a guitar amp to being a bass amp depending on what you need to practice. The Spark app (available on iOS or Android) is actually built to intelligently learn chord progressions and supply a virtual session bassist and drummer. That means that this guitar amp is built to handle bass tones!
Even better, the Spark’s app lets you download from an enormous library of tone presets across all your instruments.
To be clear, the Spark is not built for gigging. You couldn’t take it to a gig or rehearsal and expect to keep up with a drummer and a live band. You could, however, use the ⅛ inch TRS output jack to plug into a larger speaker and theoretically have that option.
4. Orange Crush Bass 50
Orange’s excellent reputation as one of the two major British amp builders extends to this quality bass entry into the Crush series. The Crush Bass 50 is a 50-watt amp that includes a 12-inch speaker.
The analog circuitry, active EQ, and parametric mid control all contribute to the amplifier’s enormous quality of tone. The amplifier has all the warmth and grit that you’d expect from a vintage Orange amplifier, in a package that won’t send you straight to the chiropractor.
The amplifier is solid-state, not tube, which might not appeal to some old-school purists. However, this amp responds to playing dynamics about as well as most tube amps.
The headphone output also includes one of my favorite features: a CabSim! This means you don’t just get the preamp sound, but some of the tone of the amp’s speaker when you plug in headphones.
It also means that, if the 12-inch speaker is too small for your band’s ultra-loud rehearsals and gigs, you can plug it into the PA and use that as an external amplifier. The aux input for home practice is also useful for playing along to your favorite songs.
Orange amplifiers have a distinctive tone, so those looking for a neutral amp are better off looking at Fender amps and their ilk. However, plugging in a Les Paul and fiddling with the EQ yielded tones surprisingly similar to Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac.
5. Vox VX50BA
Vox, the third major British amp builder, is probably best known for their AC30 model, as used by the Beatles and Queen.
The VX50BA represents yet another foray from Vox into a more modern market, straying from their vintage-flavored roots with a decidedly forward-thinking amplifier.
This 50-watt amp is remarkably compact, with its solitary eight-inch speaker housed in an impressively tiny enclosure. This isn’t to say, however, that it is short on tone. The sound is appreciably bright and glassy, offering plenty of tonal definition to the bass sound.
One nifty feature is the NuTube preamp, a modern update on the classic vacuum tube. This means that the Vox amp responds just like a vintage tube amp. Play harder, and the amp gets louder. Play softer, and the map gets softer.
The real benefit of this tube technology is when playing this amp with a guitar, however. You can dial in a very pleasant edge-of-breakup sound that sees your guitar tone saturate or clean up depending on your playing dynamics. Players like me who like to ride their volume knob will get the most out of this feature.
As the amp is designed for bass, plugging in a guitar requires some management of the EQ. However, its frequency response does not have the brittle brightness that can occasionally plague Vox’s guitar amps. Overall, an excellent sound and a quality amplifier.
6. Peavey Vypyr X1
Peavey are probably best known for their high-octane metal amps like the 5150 and 6505. Their high-gain amplifiers were a mainstay of the 2000s metal and hard rock scenes, although they were better known as guitar amps than bass amps.
However, the Vypyr X1, with its eight-inch speaker and 20 watts of power, is built to handle electric guitar, bass, and acoustic guitar with equal finesse. That’s because it’s a modeling amp, designed with thousands of tones in mind.
With versatility at the forefront of this amplifier’s design, it boasts a few features that make it a great choice for players looking to easily switch between guitar and bass. One is the Variable Instrument input, which changes the amplifier’s gain structure and sensitivity based on the instrument you’ve plugged in.
In theory, that means you don’t have to worry about adjusting the volume, gain, and EQ when switching from bass to guitar and vice versa. In practice, the amplifier takes a moment to recognise what’s been plugged in. You’ll still need to do some EQ adjustment, or load the appropriate preset for the new instrument.
Also very helpful is the amp’s LED-illuminated control interface with a pro-quality USB output so you can plug straight into your audio interface. It all feels very space-age.
Ordinarily, I avoid all-purpose gear, but as a practical gigging, practicing, and recording solution, it’s hard to go past the Vypyr.
When looking for a guitar and bass combo amp, practicality and versatility are paramount. The amplifiers in the list above are well suited to a range of needs, so it’s always important to consider your existing equipment and what you need from the new purchase.
If all you need is an amp for switching between guitar and bass when practicing at home, a relatively small, versatile combo amplifier is probably your best bet. These days, amp technology is better than ever, and there’s a combination guitar and bass amp for just about every need.