Perhaps you are a keyboard player who wants to learn the bass. And you want to save money buying a bass amp by using your existing keyboard amp. Or maybe you only have access to a keyboard amp at the venue you’re playing. Whatever the reason, can you use a keyboard amp for bass?
In short, yes. You can use a keyboard amp for a bass guitar without any issues, and mostly, keyboard amps sound great for bass. However, you may need a preamp to boost the bass guitar’s audio signal before it is plugged into the keyboard amp.
Before we dive into this topic even further, I think I should mention right off the bat that using a keyboard amp for bass is completely normal. Many bass players have used keyboard amps in the past, and many still do.
However, there are some important things to consider if you want to make the most out of this setup. And that is what the rest of the article is about.
We’ll talk about the key differences between a bass and a keyboard amp and then follow that up with the pros and cons of using a keyboard amp for a bass guitar. And finally, I’ll give you some tips on how to properly run bass through a keyboard amp. If all of this sounds interesting, let’s dig in.
Difference between a Bass and Keyboard Amp
I talked about the difference between a bass and a keyboard, in great detail, in my previous article on using a bass amp for a keyboard. Feel free to check it out if you want an in-depth explanation of the difference.
Let me briefly explain the key differences between a bass and a keyboard amp.
Firstly, every bass amp has a built-in preamp. But why is that?
Bass guitars output a weak audio signal known as instrument-level signal. Instrument-level signals are very quiet and are not audible. So preamps are built into bass amps to boost these weak inaudible signals into a strong audible audio signal known as line-level signal.
The strong line-level signal can then be processed by the bass amp’s power amp and further amplified for the cabinet (or speakers). This signal can also be sent to the Front of House mixing engineer.
Keyboard amps, on the other hand, have no preamp built-in preamp. That’s because every keyboard has a preamp built into them. This means the audio signal from keyboards is already strong line-level signals. So there is no need to put a preamp into a keyboard amp.
Secondly, many bass amps are not full-range. What this simply means is bass amps cannot play all the frequencies in an audio signal.
Bass amp manufacturers design these amps to play the low and mid frequencies. That’s because that’s the frequency range of bass guitars and other low-end instruments. On average, most bass amps have a frequency range between 40Hz-1kHz.
However, this is gradually changing because newer bass amps on the market are becoming more high-fidelity and full range. There is no noticeable audible difference between these newer bass amps and keyboard amps if I’m being honest.
Keyboard amps, on the other hand, are full range. This means they are designed to play every audible frequency in an audio signal. Keyboard amps are made to have a full frequency range because there are wide varieties of sounds on them.
From wind instruments to organs to pianos and even bass — keyboards have all these different sounds in them. So these amps have to be in full range in order to reproduce all these different sounds efficiently.
Pros of Using a Keyboard Amp for Bass
As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a lot of bass players who actually prefer using keyboard amps to bass amps. And here are some of the reasons why they go keyboard amps over bass amps.
1. You get a richer bass tone
What do I mean by this? Because most bass amps are not full range, they can’t reproduce all of the audio frequencies a bass guitar produces. You’ll get an enjoyable sound from a bass amp, however. But it won’t be close to accurate.
However, because keyboard amps are full-range, all of the mids and high frequencies of a bass guitar get played back, and you get a fuller-sounding bass guitar sound.
Also, slaps, pops, and harmonics bass playing techniques sound awesome when played through a keyboard amp. That’s because all of these techniques produce high frequencies, which you wouldn’t normally hear when the bass is plugged in a bass amp. But a keyboard amp will bring out all of those frequencies, giving you a much fuller and richer bass tone
2. Keyboard amps are great for bass pedals
This ties in with the previous point. Bass guitar effects like overdrive distortion, fuzz, phaser, pitch shifters, and more produce a lot of high frequencies. Most of these frequencies will not be heard when played through most bass amps.
This is why it is a good idea to play bass through a keyboard amp when you’re using effect pedals. You get the best representation of your bass effects when they are played through a keyboard amp, and you enjoy its sound a bit more.
Cons of Using a Keyboard Amp for Bass
Here are the reasons not to use a keyboard amp for your bass.
1. You may need a preamp pedal
As we’ve already talked about, bass guitars output a weak audio signal, and you’ll need a preamp to boost the signal.
Since keyboard amps have no preamps built in, you may need to purchase a preamp pedal to boost the bass guitar’s signal, especially if you use a passive bass.
And certainly, this will come at an extra cost to you.
2. Most keyboard amps are not powerful enough for bass
Bass amps usually have a higher power rating than keyboard amps. That’s because bass amps are designed to move more air in order to play lower frequencies louder.
They have to play loud enough to be heard, especially when you’re playing on stage with other musicians. That is why bass amps have bigger speakers.
However, keyboard amps are not as powerful as bass amps. They can’t play as loud as bass amps.
So if you decide to use a keyboard amp for your bass during a live performance, you may not hear the bass, especially if you play in a rock or metal band. The bass might get buried under the noisy guitars and drums.
Tips for Using a Keyboard Amp for Bass
Here are my tips on how to use a keyboard amp for bass
1. Use a Preamp Pedal
Keyboard amps are designed to play line-level signals. And since bass guitars output an instrument-level signal, you need to find a way to boost the signal to a line-level signal. And the only way to do that is to use a preamp.
A preamp will boost the low output signal from the bass into a high output line-level signal needed by a keyboard amp.
Any preamp pedal will work just fine. But if you’re looking for recommendations, then you should definitely pick up the MXR M81 Bass Preamp (on Amazon). Not only is this an excellent preamp with separate input and output level knobs, but it also has a built-in 3-band EQ to shape your bass tone however you like. Feel free to check it out.
2. Use the mic input on the keyboard amp
If there is a mic input on the keyboard amp and you have no preamp pedal, you should plug your bass into it rather than using the ¼” input channel ports.
That’s because these mic inputs will usually have a preamp built into them. So you’ll get higher output from the bass using the mic input on the keyboard amp than the ¼” inputs.
3. Don’t Play Too Loud
As we talked about earlier, most keyboard amps are not powerful enough for bass. You might be tempted to turn the volume of the keyboard amp all the way up if you can’t hear the bass, especially if you’re playing live.
I wouldn’t recommend you do that. You risk damaging your keyboard amp easily if it’s too loud. I explained why in my article on how bass can damage speakers. Do well to check it out.
You should pay attention to how it sounds to make sure it is not clipping. And immediately when you notice that it is clipping, turn it down.
Also, to prevent having this issue, don’t use a keyboard amp with your bass for live performance. You can use it while practicing at home because you’ll not open it way too loud when practicing. Simply stick to a traditional bass amp for live purposes.
In summary, yes, you can use a keyboard amp for bass. But you’ll have to use an external preamp to boost the bass signal from instrument level to line level signal before you plug it into the keyboard amp.