Perhaps you are a bass player learning the keyboard, and you don’t want to save money on buying a dedicated keyboard amp. Or maybe you are a keyboard player who has no option but to use the bass amp available at the venue you are playing. Whatever the reason, is it a good idea to plug a keyboard in a bass amp? Can you use a bass amp for a keyboard?
In short, yes. You can use a bass amp for a keyboard without any potential damage. However, this is not ideal because most bass amps cannot reproduce keyboard sounds accurately and can sound too muddy. This means most keyboard sounds can lose their clarity when run through a bass amp.
Don’t let this discourage you from ever considering using a bass amp for a keyboard. That’s because sometimes it’s a great idea to choose a bass amp over a keyboard amp for your keyboard. And we’ll talk about some of those instances later in the article. And then I’ll give you tips on how to run a keyboard through a bass amp.
And then we’ll also talk about some reasons not to use a bass amp for a keyboard. At the end of this article, you’ll be well equipped with all the caveats of using a bass amp for a keyboard. And that will help you decide whether to go for a bass amp or a keyboard for your keyboard rig.
But first and foremost, let’s talk about the differences between a bass and a keyboard amp.
Difference between Bass Amp and Keyboard Amp
To be honest, bass and keyboard are very similar when it comes to how they are constructed, as well as the materials they use. But some key elements differentiate a bass amp from a keyboard amp. And that’s what we’ll talk about in this section.
Just as the name depicts, a Bass amp is made for the bass guitar or other low-frequency instruments. With this in mind, the main goal of bass amp manufacturers is to make sure they build an amp that can produce a lot of bass or low-end that sounds really good.
Many bass amps available today, especially those made in the ’90s and early 2000s, are not full-range. This simply means these amps can’t playback all of the frequencies in an audio signal. They are designed to play only the low frequencies in an audio signal. For this reason, most bass amps have a frequency range between 40Hz-1000Hz.
Secondly, most bass amps have only one input port. This means you can only connect one instrument to it. To connect two bass guitars, or bass and a synth to one bass amp, you’ll need to use a mixer.
However, there are always exceptions. There are few bass amplifiers available today that have two channels, meaning you can plug in two instruments or audio sources. But that’s not the norm.
One example of such an amp is the Fender Rumble 15 Bass Combo Amp (on Amazon), arguably one of the most budget-friendly amps available today. Besides the main input, it has an aux input to connect another instrument or even a phone to play music. Let’s get back to the topic.
Another thing that differentiates a bass amp from a keyboard amp is that bass amps have a built-in preamp. That’s because the bass guitar, which is the primary musical instrument used with a bass amp, outputs an instrument-level signal. The signal that a bass guitar delivers to a bass amp is too weak; it has to be preamplified before any further processing and amplification.
This is why there is a preamp built into every bass amp. So one difference you’ll notice between a bass and keyboard amp is the gain knob. There is a gain knob on a bass amp, but not on a keyboard amp.
Keyboards produce a wide variety of sounds. The modern keyboard doesn’t only contain keyboard sounds like the piano, Rhodes, organ, accordion, or synthesizer. There are many other instruments and samples that keyboards can produce.
With this in mind, keyboard amp manufacturers design and construct keyboard amps to playback and reproduce all of these different sounds as accurately as possible. For this reason, all keyboard amps are full-range. This simply means they can playback all of the audible frequencies in an audio signal.
This is the primary difference between a bass and a keyboard amp. Bass amps have a narrow frequency range (mostly between 40-1000Hz). Keyboard amps, on the other hand, on average, have a frequency range of 50Hz-15kHz.
Secondly, most keyboard amps have multiple inputs. Manufacturers provide multiple input channels so that you can plug multiple keyboards or instruments into the amp. And all of the input channels will have a dedicated volume knob so that you can mix the numerous signals right on the amp.
A few manufacturers even provide a microphone input so that you can connect a microphone. That option is great for those who want to sing and play the keyboard simultaneously without using a mixer.
One of such keyboard amps is the Behringer K450FX Keyboard Amplifier (on Amazon). Not only does this amp have three input channels, but there is also an additional XLR input channel where you can connect a microphone directly. There are many other great things about this amp beyond the scope of this article.
Another difference between a bass and a keyboard amp is, there is no preamp in keyboard amps. That’s because all keyboards output a line-level signal which is already a strong signal. So there is no need for a preamp in keyboard amps.
Reasons Not to Use a Bass Amp for Keyboards
Here are a few reasons why playing a keyboard through a bass amp is not ideal.
1. Most bass amps won’t reproduce keyboard sounds accurately
As I mentioned earlier, most keyboard sounds are full-range sounds. However, most bass amps are not full-range. They can only play the low and mid frequencies of the sounds from a keyboard.
This means the keyboard sound produced by a bass amp will not be accurate because the high frequencies will not be heard.
2. Bass amps can sound too muddy for a keyboard
Just as we’ve already talked about, the bass amp is uniquely made for the bass guitar and other low-end instruments. The amp and speakers are designed in a way that they make these instruments sound as good as possible. One way to make it sound good is to make the amp sound as bass-heavy as possible.
Bass-heavy amps are just not great for many keyboard sounds. Many keyboard sounds will lose their clarity and a unique characteristic when they are too bassy. They end up sounding too muddy.
3. Bass amps color the sound
One significant difference between a bass and keyboard amp is that bass amps have a built-in preamp, keyboard amps don’t.
And just as I explained in my article on using multiple preamps, preamps add a certain tone and color to a sound. The tonal characteristic of one preamp varies from the other. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s because many musicians and recording engineers use different preamps for a keyboard to achieve a different sound.
However, if you are a purist who wants to get an accurate representation of your keyboard sounds, then this might be a problem for you. That’s because the preamp of a bass amp will certainly change how your keyboard sounds.
Reasons to Use a Bass Amp for a Keyboard
All hope is not lost. There are still good reasons to choose a bass amp over a keyboard amp for your keyboard. Also, I’ve seen many keyboard players using bass amps for their keyboards without having any issues.
At the church I play at, the main keyboard player uses a bass amp for his Korg Kronos keyboard without any problem. And honestly, they sound quite good.
So here are the reasons to use a bass amp for your keyboard.
1. Newer bass amps are full-range
Gone are the days where all bass amps made only played bass and mid frequencies. Nowadays, many manufacturers are making full-range bass amplifiers or 3-way bass amps. These amps will usually have a tweeter in the cab for playing the high frequencies.
You can’t differentiate between a full-range bass amp and a keyboard amp because they can both playback audio as accurately as possible.
So if you want to save money by purchasing one amp for your bass and keyboard or synth, I highly recommend picking up one of these full-range bass amps.
2. Bass amps are great for key bass and organs
Nowadays, many bass players don’t just play electric or acoustic bass guitars; they also play synth bass patches which require them to use a keyboard or a synthesizer.
If you play bass sounds on your keyboard, it’s a no-brainer to use a bass amp instead of a keyboard amp. Whether the sounds you play are sampled bass guitar sounds or synth bass, a bass amp is the most ideal for you.
Bass amps can also be great for playing B3 Hammond Organ sounds. That’s because Hammond organs can get really bassy on the lower registers. And only a bass amp has enough low end to play those lower frequencies of a Hammond organ.
Tips to Using a Bass Amp for a Keyboard
Here are my two tips to prevent any issues and get the most out of a bass amp being used for a keyboard.
1. Reduce the keyboard’s main volume
As I mentioned earlier, keyboards output a line-level signal which is a very strong signal. This signal, when processed through a bass amp’s preamp, can get excessively loud and possibly damage the amp. You certainly don’t want this to happen. But there is a workaround to this issue.
Simply reduce the volume of the keyboard. This will send a quiet signal to the amp. You can then boost the signal with the preamp on the bass amp by increasing the gain. After doing this, you’ll get a loud enough signal level that can be heard clearly through the amp. I explained this, in detail, in my article on running synth through a guitar amp. Feel free to check it out.
2. Reduce the Lows and Boost the Mids and Highs
As we’ve already talked about, one disadvantage of running a keyboard in a bass amp is the sound can be too muddy.
Fortunately, almost every bass amp has a built-in equalizer. Most come with a 3-band EQ, while a few on the market have a 5, 6, or even a 7-band EQ.
To reduce a bass amp’s muddiness, simply reduce the lower frequencies and boost and mids and high frequencies to give it a frequency response suitable for a keyboard. This will help increase the clarity of the keyboard through the bass amp.
Most bass amps are not ideal for keyboards because they usually sound too bassy for a keyboard. However, with a few EQ tweaks, you can get it to sound great for a keyboard.
If you are in the market for a new bass amp, I recommend you pick up a full-range bass amp. These amps are great for both a keyboard and a bass.