The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
How to Choose the Right Wattage Bass Amp
Choosing the perfect bass amp means weighing all the factors important to you for your sound. Wattage should play a part in your decision, but just how much of a part depends on what you intend to do with your bass amp.
We can break the different bass amps down into four basic categories:
Types of Bass Amps
- Bass Amps for Practice: A small, low-wattage bass amp is a smart choice for most players.
- Bass Amps for Home Use: Mid-wattage amps are best for playing at home.
- Bass Amps for a Band: You’ll need a powerful bass amp to be heard over a live drummer and a 100-watt tube guitar amp.
- Bass Amps for Gigging: This is where things get interesting.
This article will cover each type of bass amp and suggest the right wattage you should consider in each situation.
I’d love to tell you there are no wrong answers here, but there are. Many a bass player has wasted money on an amp that doesn’t get the job done for them. Every bassist has his or her own unique power requirements. Contemplating yours will not only help you choose the right gear but better understand bass amps in general.
How Many Watts for a Bass Amp for Playing in a Band?
If you are playing in a band with a live drummer and a guitarist with a powerful amp, shoot for a minimum of 250 watts for your bass amp. Three hundred watts or more is preferable. In fact, the more power you have at your disposal the better.
Amps for Playing with a Band
Some bass amps are rated at over 1,000 watts. Is that too much for playing with a band? Not really, and not because you need the power of a 1,000-watt amp to be heard. It is because you want to be sure you have enough headroom when you crank up your amp. Typically, the higher the wattage, the more headroom an amp has.
Headroom is the amount of power you have at your disposal before your amps distorts. Put more practically, it is the available clean volume you have left after you’ve turned your amp up to the desired level. Headroom is very important for bass amps because we want a clear, rich sound without distortion. (Using distortion as an effect is another matter.) It is an important factor to consider no matter what use you have in mind for your bass amp.
Headroom, again practically, is also relative. If you play in a low-volume group you don’t need a 1,000-watt amp, but shoot for a little more power than you think you’ll need. I would suggest 100 watts minimum.
Top 5 Bass Amp Heads for Playing in a Band
- Hartke HA3500C
- Ampeg Portaflex PF-500
- Peavey MiniMAX
- Fender Rumble 500
- Ashdown Rootmaster RM500
These suggestions are based on the assumption you have no sound reinforcement for your band. This is often true at rehearsals or just when jamming. If you play gigs, you probably use a PA system to mix and amplify your band’s sound.
What Is the Best Bass Amp Wattage for Gigs?
If you have no sound reinforcement, choose a 300-watt or better bass amp for gigs if you play in a loud band. Headroom is important, so the more power the better. Your bass amp must not only compete with the drums and guitar in your group but also have enough power to project your sound to the back of the room.
Amps for Playing Gigs
However, if you use the house PA system it might be a different story. Some players reason they may as well save their wallet and their back by using a lower-wattage combo amp and running a line to the PA system. Even if you have a powerful bass amp, the sound guy will ask you to do this anyway. They will mic’ the guitar amps and drums, but bass rigs usually run a line out.
Gigging bassists will want to look to pro-level bass amps to get the job done.
Top 5 Bass Combo Amps for Gigs
- Fender Rumble Stage 800
- Gallien-Krueger MB210-II
- Peavey Tour TNT 115
- Ampeg BA210 v2
- Hartke HDHM500
This is one reason it is smart to choose a bass amp with an XLR out jack. Some bass combos have a “kickback” design that lets you set them on their backs or sides and use them as a monitor. Even if you choose such a small amp for gigging, I’d still shoot for a minimum of 100 watts.
Do you need a bass amp for gigging?
You might not need a bass amp at all. You can use a bass preamp/DI unit, many of which are no bigger than a standard effects pedal. This gives you the tone-shaping power you get from an amp without having to carry a bass amp around with you. You lose a little control compared to using an actual bass amp, but a bass preamp pedal is a smart choice for bassists who know they will only play gigs where they can run a line to the house system.
How Many Watts for a Bass Practice Amp?
Bass amps in the 10 to 30-watt range are best for practice. You’ll want an amp that has good EQ controls and some basic features such as a headphone jack. Most importantly, you want an amp that sounds good at low volume. Remember, the more power you have the more headroom is at your disposal.
Amps for Practice and Beginners
Portability is another important consideration, as you may wish you take your amp to lessons or to a friend’s house for jamming at low volumes. Bass amps in the 10 to 30-watt range are lighter and easier to manage.
Top 5 Bass Practice Amps
- Fender Rumble 15
- Ampeg BA-108
- Hartke HD15
- Eden EC8
- Ashdown Tour Bus 15
It used to be true that most small bass amps sounded horrible. They just weren’t built well enough to handle the low-end frequencies of a bass guitar. The chassis would rattle and the speakers couldn’t handle the sound. These days, there are many excellent bass practice amps to choose from.
Really, you can practice with any bass amp you want. It just makes sense to choose a smaller amp that is easy to work with.
How Many Watts Does a Bass Amp Need for Home Use?
For home use, go with a bass amp in the 150-200 watt range. They have the power and headroom to sound good and have more and better features than smaller bass amps. As a bonus, these amps also have the power for playing in a low-volume group if the opportunity presents itself.
Amps for Playing at Home
However, If you are a hobby player with no desire to do anything but play your bass in peace in the comfort of your own home, my best advice when choosing a bass amp for home use is this: Do whatever the heck you want to do.
If you want a 1,000-watt stack in your living room, that’s your business (and maybe your spouse’s). If you are happy with a little 20-watt amp, good for you. If you want to own more bass gear than the average touring rock band, I’m sure not going to stop you.
Many combo bass amps in the $500 range have the power and features for playing.
Top 5 Bass Amps for Home Use
- Fender Rumble 200
- Ampeg BA115
- Gallien-Krueger MB112-II
- Hartke HD150
- Peavey MAX 250
That’s the joy of being a home hobby musician. You own gear you like and do what makes you happy while avoiding GAS as much as possible. Or not avoiding. It’s all up to you.
Bass Amp FAQ and Summary
More bass amp answers:
Why do bass amps need more wattage?
Bass amps need to be higher wattage because of the way we humans hear sound. Put basically, lower frequencies are harder to hear and thus require greater amplification. Another reason is that bass amps are most often solid state. Solid-state amps don’t sound very good when they distort, so we need enough power to prevent that from happening at higher playing volumes. Remember, headroom is important for bassists.
Are 300 to 350 watts enough for a bass amp?
Bass amps between 300 and 350 should be powerful enough for most situations. Around 300 watts is a good ballpark for most bassists who play in a loud band. You need enough power to be heard above the guitar amps and drums.
Is a 10 to 15-watt bass amp good enough?
A 10 or 15-watt bass amp is good for practice and home use, but not for playing with a band. Even if you play in a low-volume group is still a good idea to shoot for around 100 watts. The exception is if you plan to run a line to the house PA system and let them handle your bass amplification. Here, you’d only be using your small amp for tone shaping or a direct box.
Can you play a bass through a guitar amp?
You can play a bass through a guitar amp, but it is not a good idea. Guitar amps aren’t made to handle the frequencies of a bass guitar. You might damage the speaker or even the amp itself. It is smarter to use a bass amp for bass and a guitar amp for guitar.
Which Bass Amp Is Best for You?
So, to summarize the information in this article:
- Bassists who play in bands will want to choose the appropriate amp based on their group’s playing style. Bassists in loud rock bands should look to amps rated at 300 watts or more. Those in lower-volume groups ought to consider amps of at least 100 watts.
- Bassists who gig should choose a powerful bass amp if they have no other sound reinforcement. If they can run a line to a house system, they can use a lower-wattage amp or even a preamp with a direct out.
- Bassists looking for a practice amp are smart to consider amps in the 10 to 30-watt range. They have the basic features needed for good sound but they are also portable and easy to work with.
- Bassists who play only at home can do whatever they want to do.
Remember that his advice is based on my personal experience and opinions. Really, everybody can do whatever the heck they want to do. Just make sure you do enough research before deciding so you can choose the best bass amp for you.
Guitar Gopher (author) on February 07, 2020:
Raymond Philippe from The Netherlands on February 06, 2020:
Very informative article. I like the fact that you use your personal experience too.