Guitar…check. Audio interface…check. Computer…check.
A vast array of amps and effects to play with…let us help you out there.
You might think it odd that a musical instrument retailer would point you in the direction of free stuff, but here at Dawsons Music we’re a helpful bunch. At the end of the day, we’re all musicians too (with a fair few divas).
Moving back to the free guitar VST plugins there are vast libraries to explore. Unfortunately, this can make it all the more daunting to find one that you can get stuck into. Therefore, we’ve picked some that we hope will get you up and running in no time.
What does VST mean?
In short, Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is an audio plug-in that uses digital signal processing to simulate traditional studio hardware. From recreations of vintage analogue channel strips, renditions of prized microphones, from classic guitar stompboxes to modern day tube amp behemoths, and a smorgasbord synths, there is a VST to match pretty much every audiophile’s desires.
Using your DAW of choice or standalone VST hosting software such as Cantabile Lite or VSTHost, you can load up a graphical user interface (GUI) representation of the plugin and tinker with settings. With such a competitive market across both commercial and non-commercial VSTs, the standard of quality is high. Naturally, the beefier the plugin then the greater the computer processing power that you’re going to need to minimise latency. Unless you’re planning on crafting your magnum opus with unlimited tracks that all require unique plugins to establish your sonic masterpiece, you should be fine.
Boasting a worthy reputation for producing some of the best audio interfaces on the market, Universal Audio know a thing or two about a thing or two. When it comes to plugins, they aren’t too shabby about layering their hardware with a hefty bucketload of software too.
For those who want an audio interface that will get the job done, won’t break the bank, and delivers exceptional performance in the process, check out our guide to the most excellent Focusrite Scarlett. And if you’re weighing up whether or not to go Scarlett or Clarett, then check out this useful guide to find out which one most suits you.
As well as all that, you can find information on the Focusrite Plug-In Collective too. Plugins galore!
Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)
For those who may be wondering what DAWs are out there, then if you’re just getting off the ground you can’t go wrong with something like Audacity. Getting your bearings with regard to working out how to get a signal from your guitar through your interface into your DAW can be tricky. However, Audacity is about as easy as it gets, offering the basics for you to get up and running.
Let’s check out those free VSTs
1. IK Multimedia – AmpliTube Custom Shop
Hats off to the team at IK Multimedia. Innovators from the very beginning, their range of audio plugins covers everything from complete studio tools to single instrument effects. The AmpliTube Custom Shop is their free offering of their renowned AmpliTube range of guitar VSTs. Loaded with 24 pieces of gear to get you up and running, which include a digital chromatic tuner, 9 stomp boxes, 4 amps, 5 cab models, 3 mics and 2 rack effects units. You can expand your arsenal with more models as you progress, and the IK library includes authorized models from legendary brands such as Ampeg, Marshall, MESA/Boogie, Orange, Soldano, and Wampler to name but a few. There are even AmpliTube software options for iPhone/iPad and Android devices for when you’re on the move.
2. Native Instruments – Guitar Rig 5 Player
If you don’t know who Native Instruments are, then let’s just say that they know a thing or two when it comes to audio software (and hardware but we’re focusing on software here, alright). Their Guitar Rig 5 Player software is a trimmed down free version of their powerful Guitar Rig 5 Pro suite. Set out in a modular format, Guitar Rig 5 Player hosts the Jump Amp with Matched Cabinet, which looks and behave in a very similar fashion to a well-known British amp manufacturer’s model. Dedicated effects include a distortion called the Skreamer (again based on a popular guitar effect), modulation effects, reverbs and delays, EQs and filters, dynamic controllers, and studio-based modifiers, tools and sidechain capability. Guitar Rig 5 Player is also expandable, with a range of add-ons available from Native Instruments’ NI Online Shop.
3. SimuAnalog Guitar Suite
Moving away from the industry heavyweights we find non-commercial products such as the remarkable SimulAnalog Guitar Suite. Conceived as part of an academic research project and applied to musical instrument gear, we guitarists reap the benefits. Hooray! There are simulations of time-tested classics here from BOSS, Ibanez, Fender, Marshall, Univox and Oberheim. Memory requirements are minimal, and the audio quality is astonishing considering this is completely free. Check out the samples via the link provided and remember – it’s free!
4. LePou Guitar Plugins / LeCab2
A gentleman from France by the name of Poulin is responsible for LePou Guitar Plugins and LeCab2 impulse loader. The man is an absolute wizard when it comes to crafting software-based guitar rigs. There are recreations of classic British high gain amps, modern day German engineered powerhouses, Californian boutique amps and the American high gain amps that have become a metal standard. The plugins play well with both Windows and Mac-based systems, they run smoothly, and they sound amazing. If you fancy getting your shred on, then you need to check this guy’s wares out now!
5. TSE Audio – TSE X50
Another one for rockers and metallers to get stuck into, the TSE Audio TSE X50 is a fantastic digital emulation of a world-famous US guitar amp. The demo version is free with the option to upgrade should you wish to. TSE have included a detailed walkthrough video of the software, as well as a selection of demo tracks to give you a flavour of what it is capable of.
6. Fretted Synth Audio – FreeAmp 3 Full
FreeAmp 3 by Joseph DeHelian of Fretted Synth Audio is a Windows-based plug-in that boasts wide ranging tone shaping potential. The software boasts built-in amp types, different EQs with independent controls, a guitar synth, various compressors and gates, plus a plethora of effects to get stuck into including delays, reverbs, overdrives, etc. Something like this shouldn’t be free, but it is, so fill your boots!
We know that the title said “6 free guitar VST plugins to conquer the world with” but here’s a cheeky addition that is too good to miss off the list.
BONUS: 7. Ignite Amps – Emissary
The Emissary from Ignite Amps is a digital emulation of its hardware cousin, which was built for Ryan Huthnance (ludicrously talented guitarist who is in more bands than is sensible). The GUI is a 3D rendered model of the amp with the same control layout. Every effort has gone into minimising latency for flawless real-time performance. Check out the linked video for an idea of the immense power it is capable of. We could happily plug into this and while away many hours/days chopping through riffs with glee.
So, there we have it, plenty of food for thought with regard to guitar plugins. It’s close to Christmas (unless you’re reading this at a different time of year and its nowhere near that time), so if you or the guitarist in your life wants some new gear but you’ve already blown your budget on mince pies and fizz (why?), there’s always free guitar VST plugins.
For anyone who has stumbled upon this article who isn’t a guitarist, there are loads of other types of VSTs too, check some out here.
If we’ve given you a flavour of what’s on offer and you fancy diving into a full music production suite, then check out our Computer Music > Software.
If you liked that, then you might like this
For those who like to tweak their tone on-the-fly, check out our handy guide to “Reamping Your Guitar or Bass“. Tom Quayle guides you through the process that offers greater flexibility in the studio.
For any information on “Building Your Own Pedalboard“, we give you the full rundown and even include a nifty little diagram too.
Plus, if you’re flummoxed as to how to get the best use out of your amp’s effects loop, then we’ve even got an article on that too. Believe it or not it’s titled “How to Use the Effects Loop On Your Amp” (do you see what we did there?)
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.