Last Updated on June 9, 2021.
We all want the best sound, but getting a great guitar, amp, pedals and so on is quite expensive, so why break the bank when you can get some Virtual Instruments that will do the job.
Of course, they will not sound EXACTLY like the real thing, but close enough!
There are many Guitar VST Plugins, most of them are not free and cost up to $200 (some of them are actually worth the money), but luckily there are some FREE options out there that are quite impressive as well.
The 5 Best FREE Guitar VST Plugins are;
|Plugin||Type||Format||Operating System||Good for|
|Ample Guitar M Lite||VST Instrument||Stand-alone, VST2, VST3, AU, AAX||Windows, Mac||Acoustic/Fingerstyle|
|Amplitube 5 CS||Amp Sim Suite||Stand-alone, AU, VST 2, VST 3, AAX||Windows, Mac||All-rounder|
|Guitar Rig 6 Player||Amp Sim Suite||Stand-alone, VST, AU, AAX||Windows, Mac||All-rounder|
|Amped Roots Free||Amp Sim||Standalone, VST3, AU, AAX||Windows, Mac||High-Gain|
|Emissary||Amp Sim||VST, AU, AAX||Windows, Mac||High-Gain|
I also want to add 3 plugins to the list which are not free, but which are really good, should you choose to invest some money into them.
Ample Guitar M Lite II
Ample Guitar M Lite II is a free acoustic guitar simulation software that has a very realistic feel to it, even when compared to more expensive pieces of software and it’s by far my favorite acoustic guitar VST.
It sounds absolutely fantastic, while also giving you the option to add some effects. You can even double the guitar with the simple press of a button, which will add width and body to the sound.
You can simply download some MIDI files and play them using Guitar M Lite II, and while you may need to tweak a couple settings to get it to sound more realistic, it’s definitely far easier to achieve than with most other acoustic guitar simulation software.
I think that everyone should download it. Electric guitar plugins are extremely common, but not acoustic ones and like I said, they tend to sound terrible.
Check it out here: Ample Guitar M Lite.
By the way, you can also download a free bass emulator plugin on their site as well which sounds terrific, make sure to try it out as well.
Guitar Rig 6 Player
The newly released version of Guitar Rig (Guitar Rig 6) comes with a whole new-looking user interface as well as some cool improvements over the previous Guitar Rig 5 and of course, there’s a stripped down version of this software for you to try out for free that lasts forever, it’s not a free 14-day trial or anything!
Guitar Rig 6 Player is the free version of Guitar Rig 6 Pro that comes with a lot less features, such as amps, cabinets, pedals, and other effects, but it’s free and you can use it indefinitely without any restrictions.
It includes a British-style tube amp with a matched cabinet, 13 effects, such as Delay, Reverb, Distortion, EQ, and more, as well as 50 presets.
Guitar Rig features a drag-and-drop interface which makes this amp siulator ideal for beginners since it’s so easy to use!
Guitar Rig 6 Clean Guitar:
Check it out here: Guitar Rig 6 Player.
If you’re struggling to get a good sounding signal to your DAW it might be due to the quality of your audio interface.
Here’s an article I wrote about to very affordable yet great-sounding Audio Interfaces which will get you sounding better in no time.
Amplitube 5 Custom Shop
Amplitube 5 Custom Shop is very similar to Guitar Rig in almost every way since it also features a drag and drop interface, it doesn’t come with any limitations, such as working for 5 minutes and then needing to close- and open it back again, etc.
In fact, once you download it you will have access to the pro version of the software for a 10-day period where you can try all the different features.
Once the 10-day trial is up, only a couple of the features will remain active, which are; 5 amplifiers with matching cabinets, 6 cabinets, a Tuner, about 10 effect pedals, and some other simple features like being able to change the mic placement.
Just like Guitar Rig, Amplitube works as a Standalone software, which means that you don’t necessarily need a DAW to run it, and in terms of the sound quality, it really does sound fantastic!
In fact, I generally prefer using Amplitube over Guitar Rig, something about it just sounds a bit more realistic to me.
Check it out here: Amplitube 5 CS.
Important Update: Amplitube used to be my favorite paid amp sim (As far as the free ones goes, it’s probably the best amp suite VST still), but after trying our BIAS FX 2 and especially BIAS Amp 2, I have to say that my preferences changed dramatically.
I absolutely love BIAS Amp 2; the clean tones are extremely realistic, which is something that no other amp sim can really do.
If you can spend about $50, then I’d highly recommend the BIAS amp sims, they are just too realistic.
Related: List of the 18 best Free Synth VST Plugins.
Amplifikation Lite by Kuassa
Amplifikation Lite is one of the amps that comes with the Amplifikation One guitar simulation software by Kuassa, which incidentally you can also try out for free, but there will be sound played every 40 sec., however, this is not the case with Amplifikation Lite, which is why I recommend it.
Amplifikation Lite features an Amp with three channels; Clean, Rhythm, and Lead, and let me tell you… they sound great.
If you’re trying to get one of those 80’s and 90’s rock tones, then this amp sim has definitely got you covered.
The thing I like the most, other than the sound quality, is that it’s extremely easy to use and tweak thanks to the limited number of controls.
Additionally, it comes with a cabinet, so you don’t have to put one in the chain yourself.
The rhythm channel is by far the one I like the most, but all three of them sound pretty darn good.
So, make sure to give it a try!
Check it out here: Amplifikation Lite.
Note: Kuassa also created one of the best-sounding blues Amp Sims that I ever tried called “Matchlock” that you should also check out! (This one is not free, however, but it only sells for about $22).
LePou Amp Pack
Now we are getting to the Hi Gain Amp section!
The Poulin amp simulators are fantastic for really heavy music and it’s extremely easy to make them work on any DAW.
You need to put a cabinet in the chain though, since when you download the amplifier you don’t get any included.
However, you can download LeCab right there on the same website, which is a VST for loading cabinet simulator impulses.
You can actually load 6 simultaneous cabinets and mix them to your liking (LeCab is 32 bit though, you won’t be able to run it on a 64 bit system).
A couple of the amps you get are;
- LeCto which is based on a Mesa Boogie’s dual rectifier.
- Le456 based on Engl Powerball
- LeGion, which is not based on any amp. It’s an Original of LePou.
While these Amp Sims do sound great, I think that they are a bit outdated now and there are some other better amps out there, such as the Emissary (coming up next), and the Amped Roots Free.
Check it out here: LePoulin Amp Pack.
Important Note: I wrote a complete guide on how to make a Guitar Amp Simulator Sound good which should be useful to you since they don’t tend to sound as one would expect right from the start!
Emissary by Ignite Amps
One of my all-time favorite heavy-sounding guitar amp simulator is the Emissary 2.0.
It still has a clean channel which ranges from clean to slightly overdriven tones, but where I think this plugin shines is in the lead channel since it’s just insanely good for for any kind of metal tones.
The emissary plug-in bundle also includes the NadIR dual impulse response convolver, which is designed to be used as a cabinet simulator both for guitar and bass pre amplifiers and which allows you to blend different microphones together to achieve the heaviest of tones.
- Three Routing Modes: Mono, Dual Mono and Stereo
- Automatic high-quality resampling for IRs with different sampling rates
- High-quality analog shaped filters
- Selectable delay
- Continuous morphing control between loaded IRs
- Global input level and single IR level controls
- Fully automatable controls
Check it out here: Emissary by Ignite Amps.
If you are someone who records entire songs at home, then I’m sure that you’re also going to be interested in this article I wrote about the best Free Bass Amp VST Plugins.
TSE x50 v2
This one I also really liked, you can get a huge variety of sounds out of this plugin, from crisp clean tones and cool crunchy sounds, all the way to heavy metal tones.
You can also get the Pro version, which I didn’t try since the free one was more than enough for what I needed.
The thing that stood out to me about the TSE x50 v2 is included IR’s (Cabinet simulations) since these are actually what make or break a guitar simulation sound and not so much the amp itself.
All the IR’s that are available sound absolutely fantastic, and what’s even better is that they allow you to load external ones to use with the Software.
As far as sound quality goes, it’s even better than Amplitube and Guitar Rig, but it’s not as fully featured, plus it plays an annoying sound every minute or so to remind you to purchase the premium version, which is why I didn’t place it any higher up on the list.
In this FREE version you get;
- Noise Reduction
- A huge amount of Cabinets
- 4 Distortion pedals
Check it out here: TSE x50v2.
Related: I wrote a post about the best free DAWs available right now which I think you are going to like.
Another fairly good option is AmpLion, it works as a Plugin and also works as a standalone program.
Amplion is definitely not the most versatile amp sim, and it also doesn’t come with as many built-in features, such as amps, cabinets, and effects, and the sound quality isn’t as good as what you would be able to get out of all the previously mention amp sims.
However, it’s free and it does sound quite different to most other freeware amp sims out there.
It comes with;
- 5 channel guitar amp
- 2 cabinets
- Intelligent metronome
- Audio player
- Advanced Recorder
Check it out here: AmpLion.
Thinking about building your first home studio? Here’s a list of the essential components that you’ll need.
Ignite Amps NRR-1
The NRR-1 is a digital emulation of an actual three channel tube amp.
It was built for Cristiano Tionfera and it actually resembles the original amp quite a lot.
It’s a fairly simple yet great sounding amp, even though I have to say that I prefer the Emissary by quite a lot, it just feels a bit more realistic to me.
- Ignite Amps 3rd generation triode modeling engine.
- Three channels: clean, rhythm and lead, each with fully separated controls.
- Mono / Stereo processing support.
- Selectable oversampling rate (up to 8x).
- Global input / output level controls.
- Double precision (64-bit) floating point mathematical model.
- Fully automatable controls.
- Ignite Amps proprietary preset management system with bank file import/export functions.
Check it out here: Ignite Amps NRR-1.
To take full advantage of your Guitar VSTs, it might be very useful to get some great sounding Drum VSTs as well to achieve that amazing sound you’re looking for.
This guitar amp simulation plugin offers three different amp models;
- Classic clean
- Classic drive
- Modern drive
This is a fairly good-sounding plugin which covers a wide range of tones; from clean vintage sounds all the way to the high-gain heavy sounding metal tones.
They say that this is a plug n’ play amp sim, meaning that once it’s running you’re ready to go.
However, I found that I needed to fiddle around with the controls a bit to get it to sound quite to my liking, but once I dialed in the tones perfectly, I did manage to get a fairly “convincing” tone out of it.
I say “convincing”, but it’s not really as realistic as some of the previous ones I mentioned, however, I think that the appeal for this kind of amp is not realism but rather uniqueness.
Check it out here: Blue Cat free amp sim.
Mercuriall Tube Amp Ultra 530
This would be the Plugin version of the ENGL E530 Preamp. It has a two channel design, Clean and Lead.
You can get all kinds of tones out of it, from crisp cleans, all through crunch to really heavy metal tones. After playing with it for a while I have to say that it’s mainly suited for heavier tones and if you’re looking for a good clean amp, then something like Guitar Rig, Amplitube, BIAS Amp II Demo version (Coming up) are a better choice.
It has its limitations (especially the free version) but it is still very useful.
Free version limitations:
- Modeled Triodes – one Tung-Sol.
- Allowed Samplerates – only 44.1 kHz.
- Allowed Oversamplings – Fixed in the X2 state.
- Computing engines – Fixed in the Fast state.
- Allowed Cabinets – 4×12 Modern V30 cabinet.
- Restrictions of tweaking – The change of many parameters was restricted.
- Processing precision – 32-bit (lower precision).
Check it out here: Mercuriall Tube Amp Ultra 530.
Amped Roots Free by ML Sound Lab
Here is another guitar amp sim designed specifically for metal/heavy tones.
Amped Roots free is, basically, the free version of Sound Lab’s software bundle and it comes with one amp: The “5034 Fluff”.
However, to get three more amps: the “5151 Fluff”, the “Freeman Fluff” and the “Mega Fluff”, you need to purchase Amped Roots Full License.
Additionally, it also features a cabinet simulator and two pedals; A Noise Gate and a Drive.
The whole point behind this free amp simulation plugin is to be as simple as possible and to sound perfect right out of the box, and I think they nailed it.
No matter what preset you use, or how far right or left you turn the knobs, this amp sim makes your guitar tone sound insanely well (of course, clean tones aren’t even possible since it’s a high-gain amp).
Amped Roots and the Emissary are my top recommendations as far as heavy sounding amps go. However, this one is far easier to use than the Emissary and it’s designed to sound great no matter what.
Check it out here: Amped Roots Free.
Nick Crow Plugins
Nick Crow has got some great amp simulators which are mostly really high gain.
I don’t think I would use these to get a clean or a bluesy tone, but if you’re into metal, you will probably find them to be quite useful!
You also need to run them through a VST cabinet, otherwise they will sound horrific, like all amps that you don´t run through cabs (Download NadIR by Ignite Amps and you’re set).
These are only plugins, no standalone version sadly!
You can download these four from the main site;
- Tube Driver v1.3 (Tube amplifier emulator plugin).
- Nick Crow 8505 Lead v.1.2.
- Nick Crow 7170 Lead v.1.2.
- Wagner Sharp (Tube guitar preamp emulation plugin).
Check it out here: Nick Crow Plugins.
Want some Drum VST Plugins? Here’s my List of the 14 best Free Drum VST Plugins which will take your songs to a whole new level!
Ace Vintage Tube
Ace is a digital emulation of the 1950s, American, all tube, tweed, 5Wamp.
They added to the model two of the most common amplifier mods: Adjustment of the amount of feedback and addition of grid stopper resistors. They both can be turned off if you want to get the original amp sound.
After trying it out for quite a while I thought it sounded OK’ish, but it felt a bit unrealistic and too glassy, which I generally don’t like, but maybe you do!
Check it out here: Ace Vintage Tube.
Other essential plugins are the orchestral ones. Here’s my list which includes 20 Free Orchestral VST Plugins which sound fantastic!
This isn’t your typical guitar amp sim plugin, no sir! Even though it looks like one.
While it does come with the traditional effects, it does have a very distinct and unique sound to it which some might call “bad”, but it’s actually different than what we’re used to and that’s something I find appealing.
I would absolutely recommend downloading it since it’s so different from all the other plugins on this list.
Not only that, but it has a wide variety of tones that can be achieved which can be edited a lot as well.
I comes with a huge array of pedal effects such as overdrive, compressor, delay, etc. which all sound great and very unique!
Check it out here: FREEAMP 3.6.
SimulAnalog Guitar Suite
SimulAnalog Guitar Suite is a free software that contains a couple of amplifiers and some pedals.
Right of the bat I have to say that this plugin is 32bit only and won’t work on 64bit Systems.
The interface is a bit rough but the sound is great and you can achieve quite a variety of them.
This plugin contains;
- Fender Twin 1969 (Amplifier)
- Marshall JCM900 Dual Reverb (Amplifier)
- Boss ds-1 (Distortion)
- Boss SD-1 (Super Overdrive)
- Tube Screamer (Overdrive)
- Oberheim PS-1 (Phaser)
- Univox Univibe (Modulation)
Check it out here: SimulAnalog Guitar Suite.
That concludes the list of the Free Guitar Plugins. Just as an extra I’m going to list 3 Plugins / programs that are not free but that are really the best, should you decide to invest your money into something like this.
Important Note: I wrote a complete guide on how to make a Guitar Amp Simulator Sound good which should be useful to you since they don’t tend to sound as one would expect right from the start!
Check it out!
TSE 808 Tube Screamer
Yes, this is not a whole program or plugin suite, it’s just one Tube Screamer pedal and man is it great! It also comes with the TSE x50 v2, listed above.
It sounds great, you can use it for all kinds of music such as getting a nice blues tone or to make those rock sounds have that little extra bite to them.
I absolutely recommend this one, just fantastic plugin!
Check it out here: TSE 808 Tube Screamer.
Mercuriall Metal Area mt-a
The Mercuriall Metal Area mt-a is an emulation of the BOSS Metal Zone MT-2 pedal, which I actually used to own, and it does offer the same controls and even a similar overall sound quality.
The controls it features are; Level, Distorsion, and the EQ which has High, Low and sweepable Mid bands.
If you’re into metal, give this one a try!
Mercuriall Chorus WS-I
The Mercuriall Chorus WS-I is a simple yet great-sounding Chorus pedal that features the following controls;
- Depth, Speed, Mix, Mono/Stereo, On/Off knob
I very rarely reach for this pedal, but it’s mainly because when I’m recording using an amp sim I use Amplitube or BIAS FX, and these come with included effects, which is why I generally don’t need this one.
But it does work, so give it a try.
Ignite Amps ProF.E.T.
ProF.E.T. is a digital emulation of a high gain distortion preamp/stomp-box for guitar. It has been developed to accurately model its real hardware counterpart.
It is capable of delivering tons of tube-like saturation and it features a couple different controls, such as Gain and Volume, Bass, Low Mids, High Mids with a shape switch.
Mercuriall Greed Smasher
The Greed Smasher is based on the Mesa Boogie Grid Slammer overdrive pedal, and while the original pedal is pretty damn impressive, Mercuriall managed to make this pedal simulation quite similar to the original.
Out of all the Mercuriall pedal VSTs I just mentioned, I’d have to say that this one is my overall favorite.
If you’re looking for a good-sounding overdrive to boost your amps with, then try this one out!
3 Best Premium Guitar VST Plugins:
Related: I also put together a list of the best Guitar VSTs, not just the free ones. If you’re interested you can check that article out here.
Guitar Rig 6 Pro
Yes, this one costs $200 but if you are seriously considering using plugins to record, then this one will definitely be a great choice.
It comes with 17 amps, 27 cabinets and over 50 effect, you can edit everything, from shaping the tone to choosing the mic placement.
Guitar Rig is one of the, or probably THEE most popular guitar amp simulation plugin around today for the simple fact that it’s so versatile, plus it sounds great.
It can take you some time to get the tone you desire since right out of the box the sound quality won’t be what you expect; some tweaking is definitely required.
Check it out Here: Guitar Rig 6 Pro.
The great thing about downloading the free version, is that get get to try the full version for a couple of days, so you can see if it is worth it.
The difference is that you get way more Amps, Cabinets, Effects, and so on.
Is it worth the money? About $150? I think so, yes. If you plan on really using it.
Check it out Here: Amplitube 5.
BIAS FX II and BIAS AMP II
BIAS FX also has a free version, and it’s definitely worth giving a try since it will let you decide whether or not you like it or not..
However, in the free version, every ten seconds or so you get a message saying that you have the demo version and it stops processing your signal for a second, then goes back to reproducing it with all the effects that you assigned to it…which is really annoying!
BUT the full version is actually great. I’ve heard of people having issues with it, like crashing and not working, but for me it works just fine!
You can buy two version, the standard ($100) and the Pro one ($199).
The standard version comes with 12 Amps and 30 effects, while the Pro version comes with 32 amps and 64 effects, plus 10 Studio Rack Processors.
Learning to Play the Guitar
In order to really be able to record music with these amp sims, you’re going to need to play as good as possible, and I say this because recording is very different to just playing; for some reason, as soon as you press the record button, you feel as if you can’t play anymore!
I’ve been using this website called GuitarTricks for a while now, and they teach you everything there is to know about playing the guitar.
I know that most of you searching for amp sims already know exactly how to play, but if you’re looking for affordable ways to improve, then this is definitely one of them.
I also wrote an entire post on the best websites to learn to play the guitar online, in case you’re looking for a genre-specific course.
If you really need a good sounding plugin for professional recordings, maybe buying a Pro one would be in your best interest, but the free ones sound quite nice and they are, well, FREE!
Just download them all and see which one fits your needs!
I hope this was helpful! Have a great day!