Is it time to lay down some guitar for your musical tracks?
While there are a lot of great tools for recording and capturing great guitar sounds, free VST plugins sure do come in handy – especially if you’re looking to do everything “inside the box.”
And if you find yourself working on a variety of different types of music, you’re going to love having more options than not.
So, in this guide, we’ll look at the best free guitar VST plugins for your latest production, and answer some of the common questions that come up around VSTs. Cool? Let’s get to it!
Ignite Amps is a well-known developer of guitar VSTs and as you can imagine, they’ve got both free products and products you need to pay for.
I tend to think of them as serving the sensibilities of metal guitarists, because let’s face it – most if not all the amp head VSTs they’ve created are based on metal amps.
These might be worth a try for blues, rock, and hard rock players too, but I honestly can’t see them being great for everything. Nice to have a few kicking around anyway (especially since they’re high-quality and free), but it’s always good to know the limitations too.
Ignite Amps also makes Impulse Response (we’ll talk more about Impulse Responses later) loaders, guitar pedal VSTs, and even tube power amplifiers. So, we’ll do a rundown of everything guitar related they’ve got to offer, because you’re going to want some of these tools anyway.
Basically, Ignite Amps is a presence you can’t ignore when it comes to free electric guitar VSTs that work on both Windows and Mac.
The Libra is insane. And you’re about to discover why.
This VST is an Impulse Response (IR) loader and convolver. What makes it amazing is that it has eight channels!
That means you can load in eight of your favorite IRs and use them simultaneously. All of this in just one no-latency plugin.
What it does: It allows you to load eight of your favorite Impulse Responses simultaneously, tweak their levels, resonance, hi and lo pass filters, delay, and even what percentage you want of each (Cartesian Mixer).
Put simply, it’s like putting your guitar head through eight separate cabinets with different speakers and mic positions.
You can even take the Impulse Response you’ve created (using eight separate Impulse Responses) and save it for other projects.
What to expect: When using guitar VSTs that affect your tone (e.g. pedals, amp heads, etc.) generally you need to use Impulse Responses. Most IR loaders don’t let you load this many IRs simultaneously, so to that extent, the Libra is super cool.
The biggest difference between Impulse Responses is that each one tends to accentuate different frequencies. So, it would make sense that, with the right combination of IRs, you’d be able to create a freakishly big tone.
Your results and mileage will vary based on the IRs you’re using, but if you don’t mind tweaking, I have no doubt you could dial in your perfect guitar tone.
When I think of Ignite Amps, I instantly think of the Emissary because that’s what they’re most known for, and it is a killer custom plugin to boot.
From a design standpoint, it just looks good, and feels good. I tend to get a little overwhelmed with too many knobs and switches, and this amp head has got a lot of them. Fortunately, they are labeled and aren’t confusing.
The amp VST comes with two channels – clean and lead. But most of the time you’re probably just going to be cranking up that lead channel for all kinds of metal mayhem and dirty guitar work.
The EQ and level knobs are responsive, though maybe not quite as responsive as I like. Still much better than a lot of other badly designed plugins and even floor units and multi-effects pedals out there.
This plugin is locked and loaded for use in the jam room, live, and even recording. I’ve never tried jamming or performing with it myself, but I’d imagine that would be a lot of fun to do.
What it does: Emissary gives you an attractive graphical interface and that real look and feel of a guitar amp. If you’re used to using your guitar amp (rather than a mix of plugins within your DAW) to dial in your tone, you’re probably much more comfortable getting your axe sounding how you want this way than using an EQ plugin, for instance.
The Emissary gives you a way to dial in both clean and dirty tones, for all types of playing (but mostly for hard rock and metal). You can use the various knobs and switches to tweak to your heart’s content.
What to expect: Combined with Impulse Responses, the Emissary delivers great, snarly tones. Even some of the pros use them because they sound great within the context of a mix.
Don’t expect too much more than that – this is not intended to be a versatile amplifier for a myriad of musical genres and styles.
The NadIR is a more conventional IR loader – the younger brother of the previously mentioned Libra if you will.
You can use it to load two IRs simultaneously, and tweak gain, hi pass, lo pass, resonance, delay, panning, balance, and room.
Most guitar tones people love doesn’t come from one amp alone and many times are the combination of at least two amps with different tonal characteristics.
So, NadIR gives you easy access to those rich, blended guitar tones that will elevate your guitar tracks.
What it does: NadIR is a dual-channel IR loader and convolver with real-time response. Load in your favorite IRs, tweak until you’re happy, and you’re off to the races.
What to expect: That depends a lot on the quality of your IRs as well as how much you like them. But I’d say, in general, this is the bare minimum you’d want to use for speaker cab sims and software-driven guitar recording efforts.
You can get some cool results with NadIR, no doubt, and it does what it does incredibly well, but it is relatively standard so far as IR loaders are concerned.
If you know guitar pedals, then you know that the ProF.E.T. was designed to look and function exactly like a guitar pedal. Aren’t we spoiled that developers put so much time and effort into the graphical interface?
Again, following the theme of “metal”, this is a high gain tube distortion stomp-box style effect.
It’s not entirely uncommon for metal guitarists to put an overdrive or distortion pedal at the front of their signal chain, but I gather that this VST can also work as a preamp (again, you’d almost certainly want to use IRs though).
What it does: The ProF.E.T. VST will give you an aggressive distortion. Its tweakable parameters include bass, lo mids, hi mids, treble, gain, and volume.
What to expect: There’s no doubt the ProF.E.T. sounds aggressive. But I think it gives you a highly usable tone for rhythm and lead parts.
It doesn’t suck out the clarity of your guitar tone like many pedals do and it gives you some warmth too. The aggressiveness of the tone does depend on how much gain you use (as you would expect), but it’s relatively intense either way.
The NRR-1 is another impeccably designed rackmount style amp head/preamp with all the bells and whistles including tube emulation. It’s basically just as tweakable as the Emissary, and depending on what you like, you may prefer the tone of the NRR-1 over the Emissary.
The NRR-1 also features three channels – clean, rhythm, and lead. So, if you want to get some of those “in between” crunchy tones, you can take advantage of that rhythm channel and make it distinct from your lead or heavier parts.
Again, it’s designed for use with IRs.
What it does: The NRR-1 gives you a smooth, round, and heavy metal tone that I rather like.
Your results will vary, of course, based on your guitar as well as which IRs you use.
What to expect: The VST has been designed to give you a classic metal tone, but it can even work for modern metal, including djent.
The Anvil, much like the NRR-1, is a rackmount style guitar head/preamp with three channels – clean, rhythm, and lead. It even features most of the same controls, but it gives you a different tone than the NRR-1.
The Anvil digitally emulates tube amplifiers and is quite versatile thanks to the classic California circuit clean channel, hot-rodded British style rhythm channel, and tight, metal tinged lead channel.
What it does: As with any preamp, it colors your guitar tone. You can switch between channels and play with the EQ knobs and other switches to customize your perfect tone.
What to expect: This is a metal amp, no doubt, much like the other Ignite Amps creations. Even the rhythm channel can get quite hot. The knobs are quite responsive, though, and that allows you to access plenty of different tones.
To me, the lead channel just sounds like a more aggressive rhythm channel, which is not a bad thing. But I think if you tweaked it exactly right, it could work for genres other than just metal.
Here’s a cool free guitar VST you’ll probably want to add to your library, even if you aren’t much for metal.
The TPA-1 emulates a class AB tube power amplifier and is meant to be used with a preamp.
Although the TPA-1 doesn’t feature a lot of tweakable parameters (most power amps don’t), it can add a little bit of that classic “tube” sound guitarists love so much.
What it does: It’s generally impractical to crank up a tube amp to 10 in most environments, even though that’s how tube amps sound best.
With a power amp like the TPA-1, you can add the warmth of a tube without destroying your ears or bothering your neighbors. It even gives you the ability to choose from several different tubes depending on what you like best.
What to expect: Digitally emulating tubes isn’t exactly an easy feat. At least I don’t think so. But I do find that the TPA-1 adds to your guitar tone in some delightful ways. I recommend giving it a try.
TSB-1 Tyrant Screamer
If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, there’s a good chance you already know what a Tube Screamer is. And that probably gives you some context as to what the TSB-1 Tyrant Screamer is too because it’s basically the same thing with some added functionality.
As already noted, many metal guitarists like placing a pedal at the front of their signal, and none are as common as the Tube Screamer. It makes sense that they’d create a VST plugin based on it.
The graphical interface of the TSB-1 Tyrant Screamer is simple and appealing, and if features controls for drive, tone, level, and sweep.
What it does: While it isn’t designed to be a preamp, the pedal certainly could be used that way. The drive isn’t meant to give you a super aggressive tone. It’s more so designed to give some added bite and tightness to a tone you already like.
But I don’t mind it as a preamp myself because it can give you that classic crunch.
What to expect: A great-sounding pedal that can tighten up your guitar’s tone.
The TS-999 SubScreamer probably doesn’t need much of an introduction since it’s a digital emulation of an overdrive pedal. Naturally, like the TSB-1, it’s been inspired by the Tube Screamer, with some additional features.
What it does: It does basically everything the TSB-1 does.
What to expect: Ditto. This baby is a lot like the TSB-1. They’re both worth having and experimenting with though!
Alright, so we combed our way through a multitude of Ignite Amps plugins. Why? Because they’re great, and they’re free. They’re excellent for metal and any situation requiring hi-gain guitar tracks. Their IR loaders, pedals, and power amps could also come in handy in a variety of situations.
Now it’s time to add a little more color to the mix.
LePou is another well-known, high-quality provider of free guitar VSTs, and you can even listen to a ton of samples on their website.
As I’ve already hinted at, you can do more than just metal with LePou Plugins, although if you’re looking for some additional metal tones, you will find some worthwhile VSTs here too.
So, let’s get into LePou’s offerings.
The design of the HyBrit instantly makes you think of Marshall amps, doesn’t it? Well, several of the LePou plugins are based on real amps, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
What’s cool about the HyBrit is that it lives up to its name. It’s basically two amps in one! The MCJ channel emulates everyone’s favorite Marshall JCM800, and the PLS channel emulates a Plexi Super Lead 100.
The controls are basic, but that makes the operation of the amp simple, and since the VST sounds good, I rather like it that way!
What it does: The HyBrit accurately emulates the tone of a Marshall amp. And that’s a win for anyone who loves Marshall style amps.
That also means it’ll work well for blues, rock, hard rock and maybe even other genres.
What to expect: The HyBrit certainly sounds like a Marshall to me. Whether it lives up to the name of a $3,000 amp head is another matter (JCM800s and Plexi Super Lead 100s aren’t exactly cheap). Considering you can get the plugin for free you can’t complain too much!
But I can’t deny the HyBrit sounds quite B.A. I’ve even had surprisingly good results with it.
Oh yeah, don’t forget to use IRs!
Right off the bat, the UI for the LE456 looks amazing, and if you’re familiar with amplifiers, there’s a good chance you already guessed that it’s based on an ENGL – in this case, an ENGL Powerball.
This is a dual-channel VST plugin (channel A and B), where channel A is your gain channel, and channel B is your clean channel.
The tone controls are relatively straightforward. But don’t forget to play around with the Focus, Bottom, and Bright buttons on the right-hand side to dial in your ideal tone.
What it does: The LE456 promises to give you an ENGL (German) style guitar tone.
I could see it working great for blues, rock, hard rock and other purposes.
What to expect: This thing sounds great to my ears and features plenty of gain and warmth. I would be tempted to put a pedal at the front (something from the Ignite Amps library would work well), not for additional gain, but just to add some bite and tightness to the tone.
Otherwise, I find it highly usable for a variety of situations.
When it comes to rock, hard rock, and metal, there’s another amp manufacturer you just can’t ignore. Even Prince was known to use one. Who am I talking about? Mesa Boogie, of course!
Back in the day, I owned a Boogie Dual Rectifier, and loved its transparent tone combined with Vintage 30s. It just worked for me. Now that I have a Peavey 6505, though, I probably wouldn’t go back (so much easier to dial in the “sweet spot” with the 6505).
Anyway, the LECTO emulates the second and third channels of a Dual Rectifier. Who needs the clean channel anyway, right (just kidding)?
And let’s face it – who wouldn’t want a free VST that sounds like Boogie, even if it doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head?
What it does: It emulates the second and third channels of a classic – the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier.
Blues, rock, hard rock, punk, metal… If you don’t mind spending time dialing, you can find a suitable tone for all these genres.
What to expect: This baby sounds surprisingly good. And honestly, it probably doesn’t require as much tweaking as a real Dual Rectifier.
You should be able to get plenty of usable tones with this, especially if you like Boogie amps. I would probably mess around with additional EQ myself, but if you like it as is, no need to follow my example.
The Legion does not model any amplifier specifically. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – especially when a custom amp sounds like the Legion does.
The name certainly evokes images of a metal machine, and that’s something it certainly does well. This seems to be how many users favor using it too.
The graphical interface is also a little unusual. There’s a Red and Green channel, Lead and Rhythm mode, as well as a Tone Stack button. You don’t see that on every amp.
What it does: Legion gives you a heavy, snarly, saturated metal tone. Some have even compared it to Mesa Boogie amps.
What to expect: A killer amp sim that sounds amazing, especially within the context of a mix. You can enhance the tone using one of the Ignite Amps “screamer” plugins too.
Designed for use with IRs, of course!
Next up, we have the Lextac, which is based on the Bogner Ecstasy XTC amplifier. I dig the tone of this amp a lot, as it can be both warm and in your face. That’s a delicate balance, and generally difficult to achieve with guitar tones.
This amp has also got plenty of saturation, so no doubt it could work great for metal too.
The interface is attractive and relatively standard. You shouldn’t have any problems dialing in tones you like.
What it does: The Lextac emulates a Bogner Ecstasy XTC amp. And that’s something it does incredibly well.
You can get a killer tone out of this amp sim, and you could use it for a variety of genres too.
What to expect: Another winner in my books. The Lextac sounds great, and yes, all the tricks work – adding a screamer pedal at the front would certainly give it some needed bite and sparkle, and of course, it should be used with IRs.
The rest comes down to whether you like Bogner style tones.
We’ve got one more LePou plugin to look at, and that’s the Solo C, emulating a Soldano SLO-100. It’s got a simple and attractive guitar interface. You should feel right at home with it.
If you’ve made it this far into the guide, then you already know the drill. This is another highly usable LePou VST.
What it does: A free guitar VST that emulates a Soldano SLO-100. And if you don’t mind spending days tweaking, you probably could get it sounding almost as good as the real thing. But it all comes down to signal chain and IRs.
What to expect: Undoubtedly, the Solo C gives you a rich, saturated tone suited to heavy and aggressive music. The tone is quite usable, though, and I’m sure it could work quite well for genres besides metal.
I dig the Solo C quite a bit. Another winner in the LePou line.
What Are Impulse Responses?
Many of the plugins featured above are amp heads/preamps. A preamp has a lot to do with the tone you get, but it’s not everything.
Because when you think about it, a guitar amplifier is made up of two components – a preamp and a speaker cabinet. There are amps that are built with both components integrated. But they’re called combo amps for a reason.
So, Impulse Responses emulate guitar cabinets. If you don’t use IRs, you’re probably not going to get a great tone, and might even think the plugin you’re using is broken!
Do I Need To Use Impulse Responses With The Above Guitar VSTs?
In most cases, yes.
Because your guitar will probably sound like a fuzzy mess with one of the above preamps and will only sound like a slightly different fuzzy mess when using another.
The true character of the amp will come alive with IRs. Of course, IRs are all different, and some people even make their own. You’re going to get different results based on the IR or combination of IRs you’re using. Experimenting plenty for best results.
The good news is good IRs aren’t hard to find, and you can even download many IR packs entirely for free.
As with anything else, there are both free IR packs, and IR packs that cost money, so to an extent, you get what you pay for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a killer guitar tone for free.
Best Free Guitar VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
It’s crazy what you can get for free these days, isn’t it? If you’re committed to “in the box” software-based recording, then no harm can come from learning the ins and outs of guitar VSTs. And even if you’re look for some alternatives to your hardware-based solutions, these babies can come in handy.
With a little work, you can get a killer sound out of free VST plugins. It certainly helps if you know what you’re doing in terms of production, but these are perfectly learnable skills.
We hope you enjoyed this guide and found some plugins you enjoy!