Guitars are back, baby. Whether you’re talking electric or acoustic, the guitar renaissance has come to all genres of music. But what if you don’t know how to play guitar, and you don’t have any guitar players around to record? The most cost-effective solution is to use a free guitar VST, or virtual instrument.
You can find isolated guitar loops out there on the internet, but it can be difficult to make a random clip fit into your pre-existing song. By contrast, virtual software instruments use libraries of sampled guitar notes, playable with your MIDI keyboard within any DAW.
Remember: Different guitar plugins are suited to different musical needs. Maybe you want the warm, dry sound of a classical guitar for your lo-fi bedroom pop track. Perhaps you’re working on an electrofunk number and need the bright tone of a Stratocaster to cut through the mix.
To help you find the guitar sounds that are right for your next hit, we compiled a list of the best free guitar VST plugins that you can download and start using in your productions today. The following software covers a wide variety of guitars: electric, acoustic, classical, lap steel, 12-strings, and non-Western stringed instruments like the Chinese moon guitar (yueqin) or the Greek bouzouki.
Note: There are two kinds of guitar VSTs: Instruments and FX. Virtual instrument plugins are used on MIDI channels to produce guitar sounds, while guitar FX plugins (such as amp and pedalboard simulators) are typically used with direct input (DI) guitar recordings. This article is all about different virtual guitars.
Want more free music production tools? Check out this list of our favorite free music plugin downloads.
1. Arcade by Output
Pros: Huge variety of guitar models and genre styles, high tweakability, sophisticated tagging system makes it easy to find sounds
Cons: Cons? 😉
ARCADE — Output’s inspiration machine — has you covered on the guitar front. It’s packed with thousands of loops and samples from stringed instruments, recorded by those at the top of their craft. A variety of electric, acoustic, pedal steel, semi-hollow bass, lap pedal, and other guitars are a click away! And, there’s no plain presets here: Baritone stacks, distorted power chords, and mellowed-out strums are just a handful of the sounds you’ll find in Arcade. And, new sounds are added every day.
Each of the different Lines in Arcade offers unique sounds, and the preset names often indicate what they sound like. “Rigid Picks,” in the Ingredients Line, has short, staccato notes. In Taped, “Riff to Reel” combines tape saturation with pitch modulation. One of our favorites: “Love and Guitars,” from The 70s, a deceptively crunchy pluck that can be played low for edgy energy. The variety is, frankly, incredible: Twangy plucks (Nashville), flamenco flourishes (Sazón), woozy chillwave chords (Poolside)… Arcade’s got it all.
Because Arcade sorts Kits based on the vibe and treatment of the instrument, you spend less time finding the perfect sound and more time writing music. Then, transform samples within Arcade using effects and time-stretch, reverse, or slice things up with the press of a button, all while staying in your track’s tempo and key!
If you’re looking for guitars that sound great as soon as you play them and can be morphed to your needs, you’ll find them in Arcade.
2. Ample Guitar M Lite II
Pros: Clear acoustic guitar sound with no compromises, detailed performance options
Cons: Only one guitar model in the Lite version
Ample Sound’s Ample Guitar M Lite II is a realistic acoustic guitar virtual instrument that uses samples from the venerated Martin D-41, one of the American guitar maker’s most legendary designs. It has a simple interface that shows you a guitar and piano keyboard, making it easy to visualize what guitar notes on the fretboard are being played when you hit a key.
Ample Guitar uses modifier keys at the lower end of the MIDI keyboard range (C0-C1) to use different guitar techniques like hammer-on and pull-off, palm mute, legato slide, and more. This allows you to chain together a guitar part that sounds natural, with many of the nuances of a proper recorded performance.
The three-fader mic mixer gives you a high degree of flexibility when dialing in a tone. Having onboard FX is also a huge plus, including stereo width and even a doubler. There’s also a dedicated Strummer section that allows users to assign chords to each MIDI key and change how they’re strummed, to taste.
3. Classic.Gtr Lite
Pros: Lightweight, simple interface with a built-in filter, great for plucks
Cons: Limited presets in the Lite version
Classic.Gtr Lite is a freely available, multi-sampled classical guitar plugin that focuses on malleability, so it’s ideal for modern pop or rap productions. The plugin comes with seven fully usable presets from the paid edition of Classic.Gtr.
This plugin’s greatest strengths come from its simplicity. It doesn’t take up too much space (around 500 MB of disk storage) and the user interface is boiled down to an amp envelope, a low-pass/high-pass filter, and modulation settings. If you’re seeking a free guitar VST with dreamy, contemplative classical guitar plucks to add atmosphere to your productions, look no further.
4. Spitfire Audio LABS
Pros: Carefully recorded instruments, multiple instrument options, minimalist UI
Cons: Very limited customizability within the plugin itself
We’ve already written about how much we love Spitfire Audio’s LABS instruments — and how could we not? The London-based company offers some of the best orchestral libraries on the market, and their freely available LABS instruments also include several superb, unique guitars. (We even previously collaborated with them on Overture, a titanic orchestral Line for Arcade.)
Each LABS instrument has its own concept or theme. “Electric Guitars” covers your standard classic rock and blues tones, while “Peel Guitar” is a Fender Telecaster run through a vintage-style 15-watt tweed amp (a familiar tune to indie enthusiasts). Maybe most special of all: “Moon Guitar,” which lets you play a sampled yueqin, a resonant Chinese lute.
5. Impact Soundworks Shreddage 3 Stratus Free
Pros: Tap into the instantly recognizable sound of a Stratocaster, surprisingly good amp/FX section
Cons: Requires Kontakt
If nothing else, you’ve got to admit: Impact Soundworks’ Shreddage has a great name. This free version of the Shreddage 3 Stratus is a Kontakt library that puts the versatile and iconic Fender Stratocaster at your MIDI-adjacent fingertips. You can select from a variety of articulation and performance settings that will change how the plugin translates your MIDI input, or enable strumming for a more natural sound.
Though you’re limited to the Stratocaster in terms of guitar models, the free version of Shreddage does offer a range of amplifier, cabinet, and effects pedal options. From searing leads to washed-out indie rock rhythm tones, they’re all here. If you need the sound of a Strat, pronto, this is one of the better free electric guitar VST plugins on the web.
6. Cinematique Instruments Guitar Harmonics Essential
Pros: Unique guitar-based sampled instrument, built-in delay and reverb FX
Cons: Requires Steinberg’s proprietary HALion sampler to use
Cinematique Instruments put forward a more specific kind of guitar virtual instrument with Guitar Harmonics Essential. As any guitar player will tell you, you can produce tones called flageolet notes on guitar — more popularly known as harmonics — by lightly placing your fingers on certain frets without actually pressing down on the strings.
Guitar harmonics are oftentimes used to create chiming effects and melodies. You can hear this employed on songs like “Pride” by U2, “Roundabout” by British progressive rockers Yes, or on “Portrait of Tracy,” played on bass by the late Jaco Pastorius.
Guitar Harmonics Essential is an instrument for Steinberg’s HALion sampler, often used in Cubase. (If you are not a Cubase user, don’t worry: HALion Sonic SE 3 is available as a free download). It sounds almost unrecognizable as a guitar, but that’s sort of the point! Turn these harmonics into a warm electric piano pad or a plucky, synthetic melody.
7. Echo Soundworks Vinyl Guitar
Pros: Unique guitar sound resampled from a real vinyl record, great “realism” options
Cons: Hard to get it sounding “realistic” even with fret and pick noise FX
Are you a fan of the melody-centric sound of Internet Money beats? That kind of hooky lead can be hard to come by if you don’t have a guitar handy. Lucky for you, Echo Sound Works has developed a deceptively well-equipped free guitar VST, the Vinyl Guitar.
This free plugin uses samples of a guitar that was actually sampled twice: Once to record it, and then once to resample it onto an actual record player. You can adjust the “realism” of the sound with knobs for Fret Noise, String Buzz, and Pick Noise. There’s a built-in reverb as well, allowing you to get an instant vibe going.
There are a lot of ways to use this plugin as a creative element. (For example: Make the attack and release time a bit longer and you’ve got yourself a reverse-sounding pad.) You probably won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s a real guitar, but the strengths (and nonexistent price tag) of Vinyl Guitar easily outweigh its flaws.
Looking for more essential free music production downloads? Check out this list of the best free piano VSTs of 2021.