There’s never been a better era for guitarists, as its become so incredibly easy to connect your guitar to your computer and find the tone you want using a combination of amp simulators and plug-in effects. However, hunting down the best and most popular free effects for guitarists can take hours of crawling through Google and musician forums. That’s why we’ve done the work for you!
In this article, you will find a quick set-up guide for getting started with adding FX plugins to DAWs like Reaper, and the best available free plug-ins for guitarists; these were accumulated from hours of research and gathering download links, so there’s a bit of something for everyone here.
Note: There are literally thousands of free VST plug-ins out there, and including them all would require a dedicated website just for reviewing VST effects. Thus we have sorted through all of the reviews and ratings across multiple websites, to compile a list of the best and most popular free VST plug-ins for guitarists.
How to Use all of the Plug-Ins in this Guide
All of the amp sims and plug-ins we compiled for this guide are typically offered in plug-in format for usage in DAWs, with the exception of perhaps a few standalone amp sims, but those typically have VST plug-ins to be loaded into DAWs along with the standalone applications.
We’ll be using Reaper as our DAW for this short guide, but its mainly the same process when you’re using something else, like Presonus Studio, Cakewalk SONAR, FL Studio, Cubase, etc. Just don’t use Audacity – its not a true DAW by any stretch of the imagination, and it goes bonkers with a lot of VST plug-ins.
The screenshots will also be using the LePou456 amp sim, TSE 808 distortion pedal plug-in, and LePou LeCab 2 impulse response loader, which are all freely available from the many download links included in this guide.
So basically, all we’re going to do is launch Reaper (or your DAW of choice), and go through whatever method your DAW has of adding a new track and loading plug-ins.
For Reaper DAW, you would hit CTRL + T to add a new track, then click the FX button to bring up all your plug-ins. Its good to install all your DAW plug-ins in the same folder, for example I have mine on C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins, and I just made that the main folder where Reaper will look for plug-ins.
So I’m going to load my FX plugins as you can see in the screenshots. It really doesn’t matter what plug-ins you’re using, but some impulse responses recommend different amp sims. For example, the particular impulse responses I am loading in the screenshots recommend they be paired with the TSE 808 and the LePou456 amp sim, which is why I’m loading those particular plug-ins in the screenshots.
However, for loading impulse responses, I really do recommend LePou LeCab 2 – it can support up to 6 simultaneous IRs and has a lot of bells and whistles. There’s other, much simpler IR loaders, but LeCab 2 is my personal favorite and it has a x64-bit version available, which you definitely want to take advantage of, because x86-bit plug-ins can bring latency issues.
So once I’ve loaded the plug-ins, I’m going to load an impulse response file into LeCab 2, and I’ll click the button in the middle to make it dual-channel. Ideally you want to mix different-but-similar ideas to get the best tone, but I’m just providing example screenshots of what you can do here.
Finally, you can click the “Arm Recording” button on your track in Reaper, and then click the “Monitor Playback” button on the track to hear yourself in real-time. Read Appual’s guide on recording in Reaper to learn a lot more about this particular DAW, if you’re interested.
Related Appual’s Guides:
- How to Use Android as Guitar Amplifier
- How to Record Guitar on PC Using Reaper DAW
- How to Create a Sound Rack Preset in Overloud TH3
Free Amp Sims
- Plektron – Guitar Amp 2 – Comes with a built-in British amp, a cab simulator, a handful of effects, and a bass amp.
- Amplitube 3 – A free version of one of the most popular amp sims.
- Guitar Rig 5 – Another highly popular, brand-name amp sim. Requires license activation to unlock the full range of features.
- Kuassua Amplifikation – Amplifikation Lite – A free amp sim that’s fairly easy to use, this is based on one of the amps from their retail amp simulator that contains many more features.
- ampLion Free – Free version of ampLion Pro, which has a ton of additional features when fully purchased.
- LePou – Lecto– Mesa Boogie Rectifier Clone
- LePou – LeGion– An original voiced amp by LePou, seems to be very popular in the DIY Djent world
- LePou – Le456– ENGL Amp Clone
- LePou – SoloC– A Soldano SLO100 Amp Clone
- LePou – Hybrit– Classic British Amp (Marshall Superlead/JCM800 Hybrid)
- TSE – X30– Based on ENGL E530 Rack Mounted Amp Unit
- TSE – X50– Peavey 5150 Clone. This is Version 1 of TSE X50, the latest TSE X50 Version 2 is a paid plug-in.
- Nick Crow – 7170 Lead– Peavey 5150 Clone
- Nick Crow – 8505 Lead– Peavey 6505 Clone
- NDZeit – DirtHead– Sounds like some kind of Peavey clone but with a voice control that lets you shift the voicing from American to British, similar to what Blackstar have done with the HT series. It includes a Cab sim that I’d recommend you switch off.
- NDZeit – TubeBaby– Pretty basic emulation but with different amp “types” including. American, British and Custom. It includes a Cab sim that I’d recommend you switch off.
- Ignite Amps – NRR 1– Great sounding high-gain 3-channel amp sim.
- Ignite Amps – The Anvil– A VST version of the Amp designed by Andy Zeugs.
- Ignite Amps – SHB-1– Tube Bass amp suited for Rock and Metal.
Free Impulse Response Loaders
- LePou – LeCab 2– Impulse loader that allows for 6 Impulses to be loaded at once, allows for phase inversion and panning. Probably the most in-depth impulse loader available.
- Voxengo – Boogex– Allows one sim to be loaded at the time but allows for EQ tweaking of any given impulse.
- KefIR– Probably the easiest IR loader to use. Very simple and to the point, no bells and whistles, just tone.
- Ignite Amps NADIR – Free impulse loader from Ignite Amps that supports dual-IR loading, with additional effects like mono/double mono/stereo signal, processing quality, HPF / LPF, and some other effects. Best paired with their free amp sims.
Free Impulse Response Packs
- 7deadlysins Impulse Pack– Probably the largest free impulse response pack, 7DeadlySins is a collection of a some of the best free IR packs out there. It contains over 13,000 IRs to choose from from. This is the IR pack to download if you pretty much want to download almost every popular free IR pack on the internet in one huge collection.
- Free Redwirez IR Library– This is a free collection / demo sample from Redwirez. This pack is a bunch of IRs based on the Marshall 1960A amplifier, in a ton of variations (different mics and mic positions).
- OwnHammer– A free IR which is based on a 2001 Mesa Boogie Standard slant 4×12 cabinet, with Celestion Vintage 30’s speaker, and several mics to choose from. A great neutral tube-amp IR pack for Mesa Boogie fans.
- Catharsis Impulses– A highly popular pack for heavy metal guitarists, it’s difficult to say exactly what amp models these impulse responses are based on, but they’re all done with dual SM57 microphones, in various positions.
- God’s Cab 1.4– An older version of this IR pack is included in the 7DeadlySins pack. This updated version contains over 700 Mesa OS and Axe-FX ready files at 44.1, 48, and 96 khz sampling rates.
- ToneVampire Vol. 1 and 2 – This is a pack of around 87 IR files, which are all based on specific artists and songs. You’ll find IRs for popular rock and metal bands like AC/DC, Disturbed, Metallica, Slayer, and many more. These are not impulses of actual microphoned speaker cabinets. They are obtained differently, by matching the frequency spectrum of the various songs.
- BestPlugins IR Pack Complete – All 8 of BestPlugins IR packs, which combined has around 251 impulse responses to choose from. They are mostly based on specific band and song tones in the heavy metal genre so you’ll find artists like Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, Slipknot, Metallica, as well as a lot of death and extreme metal bands like Dying Fetus and Children of Bodom.
Free Pedal / Enhancer / Misc DAW Plug-Ins
- TSE 808– TubeScreamer inspired drive pedal.
- TSE B.O.D.– Bass DI Distortion Pedal inspired by the SansAmp Bass Driver.
- AcmeBarGig Red Shift– Interesting plug-in for simulating different pickups on your guitar. If you ever wanted to simulate what your guitar would sound like with EMG 81/85s, or a pair of Seymour Duncans, give this plug-in a shot.
- AcmeBarGig Cab Enhancer– In a nutshell, this can either be used as a standalone cabinet, or ran simultaneously with a separate impulse cabinet to enhance it, since this plug-in has a few effects like noise gate and frequency filters.
- GVST GChorus – Its like a chorus pedal in a mixer GUI. If you don’t know what a chorus pedal does, you don’t listen to enough 80s hair-metal. Either way, this is one of the most popular and highest rated chorus effect plug-ins for guitar.
Best Websites for Finding Free VST Plug-Ins
If our exhaustive list didn’t satisfy you and you want to find even more free VSTs, here is a list of websites you can search through.
- Splice Free Plugins
- KVR Audio
- Ultimate Guitar – Recording forum section (people generally review and offer advice on VST plug-ins in this forum section)