Whether you’re searching for midi guitars or amp plugins, it’s really hard to find one that sounds real. Luckily we’ve arranged the best of the best for any situation into this article for you to find the best guitar VST plugin for your project.
You should know a few things about guitar plugins before we get started. If you're comfortable with them already, feel free to skip ahead to the reviews.
A plugin is a piece of additional software that can run inside a digital audio workstation such as FL Studio or Ableton Live. They can allow you to add different sounds or customize your sound in various ways. These also allow you to add effects or simulate a different surrounding for your sound.
Guitarists use plugins, mainly to simulate different environments, effects, and amps to their guitar sounds. Plugins are made for a specific purpose, so you can use different plugins to do separate tasks. They allow you to create backing tracks or record your bass, drums, piano, or other effects.
This article will focus more on guitar plugins, but there are hundreds of plugins, free and paid, that you can download for your specific digital audio workstation. Most DAWs have different file types that they can use for a plugin. These are discussed below.
Plugins come in different formats, and the format you need depends on what DAW you're using.
Here are some of the more commonly used plugin formats used in digital audio workstations:
Most of these plugins come with different versions for different hardware and software configurations. For example, you will see numbers added to the plugins such as AU2, VST2, VST3, etc. When talking about plugins, musicians mainly mention VST, as it's one of the most commonly available formats used over the majority of the DAWs.
You won't have to worry much about the versions, as most plugins have different versions that you can use with any digital audio workstation, whether you choose to download a free or a paid plugin.
If going for a paid plugin, we recommend checking whether the plugins come in the supported format for your DAW.
Computer software generally comes in two-bit versions: 32-bit and 64-bit.
As we briefly mentioned before, there can be different plugin versions such as VST2 and VST3; the difference here is mainly the bit version. In this case, VST2 comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, while VST3 only comes with a 64-bit version.
You need to ensure that the plugin bit version matches the bit version of your DAW and operating system. If you're using a 32-bit DAW, then you won't be able to use 64-bit VST versions. You can use software to get around this, but we dont recommend doing that as it can be very cumbersome to set up and can cause issues with incompatibility.
By now, you know that different digital audio workstations use different types of plugin formats, which makes it crucial for you to match the format required for the DAW you use.
One more thing to remember is that DAWs have multiple versions and editions, which means that some of them may not be compatible with some third-party plugins, and all plugins won't be compatible with all versions of a DAW.
A lot of lighter versions of DAWs dont allow the use of plugins. This allows an upsell from the core versions of the DAW. Some lite versions do have their own custom plugins, but you won't be able to add any extras to them.
If you got your DAW free by purchasing an instrument, then it's more than likely that you're using a lite version of the DAW. It's best to research the DAW you're using and the plugin you wish to use before making any purchase.
It depends on the plugin that you download, but plugins work essentially in two ways: either you can use them standalone or install them onto a DAW.
To utilize a VST plugin, you can run it standalone and connect your audio interfaces to it, or you can load up your DAW and add the plugin to your project.
Let's briefly go through both options to decide which option is better for you.
You can run many plugins without the need for you to install them onto a DAW. This is especially useful if you dont need to record your instrument and want to experiment using different effects and amps.
This is an excellent option if you dont have an amp, as you can just use your computer as an amp and use the plugin to create all the instrument tones.
Not all plugins are standalone, but you can use a VST Host to run a plugin standalone.
DAWs allow the installation of plugins through a folder inside the install directory. This way, you can use the plugin inside the application.
Sometimes, you need to copy the file inside the DAW installation folder, while sometimes, you can use an installer that automatically copies the files to the relevant directories.
If not, you can go into the options of the DAW, and into the plugins tab, you should see an option that allows you to select a folder that contains your plugins.
Once installed, your DAW will add the plugin automatically into the library, where you can seamlessly use them on a track.
Guitar VSTs can be described as virtual instruments that can generate sound based on MIDI data given by the digital audio workstation software. This can be manually drawn on the interface or recorded using a MIDI keyboard.
In contrast to this, Amp VSTs are used to alter the sound of your guitar. These plugins can be applied to the track after the virtual instrument has been recorded on the track or used with a physical instrument. You'll likely need to learn how to play guitar to use these.
In short, you can use guitar VSTs in-lieu of the guitar, and Amp VSTs are used to apply effects onto a guitar or naked virtual instrument. We've covered both in this article anyway so feel free to jump ahead to the amp VST section if that's what you're after.
As most VST programs operate with a DAW, you'll need a decent computer to operate these programs.
You won't need a top-of-the-line processor, but we'd recommend you opt for at least a Gen 8 i5 processor or above.
8GB of DDR4 or better ram should keep you out of trouble.
A standalone graphics card also doesn't hurt as some of these programs create layovers on your DAW which can stress your processor unnecessarily.
You'll also need a decent mixer or USB input device to prevent unwanted lag while you record and play.
You're unlikely to find a single guitar VST that does a good job of emulating an electric guitar and acoustic guitar. So, we've divided the reviews up into sections.
Each of these VST guitar instruments does a better job than the others for specific purposes, make sure you read every one before you make your final decision. Or, buy multiple if your budget allows for it.
Acoust6ics by Vir2 is an extremely realistic-sounding midi engine for any DAW. There are 6 different types of instruments included in this package. You get:
This is much more varied than many other midi guitar plugins.
Each included instrument sounds impressive. You can tell a lot of effort has gone into capturing the recordings.
They used the Blumlein stereo method for recording, allowing the app to control several parameters. For example, you can control:
The Piezo perspective is a favorite to avoid unwanted interference from other plugins.
This plugin also has the benefit of incorporating many different playstyles. You could choose to have the instrument strings picked or strummed with a plectrum. There is also the option to have them played with fingers instead.
There are expressive inclusions such as:
These give you complete control over your compositions. Having access to all of these in a single package at such high quality is not common.
This plugin uses Kontakt to interact with your DAW. If you use it already it should make installation and starting with this plugin a breeze. Kontakt player is free to use and easily downloaded if you don’t use it already. You can download it here.
This midi plugin has unparalleled strummed chord patterns. There are so many different options available, and they all sound very realistic.
It emulates a Martin 0-17, a vintage guitar from 1937. It has a tone that is mellow and warm and sounds very realistic. It also has an articulate, full-sounding 12 string guitar. Having these options makes it very likely you will create the tone you are looking for.
If you prefer a dreadnought-style six-string, we recommend the original Strummed Acoustic. It still sounds great but only includes one instrument instead of two for the same price.
Strummed acoustic 2 has impressive integration with your keyboard. You can use the mod and pitch wheels to change strumming patterns quickly. Use can also use your keys to add accents and change chords voicings on the fly.
If you aren’t comfortable using your keyboard, you could use the auto-chord feature. This creates the chords for you, so you only have to press one key.
The easy-to-use effects make it simple to create the perfect sound for you. Listen to the samples above or on the Native Instruments website to see how well this plugin can fit into any style.
The Session Guitarist Picked Acoustic is also excellent. If you can afford both, it pairs well with Strummed Acoustic 2. This way, you will only have to learn to work around one system to use different types of sounds.
This plugin emulates a Martin dreadnaught-style guitar. It sounds pretty realistic and has a massive amount of presets for picking styles.
This beats the Native Instruments Picked plugin for one reason — this plugin can also strum chords.
This way, you get a little more versatility for your money. If we are being honest, in terms of sound, it is hard to pick between them as they are both fantastic.
The control parameters for this plugin are quite easy to use. It only emulates one guitar but you can get a lot of different tones from the controls. This makes sure you can match the sound you are after.
Ample sound also has plugins that emulate many other types of guitars. They also have plugins based on Taylor, Luther, and electric guitars. These are all great, and we highly recommend them if you have the budget for them.
This Martin plugin is our favorite for its tone, but you may prefer the Taylor or Luther acoustic guitars, depending on your taste.
Another quality acoustic guitar simulator is RealGuitar 5 from MusicLab. It sounds realistic, whether picked or strummed, but less so than our favorite plugins.
A standout feature that this plugin has that is missing from the others in Nashville tuning. This is a particular type of tuning used often in older-style country music. It is also used in modern music, although less frequently.
To go with the Nashville tuning, there are many guitar types included in this package. There is a 6 string in both steel-string and nylon and a 12 string.
The variety of tones makes this an excellent choice for those who need some diversity for our songwriting even if it's not as impressive overall as some of our other top picks.
As the tones created by an electric guitar are more varied, so too do the VSTs that emulate them have to be. The NI deluxe is an incredibly comprehensive VST with unparalleled features. But if you want to niche down further, we have added some of their best competition too.
In our opinion, this is hands down the most realistic sounding midi plugin for guitars. It emulates a Les Paul style guitar flawlessly. The Gibson Les Paul is extremely popular in many different music genres meaning this VST is capable of anything between shredding heavy metal and soft jazz.
Both of the Native Instrument Acoustic packs are fantastic. This plugin takes what is great about them and combines them into one package. The obvious difference is that the instrument sampled is an electric guitar.
You can use strummed patterns or picked notes. There are easy controls over a variety of factors. Some of these factors include:
Each of these articulations can also be set to sound as though it’s played with a plectrum or fingers.
There are plenty of effects included based upon vintage stompboxes. The software does a great job of emulating them, and they all sound close to the original.
There are so many other controls to adapt your sound too. You'll definitely be able to find the perfect tone for your track if you look hard and tweak some settings.
The Acoust6ics plugin is the most versatile acoustic simulator. From the same creator, Electri6ity has the most instruments to offer in its category. This plugin has even more instruments included with a whopping 8 different guitars.
Having access to 8 different guitar tones means that you can work within any genre. Each of the instruments has been meticulously sampled and sounds incredibly realistic (for midi gutars).
You are able to use many expressive controls such as:
There is a built-in effect rack allowing you to control which amp the guitar gets played through. You can also select and edit any stompboxes you want on your signal chain. So, there's just so much variety in this one package!
If you plan on writing exclusively heavy stuff with your guitar plugin this is the one we would recommend. It samples the ESP eclipse and as such has some amazing heavy tones.
When you first fire up this plugin there is an almost flat sounding initial tone of the guitar. However, this actually speaks for the quality of the recording. This is what an un-amped electric guitar with high gain pickups sounds like in real life.
You will need to use the settings in the plugin to run the signal through a virtual amp and effects to get the tone you are after.
Once amped the clean tones on this plugin are pretty good too. It is impossible to say that they are close to comparing to Native Instruments Electric Sunburst Deluxe though. The crunchy palm mutes and soaring leads are where this plugin shines.
Keep that in mind while making your choice. It is less versatile but does what it does extremely well.
The Native Instruments Komplete bundle is fantastic if you have a decent budget. It comes with its best guitar plugins. In the Komplete 13 bundle, you get the Strummed Acoustic and the Electric Sunburst plugin.
You also get the newly released Guitar Rig 6 which can work with your real guitar. It can also work in conjunction with the other plugins to use a myriad of different effects. The Komplete package also comes with a bunch of other instruments, effects, and sounds.
These inclusions vastly outweigh the cost of this bundle. You can take tracks from inception all the way to completion with mastering plugins too.
The ultimate version has all of their guitar plugin instruments. The only drawback is that it is very expensive. Yet, you could definitely justify the cost of this bundle if you plan to use a lot of the other plugins as well.
Native Instruments are a big name in the industry so you can trust their software is awesome.
Just looking to virtually amp up your real-life guitar? The following are the best options to do so.
You can also run any of the aforementioned VSTs through these virtual amps to modify the tones and create something unique.
This is our pick for the best guitar VST for several reasons. The most important of these is it has so many features and actually sounds like real guitar gear.
The standout feature for Bias FX 2 is its ‘Guitar Match’. This emulates sought-after famous guitar tones by using your guitar.
This is awesome if you own one guitar but want to use a different tone while playing. For example, you could get your budget Stratocaster copy to sound like an authentic Fender or even like a Gibson Les Paul.
This sim gives you access to so many presets. The list of presets is ever-growing due to the booming popularity of the Spark amp. This amp uses the same presets, so you will have access to thousands of user presets.
You will be able to find the perfect tone without making changes. You also have complete control over every parameter if you decide to tweak the settings.
Bias FX is available at three different levels. $99 for Standard, $199 for Professional, and $299 for Elite.
The main difference between these packages is the included amount of effects. For example, Elite comes with 18 guitar match instruments while Standard only has 2.
You can dip your toes in with the standard package and upgrade later, but this may end up costing you extra. If you catch the Elite package on special, we highly recommend buying it straight up. Even if it is not on special it is still the best package by far and is worth the extra cost.
This VST only just missed out as being our best overall pick. It has fantastic realism and a crazy amount of features. The only negative thing we can say about this simulator is that it may be overwhelming for some users.
You can completely customize your tone to the smallest degree with Amplitube 4.
Want to swap out individual speakers on your simulated cabinet? Sure. How about moving the mic placement for that cabinet too? Easy. You can even set a virtual room in which your amp will sit. With these features and a few others, it’s easy to see how this is the most versatile Guitar VST on the market.
There are so many effects included in this package it's almost impossible to list them all.
One of my favorites is the acoustic guitar simulator. This changes your electric signal into a fantastic-sounding acoustic. How fun to shred on your electric with an acoustic tone pouring out at the other end.
Another incredible feature in this package is a built-in 8 track recorder. Perfect to use if you don’t have a DAW already. There is also a looper to practice your soloing chops or to help you write songs.
Amplitube has easy integration with many different types of controllers. IK Multimedia has its own controllers known as iRig. Therefore, Amplitube has seamless integration with the iRig Stomp I/O. This addition makes this VST great for gigging — if you trust yourself not to step on your laptop or iPad.
Amplitude 4 is perfect if you love having total control over your tone. If you aren’t afraid to work your way around the features, this is likely the best choice for you.
This is a real competitor for the Bias FX 2, sspecially true if you can forgo the Guitar Match feature of the Positive Grid simulator.
This VST is a free version of the more versatile Guitar Rig 6 Pro. GR6 Pro is one of the newest and best amp simulators available. Guitar Rig 5 Player Player and its subsequent updated 6 version is a much lighter VST than the paid version.
There are many features in the pro version missing from this one. That is not to say that this does not come loaded with enough bells and whistles to get you started.
This VST simulates a single amp type. They call this amp 'Jump', which you can tell straight away is based on Marshall JMP amplifiers.
The amp sim sounds great on its own, but this free VST also comes with several effects.
It comes with 'Skreamer' distortion, which emulates an Ibanez Tube Screamer well. It also has modulation, delay, reverb, eq, and dynamic control.
Buying the physical versions of all you get in this package would cost thousands of dollars. It is so good to see you can get an emulated version for free. If you try this out and you like it, you can upgrade to Guitar Rig 6 Pro with even more inclusions.
This VST is also part of the Komplete Start package. This package includes most of the Native Instruments' free plug-ins. The paid version of this package is the Komplete 13 package. We highly recommend you look into this if you are serious about music production and have the budget.
It is nice to see a guitar amp simulator that actually has the name of the real amplifier in its title. Waves partnered with Paul Reed Smith to create these amp simulators. They emulate three of their most popular amps.
The more expensive amp modelers may be as good at emulating metal tones. However, this is our pick for metal tones, as many of the factory presets are dedicated to heavy tones. There are signature tones from Megadeth’s producer. There are also presets for famous guitarists such as Devin Townsend.
This VST is also plenty capable of covering other genres too. You will find a similar tone to your favorite artist, especially if you know they use PRS amplifiers.
The three included amp simulators are:
PRS Archon - This is the sim for aggressive overdriven tones. The harder you push it, the more delightful distortion you can expect. Its smooth but heavy gain is perfect for crunchy rhythm or soaring lead. The clean channel is bright and well-balanced too.
PRS Blue Sierra/V9 - This rare amplifier was the original format for the PRS J-MOD 100. It is similar to other American boutique amps. It has brilliant clean tones and is perfect for medium-gain overdrive.
PRS Dallas - Sounds like an American classic reverb amp. It emulates tube amplifiers, so has massive sounding cleans with a sparkling reverb. This is the case even with overdriven settings. Luscious highs coupled with meaty mids and formidable lows.
This is the plugin version of the popular Kemper amplifier. It sounds excellent and has a pretty intuitive user interface.
Having the support of thousands of presets saved from Kemper amplifiers is a nice touch. There is sure to be a tone already out there that matches precisely what you are looking for.
There are packs you can buy that specifically emulate the sound of famous guitarists. This is fantastic, especially if you are covering that artist. However, the added cost of buying these packs to emulate multiple artists can add up quickly. Before you know it, you could have spent thousands.
Given that these costs can quickly add up, it is hard to recommend this plugin over buying a Kemper amplifier. You can use the real amp as your interface to record too. Sure, it’s more in outright cost, but if you’re looking to spend a lot, you might as well have the real deal.
This is an older style VST guitar amp simulator from waves. You can get some pretty good tones out of it, but it doesn't sound as good as some of the newer amp sims in our top picks.
There are over 30 simulated amplifiers and 30 simulated speaker cabinets included. This coupled with 25 stompboxes, means there is a massive variety of tones available to you. If you are good at tweaking some of the presets, you can meddle with some settings to create great styles.
Waves often do have sales, and if you can pick this up cheap, it is definitely worth it. Yet, it's hard to recommend this simulator when compared to the others if you're paying a similar price.
You can install VST plug-ins in several ways. Generally, there are many deciding factors like the operating system you use and the type of file that the plug-in creator provides.
For Windows, you will likely get either a .exe file or a .dll file. Installation files or .exe files can be installed by simply double-clicking on them. An installation window will show up. Following the steps will take you through the installation process. You can install the .dll files simply by copying them to the plug-ins folder.
For macOS, you can install the plug-in using the provided .dmg file and follow the steps in the installer, or you can copy the .au folder into the directory of your audio unit.
Some paid plug-ins need to activation upon the first launch. You can do this by either putting in the activation key provided to you upon purchase or logging in by using the email you used for the account.
It's pretty straightforward to install a plug-in, and it generally follows the same steps used to install the plug-in.
For Windows, you can uninstall the plug-in by going to Control Panel > Programs > Uninstall a program. There, simply right-click on the plug-in and click on Uninstall.
If you installed the plug-in by copying it into the plug-ins folder, you could simply uninstall it by going to the folder and deleting the files regardless of the operating system.
On macOS, you can simply run the uninstaller or drag the application icon to the trash to delete it.
Plug-in installation can be a bit finicky, so it won't be out of the norm for them not to appear in your plug-in list after installation.
If you dont see your plug-ins after installation, then the first thing to do is to check the settings of your DAW. You should see an option that allows you to refresh your plug-ins list. If that doesn't work, ensure the plug-in's directory is specified correctly. If still in doubt, you can do a fresh install of the plug-in.
All VSTs are compatible with Windows, but the same cant be said for macOS. Not all VSTs come with macOS-supported installers, so you may need to browse a bit before you can find the macOS-specific version of your desired plug-in.
A MIDI Guitar VST can be defined similarly to a MIDI Drum VST when creating songs in your DAW. Rather than using a MIDI Keyboard or a MIDI track in your DAW to trigger the drum samples, this time, you trigger samples from a guitar.
Guitar VSTs consist of thousands of samples called snapshots.
These are the sounds from a guitar that are performed at different velocities and varying positions on the neck of the guitar.
VSTs also often have options to make complicated moves such as string bending or string squeak.
To connect your guitar to a pc, you'll need an audio interface that can securely convert the signal from your instrument into something that the computer can understand. If the PC has input audio jacks, you'll need to utilize an audio interface to connect your electric guitar to it.
There are so many midi plug-ins available that are supposed to sound like guitars. Unfortunately, many of them don't come close to sounding natural. For this reason, we have compiled a list of the best guitar VST plug-ins available.
Guitar plug-ins for DAWs are often very specific tools that emulate just one type of guitar. They also vary by playing style, such as picked or strummed. It is unlikely to find a guitar VST plugin that sounds like both an electric and acoustic guitar.
All these options available make it hard to identify which plug-in is best for you. We have handpicked our favorites and explained them in detail. This will help you make an informed decision and avoid wasting time and money.
Ideally, you will have the budget to buy more than one plug-in. Having multiple plug-ins will allow you to get the best possible sound in any situation.
You should read the instructions for any plug-in once you have made your purchase. Doing so will allow you to hit the ground running and find it easier to modify your settings as you go.
If you have any questions, check out our other content or reach out in the comments, and we’ll get back to you.