If you’re looking to record some guitar, amp sim VST plugins are essential. And fortunately for you, there are quite a few options to choose from.
In this guide, we’ll be looking at the best free standalone guitar amp simulator plugins.
Admittedly, you will find many of the “usual suspects” on this list, but there might be a couple you haven’t come across yet.
So, let’s get into the best free standalone amp sims to boost your songs.
Emissary By IGNITE AMPS
If you’re the type to scour the internet for free amp sims, it seems unlikely you haven’t come across this IGNITE AMPS metal monster already.
Beautifully designed (based on a real amp), powerfully voiced, highly tweakable, and explosively free. Honestly, what else is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Certain well-known metal engineers in the YouTube community even call this the best free amp sim available.
Now, is it good for anything other than metal? Generally, no. But that’s not a bad thing, especially if you find yourself cutting a lot of metal records, or it’s the tone your clients are looking for.
Just grab Emissary now. There’s no point in waiting around. This is an excellent guitar amp VST for heavy music.
Download: IGNITE AMPS
NRR-1 By IGNITE AMPS
IGNITE AMPS is beyond generous in their free offerings, and here we have yet another metal amp sim in the form of the NRR-1.
Its user interface is basic compared to the Emissary, and it certainly has a different flavor than that amp, but there’s no doubt it’s still ideally suited to heavier styles.
The main difference, besides its tone, is the fact that the NRR-1 is a digital emulation of a three-channel tube preamp. You’ve got the clean channel (gain, volume, bass, mid, treble, and a bright switch), rhythm channel (gain, volume, bass, mid, treble, as well as bright and boost switches), and lead channels (gain, volume, bass, mid, treble, presence, as well as bright and shape switches).
It’s always nice being able to work with three distinct channels, and the NRR-1 puts that functionality right at your fingertips, entirely for free.
Download: IGNITE AMPS
The Anvil By IGNITE AMPS
Of the three free amp sims that IGNITE AMPS has created, The Anvil is my personal favorite – probably because it’s a little more versatile than the alternatives.
Its three-channel design might appear like the NRR-1, but The Anvil has three independent channels. The clean channel models classic Californian circuits, the rhythm channel gives you that legendary hot-rodded British tone, and the lead channel equips you with tight metal tones. How cool is that?
You can cover quite a bit of tonal ground with these three channels, which makes The Anvil a great tool for recording sexy sounding guitar parts.
If you like versatility and broadening your tonal horizons, you should grab The Anvil straight up.
Download: IGNITE AMPS
Cypress TT-15 By Black Rooster Audio
Gosh, I wonder what amp the Cypress TT-15 could possibly be emulating… It’s so hard to figure out. Its design doesn’t give away anything!
I suppose we should give Black Rooster Audio a break, though, because they’ve done the hard work of creating a great amp sim, and besides, they somehow managed to design a beautiful, realistic looking user interface, with a slight aged look and all.
Its controls are minimal, as you would expect – you get an on/off switch, high/low output switch, cabinet on/off switch, and gain, tone, and volume controls. Simple is not a bad thing, though, and in this case, you don’t really need anything else.
In general, reviewers thought the built-in cabinet sim sucked, so we recommend using your own favorite IRs for best results.
With a bit of tweaking, though, you can get that characteristic warm, creamy, rich Orange tone you’ve come to know and love. So, give this one a try if you’re a fan or if you need to dial in some different tones. You won’t regret it.
Download: Black Rooster Audio
Amplifikation Lite By KUASSA
KUASSA’s Amplifikation Lite is a free, simply designed amp sim that claims to give you ultra-realistic guitar sounds.
It comes with controls for input, channels (clean, rhythm, lead), gain, bass, middle, treble, presence, volume, and cab (int, off, ext).
Its features include three channels, nine parameters, and a built-in cabinet IR loader. Which all sounds quite basic, except for maybe the IR loader.
The question is – does it djent (I mean… does it sound good)? And the answer is – “wow.” I could see myself using this amp for rock, funk, blues, metal, and more. It puts some exceptional tones at your fingertips. Way better than expected!
I can’t tell you whether this plugin will float your boat, but I do recommend giving it a try. It’s free anyway.
Amplifikation Lite is compatible with Windows and Mac.
HyBrit By LePou
The LePou/Poulin suite of guitar amp sim VSTs should be well recognized at this point, and honestly, there’s not a whole lot we can say about them that hasn’t already been said.
We’ll kick off this section with HyBrit, whose concept is quite brilliant. It’s basically two (pricey) Marshall amps in one, with the MCJ channel emulating a JCM800, and the PLS channel emulating a Plexi Super Lead 100. Basically, it’s the best of both (classic) worlds!
From personal experience, I can tell you that you can get some cool tones using the HyBrit, and for all those times you need a Marshall sound (which, let’s face it – it’s not infrequent), it’s nice to have as a standby.
The HyBrit is an oldie but a goodie, and as with all LePou amp sims, it’s beautifully designed (this one kind of looks like a real Marshall, no?).
LE456 By LePou
Going down the list, we’ve got LePou’s LE456 emulating the Engl Powerball amp. And if your reaction was anything like mine, you’re probably thinking to yourself “yeah right – the Powerball is insane – you can’t replicate it, especially not with an amp sim.”
Well, I wasn’t convinced either until I compared the LE456 side by side with a Powerball and found that the LE456 is fire. No, it might not take you 100% of the way there, but a Powerball can also easily run you over $2,000, never mind the cab. Hmm… I wonder which would be better if you were on a budget?
Yeah, LePou has done us a real service here, even if this amp sim is kind of old news at this point. And again, its design is not half bad, yeah?
Lecto By LePou
When it comes to metal and heavy genre amps, the Mesa Boogie Dual (and sometimes Triple) Rectifier is a go-to. If only you could find an amp sim that emulated the Dual Rectifier, especially without having to crank up your guitar to dangerous levels your neighbors won’t under any circumstances appreciate.
Oh, wait… That’s exactly what we’re looking at with LePou’s Lecto. Forget the clean channel. Lecto doesn’t do clean (well, you can dial out the gain for some cleaner tones). But it does do the second and third channels (rhythm and lead).
Now, look. The Dual Rectifier is a bit of a nuanced amp. I can tell you that from having owned one for a few years myself. Its tone is affected by a lot of things, including what cab you put it through and what the volume levels are set to. It can be tricky finding that elusive “sweet spot.”
So, the Lecto might not do everything your Dual Rectifier does. But it does capture the essence of its high gain badness. And so, it can’t hurt to add to your VST plugin library.
Legion By LePou
Legion is a high-gain powerhouse LePou original. It doesn’t emulate a specific amp. It’s meant to do its own thing.
And as you can see, it offers quite a bit by way of controls – the standard EQ, gain, contour, and volume knobs are all there, but you’ve also got controls for channel (red, green), mode (lead, rhythm), and tone stack.
You can create some devastatingly heavy tones with this amp without sacrificing clarity. So, if you’re looking for something different, but something that can still djent, this is a good one to experiment with.
Lextac By LePou
Ever wanted to get that killer Bogner Ecstasy XTC sound without having to drop three large (and by that I mean three thousand dollars)? Yeah? Me too.
Well, LePou’s Lextac might not quite compare to the real Ecstasy, but for a little instant gratification, it will more than do the trick.
This thing sounds awesome, and it will give you that round, warm tone characteristic of the Ecstasy without breaking the bank.
Its interface is simply designed, and this amp sim has been around quite a while, but you will not hear any complaints from me.
SoloC By LePou
The LePou suite simply wouldn’t be complete without an amp sim that emulates the legendary Soldano SLO-100 Super Lead Overdrive, would it? After all, that amp could easily run you $4,000.
Well, you can trust me when I say that LePou’s SoloC is a capable amp sim with plenty of gain and headroom. If you know what you’re doing with mixing and effects, you can make this baby sound killer. No joke.
So, while we might not be talking about anything new here, we are talking about something that’s free and extraordinary. And that makes it worth the mention, and it also makes it worth downloading.
TSE X30 By TSE Audio
TSE X30 is one of those legacy amp sims that has been around for a while and may not boast the ultra-realism you’ve come to expect from free and premium amp sims alike.
This hasn’t stopped plenty of reviewers and YouTubers from dialing in sick thrash metal tones using their know-how and favorite effect chains and IRs.
Basically, X30 is still awesome, provided you know what you’re doing, especially as a sound engineer or music producer. And given its high gain nature, that’s not too surprising.
I’m not sure that it measures up to the Emissary, but it’s probably not going to make much sense to use the Emissary on everything, so it’s nice to have access to a variety of tones. The TSE X30 can certainly widen your studio’s guitar tonal palette.
Overall, we like the simplicity of the X30, and it can be a ton of fun to play with.
Download: TSE Audio
Blue Cat’s Free Amp By Blue Cat Audio
Blue Cat’s Free Amp isn’t just one amp. It’s a three in one deal. Because what guitarist is satisfied with just one sound or amp anyway?
Blue Cat Audio is obviously in touch with the modern guitarist, giving you access to a “classic drive” Marshall, clean “blackface” Fender, and “modern drive” amp sim.
The user interface is quite straightforward, which might fool you into thinking this might not be the best sounding free amp sim available, but it is quite versatile overall, giving you access to a ton of tones.
If you know how to dial in killer tones using a combination of effects and IRs, you’re going to have a ton of fun with this one. Enjoy!
Blue Cat’s Free Amp is compatible with Mac and Windows.
Download: Blue Cat Audio
Nick Crow 8505 Lead By Nick Crow Lab
It’s not hard to see that Eddie Van Halen’s legendary 5150 head floated Nick Crow’s boat, because he didn’t just make one amp sim emulating it – he made two! The first is the darker themed 8505.
Now, I can’t blame Nick, because I’m a big fan of the 5150 too, but not just because it’s a fire-breathing metal machine. In my experience, it does a lot of things well.
And the metal community at large also loves the 5150, which could be one of the reasons Nick put this baby together to begin with.
We find this plugin sounds quite realistic, and yes, it does do heavy quite well (no additional “heavy” switch required).
Download: Nick Crow Lab
Nick Crow 7170 Lead By Nick Crow Lab
The lighter themed Nick Crow 7170 is still clearly emulating the 5150, although it does have a bit of a different character compared to the 8505.
This one gives you that warm, throaty, aggressive tone you know the 5150 for. It can sound awesome on its own, but it shines even brighter when you double-track your guitar parts. And of course, inside a full mix, it can kick some serious butt.
This amp sim only has one purpose – to demolish. But it can be a ton of fun to mess around with, so if you’re curious, download it and give it a try.
Download: Nick Crow Lab
Ace By Shattered Glass Audio
Okay, so you’ve got most of your bases covered. You’ve got classic rock tones, modern rock tones, high gain metal tones, even classic cleans. But what about vintage clean and overdriven tones?
Well, that’s what Shattered Glass Audio’s Ace is for. It will help you achieve your favorite Beatle-esque 60s pop and rock and roll guitar sounds.
Now, if you’re skeptical, I understand. I was skeptical too.
And while Ace might not give you 100% realism and accuracy, I’ve got to tell you bro… It’s not half bad. You should check out the video if you’re in any doubt.
Download: Shattered Glass Audio
Boogex By Voxengo
Voxengo’s Boogex is a different kind of amp sim, and for the most part, it doesn’t cater to high gain styles (which isn’t to say it can’t give you some serious drive). That said, it’s highly customizable and versatile, so for some players, it will probably feel perfect.
Its user interface is quite distinct from others you’ve already seen (which generally look like real amps). If anything, it looks more like an EQ effect than an amp.
You’ve got controls for “emphasis EQ,” pre EQ (lo, mid, hi), as well as amp (drive and pre EQ mix). You can also control the built-in cab sim/convolver (there are plenty of built-in cabs/IRs), as well as stereo reverb (pre-delay, space, time, width, and gain) from the interface as well.
Boogex is perfect for rock and blues applications, and you can get some sweet and smooth clean tones with it as well.
I would not say it’s the most realistic, most amazing sounding amp sim out there. It’s a far cry from that. But what it does, it does well, and it comes with a lot of power besides (speaker cab, input gate, and reverb).
I’ve messed around with this one in the past (I’ve even done some recording with it), and have enjoyed the results I’ve gotten.
Boogex is available as an AudioUnit, AAX, and VST plugin.
Once I’ve Got The Amp Sims, What’s Next?
Plug in your guitar, load up the amp sim and go…? Well, not quite.
I’ll be talking more about how to enhance the sound of amp sims in just a moment, but chances are you’re going to want an IR loader, especially for amp sims that don’t come with cab sims. Even if they do come with cab sims, the built-in ones sometimes suck. You’ll get better results with custom IR packs. Fortunately, there are free IR loaders and IR packs as well.
That said, that’s the main thing to look out for. Other than that, you can plug your guitar directly into your audio interface, arm the track, and start messing around with the VSTs you’ve downloaded and installed.
What Are Some Good VST Plugins/Effects I Can Use To Enhance My Guitar Sound?
So, amp sims are a great starting point, but they certainly aren’t everything when it comes to creating awesome guitar tones in the studio.
For instance, layering multiple guitar tracks (with different guitars and different settings), panning them let and right, and delaying them can all help to create a more full-bodied guitar sound.
But in this section, I’ll offer some tips on additional VST plugins and effects that can help you enhance the sound of your guitar tracks.
Not all amp sims are designed to sound great on their own, or even come with a cab sim, and even if they do, they can sometimes benefit from better cab sims.
So, let’s dig into this a bit.
You’ve probably noticed that hardware guitar setups are generally made up of two vital pieces of equipment – an amp head, and an amp cab.
Now, of course, there are combo amps as well, but they are basically the same thing, just in a preconfigured bundle.
Amp sims are basically equivalent to an amp head (the preamp section). But an amp head doesn’t sound that great all on its own. It sounds much better when you put it through a cabinet that’s been tuned with guitar tones in mind (a guitar cab – wow!).
So, there’s a piece missing. Which is why you need a cab sim, also known as an Impulse Response (IR) loader or convolver.
IGNITE AMPS has got a couple – NadIR and Libra. Both are great options.
In addition to an IR loader, though, you will also need IRs. IRs basically act as the cab. The term Impulse Response refers to the signal (impulse) picked up by the microphone (response), so as you can imagine, you can pick up a variety of sounds from different cabs and microphone positions. That’s the basic idea.
There are both free and paid IR packs, and they are all worth experimenting with. But trust me when I say working without IRs is kind of like trying to play the original Super Mario Bros. without the B button.
In this case, I’m referring to effect pedal sims, created by the likes of IGNITE AMPS and TSE Audio (free downloads), not hardware stomp box pedals.
Most guitarists know that to unlock the unlimited power of their rig, they’re going to need to use some effects pedals.
Even Ricie Kotzen, who isn’t much of an effects freak, has a Tech 21 floor unit that comes with delay, reverb, fuzz, and boost. It’s simple but powerful.
And if you’re a metal guitarist, there’s a good chance you can’t do without a Tube Screamer (good news – there are several free Tube Screamer sims).
Anyway, here are some solid free options you can grab to tighten, shape, and in some cases, even run your tone:
- IGNITE AMPS: ProF.E.T., TSB-1 Tyrant Screamer, TS-999 SubScreamer
- TSE Audio: TSE 808, TSE R47
Most amps do come with EQ controls. But in the studio, these are generally used to shape and control the sound of the guitar being recorded (suited to the tastes of the guitarist), and don’t necessarily account for how the guitar will sound in the overall mix.
EQ is often used to further alter the guitar’s tonal characteristics, and in some cases, even to remove certain unneeded or unwanted frequencies (high-pass filters are sometimes used to remove the guitar’s low end, to make room for bass, vocals, drums, and so on).
It is always better to start with a guitar sound you’re happy with than to attempt to “fix” it later with EQ. That said, EQ is used liberally in the mixing process for subtle tweaks, clarity, eliminating harsh or unneeded frequencies, and so on.
The more experience you gain as a sound engineer or music producer, the more likely you are to know exactly what you’re looking for in a guitar sound and will be able to use EQ to achieve the results you’re looking for.
Compression isn’t necessarily used on every guitar track, but it can be a powerful tool when used correctly.
Let’s say you have a dynamic, clean guitar track. Even though the performance is quite good, because it contains a variety of techniques (picking, harmonics, tapping, etc.), some notes ring out more clearly than others.
In such an instance, compression can come in quite handy. It can increase the volume of the quieter notes, and lower the volume of the louder notes, thus “squashing” the signal. You can apply compression to lesser or greater degrees, though, depending on taste and what sounds more natural.
That said, compression can be useful for distorted or high gain parts as well, especially in cases where you demand even levels across the track. Generally, high gain guitar parts don’t require as much compression, but that isn’t to say it can’t come in handy from time to time.
Gate is another popular effect for guitar (especially high gain guitar tracks) because it can help you eliminate some unwanted buzz and hum (yes, even amp sims tend to emulate the buzz and hum naturally heard from hardware amps).
Gate will make audio particles below a certain threshold inaudible. A gated instrument can sound weird all on its own (because you can often hear where the “cutoff” is), but in a mix, it can sound quite natural.
Mixing is challenging enough without buzz and hum interfering with other tracks, and gate is the perfect tool to help you eliminate unwanted artifacts.
That said, you wouldn’t use gate on every guitar track (especially a clean guitar), or at the very least, you would usually keep the intensity low to preserve the organic sound of the instrument and avoid unintentionally cutting off certain notes.
Reverb is another obvious effect to enhance the sound of guitar. Certain reverb effects can further color the guitar’s tone in useful ways as well.
The main effect you get from reverb, though is a bit of an echo effect. You wouldn’t use reverb on a guitar track you wanted to be “in the face” of the listener. But if you wanted to create the illusion of a guitar track that was further back in the mix, reverb can come in handy.
Another reason reverb is used is because it can smooth out the performance somewhat, emphasizing its positive qualities and tempering its lesser moments.
Delay is another echo style effect, but it’s highly controllable, which means it’s well-suited to a variety of applications.
Slap back delay is a popular option in the studio because it can give a bit of a “doubling” effect to the guitar tracks.
Longer delays can be great for solos, as it can give lead lines an audible tail, which can offer color and interest in between licks.
What Are Some Good Guitars To Pair With Free Amp Sims?
If you didn’t know this already, guitars all sound a little different, especially when you start throwing in midi guitar controllers!
And these days, there are more guitars available than ever. That can make it hard to know which to use in which situations.
Ultimately, guitars are individual, and for every rule, there are always some exceptions. Some guitarists can do just about anything with just one guitar.
But here are some solid selections for different situations:
- Telecaster: Has a twangy, full-bodied tone. Perfect for country, country rock, bluegrass, blues, and other associated styles.
- Stratocaster: A versatile instrument with a classic tone. Can be great for country, blues, rock, funk, reggae and more. Not necessarily great for heavier genres.
- Les Paul: Offers a fat, big, warm sound. Great for blues, rock, and even metal.
- SG: To my ears, the SG sounds like a fusion between a Strat and a Les Paul, with a fat, biting tone. Great for blues and rock. Has been used on heavier genres too.
- ES-335: Mellow, round, and warm. Great for blues and jazz, even funk. Sometimes used in rock as well.
I could go on, but you’ve sort of got your bases covered with the above.
If I were to go a little more rapid fire, Ibanez guitars are generally great for “shred” (because of their fast necks and double-locking bridges), PRS guitars work marvelously as Les Paul substitutes, and Ernie Ball Music Man guitars are premium quality axes that are also great for any kind of shred.
The point is, the tones you achieve will depend on the guitar you’re using, and that’s a critical factor to keep in mind when recording.
Top Standalone Guitar Amp Simulator VST Plugins That Are Free, Final Thoughts
Don’t forget to spend plenty of time practicing and experimenting with different plugins – all of these ones are free.
The better you understand your tools, the more you’ll be able to do with them, and the better sounds you’ll be able to create.
Guitar is an instrument with a wide range of possibilities, so be sure you’re well-acquainted with the instrument and all the things you can do with it. Spend plenty of time mixing it with other instruments too. And as always, have fun!