The Ultimate Guide To Guitar VST Plugins: Electric, Acoustic, Free and Paid
In this massive guide, we will go over the best premium (paid) and free guitar plugins.
Below is a table of contents to help you easily find the plugin you are looking for.
Vir2’s Line of Electric Guitars
Vir2 Instruments is an international team of talented musicians, sound designers, and programmers who know what they’re doing with VST technology. Electri6ity is aging like a fine wine (rare for guitar VIs) and the newest addition to their lineup, Apollo, already looks like it will do the same.
Short Description of Plugin: While nearing almost a decade in age, Electri6ity has held up fantastically and still delivers incredible classic rock and hard rock riffs and licks that can turn any key player into a guitar god.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that guitar VSTs have sounded great for a long time, then Vir2’s Electri6ity comes around to knock some rightful sense back into me.
You have eight classic guitar models that compose over 24,000 24-bit high-quality samples, and while the library had to be a complete nightmare for those in 2010, 27GB is usually doable for most home studios.
Electri6ity has a lot of range in its sound and, even as time goes on, the cleans are holding up better than the overdrives that were originally the focus. However, few genres are off limits, except for the heaviest of the heaviest. You can jump from funk, to rock, to 80’s metal, back to folky pop.
The GUI feels the most dated, but it’s still spotless and efficient with easily readable text. The organization of the library is simple as well— just two sub-folders: DI and Amp, with eight .NKI patches each.
Electri6ity is frequently compared to Musiclab’s real electric guitar line as they came out around the same time, and while Musiclab delivers better quality in most aspects, you only have one guitar per VST - where Electri6ity has eight. However, while Electri6ity will give you twice as many guitars for the price, Musiclab continues to update their Real line, now blowing Electri6ity out of the water.
There are two sides to Apollo by Vir2. On one side, we have the gorgeous clean tones that sound great even with little production and effects implemented. However, by the name, you can guess the other, more popular side.
Swells, Pads, Ambient Designer, Phrase Builder, and Instruments outline our main features in this VST.
Simply put, they are brilliant and perfectly paired with a modern and elegant looking interface — one of my favorites. Your Stereo Spreader, Chorus, Rotator, Skreamer, Compression, Delay, Reverb and Flanger effects are chock-full of parameters and this is all easily accessed on the main screen.
There is one notable negative here, and that’s the price — which may make this a niche VST for many. There is little doubt that the swells, pads, and soundscapes are simply gorgeous and believable, but a guitar isn’t the first instrument that most people think of when they see those words.
You may find it difficult to justify $400 for swells, pads, and ambiance created by a guitar, when a synth VST could do those better and cheaper. While the clean guitar side isn’t the main feature, I think it’s important that the user loves it, and will use it from time to time if they are considering this VST.
Ujam’s Line of Electric Guitars
While Ujam has only been in business since 2010, their members aren’t new to VSTs or even guitar VSTs for that matter. In 2002, Steinberg released Virtual Guitarist, developed by Wizoo, and this was one of the first VSTs that brought credibility to guitar VIs. It just so happens that the man that founded Wizoo, Peter Gorgers, founded Ujam and brought along many of the members, ensuring the same level of detail.
Appropriately named, Sparkle is glassy, chimey, and clean (you can grit a bit), and has the room to go from warm to bright. You can hear these tones through major, minor, sus2, sus4, diminished, augmented fifth, major sixth, minor seventh, and major seventh chords.
Sparkle works best in the background and will be more suited to non-guitar players that want quality sounding guitar rhythms, but not have them be the focus or overly complicated. Most guitarists will find it too rigid and write it off, where non-guitarist will want to spend a decent amount of time mastering the expression options. The GUI is geared to key players, but it’s simply fantastic looking, clean, and easy to use even if you can’t play keys that well.
Beyond that, it’s smooth sailing! Sparkle is an affordable option for composers and producers looking to create easy high-quality chords and progressions with a number of options — over 90 styles, 1000 phrases, and single-note, octave, and chord riffs.
If you haven’t checked out the Sparkle review above, you’ll want to do so as these VSTs are basically twins.
Comparing Iron and Sparkle is odd after you move past all their similarities. I would say overall, Iron’s tonal/sonic quality is better than Sparkle’s, however, Iron is a little too perfect and clean even with its reputation as the metal guy — well, it’s heavy but without the angst.
Those that love really clean productions — which is rather popular throughout the metal world, will get extensive use out of this plugin, though it often divides the metalhead community in half.
It does help that it has a killer delay and that dialing back the grit can give you classic rock n roll riffs. With slightly more styles and phrases compared to Sparkle, Iron also give you five amp controls: Clean, Crisp, Cream, Crunch, and Metal and four guitar styles: Twang, Bite, Soft, and Fat.
Guitarist by Sugar Bytes
First, Sugar Bytes makes a couple of big claims with Guitarist and calls it “the perfect guitar emulation” and “the most complete guitar software of all time”.
Because of this, the VI opens the door for critique at the smallest degree, but I couldn’t even get that far before finding problems. The strumming is so terribly robotic out of the box, and the sounds divided among the four guitars (Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, and “bright” and “normal” versions of a Duesenberg StarPlayer) aren’t screaming authenticism either.
It’s a good thing they allow you to create chords that would be unplayable for a guitarist, since there is no apparent way to change the tuning from E standard.
Now, you may be wondering if there are things to love about Guitarist and there certainly are. The GUI is incredible and simply one of my favorites around. And if you need funk or jazz rhythms fast, then this is your guy — the auto-wah feature saves this plugin. The more you put realism out of your head and strive for interesting tones, the more you’ll like Guitarist.
Music Lab’s Line of Electric Guitars
There is way too much to unpack here, and it’s just easier saying, but you could essentially recreate Beck or Malmsteen songs note for note with all the same techniques that they used — that should give you an idea of everything that’s here.
The interface does get the job done well, it’s just that I’ve seen better looking free VSTs. But for me, this is completely fine because while flashy interfaces are nice, problems like software issues and hard to see text occur. None of that is here, and within a few hours, most users will feel fairly comfortable creating moderately difficult, but realistic sounding guitar parts.
RealStrat is super lightweight and incredibly fast, too, with the application itself only weighing 45MG — you can link to a 915MG sample library. Other nice features include randomization options for timing, pitch, sound, and velocity, as well as the ability to easily export a MIDI file and drop it into a DAW or MIDI editor.
The only real critique I can think of, it’s all very Strat sounding so humbucker lovers beware — or just read below!
RealLPC is essentially identical to RealStrat and others in the series, feature-wise, so let’s just continue unpacking everything here.
The Musiclab line of Real Electric Guitars offers five performance modes: Solo, Harmony, Chords, Bass & Chords, and Bass & Pick. Solo mode is without a doubt the main focus of the plugins and gives you several options: harmonics, mutes, capo, several bend options, and tuning.
Tonally, it’s a near perfect Les Paul replication and comes with a 14 pickup position slider. As one would guess, RealLPC is better suited for heavier rock genres compare to RealStrat.
Since there is little difference outside of the individual guitars featured in this series, I will nitpick a bit and say that RealLPC has the worst GUI of the four. Where there was never any difficult-to-read text on RealStrat, there is some here, and the weird navy green parameter boxes along with a black Les Paul with gold trim doesn’t sit well for me.
The addition of two 12-string modes helps RealRick solidify its place as an excellent and more uncommon alternative to the Les Paul and Strat versions. 12-String A offers four lower strings (E, A, D, G) which are tuned in octaves, while 12-String B instead has four Gs tuned in unison — both can be played in mono or stereo.
But this addition isn’t without its fault. While the 12-String versions in mono have no real issues, the same can’t be said for the stereo versions. When articulations like scrapes, mutes, etc. are employed, they come from the mono versions even if you’re in stereo. This is a weird and awkward slip up for Music Lab and I hope it gets fixed.
Besides that, everything is fantastic as usual, and you have the same four basic effects: sustainer, feedbacker, violining, and sustainer.
RealEight simplifies things a bit compared to the others; gone are the modes: Chords, Harmony, Bass & Chord and Bass & Pick — this is fine because while there is no chord detection algorithm. You can still create chords, and complex chords are not the focushere anyways.
Instead, we have 4 new tabs: Single, Double, Quad, and Bass. These are exactly what they sound like and your guitar parts will naturally be overdubbed and individually panned according to the tab. And for those that seek the lowest of low notes, Bass will drop your entire eight-strings down by an octave.
As expected, no metal genres are off the line here and you can jump from Djent to Progressive metal to Death metal to even modern rock genres that are drenched in crunchy guitar riffs.
Acoustic Samples’ Line of Electric Guitars
Guitar players and lovers of that classic image of an amp and guitar sitting next to each other will love Strategy’s interface. It’s has a nice vintage aesthetic look while staying clean, fast, and incredibly easy to use.
It’s apparent right away that Acousticsamples knows how to sample a guitar, regardless if it’s acoustic or electric. All frets on all the string have, of course, been meticulously sampled and taken through a round of guitar techniques: slides, mutes, hammer-ons, pull-offs, staccatos, fret noises, and a plethora of other articulations — 53 different samples per fret/string.
You have 10 stellar effects: chorus, phaser, flanger, wah, tremolo, delay, rotary, tube saturator, tone stack, and reverb, as well as 8 amps and control over mic position.
It’s hard to find a place where Acousticsamples slips up with this VST, sometimes the chords can get just the tiniest bit muddy when hitting them moderately heavy, but that’s about it at the end of the day.
Unlike, Strategy (review above) and Telematic (review below), JazzGuitarysm doesn’t share the complexity or number of functions — which, granted, is a little odd.
JazzGuitarysm is split into two play modes: Solo and Strumming. In Solo mode, you have Legato mode with the ability to play hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and slides. As well as basic controls like volume, cabinet simulation, and bass and treble controls. Strum mode has all of that as well and adds a few general parameters for strumming.
Soundwise, JazzGuitarysm has the same quality in tone as Strategy and Telematic — though, of course, you have less tone shaping tools here. But JazzGuitarysm is appropriately priced and is less than half the cost of the other two so I don’t have any room to complain except that I’d liked to see a “full version”.
8Dio’s Line of Electric Guitars
Founded in 2011, 8Dio has quickly become one of the leading innovators for Kontakt. Both their Instant and Advance Guitar series covers a wide range of fantastic sounding guitar and other string instruments that allow them to dominate much of the market.
Short Description of Plugin: 8Dio’s InstantElectic Guitar Instrument/Bundle is a mixed bag, but with a very affordable price and a mass amount of options, it stands as one of the strongest guitar VSTs for beginners.
Without a doubt, Instant Guitar is a bit messy when it comes to sound quality, and from the looks of it on the web, others agree. First, there are incredible tones here; Cathedral mode is angelic and the low chord hits are drool worthy, to put it lightly. The problem is that the more you shape your guitar to sound like an actual guitar, the worst the sound quality becomes.
For example, changing from the Cathedral mode to Stratolele is night and day. I tried the Stratolele mode for two seconds and wrote it off — maybe it just needed some shaping, but the tone is so bad out of the box that I didn’t feel like taking the time to find out — not when there are way better modes.
Whether Instant Guitar is for you will depend on a couple of things. First, you need Kontakt — I would not buy Kontakt for this VST, but who cares, Kontakt is amazing anyways and I highly recommend it. Second, if you’re a tone snob and want pure guitar tones - run very far away.
Short Description of Plugin: While some may see Epic Guitar as a relic VST with its loop-based design, after almost a decade it still holds its place as one of the best-sounding heavy metal guitar VSTs.
First, Epic guitar is not a sampled virtual instrument, but rather a library of riffs/loops recorded between 4 to 16 times each. The core library contains almost 2000 riffs, licks, and phrases that are divided among 7 tempos: 80, 90, 100, 110, 120, 130 and 140 BPM.
Metal, especially nu-metal, is the focus here, but there are some hard rock and funky sounding loops which were all recorded by Scandinavia’s Danne Forsblom.
Anyone that’s familiar with metal, knows that the fairy tale-esque world of Scandinavia puts out metalheads so fast they make Dragonforce look like Clapton — ol’ slow hand joke for you all. Just from this, you should know you’re in good and brutal hands.
Non-sampled, loop-based virtual instruments are inherently problematic, and as sampled VST’s playability, simulation, and authenticity become more and more advanced we will see less of them. In fact, string instruments benefited the most from loop-based VSTs and will most likely be the last instruments to hold on to them.
Before 2010, if you wanted to fool a guitar player with a VST you had to use a loop-based one like Epic Guitar. A decade later, however, and we’re seeing this becoming less the case, so you’ll want to heavily consider whether a loop-based VST is for you.
Ilya Efimov’s Line of Electric Guitars
Ilya Efimov has to be one of the best VST and sound design companies to come out of Russia — not like there is a lot but if there were, I’m sure Ilya would still dominate as their line of guitars are some of the most gorgeous sounding around.
Short Description of Plugin: Ilya Efimov’s LP is hands down one of the best sampled Les Pauls I’ve ever heard and it would be amiss to ignore this gem.
“Damn!” That was the first word that came out of my mouth when I first heard LP by Ilya Efimov. Simply put, if you’re looking for a Les Paul sampled VST this has to be on your “must check out” list.
Most will want to compare this to Music Lab’s RealLPC when purchasing - so let’s do that for you.
Ilya’s LP requires Kontakt to run, however, if you already have Kontakt or are planning on purchasing it then LP will be cheaper by $50 and will more than match its sound quality.
Now, if you don’t have Kontakt, don’t want it, or want a VST where you can create impossible-to-play but incredible sounding shred parts, then RealLPC is for you — it has more features plain-and-simple.
Because LP is cheaper, I can’t critique that it has less features, and the GUI is super nice so no complaints there. If I’m digging for a negative critique, the LP tone can sometimes be snappier and brighter than you wouldexpect from many “real” Les Pauls.
If you’re a guitarist, you know there is a big difference between the sound of a Les Paul and Telecaster — unless you’re Jimmy Page that is. However, when comparing Ilya’s LP and TC, I honestly don’t hear the difference that I would expect.
If you’re thinking that this reviewer doesn’t know what he’s talking about, then my Les Paul and Tele both want to have a word with you.
TC isn’t honestly that bright unless really pushed, and sometimes it even reminds me more of a Strat than a Tele when it’s chiming away on gorgeous chords. While the transients are screaming Tele, the roundness of the tone and sustain is very Strat sounding to me.
It reminds me of a really good Strat that’s tweaked to sound like a Tele, because it’s difficult to bring out the characteristic glassy brittle chime I associate Tele’s with.
However, none of this should be really used to criticize TC, because it sounds damn good like the LP. My only real critique is I wouldn't buy both LP and TC because they are too similar in sound and identical pretty much everywhere else.
AGTC by AmpleSounds
First, let’s go over the sound of the guitar and various techniques. The harmonics are my personal favorite and despite being sampled from a Telecaster, the brightness that chimes with vigor in chords is much more relaxed here, leaving you with a more muted percussive sound as opposed to a more sharp windchime sound.
Hammer-on/pull-offs, slides, and strums all sound great and the only time I felt the sound lacking was on palm mutes.
Well that and the effects, but Ample Sound even admits that the effects aren’t the greatest and recommends using another plugin for effects. Them admitting that might put a sour note on your tongue, but when you’re buying a VI in this price range, often it’s better to go for a plugin that is a master of a few components instead of one that attempts it all.
Overall, AGTC is a nice little telecaster plugin with nice features, playability, and a pretty great looking GUI to boot.
Impact Soundwork’s Line of Electric Guitars
It’s been over a decade since Impact Soundwork first launched, and their relentless work has paid off and allowed them to create great VSTs from shredy 7th-strings to gorgeous gypsy jazz guitar.
Short Description of Plugin: Crunchy, crunchy, crunchy, Shreddage 2 brings the crush to guitar VSTs with it deeply-sampled 7-string guitar tuned all the way down to Drop G.
Shreddage 2 is for all those kids that want to play ripping prog-metal guitar solos without the whole practicing-scales-for-12-hours-a-day thing.
This is a good thing too because, like many guitar plugins, they are designed to be played with a MIDI keyboard and not a guitar. And while Shreddage 2 has a lot of options to produce a very authentic guitar sound, many guitarists will find it frustrating and simply want to record with an actual guitar.
For me, this issue presented itself in a number of ways. One was the hammer-on and pull-off system - which I liked at first.
To do hammers-ons and pull-offs, you simply click the switch for it on, and every time you play two notes within a small enough interval it plays them as a hammer-on or pull-off. This seems great until you realize it still does this even if you hold those two notes down together like you were playing a chord. To not have the first note immediately cut out, you have to switch this feature off.
It’s a tick that I don’t think non-guitarist will have an issue with, but guitar players that want a VST to create fast professional sounding parts might get annoyed. The sound is fantastic though, and strangely enough, the VST shines more on chords and low gnarly riffs then actual shred solos.
When you jump from Impact Soundworks’ Shreddage 2 to Django Gypsy Jazz Guitar, you realize how fantastic of a company Impact Soundworks truly is. You can really see they put a lot of heart and meticulous hours into creating their VSTs.
There is not much to critique this bad boy on, you have very elegant and apropos GUI, 12 chords types and 7 strum patterns in all 12 keys, and over 20,000 well-crafted samples.
My only actual critique is that you have a very niche VST, even lovers of gypsy jazz will find issues if they want to take this VST to other genres. This would all be fine if Django Jazz didn’t require Kontakt for it to run.
Now while I love both Django Jazz and Kontakt, I try and adhere to the principle that if you’re offering a single instrument VST and you require Kontakt, that you keep your price around $100 and less. Yes, even when it’s as good of a plugin as Django Jazz.
Is it childish to want Impact Soundworks to knock $50 off a single niche instrument that requires that you shell out $400, plus another $150 for the plugin itself? You’ll have to be the one to judge.
It’s almost like Impact Soundworks heeded my words in my review of Django Jazz Guitar. Clearly, this isn’t true, but my issue with Django Jazz’s price and its requirement of the full version of Kontakt is no more.
Archtop sounds just as brilliant Django Jazz, plus you get a more featureful VST that has a less niche and more malleable guitar, and again, it can run on the free Kontakt Player. Even better, Archtop is slightly cheaper than Django jazz.
Arctop’s interface is based off Shreddage 2 — I personally think Archtop looks way better. It has a very medieval look with a tan-ish colored interface that reminds me of old book pages. This is absolutely perfect because the red knobs and switches looked like they have been stamped on a long-lost letter that never reached its destination.
Like Shreddage 2, there is a lot of tone shaping: eight effects, most common guitar techniques that you would expect to play on an Archtop, script-based articulations, and even different spectrumoptions.
It’s two main faults are the lack of automatic chord scripting and the guitar itself takes awhile to load.
Electric bundle by Orange Tree Samples
Short Description of Plugin: Without a doubt, Orange Tree Samples created one of the best sounding and largest guitar VST bundle out there. If you’re serious about electric guitar plugins you have to check out this bundle.
When you have a guitar bundle that comes in at a whopping 62.87GB and once cost $1,611 (now $949) you know there’s going to be a lot to unpack! So let’s hit specs first.
In this entire bundle you have 9 individual guitar VSTs that all can be purchased separately for close to $200 each — already you can see that it’s worth it to purchase the entire bundle. Instruments included in the bundle: Sitardelic, Rick 12, Dracus, Stratosphere, Strawberry, Archtop, Hollowbody Blues, Rock Standard, and Infinity.
The question is now - do you need the entire bundle? When it comes to the presets, the guitars are all very unique, but because of the mass amount of tone-shaping available once you start twisting and manipulating away there becomes less and less of a distinction — the bundle being over a third less than individually purchasing them doesn’t help the decision making factor at all.
For example, Dracus is -by all accounts - the metal guitar, but it has some really nice cleans as well. You could even compare it to Strawberry in tone, which itself is humbucker-based but it’s more clean-oriented.
The real difference may be seen more in the libraries. For example, Strawberry is older than Dracus, and while it has been upgraded to the same engine, it still has fewer articulations. But Dracus effects don’t have the range that Strawberry effects do, and Dracus’ effects range certainly doesn’t compare to Stratosphere’s.
Evolution isn’t for the faint of heart and you’ll need to put in the time to figure out if the bundle is right or if you just need one or two individuals.
SC Electric Guitar by Prominy
Short Description of Plugin: There is no doubting that SC Electric Guitar is amazing, the question instead is - does it justify the price? — SC is the most expensive non-bundle VST on our list.
When you see a single instrument VST for $400, there is little doubt it doesn’t sound amazing, or that it’s incredibly player responsive, and what have you. The question is, is it worth it or can I find an equally good VST for less?
There are 65 GB of godly sounding samples and I can’t even imagine how meticulous it was to record everything here. And while it’s only one guitar, each pickup has been intensely sampled and you can blend all three pickups together, exploring the range of the instrument.
For those struggling with the VST’s size, a nice way to cut down on the size is to delete any articulations, as well, you can just load the articulations you want from the start.
I can’t personally say I would shell out the money for SC Electric Guitar. First, I wouldn’t do it because I’m not a big Strat fan, but I also wouldn’t because Orange Tree Samples, LPC, and Shreddage 2 exist. RealStrat would be excellent if you’re looking for a cheaper option to SC as well.
Vir2’s Line of Acoustic Guitars
Even though Vir2 released Acoustic Legends around the same time as Electri6ity, there is a large gap in quality. First, if you’re looking for a realistic acoustic guitar VST then steer clear of Acoustic Legends.
I want to preface what I’m about to say with, I like fake, synthetic, and Lo-Fi sounds just as much as authentic tones. And while there are some fun synthetic warbles and effects going on, the acoustic tone itself is awful and does not mix nicely with the effects, or even with the decaying warbles.
Also, unlike Electri6ity there is no automatic detection, and it’s nowhere near as easy to play (no strumming aid or preset strum patterns). A rare and easy skip for me.
If you read my review for Legends, you know that I kinda called it trash. This is OK, though, because Vir2 has more than won me back with Acou6tics because listening to this makes you feel like you’re in acoustic heaven.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, Acou6tics costs almost half a grand ($400), and when you can go to a guitar shop and buy an actual fantastic sounding acoustic for that cost (probably used but who cares) it’s hard to justify spending that amount on just a guitar VST.
However, just take a listen to the end of Vir2’s Acou6tics: Famous Acoustic Guitar Licks YouTube video. They legit added vinyl static, and it’s these kinds of things that you can’t do with an actual acoustic that justifies the price point.
Oh, and you have 6 guitars to choose from: Steel String, Nylon String, Mandolin, Guitalele, Twelve String, and Ukulele.
If you’re serious about wanting a VST that can create hyper-realistic acoustic parts across multiple guitars then you have to check out Acou6tics.
Without a doubt, Fractured is one of my favorite plugins just in general, and even though it doesn’t always, well rarely, sound like a guitar, to me that’s one of the most guitar things ever.
The guitar is a wonderful instrument because it’s so intensely malleable. It can fit into almost any genre, works perfectly with effects, act as a songwriting instrument, and can take both the lead and rhythm position in a song.
Fracture displays the guitar’s range as a sound creator and manipulator better than possibly any other guitar VST out there. There are percussive thumps, atmospheric drones, scratch pads, and on it goes. Really, you have to hear Fractured yourself to know if it’s for you or not.
There are two things you’ll want to look at if you find yourself interested in Fractured. First, it’s aging, and while it’s doing that very well, some of the sounds just don’t impress me like they once did.
Second, you might be wondering if it’s just better to get a cinematic VST or one that takes from a range of instruments. Fractured does have cymbals and bass kicks but, of course, the guitar creates these and this gives them a lot of offbeat character. You could easily get a more rich and deep bass kick with a drum VST, but then you lose that quirkiness that propels and highlights Fractured.
UJam’s Line of Acoustic Guitars
If you haven’t checked out our reviews for Sparkle and Iron in the electric section, you will want to do that as the acoustic versions are largely the same on a number of features.
Like Sparkle and Iron, Ujam appropriately named Silk -- these plugins all clue you in on what to expect. For Silk this means gorgeous, smooth, and rich tones for days — the fingerpicking is so eloquent and it really does sound like a person playing.
Besides the guitar just being fantastically sampled and recorded, Silk owes a lot of its realism to the controls in the upper right-hand corner on the main screen. Swing, Timing, Feel, and Variance can all be effortlessly adjusted and do a fantastic job of recreating that natural human touch or really the human flaw. Timing is my favorite because the ebb and flow of the tempo between individually picked notes really reminds me of my own fingerpicking technique (or lack thereof).
With Iron covering the rock world, Sparkle covering pop and indie world, and Silk covering the nylon world is there any room left for Amber?
Kind of — it’s not that Amber doesn’t match the quality of the others, it’s just Amber’s focus is on strumming and there is no better place to make a virtual guitar sound “fake” than when strumming.
Amber is a steel-string virtual guitar with over 50 styles, 600 phrases, and the same effects and sound-shaping tools that made the others great. It’s not the sound quality that’s holding Amber back — personally, I like other acoustic VSTs sonically more, but it’s very easy to find a mass amount of love for Amber’s sound.
Instead, Amber needs a little more care and added features because a great sound is not enough for strumming-based VSTs. Amber desperately needs features like creating your own rhythm patterns, chord variations, ability to mute individual strings in chords, barre chords or at least a capo, and a few lesser things.
I personally could not play any of my songs as they currently stand on Amber and that influences my review a lot. And while I like pushing away from open chords, power chords, and standard major/minor barre chords, I think a strumming/chord focused VSTs should be able to play a Cadd9/A with a capo on the second fret. That’s not even a complex or difficult chord to play (Guitar tab = 5x055).
But Amber is very new compared to others on this list, and I’m sure these features will eventually be added. Right now, Iron and Silk are worth it, Amber eventually will be, but along with Sparkle, it’s a pass for me.
RealGuitar by Music Lab
Short Description of Plugin: RealGuitar is rich, unbelievably authentic, and simply a delight to play.
The first thing you’ll likely notice with RealGuitar is the wonderful slick and sharp sliding articulations that engender themselves when your fingers slide across the hundreds of little grooves embedded in wounded guitar strings.
I know this makes guitar players everywhere coil back in fear. Because if a plugin can produce this kind of hyper-realism then will there still be a place for them at the music table?
The answer is yes, and, funny enough, RealGuitar proves that the person who will bring this plugin best to life will be a guitar player.
It’s all about the feel with many instruments and string instruments are a classic example of instruments that only come alive when a human hand is behind it.
As such, a velocity-sensitive MIDI keyboard is a must here, and the more experience you have with string instruments, the more you will get out of this VST. It's knowing things like how the string all have different weight and tension behind them and how the volume changes when a plectrum thwacks against the strings that will give guitarists the edge here.
My personal favorite surprise about RealGuitar is they give you the ability to tap and drum on the guitar’s body, and it sounds really good too. With said percussive style becoming so dominant in acoustic guitar playing over the last decade, it’s nice to see a company on top of their game.
Acousticsamples’ Line of Acoustic Guitars
Acousticsamples does something remarkable with Sunbird that Gibson can’t seem to do. And that’s making a quality instrument at an affordable cost. If that sounds harsh, I’ll just say that only one of these two companies filed for bankruptcy.
Sunbird is a gem and monstrously comprehensive — it has more features than many electric guitar plugins. This brings along a rare issue; Sunbird is potentially more suitable to guitarists than non-guitarists.
The’62 Hummingbird is intensely sampled here — all frets on all strings have been sampled for upstrokes, downstrokes, round robins, releases, staccatos, mutes, palm mutes, hand blocks, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, retriggers, fret noises, percussions and other articulations.
On top of that, you have four modes: You are most likely familiar with Chord and Solo as most guitar VST’s have them. As well, you have Pattern mode that does the strumming and picking for you and MIDI mode so you can use your preferred controller.
All in all, I think guitarists and non-guitarists will equally love Sunbird — non-guitar players will benefit from some light guitar theory and general knowledge of the guitar anatomy for mic placement, etc.
First, before moving on, check out our review for Acousticsamples’ Sunbird as these two plugins are largely the same - save for the sampled guitar.
On the sound front, the quality is just as good — I personally prefer the Sunbird for its less traditional sound. GD-6 is great sounding, but for me, the particular dreadnought sound is overdone in a similar way to the Stratocaster’s sound being everywhere and the standard.
I mentioned the song builder that both Sunbird and GD-6 share so let’s look at that. The song building panel allows you to select and play a full chord with just a single note.
With 12 notes in a key, you can easily plan out the chords that make up your song and play them all with by just pressing one note. It’s rare to have even 12 individual chords in most songs, so the song building panel can realistically create 99% songs extremely quickly.
This feature, along with the hyper-realism, easily pushes both Sunbird and GD-6 to the top.
Elektron is about half the cost of both Sunbird and GD-6 but has around half the amount of features. This is great if you found either to be a bit too much feature-wise as a non-guitarist.
However, when it comes to sound quality Sunbird and GD-6 blow Elektron away. Elektron is bright and thin but not in a good way — obviously bright and thin plays a large part in that flamenco tone Elektron is striving for, but here it gives away that it’s not a real guitar.
Which is a shame considering the other two, and I think this could VST could have been great — there is a nice tone hidden here.
Honestly, it feels like Acousticsamples got lazy here because even the preview samples on their main site sound lazily put together — several times the rhythm of the guitar and percussive backing on the sample sound like they go out of sync and the percussion is busy and loud which is totally unneeded.
Normally, I would say it’s in bad taste to critique a sample, but not when it confirms the VST’s main problem. All in all, I’m not sure what happened here.
UKU shows us right off the bat that when making an acoustic plugin, Acousticsamples needs to stick to the more expensive but way higher quality model of Sunbird and GD-6. With Elecktron they attempted to offer a condensed and cheaper plugin, but it made the instrument unusable for me.
For a review of UKU’s features, check out the Sunbird and GD-6 reviews since they are the same. Sound-wise, UKU is one hell of a wonderful sounding ukulele, and perhaps the best sounding ukulele VST available.
This isn’t difficult to do, since there aren’t many, but if there were, UKU would still most likely dominate.
8Dio’s Line of Acoustic Guitars
First, Steel String sounds heavenly, and I always love it when my mouth drops the first time I hear a hyper-realistic sounding VST. Steel String has done this completely, in fact, the only time I was ever pulled out from its hyper-realism was on the fret noise that recreates the articulation of finger sliding across the strings when changing positions.
Non-guitarist most likely won’t be able to tell the difference, but there is something so slightly off to my ears — but after 10,000 hours and a decade of playing guitar, things like that are to be expected, so it’s not a strong critique from me.
In fact, Steel String may be so good that I potentially have to go against my Kontakt rule — whenever a single instrument plugin requires the full version of Kontakt, I desperately want to see the price under $150.
Steel String is about $50 more, but for the sound quality that’s spread throughout the 13 chord types and 12 rhythms — which themselves are divided into 18 core patches (natural, morphed, and muted) — it’s hard to not justify Steel String’s price.
If you haven’t checked out the review for 8dio’s Steel Sting, you might want to now as Guitalele is identical - except for the sampled guitar.
Despite Steel String’s price, and its requirement for the full version of Kontakt to run, I still overwhelmingly recommended it, but Guitalele runs into a big and wholly unique issue. You can buy the instrument (Yamaha Guitalele) sampled for this VST for half the cost of this VST.
Now, you get effects and controls like filter, EQ, delay, chorus, rotator, and phaser which you obviously won’t have with the actual guitar and the sound quality of the VST is a perfect replication.
However, as a guitar player, the first thing that I thought when I heard Guitalele sounds was “this is incredible sounding but for this fingerpicking style I’d love the real guitar”. After that, I saw that the Yamaha Guitalele was only $100 and bought it instead.
Right out of the gate, I could tell that 12-Strings realism wasn’t matching Steel String and Guitalele’s perfection, which often come so close to the real thing it’s hard to tell the difference. Again, 12-strings are harder to replicate, especially when it comes to the higher-pitched notes/harmonies.
This is where 12-String by 8Dio faults as well — the high harmonies sound almost synthetically chirpy, and this ever-so-slightly holds many of the sounds found here back from sounding authentic.
Now, none of this should take away from the actual tones, which are beautiful, even when not fully convincing. I haven’t commented on Instant Guitar’s GUI yet and that should tell all you really need to know. It gets the job done well, but looks unfortunately ugly — or at the very least bland and not matching the high-quality of the sounds found in this line of guitar VSTs.
12-Strings is a bit cheaper than it’s aforementioned brothers, but it’s personally a pass for me — mostly because I never see myself needing a 12-string, but if I did, there are better ones on our list.
8dio sampled a 200-year-old Italian made mandolin to create a gorgeous sounding VST that simply rules, and will fool even the most well-trained ears into thinking it’s the real deal. Like with the others in the series, we have our usual clean legato, artifacts, effects, tremolos, mutes — basically, you have everything you need to get the job done 99% of the time.
8dio dropped the price of Mandolin to $98 which hasn’t gone back up even though they said it would months ago. That’s definitely a great price if you’re looking for a mandolin VST.
The first question most have is what the hell is a charango? A really sweet sounding string instrument is the simplest answer. Charangos are essentially a perfect mixture between a guitar and a lute, and traditionally made from armadillo shells — this all makes for one extremely fun, and despite its small size, very malleable sound.
8dio captures the unique sound perfectly, and since you’re already familiar with the features from the past reviews, let’s talk about the sound of the actual instrument more.
To me, small string instruments get very monotone sounding fast — they are just sonically limited compared to a guitar or a piano. Charangos don’t fall into that trap however even though many lutes often do for me.
By essentially blowing up the size of the lute, you create an instrument that sounds like a perfect mix between the guitar and lute with a touch of a harp thrown in. As such, it’s really fun playing it like a guitar one second then flipping to a more lute style approach and hearing how the tone fits for both.
Lilya Efimov’s Line of Acoustic Guitars
Let’s talk about flamenco guitarists for a second — those guys and gals shred faster than most of your favorite shredders and they are doing it without a pick. That’s why the best aspect of Nylon Complete is how crystal clear and authentic the sound is when playing a thousand notes a minute.
This perfection holds up well throughout various playing styles and my only wish was a little more richness in the lower-end — perhaps presence is the better word as the higher notes really come alive with it and drown out the low notes just a tad too much.
Another area to watch for is the vibratos as it’s easy for them to give away that this is a virtual instrument — they are just a touch too whiny/warbly.
The GUI is fine (simple, boring, but most importantly effective) but like the vibratos, the interface shows the age of the plugin — it came out in 2011.
While I love Nylon Complete and especially Ilya Efimov, it’s a pass for me when something like Silk by Ujam exists. Silk’s mechanics are more modern, it’s cheaper even before you take into account Nylon Complete’s requirement of Kontakt (full version), and the sound is more balanced, the interface is nicer, etc.
Acoustic Guitar isn’t perfect, in fact, there are quite a number of moments when I would say acoustic guitar sounds fake, but it’s not a bad fake. With Nylon Guitar there was this undesirable tiny-warble that really hurt the vibratos for me — it just screams fake.
With Acoustic Complete, we have even more of that tiny-warble, but this time, it works and brings a lot character to the plugin.
That’s something we should look for more in plugins. I’d rather take a fake synthetic sounding plugin with a lot of nuances and character over a hyper-realistic one, that while it sounds authentic, is still bland.
That’s not to say Acoustic Complete sounds overtly synthetic — it only does when you really listen for it, but if you don’t and just play, you hear a lovely little sound reminiscent enough of an acoustic guitar.
Another place you can hear this “imperfect” is on the sloppy sounding pull-offs, and while I did love Nylon Complete by Ilya for being so clean and articulate when played fast, it’s not realistic when you think about it.
AmpleSound’s Line of Acoustic Guitars
AmpleSound’s is a company you can tell has a set sound in mind before they create their plugins, and by the looks of it, they always get the sound they want. You can see this in no place better than with their approach to the 12-string guitar VI, which may just be the best 12-string you can buy, regardless if it’s virtual or not.
There is little AGL can’t do when it comes to the acoustic guitar world — the intelligence of the technology here alone is exciting to see. Ample Sounds’ plugins get you excited about the future of them.
We have a capo and capo logic, customized parameters, double guitar, poly legato and slid smoother (thank you), and alternative tunings (surprisingly rare). As well you can create customize rhythms (hallelujah) and you have 28 ways to play every chord.
Oh, did I mention ghost notes, tremolo bar (weird but awesome), tapping, and let’s stop there. Simply put, there is a lot here, and the sound is pretty damn good.
Personally, it’s not my favorite acoustic sound — a little too bright and poppy for me — but who cares what I think when this baby could jump in and out songs that make up the top 40 chart anytime it wants.
Price may be hard for some to justify — it’s nearing the $200 for a single instrument, but if the high-quality sound of AGL doesn’t float your boat, then don’t worry, because Ample Sound offers a treasure trove guitar plugins that all sound brilliant.
Short Description of Plugin: Ample Sound creates one of the best 12-string acoustic guitar VIs by purposely not perfectly replicating a real 12-string.
Let’s start this out bluntly, I would pick AG12 over an actual 12-string every day of the week, and I have been playing guitar for more than a decade.
To understand why I say this you need to know two things about real 12-strings. First, 12-strings are next to impossible to perfectly tune and love coming out of tune. While this creates much of its classic detuned swirly sound, it also makes most affordable 12-strings completely unplayable.
Second, playing leads on them sucks — some will stay leads on a 12-string are not the point but then I just point to AG12 and how sweet leads can sound on a 12-string.
AG12 is simply way cheaper than a great 12-string, it’s way less hassle, you can play really gnarly sounding licks, and your sonic range is much larger.
If you want the specs, check out the review for AGL above as they are nearly identical.
Now, I mentioned that AG12 isn’t a perfect replication and what I mean is that classic detuned swirl isn’t present when you first open AG12 up. But if you simply create two instances of Ag12, both in the same MIDI layer channel and turn the master tuning in different directions you get close enough.
Short Description of Plugin: With a familiar but fantastic GUI, AGH is the 14th installment in Ample Sounds guitar line and except for a couple missteps, it’s a great addition to a fantastic lineup.
For AGH’s features check out the AGL review, as well, the sound quality of AGH is just as strong as the other Ample Sounds covered in this list — they are some of the best around is truthfully all you need to know.
So let’s talk about some missteps — if you are looking to perfectly replicate jazz standards from Autumn Leaves to Summertime with a virtual instrument then you’re in good hands. However, if you’re looking to explore the sound of the Gibson 335, that is VI is based on then you’ll probably pass.
Currently, AGH can only play in fingerpicking styles with the pickup locked in the neck positions. You can still get a bright bridge-esque sound, but the tonal variation won’t be like switching between two pickups. A bridge fingerpicking mode will be in a future update, so I’d personally wait until that happens.
Acoustic Revolutions by Impact SoundWorks
Short Description of Plugin: With over 630 high-quality pop and contemporary guitar loops, Acoustic Revolutions remains an affordable VST for those seeking to make guitar music fast.
Loop-based guitar plugins are slowly moving to the point of obscurity as virtual instrument technology is getting to the point where even string instruments can sound out-of-this-world good and blossom with character. But there still exists some gems out there such as Acoustic Revolutions, which updated to volume two as recently as 2015, doubling the number of loops.
It’s easy to hear that Acoustic Revolutions is inspired by the Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows, Dave Matthews, but the loops are so perfectly dry and easy to mix that you can create a very modern sound. Volume II itself actually pushes the loops into that modern sound by pulling inspiration from popular indie-folk bands that dominated the first half of the 2010s.
Feature-wise, you have four core tempos, strum, arpeggios, and syncopated styles, and all loops are in ACIDized WAV format.
Acoustic Bundle by Orange Tree Samples
Short Description of Plugin: Like their electric guitar bundle, Orange Tree Samples once again created one of the most comprehensive and best-sounding bundles out there that you have to check out.
If you’re interested in a guitar plugin, it is essentially a requirement to check out Orange Tree Samp as they are pretty much the top dog.
Similar to the electric bundle, if you end up liking the sound, you’ll want to sit down and see if you want the entire bundle or just a select few. In this version, we have five guitars: Flatpick 6, Modern Nylon, Steel String, Songwriter, and Jumbo 12, as well as one mandolin.
The first question you ask yourself is, are all six guitars unique enough to justify the bundle. For the most part, the answer is yes — let me compare Steel String and Songwriter to show what I mean.
These two are definitely the most similar sounding of the bunch and this poses a slight problem. While Steel String has more resonance in the low-end and covers fingerpicking, Songwriter is a little warmer/duller sounding but has twice the samples and round robins. For me, this makes it hard to pick between the two, and while the tones are different, perhaps not quite enough.
Beyond this issue, there isn’t much to critique here.
Hummingbird by Prominy
Short Description of Plugin: There is little doubt that Hummingbird by Prominy is the most deeply sampled Gibson 1963 Hummingbird on the market.
When I say this VST is deeply sampled, I’m talking to the point of extreme (80 GB of WAV files). The sound and plugin are pretty much universally loved, and I think the majority of people when debating whether to purchase Hummingbird or not, are going to thinking about the cost more than anything else — it’s currently $300.
Most of our single instrument guitar plugins on our list are around half that cost — Sunbird is a top-notch sampled 62’ Hummingbird and you can get it for at least half the price.
Hummingbird by Prominy is incredibly impressive and I can’t think of a more sampled single instrument acoustic, but it’s a bit overkill in my opinion, especially since it comes at a high price point.
Plus, I’m not a big fan of the GUI. The disproportionate guitar (neck to body ratio) puts me off — it makes it look more like a kid or toy guitar which isn’t good considering the price.
Electrik GuitarZ by DSK
Short Description of Plugin: It doesn’t sound like a guitar but it makes some damn fine Twin Peaks and N64 Zelda sounding music.
Electrik GuitarZ is a pretty neat little “guitar” plugin that’s great for making weird Lo-Fi and infectious tones. Let’s talk about the effects first because they are the character of this little dude.
You have flanger, delay, distortion, and chorus, with 3-4 parameters for each. The flange is my favorite with its thin but never whiny swirl — my tip is to drive the rate and mix to get a killer flange effect.
Along with these effects are 10 guitars: Strat Marshall, Valve ODX, Garcia Guitar, Bleeding Guitar, Blues Guitar, Power Guitar, Mondo Guitar, Synth Guitar, Clean Guitar, and Electric Sitar. The sound of each somewhat matches the guitar it’s supposed to be, but more importantly, there is a notable change in tone with each and since it’s free, I was happy just to have that.
All in all, I enjoy DSK Electrik GuitarZ and if you like 90’s Zelda or Twin Peaks music and tones, you’ll be beyond happy with this free VST.
Cute Emily Guitar by Big Cat Instruments
Short Description of Plugin: Cute Emily pursuit of a traditional guitar gives us the weakest electric guitar plugin on our list, but also makes it the best for beginners looking to learn a VST guitar.
String instruments are a nightmare to recreate in the virtual world and if you’re not careful, it’s incredibly easy to create a bad sounding VST — it also requires a ton of money and time.
This is why I’m nervous when I see a free guitar plugin that actually wants to replace a guitar, which Cute Emily Guitar attempts to do. Now, Cute Emily is the most guitar-sounding of the bunch, but it also has the least amount of controls. This gives you a relatively singular sound and while I commend Big Cat efforts, I stopped using this free electric guitar plugin faster than I did the others.
Now, you do get velocity layers, and since it’s the most guitar sounding of the bunch, this is the best of the free plugins if you want to best learn how most guitar VIs work. This makes it my recommendation for beginners looking to get into the guitar VST world.
Lethality by Iridium Iris
Short Description of Plugin: Harsh and brutal metal tones and playing styles for free? Sign me up!
Depending on how much time you want to spend with Lethality, will determine what you can get out of it — this is true for many plugins, but especially Lethality.
First, Lethality is centered around its riff patterns — which is exactly what it sounds like. Out of the box, these sound terrible, and I started to wonder if Lethality was useless.
The answer is not by a long shot, but you need other plugins and effects which not only make Lethality good but at times great. The VST itself has decent tone-shaping abilities: strum, release, gain, low, mid, high, attack, low FQ, and High FQ.
This actually would make a great VST for beginners looking to take the next step and start working with multiple plugins at once to create and shape their sound. It will teach you how to take weaker plugins and make them great, which will be nice if you ever accidentally drop money on a plugin that turns out to not be the best.
Guitars Acoustic by DSK
Short Description of Plugin: Guitar Acoustic sounds like an acoustic guitar and xylophone were blended together to create one super awesome sound.
It’s always a nice surprise when I fall in love with the sound from a free plug, and it’s a string instrument too. A decade ago, I would have laughed if you told me that.
There isn’t much here beyond that — just an ADSR envelope that works great. Definitely go give this plugin a listen, even if you already have guitar plugins lying around, because you may just find a tone you don’t have yet.
Guitars Nylon by DSK
Short Description of Plugin: Nylon is just as good as Acoustic by DSK. This means it’s amazing and a must-check-out free plugin.
Now my review might seem a touch weird because I kinda fibbed in the product description. I personally prefer Acoustic and think in the grand scheme of guitar VIs, it sticks out more with it less traditional but more unique tone.
Nylon screams authenticity and it’s impressive how good it sounds — many prefer this authenticity and that’s why I say Nylon is just as good as Acoustics.
Definitely, check it out. For me, it didn’t stay in my plugin arsenal like Acoustics did, but that’s just because I already have very realistic nylon guitar tones if I want them.
M-Lite 2 by AmpleSound
Short Description of Plugin: M-Lite 2 has to be a ploy to get you to fall in love with AmpleSound and purchase their products in the future because they go all out with M-Lite 2.
You have a tab reader, capo logic, alternative tuner, 28 ways to play every chord, 5 popping articulations, and a few other really nice features like a compressor, OD, 5-Band EQ, Chorus, Phaser, Delay, Reverb, and Wah.
The sound is great for being free, and if you’re new to guitar VSTs and want to start with an acoustic plugin, this is a brilliant place to do so and will help prepare you for the paid and bigger VSTs more so than any other free acoustic VST on our list.
Revitar by CutterMusic
Short Description of Plugin: Paid plugins better watch out, because Revitar’s harp/guitar sound and impressive GUI is gunning for them.
Of all the free guitar plugins, Revitar is my favorite. When I opened Revitar I immediately fell in love with the GUI — it just looks like no other GUI and it’s very professional for being free.
The sound really does sound like a perfect mix of a harp and guitar — there are 6 body types to choose from so you can pull in and out the harp sounding tones.
The detail with Revitar is beautiful and you can even change your pick size — this goes great with the 48 programmable chords. I could talk all day about Revitar, but that’s just keeping you from checking it out yourself so go download this plugin now!